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date: 07 October 2022

Romance in Contact With Slavic in Central and Eastern Europelocked

Romance in Contact With Slavic in Central and Eastern Europelocked

  • Walter BreuWalter BreuUniversity of Konstanz


Romance–Slavic language contact in Central and Eastern Europe occurs in both directions of contact-induced change with Romance varieties as donor and as recipient languages. Latin influence on learned and cultural vocabulary, including derivation, occurred during the Middle Ages and early Modern Age, partly mediated by German. Italian and French played an important role as source languages for lexical borrowings in Czech, Sorbian, Polish, and Russian, although often restricted to special semantic fields such as cooking and music in the case of Italian. Romance loans in Slavic include internationalisms, whose exact provenience is difficult to determine, often with the possibility of multiple borrowing.

As for Russian (and Polish), French contributed to a considerable extent to the development of the standard language at all levels, due to a high degree of bilingualism, characterizing the Russian aristocracy of the 18th and 19th centuries, even with French as their first language. In contrast, Russian, less so Polish, influenced Romance languages by means of a relatively small number of lexical items referring to the Slavic world and its cultural peculiarities and—after World War I—to the Soviet reality.

Romance lexical items have, in general, been integrated into the existent grammatical systems of the recipient languages. The integration of foreign loans in Slavic was mainly based on formal principles such as final vowels and consonants of the nouns fitting to the traditional genders and declensions, with the gender of the source word itself playing only a secondary role. The Latin neuter gender was either replaced or it led to innovative paradigms. In contrast, the Slavic neuter served to integrate masculine nouns with incompatible endings. In the case of borrowed verbs, special integration suffixes developed.

A special case is Romanian (including Moldovan), due to its direct contact with Slavic, spoken by people of its direct neighborhood, in part even forming linguistic enclaves. Contact with Ukrainian has been strongest since the Middle Ages in the northeastern parts of the Romanian language area. In general, influences are found in both directions: Romanian was an important source for shepherd and farming terminology, which is true also for Polish, Slovak, and even Moravian Czech as recipient languages. In contrast, Ukrainian as a donor language contributed to Romanian everyday vocabulary, especially in (Russian and independent) Moldova and the adjacent part of Ukraine. North-Slavic enclaves with strong Romanian influence also beyond the lexicon are of Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, and Czech origin. In grammar, Romanian influence has become visible here, for example, in the development of an analytical system of comparison, including a borrowed comparator.

In contrast to the ancient Romanian–Bulgarian symbiosis in the southeast, the substrate type of language contact has played only a marginal role in Central and Eastern Europe, restricted, by and large, to the French-speaking aristocracy in Russia and to some Romanian–Ukrainian contact areas. So, the adstrate type has clearly prevailed, partially in the form of the special subtype of a (cultural) superstrate.


  • Historical Linguistics
  • Language Families/Areas/Contact

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