The Arpitan language, also known as Franco-Provençal, of southeastern France, western Switzerland, and Aosta Valley region of northwestern Italy. Formerly thought of as a dialect of either Oïl or Occitan, it is linguistically a language on its own, or rather a separate group of languages, as many of its dialects have little mutual comprehensibility. It shares features of both French and the Provençal dialect of Occitan.
Other language families which are sometimes included in Gallo-Romance:
The Catalan language has standard forms of Catalan and Valencian. The inclusion of Catalan in Gallo-Romance is disputed by some linguists who prefer to group it with Iberian Romance, since although Old Catalan is close to Old Occitan, it later adjusted its lexicon to some degree to align with Spanish. In general, however, modern Catalan, especially grammatically, remains closer to modern Occitan than to either Spanish or Portuguese.
In the view of some linguists (Pierre Bec, Andreas Schorta, Heinrich Schmid, Geoffrey Hull) Rhaeto-Romance and Gallo-Italic form a single linguistic unity named "Rhaeto-Cisalpine" or "Padanian", which includes also the Venetian and Istriot dialects, whose Italianate features are deemed to be superficial and secondary in nature.
Traditional geographical extension
The approximate extent of the Gallo-Romance languages as natively spoken in Europe (according to the broadest definition of the term).
How far the Gallo-Romance languages spread varies a great deal depending on which languages are included in the group. Those included in its narrowest definition (i.e. the Langues d'oïl and Arpitan) were historically spoken in the north of France, parts of Flanders, Alsace, part of Lorraine, the Wallonia region of Belgium, the Channel Islands, parts of Switzerland, and northern Italy.
Today, a single Gallo-Romance language (French) dominates much of this geographic region (including the formerly non-Romance areas of France) and has also spread overseas.
The Gallo-Romance languages are generally considered the most innovative (least conservative) among the Romance languages. Northern France (the medieval area of the langue d'oïl, from which modern French developed) was the epicentre. Characteristic Gallo-Romance features generally developed earliest and appear in their most extreme manifestation in the langue d'oïl, gradually spreading out from there along riverways and roads. The earliest vernacular Romance writing occurred in Northern France, as the development of vernacular writing in a given area was forced by the almost total inability of Romance speakers to understand Classical Latin, still the vehicle of writing and culture.
Gallo-Romance languages are usually characterised by the loss of all unstressed final vowels other than /-a/ (most significantly, final /-o/ and /-e/ were lost). However, when the loss of a final vowel would result in an impossible final cluster (/tr/), a prop vowel appears in place of the lost vowel, usually /e/. Generally, the same changes also occurred in final syllables closed by a consonant.
Furthermore, loss of /e/ in a final syllable was early enough in Primitive Old French that the Classical Latin third singular /t/ was often preserved: venit "he comes" > /ˈvɛːnet/ (Romance vowel changes) > /ˈvjɛnet/ (diphthongization) > /ˈvjɛned/ (lenition) > /ˈvjɛnd/ (Gallo-Romance final vowel loss) > /ˈvjɛnt/ (final devoicing). Elsewhere, final vowel loss occurred later or unprotected /t/ was lost earlier (perhaps under Italian influence).
Other than southern Occitano-Romance, the Gallo-Romance languages are quite innovative, with French and some of the Gallo-Italian languages rivaling each other for the most extreme phonological changes compared with more conservative languages. For example, French sain, saint, sein, ceint, seing meaning "healthy, holy, breast, (he) girds, signature" (Latin sānum, sanctum, sinum, cinget, signum) are all pronounced /sɛ̃/.
In other ways, however, the Gallo-Romance languages are conservative. The older stages of many of the languages are famous for preserving a two-case system consisting of nominative and oblique, fully marked on nouns, adjectives and determiners, inherited almost directly from the Latin nominative and accusative cases and preserving a number of different declensional classes and irregular forms.
In the opposite of the normal pattern, the languages closest to the oïl epicentre preserve the case system the best, and languages at the periphery (near languages that had long before lost the case system except on pronouns) lost it early. For example, the case system was preserved in Old Occitan until around the 13th century but had already been lost in Old Catalan, despite the fact that there were very few other differences between the two.
The Occitan group is known for an innovatory /ɡ/ ending on many subjunctive and preterite verbs and an unusual development of [ð] (Latin intervocalic -d-), which, in many varieties, merges with [dz] (from intervocalic palatalised -c- and -ty-).
The following tables show two examples of the extensive phonological changes that French has undergone. (Compare modern Italian saputo, vita even more conservative than the reconstructed Western Romance forms.)
Extensive reduction in French: sapūtum > su/sy/ "known"
vowel changes, first lenition
loss of final vowels
final devoicing, loss of length
loss of /v/ near rounded vowel
early Old French
fronting of /u/
loss of dental fricatives
collapse of hiatus
Extensive reduction in French: vītam > vie/vi/ "life"
vowel changes, first lenition
early Old French
second lenition, loss of length, final /a/ to /ə/
loss of dental fricatives
loss of final schwa
These are the notable characteristics of the Gallo-Romance languages:
Early loss of all final vowels other than /a/ is the defining characteristic, as noted above.
Early, heavy reduction of unstressed vowels in the interior of a word (another defining characteristic). That and final vowel reduction are most of the extreme phonemic differences between the Northern and the Central Italian dialects, which otherwise share a great deal of vocabulary and syntax.
Loss of final vowels phonemicised the long vowels that had been automatic concomitants of stressed open syllables. The phonemic long vowels are maintained directly in many Northern Italian dialects. Elsewhere, phonemic length was lost, but many of the long vowels had been diphthongised, resulting in a maintenance of the original distinction. The langue d'oïl branch was again at the forefront of innovation, with no less than five of the seven long vowels diphthongising (only high vowels were spared).
Front rounded vowels are present in all four branches. /u/ usually fronts to /y/, and mid-front rounded vowels often develop from long /oː/ or /ɔː/.
Extreme lenition (repeated lenition) occurs in many languages, especially in langue d'oïl and many Gallo-Italian languages. Examples from French: ˈvītam > vie/vi/ "life"; *saˈpūtum > su/sy/ "known"; similarly vu/vy/ "seen" < *vidūtum, pu/py/ "been able" < *potūtum, eu/y/ "had" < *habūtum. Examples from Lombard: *"căsa" > "cà" /ka/ "home, house"
Langue d'oïl, Swiss Rhaeto-Romance languages and many northern dialects of Occitan have a secondary palatalization of /k/ and /ɡ/ before /a/, producing different results from the primary Romance palatalisation: centum "hundred" > cent/sɑ̃/, cantum "song" > chant/ʃɑ̃/.
Other than Occitano-Romance languages, most Gallo-Romance languages are subject-obligatory (whereas all the rest of the Romance languages are pro-drop languages). That is a late development triggered by progressive phonetic erosion: Old French was still a null-subject language until the loss of secondarily final consonants in Middle French.
Gallo-Italian languages have a number of features in common with the other Italian languages:
Loss of final /s/, which triggers raising of the preceding vowel (more properly, the /s/ "debuccalizes" to /j/, which is monophthongized into a higher vowel): /-as/ > /-e/, /-es/ > /-i/, hence Standard Italian plural cani < canes, subjunctive tu canti < tu cantes, indicative tu cante < tu cantas (now tu canti in Standard Italian, borrowed from the subjunctive); amiche "female friends" < amicas. The palatalisation in the masculine amici/aˈmitʃi/, compared with the lack of palatalisation in amiche/aˈmike/, shows that feminine -e cannot come from Latin ae, which became /ɛː/ by the first-century AD, and could certainly have triggered palatalisation.
Use of nominative -i for masculine plurals instead of accusative -os.
^ The most developed formulation of this theory is to be found in the research of Geoffrey Hull, "La lingua padanese: Corollario dell’unità dei dialetti reto-cisalpini". Etnie: Scienze politica e cultura dei popoli minoritari, 13 (1987), pp. 50-53; 14 (1988), pp. 66-70, and The Linguistic Unity of Northern Italy and Rhaetia: Historical Grammar of the Padanian Language, 2 vols. Sydney: Beta Crucis, 2017..