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I have just learned that the suffix "escu" in a Romanian name means "son of." But it seems that the "u" is a common ending in all Romanian words. Does that one letter have a meaning?

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    The Romanian -escu is the equivalent of the French -esque, German -isch, and English -ish. Saying that it means son of (in Romanian) is as misleading as saying the same for all other suffixes mentioned above.
    – Lucian
    Nov 21, 2014 at 5:21
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    @Lucian - It may also be considered the equivalent of the Italian names ending in -eschi (Tedeschi, Brunelleschi).
    – cipricus
    Jul 13, 2021 at 14:33
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    @Lucian - You are right, -escu is just the result of adding the definite article -l to -esc (Romanian equivalent of French -esque etc), like in the adjectives omenesc=human, dumnezeiesc=divine, trupesc=bodily, câinesc=dog-like (corresponding to the adverbs omenește, dumnezeiește etc). For phonetic and etymological reasons that article has the result of bringing up the lost u, as said here.
    – cipricus
    Nov 22, 2022 at 14:47

3 Answers 3

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I don't think that the -u has a particular meaning in Romanian, unless in Rumanian it works to signal a particular ending, such as the masculine ending, but there's no mention about this ending on the article for Romanian grammar. Rather, I'd say it's simply what "survived" from the Latin endings (e.g. -us, -um). I tried to look for some resources but didn't find much. In any case I think you could look at The Romance Languages by Martin Harris, or The Romance Languages by Rebecca Posner.

The suffix "-escu" in Rumanian's names comes from the Latin "-iscus".

In any case, Romanian is not the only one that still has this heritage: Sardinian and Sicilian are other two examples that clearly still possess these endings.

These three languages are the only ones that kept the endings in -u1, while other Romance languages had changes. For example, italian changed the endings to -o. Romance languages are more or less far from Latin. You can see a comparison with the verb to sing, in the Proposed divisions section on the wikipedia article for Romance Languages.

Let's see a comparison for the verb "to enter":

╔═══╦══════════╦══════════╦═══════════╦══════════╦═══════════╗
║   ║  Latin   ║ Italian  ║ Sardinian ║ Romanian ║ English   ║
║   ║ Intrare  ║ Entrare  ║ Intrare   ║ A intra  ║ To Enter  ║
╠═══╬══════════╬══════════╬═══════════╬══════════╬═══════════╣
║ 1 ║ intro    ║ entro    ║ intro     ║ intru    ║ enter     ║
║ 2 ║ intras   ║ entri    ║ intrasa   ║ intri    ║ enter     ║
║ 3 ║ intrat   ║ entra    ║ intrata   ║ intră    ║ enters    ║
║ 4 ║ intramus ║ entriamo ║ intramusu ║ intrăm   ║ enter     ║
║ 5 ║ intratis ║ entrate  ║ intradese ║ intrați  ║ enter     ║
║ 6 ║ intrant  ║ entrano  ║ intrana   ║ intră    ║ enter     ║
╚═══╩══════════╩══════════╩═══════════╩══════════╩═══════════╝

1: see comments. Also other Romance languages possess this ending but not orthographically, just phonetically.

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    Sorry, I tried to be as comprehensive as possible, but didn't find much information. I wanted to back up what I know from my experience, but there isn't much out there. Hope to find something in the future. If someone wants to fix or let me know possible mistakes, please do!
    – Alenanno
    Apr 17, 2012 at 18:19
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    Portuguese and Occitan also have endings in /u/ but this is not orthographically indicated. E.g Pt "entro" /ẽtɾu/; Occ (Alpine-Provencal) "intro" /intru/ Apr 17, 2012 at 20:51
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    By the way - nice job on the table format. Apr 17, 2012 at 22:52
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    @MarkBeadles I used this tool. It looks better there, though. I have to use the Code here and so it comes out with those spaces. :)
    – Alenanno
    Apr 17, 2012 at 22:55
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    Portuguese paradigm is nearly identical to Spanish orthographically entro/entras/entra/entramos/entrais/entram but pronunciation is ẽtɾu/ẽtɾɐʃ/ẽtɾɐ/ẽtɾamuʃ/ẽtɾɐiʃ/ẽtɾɐ̃ũ/ with u phonemes (nasal and oral) in 1sg/1pl/3pl Apr 17, 2012 at 23:34
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As mentioned in Wikipedia article, ul is the definite article for (many) masculine and neuter nouns. E.g. cal-->calul i.e. horse-->the horse.
Commonly and informally, ul is reduced to u.

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  • I think the OP was talking about vocabulary and orthography whereas this answer is specifically about pronunciation. I'm still voting it up though because the original question was too brief and thus allows this as a good answer. Aug 2, 2013 at 6:12
  • Commonly and informally in speaking and writing, though yes, more common in speaking Aug 2, 2013 at 18:04
  • @hippietrail - considering pronunciation is the only way of making sense of the question, otherwise the question would have been why so many words end in "L".
    – cipricus
    Nov 19, 2019 at 11:24
  • That definite article is not always ul, but also just l. One could say that the essential form is l, because u is added only when the noun ends with a consonant (because the musicality of the language, the facility of pronunciation demands it). On the other hand, as most such nouns do end in a consonant, the ul article is the most frequent.
    – cipricus
    Nov 19, 2019 at 11:29
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    In fact Romanian has many nouns that end in u (ou, bou, leu, râu, fiu,grâu, lucru), which get the -l article, while the ones ending in a consonant get the -ul article. I tend to think that structurally only one article it's at play here: either -ul is the real one, which simply loses the u in contact with u-ending nouns (to avoid double-u), or -l is, which gets a u to avoid consonant+l ending.
    – cipricus
    Nov 22, 2022 at 12:44
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With the exception of French, most Romance languages have a lot of masculine singular nouns ending in o and u. That feature is very striking and catches the ear at first contact. I think this is obvious in Italian and Spanish with o and in Portuguese and other languages (Neapolitan, Sicilian, Catalan, Sardinian, Corsican, Asturian) with u.

In Romanian also there are singular masculine and neuter nouns which end with u (ou, bou, leu, râu, fiu, brâu, frâu, grâu, flăcău, căpăstru, lucru, curcubeu, austru, suflu, Dumnezeu, including a series of words ending in augmentative -andru: puiandru, băiețandru, copilandru, cățelandru, flăcăiandru, măcăleandru etc) - as well as with other vocals -, but the great majority end with a consonant

But when the latter get their Barkanische-Sprachbund-specific post-fixed article, the Romance-style u reappears. As in normal speech the l is barely pronounced, much more nouns seem to end in u after all.

As said here:

-ul is a variant of -l with the original u (lost in most modern Romanian nouns) reappearing at the end of the noun it is attached to as a link to the definite article to make pronunciation smoother. For example, in its evolution from Latin, the word foc probably passed through a phase in early Romanian where it was *focu, but the u only appears now as a part of the definite form, focul (with the definite article suffix -l), corresponding to Vulgar Latin *focu illu. The grammatical rule was generalized and also came to apply to nouns of non-Latin origin after they became part of Romanian (e.g. război → războiul).

or in the Gramatica limbii române. Vol.1. Cuvântul (Grammar of Romanian Language, Volume 1. The Word) of the Romanian academy, page 98:

In contemporary language -l is not pronounced anymore in current speech, its function being fulfilled by the preceding vowel -u. This use is accepted in standard spoken language.

The noun-end in u is as such a normal feature in Romanian as well as in a large part of Romance languages. (In Aromanian the corresponding article is -lu, which follows this trend.)

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