So, I know that the dialects of Vulgar Latin evolved into the Romance languages in the Western Roman Empire, but I've always wondered why they only formed in Europe instead of in North Africa. Does anyone know? What languages were spoken in North Africa between Vulgar Latin and the arrival of Arabic?

  • Very interesting question, Thufir!
    – Cerberus
    Nov 6, 2017 at 0:47
  • Well, Berber was and is spoken; your question then is ? why didn't a Romance language supplant Berber?
    – user6726
    Nov 6, 2017 at 1:01
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    Alternatively, is it "why are there no written records of African Spoken Latin of the time"?
    – user6726
    Nov 6, 2017 at 1:07
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    FYI: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_Romance, though it's not the best article. Nov 6, 2017 at 15:02
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    There's several problems here. It's likely that there was always somebody around anywhere populous in N. Africa who could speak any language involved in trade. The questions, for any language at any time, are: how many people spoke it, what dialect(s) did they speak, and what other languages/dialects did they speak? That gives you a picture of one generation; then do the next one, and the next, and you begin to get an idea. Lacking that kind of information, we can't tell what path words have taken to get where people speak them today.
    – jlawler
    Nov 6, 2017 at 17:41

2 Answers 2


Did Romance languages evolve in North Africa?


What languages were spoken in North Africa between Vulgar Latin and the arrival of Arabic?

Both Romance and Arabic failed to totally supplant the Berber languages as they supplanted other languages in many other places.

After Latin and then Arabic came Mediterranean Sabir a.k.a. lingua franca, another Romance language, but not until the 11th century or so.

The other Romance languages spoken in North Africa would be French, Spanish and Ladino, which all arrived more recently, after Arabic.

But at least on Wikipedia there is apparently no consensus on when and how African Romance disappeared, and if it was still spoken when Sabir arrived:

What happened to African Romance following the Arab conquest in 696 is difficult to trace, though it was soon replaced by Arabic as the primary administrative language. At the time of the conquest a Romance language was probably spoken in the cities and Berber languages were also spoken in the region.1 Loanwords from North African Romance to Berber are attested and are usually in the accusative form: examples include atmun ("plough-beam") from temonem.1 It is unclear for how long Romance continued to be spoken, but its influence on North African Arabic (particularly in the language of northwestern Morocco) indicates it must have had a significant presence in the early years after the Arab conquest.1

Whether Mozarabic, the group of Romance dialects spoken in medieval Moorish Spain that developed separately from Spanish, shared features with African Latin is unknown.

The Normans, when they were acquiring their African kingdom in the 12th century, received help from the remaining Christian populations of Tunisia, and some historians such as Vermondo Brugnatelli argue that those Christians still spoke a Romance language. The language may have existed until the arrival of the Banu Hilal Arabs and probably until the beginning of the fourteenth century, according to scholar Andrew H. Merrills and others.[2]Furthermore, the 12th-century Maghrebi geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi, describing Gafsa in southern Tunisia, noted that "its inhabitants are Berberised, and most of them speak the African Latin tongue (al-lisān al-laṭīnī al-ifrīqī)."[3] According to one author,[2]

Christian communities, generally labelled Afariqa or Ajam in the Arab sources and speaking a latin dialect ("al-li-san al-latini al-Afariq" as is termed by al-Idrisi) are known to have survived until the fourteenth century.

— Alan Rushworth, Vandals, Romans and Berbers

Note: Afariqa means African, and Ajam means non-Arab, foreigner, in this context.

  • I doubt that Romance languages were spoken continuously in North Africa. The Islamic expansion led to the extinction of the North African Romance languages (and even to the extinction Mozarabic in Southern Spain, it was supplanted by Castillian dialects coming from the north). Nov 6, 2017 at 11:15
  • Hmm Wikipaedia says Sabir was spoken from the 11th to the 19th century. What was spoken between the 6th and 11th centuries?
    – Cerberus
    Nov 6, 2017 at 12:06
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    @jknappen You are probably right. Editing. Re Iberia peninsula though, there was always Romance spoken there even under occupation, just like Berber is still spoken in the Maghreb today despite Arabic and French dominance in politics. Nov 6, 2017 at 14:13
  • @Cerberus You are probably right. Editing. Nov 6, 2017 at 14:13
  • @A.M.Bittlingmayer: Good! Now I'm left wondering about the period between the 6th and 11th centuries: to what expect did a non-standard-Latin variant of Romance exist in North Africa?
    – Cerberus
    Nov 6, 2017 at 17:58

i would say that the Roman Print in Algeria is still Remarkable Until Now, The Ruins In The City of Tebassa, Timgad Publique Baths in the city Of Khenchela...etc. but there is a public and official oblivion to any non-Islamic presence in the country. On the other hand, the modern name of some cities was original Latin like tebassa= Tiffest Setif= Setifis, Milav= Mila, Constantine, tipaza...etc the roman language was the lingua-franca at the time it couldn't survive in front of Arabic, more studies should be conducted in this filed because it is a very rich and interested Subject

  • the question isn't about whether Rome left any impact on North Africa (which is pretty undeniably the case), so this seems to miss the point of the question
    – Tristan
    Oct 12, 2020 at 10:00

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