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People state that Romanian is closest in some aspects (grammar mainly), and that to learn a romance language studying latin may give you a leg up (which in my opinion just study the language), but for what language would this be uniquely bad for? For example, for which language has either the furthest grammar, vocabulary/cognate set, or has such a different sound set from Latin.

French or Portuguese have nasal vowels for an easy example; or some other criteria.

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    Excellent question. Qua pronunciation, I think French and Portuguese are indeed good candidates. French also doesn't allow dropping subject pronouns, and its spelling is often unrecognisable, which I think applies less to Portuguese. – Cerberus Feb 5 '19 at 15:07
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    It will surely be some language which is arguably not a Romance language, not even a full language, or intentionally modified like rhyming slang. Some French-based creole, Spanglish, Verlan, Lingua Franca, Caló or Barallete. Maybe you should define a constraint? – Adam Bittlingmayer Feb 6 '19 at 17:37
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    Haitian Creole is French evolution carried through grammaticalization. But I think Rumanian is farther away; it's borrowed many Slavic words and even more Slavic phonology. Latin will get you a certain distance, but OCS will get you further. – jlawler Feb 6 '19 at 20:15
  • @jlawler I suppose it depends on which aspects of a language are (for a given person) most difficult to learn. If Romanian has the most conservative grammar, but by far the most non-Romance borrowings, then people who find learning the words the hard part will find Romanian the hardest language, but people who have a hard time getting the knack of grammar might find it the easiest. – abarnert Feb 8 '19 at 23:01
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There is no definitive answer

This question is a very difficult one, since there is no clear way of measuring how much a language has changed. Also, some traces are kept by some and other traces by other languages, it means that some have been phonetically more conservative, while others, morphologically, syntactically etc. For instance, romanian has changed a lot phonectically speaking, more than italian did, but it retains a simplified version of latin's noun case inflections.

Asking a question like that is like asking which sibling looks more like their parents. One might say one of them have the hair that looks like her mother's, othe might say he has his dad's eyes, or even that she has the same personality as her father, but they all have different characteristics of their parents — none of them looks more like the other in a meaningful way. That's why you see so many different answers for this question, it is a matter of how do you analyse the languages to compare them. It also depends on which dialect of a certain language you're comparing.

EDIT: you said in your question that portuguese and french may be good candidates for least similar because of their nasal vowels, however, it is not a good argument because it is known that classical latin had nasal vowels as well, to make it even more complicated

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French is a good candidate for the most evolved form of Latin. Very little has remained unchanged, and the situation would probably be worse if the French Académie had not relatinized French in the 17-18th centuries.

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  • @AdamBittlingmayer But are those Romance languages at all, or are they languages that effectively started their evolution over (usually from a defectively-grammatical pidgin) and just borrowed most of their vocabulary? (And the answer depends in part on which theory of creolization you find most compelling—the "koine genesis" theory would presumably lead you to say they're definitely Romance, while Bickerton's "universal bioprogram" definitely not, with the others all somewhere between.) – abarnert Feb 8 '19 at 23:05
  • @abarnert Let's assume that among the world's language, all of the possibilities you mention exist. In any case, I think it's hard to argue a language is absolutely not a Romance language if it exists on some kind of continuum with a Romance language. – Adam Bittlingmayer Feb 9 '19 at 0:36
  • In the case of France, which was in fact Conquered Gaul at that time, Romance is mostly a topdown process, with the upperclass sending their children to Rome to learn Latin and then the rest gradually turning to Latin. There's no Creole or whatever involved here. – Arnaud Fournet Feb 9 '19 at 9:34
  • @AdamBittlingmayer Any classification into "families" is going to be somewhat arbitrary, but it's nowhere near completely arbitrary. It's clear that Italian is a Romance language, while German is not; it's clear that the lexifier of Haitian is French. If the koine theory is right, it's also clear that Haitian is a Romance language (as definite as anything gets in linguistics); if Bickerton is right, it's not a Romance language; if Bickerton is right, they're definitely not; if one of the more moderate theories is right, it may be too ambiguous to answer nonarbitrarily. – abarnert Feb 9 '19 at 20:17
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I have heard the claim that Spanish is the Romance language closest to Latin.

I have also heard the claim that Portuguese is the Romance language closest to Latin.

And I've heard that Romanian is the Romance language closest to Latin.

I've also heard that Italian is the Romance language closest to Latin.

And I've heard the same claim made about Romansh Ladin.

(I'd love to put all the linguists who made those claims together in a small room and make them come to some sort of agreement.)

Be aware that these are contradictory statements. Obviously, they can't be all correct -- but there could be some truth to all of them. (However, it does reinforce the saying that you shouldn't believe everything you read or hear -- even if what you hear comes straight from professional sources.)

Note that, from all the above statements, one language that's conspicuously absent is French. Does that mean French is the least similar to Latin?

To be fair, we can't discount the possibility that there is/was some variant of some Romance language that was even less similar to Latin, and has either died out, or is just not that well known.

There are also several French descendants (such as creole languages) that are farther from Latin. Do those count as Romance languages? Some people will say yes, some people will say no. It's not a clear-cut answer.

However, since there are no shortages of "This is the language closest to Latin" claims, and I've yet to hear one for France, makes me think that, well, French may be the best fit as an answer to your question -- barring any additional linguistic archaeology.

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  • If you want to exclude creoles, that would be reasonable. The familiarity depends on cultural context (do Haitians learn Latin?). It's many steps removed from the parent. Then, you might also want to discount French. Maybe Old French was very recognizable as romance. But Parisian took influences from Norman ("a variant of Norþman [...] It is certain that the word is derived from the base of the Germanic words for north and the Germanic base of the words for man.", "2. A member of the mixed Scandinavian and Frankish peoples ..." [wiktionary]). At that point, any opinion would be … normative – vectory Apr 16 at 18:07

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