Those with an understanding of Romance languages and the current social, business, political and economic climates of nations influenced by these languages are at an advantage when engaging in business or other professions in these regions.
Romance languages are descended from Latin, with more than 600 million native speakers worldwide, mainly in the Americas, Europe, and Africa, as well as in smaller regions scattered through the world. Knowledge of the practices, customs, languages and “intangibles” in areas where French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish are spoken is important in gaining an accurate interpretation of events in business, education and media.
The regions where these languages developed are influenced by a long history of religious events, from wars between Catholics and Protestants throughout Europe, the expulsion of Jews from France during World War II and Spain during the Spanish Inquisition, Muslim rule of Spain for several centuries, and the rise of Roman Catholicism that would eventually be based at the Vatican in Italy. Latin, the language of the Roman Empire, spread with Christianity throughout Europe, penetrating new lands and evolving into Romance languages we know today.
Language and religion: Fluency in Romance languages means being able to read influential works in their original texts, which can lead to a deeper understanding of philosophical and religious ideas. Examples include: Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy,” which was written in his native Italian. The account of the inferno, purgatory and paradise, based on a vision he claimed to have had in 1300, describes his travels through hell, purgatory and heaven. Dante’s vivid descriptions of the descent into hell and ascension to heaven have influenced religious thought and artistic interpretations for centuries.
French philosophers Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault offered more modern critiques of the search for truth and meaning, from existentialist or post-modernist views. In 1948, the Roman Catholic Church placed Sartre’s complete works on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books). Their philosophies explored the search for a meaning of life, and – though they came to different conclusions – their questions are ones religions attempt to address as well.
Translations and influences: During the Protestant Reformation and with the rise of the printing press, the Bible was translated into vernacular languages so that regular people – not only priests or Church leadership – could read the texts. The first complete translation from the originals into Spanish was published in 1569; French in 1530; Italian in 1471; and Portuguese, beginning in 1644 and completed some 60 years later. These translations occurred during times of prosperity and colonization for these nations, which spread Christianity and its texts to the Americas, Africa and Asia. The influence of this colonization and Christian faith is evident today as both Christianity and Spanish are long established in Latin American countries. Mexico, for example, has the largest population of Spanish speakers in the world and is home to some 75 million Catholics.
In addition to Latin, the Spanish language was influenced by Arabic during the time of the Moors, who were Muslim and ruled Spain and much of the Iberian Peninsula, beginning in the year 711. Many places on the peninsula have names derived from Arabic, most commonly on the Eastern Coast and region of Andalusia in Spain and southern Portugal. Over the centuries, Spanish borrowed many words from Arabic, including: alcoba (alcove, room), alfombra (carpet), guitarra (guitar); alcazar (fortress), alcalde (mayor); asesino (assassin), tarifa (tariff, fee); arroz (rice), espinaca (spinach), naranja (orange), café (coffee); alcohol (alcohol), alkali (alkali), adobe (adobe), laca (lacquer); cero (zero), cifra (cipher, figure), álgebra (algebra), cénit (zenith); and expressions such as ojalá (“may it be that…”, originally “May Allah want…”). An estimated 5,000 words in Spanish are of Arabic origin. Many of these words, especially in the scientific field, were passed on to other languages, including English, which received most of them by way of French.
Issues today: Languages change and adapt to reflect the population and times in which they develop. They reflect their origin, as well as the blending of cultures that occurs when they move to new regions, such as French in the Caribbean, Spanish in much of Latin America and the Philippines, and Portuguese in Brazil. Understanding the history and foundation of Romance languages and how they developed leads to insight into cultures that is useful in today’s globally diverse socio-political, religious and business environment.