Why all the -u endings in Romanian?

While Latin is the primary language I have studied in school (I try to forget the dark lands of Rosetta Stone French), I am interested in other languages as well.

One that has always puzzled and fascinated me is Romanian – an island of Romance language amidst a sea of Slavic (and some Hungarian).

What I have never quite understood about Romanian is why so many of the words seem to terminate in -u.
(For example, consider all those -escu surnames!)

I find this strange because -u endings are relatively rare in Latin.
As far is I know, they only show up in the ablative supine and in some 4th-declension noun cases.

Does anyone have an idea of how these -u endings entered Romanian and why they are so prevalent?

Thank you!
Cornelius
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Final -s and -m* sometimes got dropped in Latin from very early on, and the phenomenon generalized in late Latin. That led to only a u remaining in many words. That u often turned into an o (e.g. see the present-day result in Italian or Spanish) but apparently failed to in Romanian (unless it did and the process was reversed at some point).

*The story of final -m is actually a little more complicated. It probably went through a phase, roughly during the classical period, where it caused nasalization and lengthening of the preceding vowel rather than being either dropped or fully pronounced. But that vanished eventually, leaving only u/o.
 
Fascinating! – This actually sounds quite logical.

The idea you presented of the u "failing" to turn into an o makes sense from a developmental standpoint.
From what I have seen, Romanian tends to appear a little more "primitive" than corresponding Romance languages.
That is, it just has this Latin "look" to it that languages like Spanish and French just don't have.

For example, Romanian keeps the -ii ending – something that other Romance languages never do (as far as I have seen).

Thank you for sharing all this!
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
I have been thinking more about the peculiarities of this language, and there is another notable one that comes to mind.
That is, the use of ea – both within words and as an ending.

Again, the ea combination is rather rare in Latin, appearing mainly in 2nd-declension present-tense subjunctive verbs.
However, it is pervasive throughout Romanian.

Does anyone have a suggestion on where it could have arisen from?
Perhaps, in the instances where ea is an ending, it developed from the common Latin ending -ia (but that is just an idea).
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Can you provide examples of words where that ea occurs?
 
Oh, sure –
1. The given name Milea.
2. The surname of their old dictator, Ceaușescu.
3. The suffix -eanu, which apparently is tacked onto place names.
4. Nouns* like ceară (wax) and peară (pear).

*In these cases when the ea is internal (i.e., not an ending), I have found that it arises from diphthongization of an e from the corresponding Latin word:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanian_language#Phonetic_changes.
 
I also would love to learn more about Romanian for the reasons you gave (Slavicized Romans or Romanized Slavs?).

But it's important to keep in mind that all across the Romance dialects there are 'o's realized as /u/, and the question becomes, as P put it, whether the vowel was ever actually pronounced as /o/ or whether it was written after a borrowed orthographical convention. In Standard Portuguese, for example, atonic (unstressed) 'o' is almost always /u/, e.g. morro. I think also in some Southern Italian dialects, final o is typically /u/.

Ol' Serenus is the man to see in this matter.
 

Anbrutal Russicus

Active Member
/ea/ is the regular reflex of /ē, e, i/ in all stressed syllables, open and closed, that aren't followed by a high vowel; thus probably metaphonic in origin. Bizzarely enough it was preceded by open stressed syllable diphthongisation of /ae, e > ɛ: > je/, as in Florentine Italian pietra and French pierre.

The -u is the regular 2nd declension accusative ending -u(m), which was a nasalised vowel, as Pacifica mentions. It was dropped unless the resulting consonant cluster was banned word-finally; in this case it was retained, as in -scu, -tru. There are some Southern Italian varieties, as well as some Asturian ones (in the Pyrenees), that distinguish final -o and -u; also Logudorese-Nuorese Sardinian. Most varieties merged them into either one. Southern Italian never spells /u/ as o though - Sicilian (incl. southern Calabrian) merged /ō, u, ū/ into /u/ in all positions, so DÓNVM > dunu.
 
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Incredibly, the Romanian soccer team made it into the Olympics!
These are the highlights from their first game – if you listen closely you can hear that many of the surnames end in -u.


I'm not Romanian but it would be cool to see them go far.
 

Bestiola

Sciura Tigrina Croatica
Staff member
While Latin is the primary language I have studied in school (I try to forget the dark lands of Rosetta Stone French), I am interested in other languages as well.

One that has always puzzled and fascinated me is Romanian – an island of Romance language amidst a sea of Slavic (and some Hungarian).

What I have never quite understood about Romanian is why so many of the words seem to terminate in -u.
(For example, consider all those -escu surnames!)

I find this strange because -u endings are relatively rare in Latin.
As far is I know, they only show up in the ablative supine and in some 4th-declension noun cases.

Does anyone have an idea of how these -u endings entered Romanian and why they are so prevalent?

Thank you!
Cornelius
-escu is a patronim, coming from -iscus. So, for example, Mihaescu means "the son of Mihai".

-ea is a common diftongation process in Romanian

-u is still there in many Romanian words because Dacia got cut off very early - in 275 AD, the first province to be abandoned. The process in which u ended up in o (in many other western romance languages) never managed to appear in Romanian due to withdrawal of the Roman administration and military (mostly). Romanian basically preserved the state of Latin in the late 3rd century of the Balkan area.
 
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Bestiola

Sciura Tigrina Croatica
Staff member
While Latin is the primary language I have studied in school (I try to forget the dark lands of Rosetta Stone French), I am interested in other languages as well.

One that has always puzzled and fascinated me is Romanian – an island of Romance language amidst a sea of Slavic (and some Hungarian).

What I have never quite understood about Romanian is why so many of the words seem to terminate in -u.
(For example, consider all those -escu surnames!)

I find this strange because -u endings are relatively rare in Latin.
As far is I know, they only show up in the ablative supine and in some 4th-declension noun cases.

Does anyone have an idea of how these -u endings entered Romanian and why they are so prevalent?

Thank you!
Cornelius
Don't forget the influence of Greeks - for a long time, Romania was ruled by the Phanariotes, which were Greeks. The Ottoman rule imposed Phanariotes to rule them, and it lasted for a few centuries, enough for a lot of Greek words to creep in. The Turks left some words, too. Then, it was the French and Italian influence later, with the emphasis on French.
 

Bestiola

Sciura Tigrina Croatica
Staff member
Very interesting, thank you for sharing all this!
Any time!

As far as historical phonology is concerned, what I find most fascinating is that some authors make a connection between Oscic and Umbric consonant clusters and the way they resemble Romanian. How? Presumably, the Roman veterans which populated conquered Dacia may have come from that area. Or, Daco-Thracian substratum was somehow resembling Osco/Umbrian dialects, we'll ever know for sure. Then there's the neighbouring but extinct Dalmatian with its fascinating phonology...:love:
 
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