Whether or not I am a reliable source for the question of mutual intelligibility has been questioned in a debate on Wikipedia. It’s been suggested that I am an amateur linguist – that is, I am not a real linguist. This is not true. I am in fact a real linguist. My credentials are that have an MA in Linguistics and have worked in the past as a professional linguist for an Indian tribe in a paid position.
Here is an excellent link on the question of mutual intelligibility between Spanish and Portuguese, the subject of a prior post. If you Google the question, you get all sorts of hits for the question, so it is obviously something that people are very interested in.
But here’s a guy who actually tested it out experimentally. In the test, which used Spanish speakers from South America and Portuguese speakers from Brazil, Spanish had 58% intelligibility for Portuguese speakers, and Portuguese had 50% intelligibility for Spanish speakers (Jensen 1989). This stands to reason, given popular stories about Spanish speakers being able to ask directions of Portuguese speakers but not being able to understand the response. Portuguese is harder for Spanish speakers than vice versa. Combining the two gives us a figure of 54% intelligibility between Spanish and Portuguese in real life situations in South America today (Jensen 1989).
The test attempted to factor out exposure to the other language and decided that Spanish and Portuguese have about 45% inherent intelligibility or comprehension of those speakers not previously exposed to the other language (Jensen 1989). That sounds about right.
So Spanish and Portuguese have 45% inherent intelligibility and 54% in real life situations in South America involving some bilingual learning.
Keep in mind that Spanish and Portuguese have 89% lexical similarity. Based on that, you would think that they can understand each other or that they are dialects of a single language. But lexical similarity is almost always going to be higher than intelligibility, so that 89% figure is quite misleading. For instance, Frisian and English have 61% lexical similarity, but in the Frisian video in the prior post, I could not make out a single word in five minutes. It appears that 60% lexical similarity and $1.89 will get you a Slurpee at a 7-11 but little in the way of understanding another language.
We also learn, here, that no one can understand French except the French. Spanish, Portuguese, Italians, Romanians, no one can understand the darned French. This makes sense to me. I can’t understand a word of the local French-speaking tourists, and I had a semester of French. They always talk like they are holding their noses.
This is interesting in light of the fact that Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian have 89%, 75%, 75% and 75% lexical similarity with French. But all those similar words aren’t worth a hill of beans when it comes to understanding a Frenchman.
Spanish speakers have a better understanding of Italian. Italian and Spanish have 85% lexical similarity, and that is worse than the 89% for Spanish and Portuguese.
That’s for spoken communication. For written communication, French and Italian can understand each other a lot more. The same is true with Spanish and Portuguese. They can understand the other language when written much better than when spoken.
What is interesting is that everyone accepts that Spanish, Portuguese and Italian are separate languages, despite 54% intelligibility for Spanish and Portuguese.
However, in the cases of Austrian/Bavarian, Swabian (spoken around Stuttgart) and Mainfränkisch (Moselle Franconian, close to Luxembourgeois), these three languages are only 40% intelligible with Standard German. Their status as separate languages has infuriated lots of Germans who just consider them to be merely dialects of German, or “cheap slangs” of some type or other. Yet they have a better case for being separate languages than Spanish and Portuguese do.
Romanian also seems to have some understanding of both Spanish and Italian. Romanian speakers say that they moved to Italy, could immediately pick up a fair amount of the conversation, and picked up Italian very fast. Romanians have ~65% intelligibility of Italian when spoken and possibly 85-90% when written. They can understand written Catalan better than Spanish and spoken South American Spanish better than Castillian Spanish.
Vice versa, Italians living in Italy run into Romanians regularly and say that they can understand Romanian quite well. Spanish speakers say that they can understand a fair amount of Romanian, and Romanians can understand even more of their Spanish. Spanish and Italian have 71% and 77% lexical similarity with Romanian.
Catalan may be about 60-70% intelligible to a Spanish speaker, and that is with 85% lexical similarity. Oddly enough, Spanish speakers seem to understand Galician better than Portuguese speakers do. Spanish speakers can probably understand 85% of Galician. That doesn’t make much sense, but that’s how it is. Standard Galician is said to be pretty Hispanicized these days.
Looking for a nice dialect continuum across Europe where you can keep on understanding people everywhere you go? Try this, starting at Portugal:
Portuguese, Mirandese, Fala, Galician, Asturian, Aragonese, Spanish, Catalan, Gascon, Occitan, Auvergnat, Provençal, Franco-Provençal, French, Gallo, Picard, Jersey, Guernsey, Walloon, Romansch, Friulian, Ladin, Lombard, Ligurian, Piedmontese, Emiliano-Romagnolo, Venetian, Italian, Neapolitan, Corsican, Sicilian, Sardinian Gallurese, Sardinian Logudorese, Sardinian Sassarese, Sardinian Campidanese, Latin, Moldovan, Romanian, Megleno-Romanian, Istro-Romanian, Macedo-Romanian.
- Jensen, John B. 1989. On the Mutual Intelligibility of Spanish and Portuguese. Hispania 72: 848-852.
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122 thoughts on “Mutual Intelligibility in the Romance Languages”
The holahoax explained for dummies
In1980 there was 14,5 million jews in the whole world and ten years later there are 12,9 million jews in the wholw world. – a mini-holohoax, a quarter of the ww2 holahoax in ten years.
AJC is American Jewish Committee
About us: American Jewish Committee (AJC), established in 1906 by a small group of American Jews deeply concerned about pogroms aimed at Russian Jews, determined that the best way to protect Jewish populations in danger would be to work towards a world in which all peoples were accorded respect and dignity. Over 100 years later, AJC continues its efforts to promote pluralistic and democratic societies where all minorities are protected. AJC is an international think tank and advocacy organization that attempts to identify trends and problems early – and take action. Our key areas of focus are:
Quote from the Global Jew Mafia: “The size of world Jewry at the end of 1988 is assessed at 12,979,000, or slightly below 13 million. ”
Qoute from the GLOBAL jew mafia: “THERE ARE NO PRECISE DATA on Jewish population in the various countries.”
DISTRIBUTION BY CONTINENTS
The estimated world Jewish population at the end of 1979 was 14,527,150. O
This is straight from the GLOBAL jew mafia, in 1979 there was totally 14,5+ million jews in the whole world, and then ten years later there was LESS than -13 million jews in the whole world.
That is more than a quarter, more than 1,5 million dead jews in less than ten years – a mini-holohoax.
Now, if the GLOBAL jew mafia cant keep it straight for even ten years in the 80s – how the (any word) can the jew mafia tell dead sure that six millon jews perished during ww2?
What the fuck has that load of shit got to do with ANYTHING?
It s not the least bit surprising that there is little mutual intelligibility between French and the other Latin languages because phonetically French is the odd man out. It has more vowel sounds than the other ones and its stress pattern is quite different. Whereas in the other Latin languages the syllable stress can be on the last, second last or third last syllable, in French it is always on the last syllable, unless the last syllable has a schwa in it.
In addition, French words are often a syllable shorter than in the other Latin languages. For instance temps = tiempo is pronounced tã. It looks similar but it sounds quite different. Compare homme, pronounced om, with hombre and uomo, cheval with caballo and cavallo, eau with acqua and agua, coup = koo with golpe and colpo, sang = sã with sangre and sangue, doight = dwa with dedo and ditto.
Another factor is that French, like Portuguese, has nasal sounds. It is likely that it is the presence of nasal sounds which makes Portuguese less intelligible to Hispanics than Spanish is to Lusitanians.
Still, it is not that hard for the speaker of another Latin language to learn French. I taught myself to read French and to speak it respectably solely from knowing Portuguese.
I wonder, to what extent are the peculiar features of French and its status as the “odd man out” among the Romance languages due to Celtic influence?
I always that that was some kind of Germanic influence, but perhaps I am wrong? Something strange definitely happened to French. It’s based on Vulgar Latin, but it was on top of Gaulish, and that was not a normal tongue for that area. I think Gaulish is the source of a lot of French’s oddness.
“I always that that was some kind of Germanic influence, but perhaps I am wrong”
A combination of both Germanic and Celtic influence perhaps? To start you have the great mass of the population speaking a Celtic language, with vulgar Latin displacing these dialects over the course of several centuries.
Then you have the Germanic Franks conquering (and effectively founding) France and presumably their language would have been the mainstay amongst the elite for some centuries before giving way to the more common Romance dialect of the masses – more or less the opposite of what happened in England following the Norman invasions where the elite Romance language was eventually replaced by the common Germanic.
I don’t know if there is a clear “magic bullet” explanation as to how French arrived in its present form. If you read a medieval French text, such as La Chanson de Roland (whose earliest manuscript is from the 11th century), you’ll see that while some traits of modern French (like the frequency of final consonants instead of vowels) can be observed, there are quite a few terms that are more similar to other Romance languages than their modern French equivalents are. For example, that text uses “jo” instead of “je”,”Deu” instead of “Dieu” and either “li” or “el” instead of “le.” Also, the term “mult” is repeatedly used as an intensifier adjective, (much like the Italian “molto”) whereas it has all but died out today in French. So the evolution of French away from other Romance languages was far from completed at this time – and yet, by then, both the Gaulish and Frankish languages were long extinct in France.
The “elite Romance language” that was the ruling one in England was French, you can call it whatever you want, “anglo norman”, “norman french” etc. William the conqueror was French, spoke French, after 3 centuries there was nothing viking left in the handful of their norman descendents. Besides only a few of them were part of the massive 1066 invasion force that mostly comprised pure frenchmen: william had to draft massively and pretty far out of normandy. Then the crown befell to the plantagenets from angers, who were obviously as french as the king himself, and who drafted a lot of people from framce to england. As a matter of fact much of the english literature from the 11th to 15th century was actually written in french. The variety that was imported there was fully intelligible with then standard french. The motto of the royal family, for example, “dieu et mon droit, honni soit qui mal y pense” is standard old french
Spanish and Portuguese understand each other much better than Italians and Spanish or Portuguese and italian. I’m a Spanish speaker from Colombia where our spanish is considered the best in South America. Believe me, Portuguese from Brasil or Portugal or Angola is much easier for us Spanish speakers to understand than Italian. Our almost identical vocabulary promotes high intelligibility. Similar phonetics mean nothing if the words used by Italians are vastly different than spanish. Portuguese accent is unique, but we understand them anyway because they mostly use the same, or very similarly spelled words as spanish speakers.
As late as this response may be, I really had to say something. Your comment of Colombian Spanish being the “best in South America” is just wrong. No matter what, no form of Spanish is “best” there are simply different varieties of Spanish. One could argue the Spanish of Spain is “best” simply because that is where it originated and thus closer to a “truer” Spanish. I am not of this belief. But the thing with language is that it changes. Language is always changing. So yeah I just really had to say that.
Mis wevos colombiano chafa… bolches yarboclos pa ti
I will tell you, for an spanish speaker, phonetically it is more pleasant to hear italian reather in songs or on a conversation, than hearing french and or portugese from brazil. I think Spain and Itally were during the roman empire and middle ages very close in regards to t he origins of both languages, Spanish change much with t he invasion of the arabs to the iberian peninsula, the “f” become “h”, the “J” sound deviate from all romantic languages. Reading Italian, French, Portugese, for an Spanish speaker it’s easier, understandable in 80, 75, 85% repectively.
I would think French-speakers would be able to understand the other langue d’oil languages (i.e. Norman, Picard, Walloon) and even Franco-Provencal (halfway between Occitan and French) to a pretty good degree. I dunno about these smaller language groups understanding French because I doubt there are any of these speakers with no exposure to French these days.
French speakers cannot really understand any of the real lanuges d oil very well. Not at 90% level anyway. Of course all of these other speakers can now speak French too I think.
They may not understand them at a 90% level, but there definitely is some mutual intelligibility. French is my second language, and from that I can understand Picard to a decent degree, and read it (granted, I may have to sound some of the words out) fairly successfully I imagine it ‘d be easier still if French were my native language. I think the relation between French and the other Oïl languages has to be at least as close as that between Spanish and Portuguese.
Intelligibility between French and Picard is estimated at 70%. That is higher than Spanish and Portuguese.
I understand jersey patois pretty well and answer in standard french: it works. I would say understand about 90% of what is being said, actually more than the english-backed patois spelling which only aims at making it look different, whereas the sounds and intonations that are present in jersey patois are actually present in other regions of france, mainly picardie and normandy and others. E.g “bein’vnue” for bienvenue, “tch’est qu’ch’est” for qu’est-ce-que c’est, etc
Oil languages are basically dialects of french. Once I spoke with a couple of guys from jersey who spoke their patois and we could understand each other without any problem at all, it just sounded funny at times. They use a lot of “ch”s that rural people in normandy use too, and a few funny words here and there, but it’s definitely french. As for franco-provençal yes it is not very difficult to understand, i would say 50-60% without prior exposure, and 40-50% for pure occitan
I am a native speaker of (Brazilian) Portuguese with no formal training in Spanish and I can understand roughly 90 % of what a Spanish speaker is saying just on the basis of lexical similarity. On the other hand, I understand spoken French better than Italian, even though Italian is lexically closer to Portuguese. I guess that is because I had two years of French in High School. French looks considerably different form Italian/Portuguese/Spanish because the original Latin words from which modern French words evolved underwent major phonetic changes and were considerably modified in the process. For example, at first sight, it is not obvious that French “voir” is a cognate of Italian/Latin “vedere”, but if you have some knowledge of the historical evolution of the French language, it is easier to spot the similarities with other languages.
In fact, French is lexically and etymologically closer to Iberian languages. Just look at the standing proof – Catalan – bridging the way between Portuguese and Spanish to Occitan, Provençal and French.
I certainly will not argue with you there.
Hey! Robert! My name’s Leo. I find your website very interesting. You see, I’m a native speaker of Spanish, a amateur linguist and a neophite Romanist. Here’s my theory on the mutual intelligibility of the Romanic languages: To me, given their common ancestor- Latin-, there are two subgroups:
A) The languages that preserve the common latin pronunciation- therefore can mutually understand each other:
B) The “Deviant” languages that have lost most of the latin pronunciation- Therefore, they can only be understood by their speech community only:
Galican and Portuguese are- to me- two different dialects of the same language; However, while Galician has preserved the Latin pronunciation, Portuguese has lost it!
I’d love to hear your opinion.-
I understand Spanish fairly well. But I really can’t understand spoken Italian or particularly Romanian very well at all, I must say.
To me, Galician and Portuguese are separate languages. I have some data from the Spanish-Portuguese border area where even the Portuguese is so close to Galician that some think it is Galician, and my info is that the Galician and Portuguese speakers on the borders cannot completely understand each other when they speak. In fact, they tend to resort to a common language, Spanish, to make themselves understood.
I would add Leonese and Aragonese to your list at the top.
Portuguese and Galician are the same language.
I find John Jensen’s study about spa-por intercomprehension to be very interesting, but it should be noted that it only takes into account American Spanish and American Portuguese, which have had a much more similar evolution than European Spanish and European Portuguese.
What do you mean? Do you mean that the comprehension of say Am Por and Eu Sp, Am Sp and Eu Por and Eu Sp and Eu Por should be tested?
Yes, it is altogether different. I agree: Portuguese speakers understand Spanish speakers better than vice-versa. But Spanish speakers tend to understand Brazilian Portuguese much better than the European variety.
I’d like to add that these studies giving such accurate figures in terms of intelligibility have to be taken with a pinch of salt. They are usually based on lexical similarity, not taking phonology and syntax into account as much as they should.
Besides, one thing is what people think they understand of a language, and another thing is what they really understand correctly: there are plenty of false friends between Romance languages.
When borders intermingle context, the chance of mutual intelligibility grows. I forget what it is called when languages mix unless it is a creole to a certain percent!
For a Brazilian, depending on the particular accent. Spanish can be easier to understand than Portuguese. For example, Mexican Spanish is easier to understand than Açores Portuguese.
Interesting stuff. Portuguese speakers have a very hard time with one of Azores lects also, I forget which one. I am quite certain that this Azores lect qualifies as a separate language.
French, especially in the Northern part of France (langue d’oïl) has certainly has had some germanic influence: Old Norse (Normandie), Frankish, and Saxon. It also heavily influenced the vocabulary. The Celtic influence is unclear at the linguistic level, but it has influenced the vocabulary to some extent.
To me, Catalan has always been an interesting “in-between” of French and Spanish.
Actually, I wouldn’t say that French is all that heavily influenced by any Germanic languages is terms of vocabulary or pronunciation. Only about 550 words of frequent usage (out of 40 000 in a typical dictionary) in French are of Germanic origin, and many of the pronunciation shifts that occurred in French, occurred in the last two to three centuries, well after the Germanic invasions and they don’t reflect Germanic speech patterns at all.
As a French speaker (Paris):
Before I started learning Castilian (Spanish), it was relatively easy to understand, at least the way it’s spoken in Spain. I was able to pick up a few words, and understand the gist of what someone is trying to say to me. I now have a basic understanding of Spain’s Spanish.
Living in the United States, in a city with a considerable Mexican community (Chicago), I have a lot of difficulty understanding spoken Mexican Spanish, or at least the way it’s spoken by working-class Mexican immigrants here in Chicago. I’ve heard that Mexico has several dialects, depending on region and even social class, but the Mexican immigrants here in Chicago are difficult for me to understand, both as a French speaker, and as someone learning Spain’s Spanish. When I visited Argentina, I had trouble understanding Argentine Spanish as well. I know that most native-Spanish speakers can understand each other perfectly fine (like standard Br English and standard Am English), and I’m only beginning to learn the language, But as a French speaker, Spain Spanish was a little easier for me, even before I started learning Spanish.
Catalan is very easy to understand written, but I cannot understand a single word spoken, unless they speak very slowly. I can browse an article written in Catalan, and understand a large portion. Written Castilian was also similarly easy for me to understand before I started learning it.
Italian is very difficult for me, both written and spoken, I don’t understand a word.
Portuguese…I only have exposure to Brazil, and I can understand a bit of written Brazilian Portuguese, but not a single word of spoken Brazilian Portuguese.
Canadian French: I have met Francophone Canadians from northern Ontario, where there’s a considerable French-speaking population for centuries. I have found them easy to understand. Quebec, OTOH, is very difficult for me to understand; the nasal sounds are exaggerated, and there seems to be a bit of an American/Canadian-English twang on Quebec’s pronunciation of French. French-speaking Ontarians, OTOH, have always sounded (to ME, at least), closer to standard France French in pronunciation.
I have met people from Senegal and Haiti -who speak French in addition to their native language (Haitians’ mother tongue is Haitian Creole, not French)- and those people speak French flawlessly articulate, with beautiful pronunciation that falls easy on the ears.
Thanks for this, this is very nice! Merry Xmas!
Reading through ethnologue’s entries for Italy, I noticed that they talk a lot more about the intelligibility between Italian and the various local languages than the intelligibility between the local languages themselves. How much is actually known about this? Could one draw a map of who understands whom without reverting to Italian?
None of those local languages listed can understand each other. I am working on a vast entry about this, but it still in notes form. It will be a huge article.
Robert Lindsay said, “To me, Galician and Portuguese are separate languages. I have some data from the Spanish-Portuguese border area where even the Portuguese is so close to Galician that some think it is Galician, and my info is that the Galician and Portuguese speakers on the borders cannot completely understand each other when they speak. In fact, they tend to resort to a common language, Spanish, to make themselves understood.”
If this is true, then Mr. Lindsay has contradicted himself. He said in an earlier comment that Spanish and Portuguese are not that intelligible with one another because Spanish has kept the ‘Latin pronunciation’ whereas Portuguese ‘deviated’ from the Latin pronunciation. If this is true, then why would a Galego and Portuguese resort to a common language being ‘Spanish’ to ‘make themselves understood?” This is a contradiction in terms
since Galego and Portuguese, as Mr. Lindsay asserts, are ‘dialects’ of the same language.
No matter how you slice it educated speakers of Portuguese and Spanish, irrespective of differences in pronunciation, can converse with each other rather effortlessly. No other 2 pair of Latin languages are as close. This is fact backed up by tons of empirical evidence.
They resort to Spanish because that is one language that they both speak. It’s a common language.
Spanish and Portuguese are simply not fully intelligible, at least in the lab. The intelligiblity figures are 54% in the lab, and that’s the only way to measure it. If you go on the Net and read around, you will find many instances of Portuguese and Spanish speakers saying that they can’t really understand the speakers of the other languages very well.
I think intelligibility in many cases has to do with who is doing the talking, and who is doing the listening, education level, etc. I am the son of Colombian parent’s and I was born in Canada. Yet, I have never had any trouble at all communicating with any Portuguese speakers I have met whether they are from Portugal, Brazil, Angola, etc. In my opinion, the only Portuguese speakers that can be a little tricky to fully understand are the ones from Sao Miguel island in the Azores. But then again I have friends whose parents are from there so I am use to the accent already.
I also know many Italian speakers, but for the life of me I am still unable to appreciably grasp what they say, and I am only marginally comfortable if I have to speak Italian. Whereas understanding and speaking Portuguese feels totally comfortable to me, Italian does not, even after many years of exposure to it. The Portuguese language simply feels natural to me. The slightly different accent of the Portuguese language poses no difficulty at all because approx. 90% of our vocabulary is the same. The similar accent of Italian is not that important, because Italian speakers use many, many words that are unfamiliar to Spanish and Portuguese speakers. Italian grammar is distinct from ours as well. Portuguese and Spanish speakers usually phrase their sentences in much the same way. So, similar sentence structure, plus almost identical vocabulary, and very similar grammar, makes the Portuguese and Spanish languages easily intelligible to speakers of both. Most of my friends from many other Spanish speaking countries, including Spain, say the same thing. My family members also agree with me.
I think one needs to interact with the Lusophones / Hispanophones on the streets because that’s where the real ‘lab’ is. It also really, really, helps when you come from a Latin background, because it allows you to better understand some of the subtle shared characteristics of the Portuguese / Spanish languages that might be missed by most Anglophones for example.
I’m Colombian, and when Portuguese is written, I can understand 80% of a sentence, and 40-50% when Portuguese is spoken by Brazilians, but when it’s European Portuguese, I can understand about NOTHING. When Portuguese talk, their Language seems more Slavic, not Romance. About Italian, I can understand 60% when it’s written and about a 40% when it’s spoken, because their accent is very easy for me, not so hard like the Portuguese accent.
For the sme reason that Dutch and Afrikaans speakers will sometimes resort to English, for the same reason that English-speaking Queen Elizabeth I and Scots-speaking Mary Queen of Scots corresponded in French.
In reply to the previous writer, I must say your tone is completely contradictory. You omitted to mentiion SYNTAX……………. which is very different in Spanish (Spanish being far simpler than Portuguese). Also, Your allusion to an almost complete mutual intelligibility of the two languages is absurd. Pronunciation is so obviously different that a whole process of codification is required (like a spy decoding an encrypted message) before any spontaneous dialogue can take place. So stick that up your bum. My parents are natives of galopadonia and speak niemiersch at home (a rare dialect of Bestiole only spoke in the western peninsula of Rumonie). They cant even understand each other, so stick that up your bum!
Can you link me to your source(s) for your mutual intelligibility ratings? This information is quite relevant to my current research in computational linguistics.
There should be a link to the Spanish-Portuguese study. The rest is just native speakers guessing.
To start, that Dougal sounds like a goofball. Anyone who says on a language forum such as this one to ‘stick that up your bum’ can’t be taken seriously. And Robert, your comment about ”There should be a link to the Spanish-Portuguese study. The rest is just native speakers guessing”, sounds like a weak and unfair attempt on your part to discredit the opinions of others. Just because you have an MA in linguistics doesn’t make you an unfallible expert on language matters. If anything, a person with a P.hd. in linguistics would certainly seem more credible to me. As a previous writer correctly pointed out, sometimes the ‘real’ labs are, as he put it, ‘the streets’. Much of my graduate sociology graduate research was conducted ‘on-the-streets’. When you mingle with the speakers of languages, in this case Portuguese and Spanish, you gain a very different perspective, certainly different than what your academic labs statistics show. For the record, I am a native Spanish speaker from Spain. In Europe, Portuguese and Spaniards have no trouble at all communicating with one another – we consider ourselves brothers, historically, culturally and liguistically. This is fact. Additionally, I actually studied in New Jersey where there are tons of Spanish and Portuguese speakers. I have many friends who speak these two languages, and I have heard them conversing rather effortlessly with one another all my life. What are you going to tell me, that I’m imagining things? Please. You might be tempted not to post this, but please do the right thing and do post it. Judging from some of the earlier posts, I can assure you that there will be many future responders who will agree with many of the things I have said.
Hi I am banning you for rudeness, sorry.
Great site Robert. Many interesting posts. I was born and raised in Venezuela and have been living in Toronto for 20 years. In Toronto we have a huge Portuguese and sizeable Hispanic population. I have been working with lots of Portuguese since I arrived in Toronto. I must say that from the very beginning when I arrived I never had any problems understanding my Portuguese friends and co-workers. Communication was very easy with them no matter where from the Portuguese speaking world they were from. In my opinion Portuguese and Spanish are not 100% mutually intelligible because obviously they are each their own laguage, but I must say that in my opinion they are pretty close to 90% mutually intelligible. They are the same languages in many ways, but with different accents. Still, the accent differences are not a barrier at all because we say things in pretty much the same way, sentence structure, words and grammar. Italian on the other hand, while similar in some ways, is a different animal and not very intelligible to us Hispanics. With Portuguese we do not necessarily need to study it to understand it. And they understand us perfectly. But Italian we would need formal study to understand it properly.
Hi Maria. I am a Portuguese guy originally from Lisbon, Portugal, and I couldn’t agree more with you. Quite often as I’m driving along in my car listening to different Spanish radio stations I can’t help but think to myself wow, it’s like I’m listening to my own language with a twist (mostly accent), because I understand practically everything that is said. I feel a close kinship between myself and my Spanish speaking friends and the other Spanish speaking people I know. And it’s true, Italian is definitely harder to understand, and unless you spend lots of time with them you wont be able to communicate enough. With Spanish, even as a kid, Spanish always felt very natural to me. Up until I left Portugal, we Portuguese and Spanish always understood one another very well speaking in our own language.
As an original speaker in English/German and have learnt many other languages, I find listening the speaker and its gestures quite informing, namely body language plus oracle language adds a more complete understanding. As a child I ventured to learn my mother’s French and Ladino, but I found through accident that Spanish/Portuguese/French to be the best trilogy. If one has mastered these languages any other Romance language would be putty in the presenter’s dissertation.
Hello Mr. Lindsay. I just found your site by chance. I really dislike hypocrisy. This regarding that guy Dougal’s comment “stick that up your bum”. That was totally uncalled for. You were quick to ban the other person, whose posting was not rude, and quite interesting I might add. But why didn’t you ban Dougal? His comment was rude. At least be consistent. Best, Colin.
Dougal was not rude towards me at least.
Your response is akin to saying that rudeness is ‘acceptable’ as long as it is directed against someone else instead of you. Quite illogical.
Look man, I am banning you.
Violation of comments policy: “Hostile tone” violation. You may not use a hostile tone when speaking to me.
You sound like a real stuck-up cunt. Go fuck yourself, you pathetic waste of space.
I am banning you, Hindu.
Thats a good basis for an insult. I on’t think G-d damn Hindu will ever catch on in mainstream circles though.
Congratulations on losing all credibility by banning dissenting opinions, Mr. Lindsay.
I do not ban dissenters. They are banned for violations of “hostile tone” in the comments threads. I have many regular commenters who disagree with me all the time.
PS you are banned.
Mr. Gerbear is right. You, Mr. Lindsay, have indeed lost all credibility. You have banned people recently who posted some very good viewpoints – they didn’t deserve to be banned. For a so-called ‘academic’, you are way too sensitive. It seems that you have a difficult time accepting valid points of view that don’t square with your particular opinions.
I ban for hostile tone, not for disagreement.
What Rodrigo said was very interesting to me. I grew up speaking Spanish and I have always found Continental Portuguese easier to understand than its Brazilian variant. This may be because I grew up accustomed to European Spanish. Most Portuguese speakers I have met I cannot communicate with in Spanish – mostly Brazilians. I find many Portuguese speakers understand Spanish just fine, but they cannot speak it hardly at all. I mean to say that if I ask a PT speaker a question in SP they are unable to respond most of the time. I sometimes wonder if PT speakers can actually understand Spanish as well as they think that they can. I’m sure most PT speakers can understand Spanish better than the other way around, but when I hear PT speakers say how well they understand/speak Spanish, when speaking to them there seems to be an inconsistency between their actual and perceived abilities with the Spanish language.
I also agree that Italian is a bit difficult. I found learning French to be much easier. I understand more of spoken Italian than French – at least I did before studying either language. I too feel a kinship with Portuguese speakers as a Spanish speaker. I have studied Portuguese as well and I find the language to be even more difficult than Italian, but I have studied PT to a greater extent because I find it more useful. However, as an English speaker I think SP and FR are easy easier to learn than PT and IT, perhaps because of the history of communication with those languages.
M. Maingt your post was interesting. Here are my thoughts. As a Spanish speaker originally from Colombia, I find Portuguese (from Portugal, Brazil and Africa) to be the easiest of the bunch – French the hardest, but Italian is a bit hard too. I never studied Portuguese, but somehow I found Portuguese naturally easy to understand, not perfectly, but to a large extent. And they do understand us, even if they choose not to respond in Spanish. They are proud of their language, rightfully so (240 million speakers, and 6th most spoken tongue in the world), and do not feel compelled to respond in Spanish if they don’t want to. Spanish speakers are actually quite lazy when it comes to giving an effort to speak other languages. They foolishly expect that everyone has to reply in Spanish. Still, I think Portuguese and Spanish speakers are blessed to have a huge initial advantage with one another’s language. They get tons of vocabulary for free, and the grammars are almost the same – the syntax between the two languages is quite similar as well. I love the Portuguese speakers and many are my friends.
I find what you said about Spanish speakers being very lazy when it comes to working on other languages, much like Anglophones. As far as Brazilians not responding in Spanish, the impression I have had a number of times is that their perceived ability to speak Spanish may not be as good as they think when speaking with a native/fluent speaker. It’s the impression that I get when I’m speaking to anyone in any language that is trying to understand but gets lost at a certain point. In some cases, I think that they may be able to understand but don’t have enough understanding of verbs and whatnot to respond properly. Or it may be as you suggested. I think listening comprehension is the hardest part of any language (for me), but getting past that I actually have found French to be quite easy. Not that any language is easy, but I found it to be easier than Portuguese or Italian. Go figure.
On the topic – mutual intelligibility between German dialects – I would tend to say from experience as a native speaker, that it should be rather presented as dialect continuum, with distance being the decisive factor. The continuum is more pronounced in North – South than East-West direction, and with distance, intelligibility decreases. A Frisian dialect will definitely not be understandable to a Bavarian person, and vice versa. These however are extremes.
In the case of the depicted dialects – Swabian, Franconian and Bavarian, the distance is much closer, and people from these areas will understand each other quite OK. The difference is mostly in the word endings, which these Germans can identify from experience. I consider it more like a vocabulary extension. The bonus is that you are able to say, from which region of Germany the person you are speaking to is, without difficulty.
Another fact is, that there is only one written German form, which is standard German. Most people are able to pronounce or to revert back to standard German. This is not meant as an argument for the above, but if you take the standard German word as a stem word, then most dialects can be easily derived. You just add the “local” ending.
I would say that the Swiss German dialects are the most ancient ones, which didn’t change much over time, due to geographic isolation, whereas the northern German dialects are the most evolved ones. I would consider Dutch as a separate language from German, some Germans will also consider Swiss German as a different language depending on your distance.
I’m a native speaker of Romanian and I also speak very well English, French and German.
I just came back from my holiday in Mallorca and written (Mallorcan) Catalan was far easier for me to read than Spanish.
Spanish from South America seems to me easier to understand than the European variety.
Also I usually understand about 88% of written Italian and about 60-70% or more when spoken. I encounter about 1-2 unknown words every 3-4 phrases of written Italian. Some are like Romanian words, some are like French ones and when combined I just understand. The other way round is more difficult because of words of slavic origin that we have in our vocabulary (not many, but enough to confuse others).
“and Romanians can understand even more of their Spanish”
it’s hard to separate ‘innate intelligibility’ from ‘societal intelligibility’: multiple Spanish TV programmes are shown in Romania (with subtitles), and have been for some time – while the numer of Romanian programmes on Spanish screens is approximately zero
Yes that does not really count. That is called “bilingual learning” on the part of the Romanians. We are looking for “virgin ears.”
I am a native Spanish speaker. I explain my experience in Portugal and Italy.
When I was in Portugal (Lisbon), European Portuguese was very difficult the first day. I speak English and Spanish. I didn’t know which language to use, but I spoke in Spanish (it is more similar) and they answer in Portuguese. I was listening the radio all day in Portuguese and listening Portuguese people. The last day on holidays there, I understood almost all.
In Italy (Rome) is strange. The language is less similar than Portuguese in theory but, the phonetics is almost the same. So, I spoke in Spanish and they in Italian and we understood each other, at least the general meaning. I spoke in Spanglish when they didn’t understand some words and it was effective.
I had a similar experience too, but I still found it harder communicating with Italians. Similar accent, but hard grammar, and lots of vocabulary I couldn’t figure out.
Like you, by the last day of my week in Lisbon I understood almost perfectly the Portuguese – and of course, they understood me perfectly from the first day there.
French and Italian are far more closer in writen vocabulary than Spanish and Italian. But Spanish and Italian have similar pronouncations but not all though.
vive le france!
(8) no trates de esconder que nos observas y me admiras ,te mueres por tener nuestro lugarrr ,super stars, super wow , tu jamas podras sentir lo cool que es ser asi (8)
It cannot possibly be him. This guy is posting out of Canada, unless Naruto moved to Canada all of a sudden.
If my asian obsession is over why i would have a blog with an Anime profile pic? , impostor!, definitivamente no estoy en Canada, sigo en Mexico.
Is impossible that i could post in the same day in Canada and in Mexico too, aunque esto del impostor me parece interesante, porque alguien me haría esto.
I like them, but now like a normal person would like or admire a foreign country, Luffy or Killua aren’t Asian sounding names, so its okay, before i choose the most Japanese-like names of Anime characters like Naruto Uzumaki or ichigo Kurosaki
Hello, let me tell you that this is a very interesting topic! I am a native speaker of Romanian, Italian and Spanish, believe it or not. I was born and raised in Romania- my mom was Italian Argentinean and my dad is Romanian.
I am a linguist by profession, but lately have been working mostly in retail. I live in Canada, and dealing with a lot of Spanish and Portuguese speaking customers. I have no problem communicating with Portuguese speaking people, may they come from Portugal or Brazil. In fact, they prefer me to most of my Spanish speaking co-workers, as my Spanish is the castellano rioplatense, which uses the “voseo” and lots of J ( dz). However, the ones who speak Portuguese with the Acores dialect…I’m lost 70 % of the time! To me, the Acores Portuguese sounds a lot like French.
As one who speaks 3 languages natively, let me tell you the first thing that happens- you mix them soooo much at times, without intending to do so! Especially when speaking castellano rioplatense which is by itself mixed with lots of Italian…
My parents met each other by a twist of fate and started communicating through Italian-(my Mom), and respectively Romanian-(my Dad). My Mom’s parents had come to Argentina from Rome, Italy; therefore, her Italian was flawless, textbook classic. They understood each other almost perfectly. Throughout the years, they developed this type of common language between the two of them, mixing Italian and Romanian in a way that worked wonders for them. It sounded a lot like a certain dialect spoken in the North of Italy, Tuscany. In Romania, it is very common to eat a certain type of cornmeal dish (Romanian mamaliga), specific for the North of Italy, called polenta. None of the other Romance people (beside Italians) eat this staple food but Romanians. We all concluded that probably that’s where Romanian got its roots from thousands of years ago, with the colonization of Dacia Romana.
My personal opinion is that even though Romania was isolated (and still is) geographically from the rest of the Romance speaking world by a “sea of Slavic peoples”, it preserved even more the main characteristics of the vulgar Latin it received during the 2-8 century AD. That’s why, I consider that Romanian can be related mostly to Italian than any of the other main remaining Romance languages.
I agree with my fore-posters, Spanish is very similar to Portuguese, and if both spoken correctly (no dialects), there is a very high similarity; I would say about 65-70% spoken.
There is only one thing I would like to mention though, Spanish and Portuguese have received a lot of Arabic influence over the course of hundreds of years with the Moorish occupation. This aspect sets the two languages apart from the rest.
Lexical similarity between Spanish and Portuguese is 89%, but intelligibility is only 54%.
Robert, with all due respect, I was not contradicting the results of the study, I was just leaving MY 2 cents in this matter, as far as I am concerned, as a Castilian Spanish native speaker. I read the study; it is not that I argue with the results of it, however, studies are not made by native speakers. They are made by peeps who have studied the language- I’ll give it to you, academically, degrees and all that, but REALITY is different.
I have a MA in English studies, however that does NOT qualify me to argue with a native speaker about the similarities of English to German, even though I speak and understand that language as well.
We have to draw a line between THEORY and PRACTICE, and consider native speakers opinions when conducting research.
The Spanish-Portuguese intelligibility studies were done in Latin America including Brazil. The people tested in the studies were native speakers of either Spanish or Portuguese.
No the study was done in Brazil with Brazilian Portuguese speaking college students who did not have a lot of exposure to Spanish. I forget who the Spanish speakers were. They played the Br Portuguese students samples of Spanish to see how much they understood. They understood 58% of Spanish. The Spanish speakers were played samples of Portuguese (not sure which kind). They only understood 50% of the Portuguese.
Felicitari, draga Roxana,
German, Dutch, and Swedish are supposed to be in the same language family as English. How much can English speakers understand them?
0% of any of them. Although Dutch is sort of odd, since when you hear it spoken, you actually strain to hear it though you cannot understand a single word.
I’m a Flemish speaking Belgian. Well, Dutch is sometimes difficult (if it’s Fries, forget about it), the Dutch don’t understand Flemish fully, but vice-versa we can, and even emulate their thong. (which surprises them on more then one occasion) – I can go to The low Netherlands and no one suspects I’m Belgian if I emulate their thong. German is also easy to understand and speak, even with the local accents they have. French I was tought at school at 10-years, so no problem, only the southern (France) French accents are sometimes difficult. I Speak Belgian-Walloon French which a lot of (Southern) French interpret as being British trying to speak French, but once I make this clear, no problem. After 14 days on holiday I speak as they do. (street-experience). In Italy I can help myself pretty well after a week or so. (no education) without my wife (which was Italian-born). Even in the remotest places like ex-Yugoslavia (Montengro-village with no asfalt roads), I could make myself clear after being suspected to be a German (very hostile at first – very warm welcome afterwards) Didn’t understand much words, but reactions of people, gestures and watching them argue, told me a lot. Learnt a few words. (pre partition 1987). I Understand and speak English, whatever sort, quite well. TV-exposure here is enormous for a lot of languages and, yes you learn to understand and learn words, expressions, accents, bit by bit. Not being born within the ‘modern range’ of romantic languages, I do not shy away from foreign language channels. If you know the subject, you can learn expressions and words quite quickly. (exept Arab – don’t understand a thing – but then again I understand Yiddish (Antwerp). I’m really interested if a Romanian could understand or decipher old spoken Latin. (being very close languages) Been searching for it, but can’t find an answer.
Reading Romùanian Newspapers online seems doable (had some Latin).
As a native speaker of Romanian, I suspect that the closeness between Latin and Romanian is vastly overstated. First let’s start with the obvious fact that nobody really knows how Latin sounded. Second, even though the Romanian base vocabulary is very much Latin, the use of Latin words is highly non-standard.For example while all other Neo-Latin languages use a world similar to ‘terra’ to express the idea of ‘earth’, in Romanian is ‘pamânt’ – coming from ‘pavimentum’ (paved road). So a radical change in meaning. There are hundreds of such examples where in Romanian worlds of Latin origin have very surprising meanings, meanings which cannot be guessed at all by any other speaker of neo-Romance languages. For political and patriotic reasons, Romanians tend to overestimate their language’s closeness to Latin, Italian and so on, but the truth is that Romanian is the oddest neo-Romance language in Europe, and distinctly different from all the others. Still, Romanian is an interesting language to learn for people with a passion for Romance languages, as it gives you a better understanding of how many language registers existed in Latin. The other major neo-Romance languages will only give you an incomplete image of Latin, as they represent a highly correlated evolution of vulgar Latin, in which major feature appeared or disappeared simultaneously (i.e the case system, the neutral gender etc.). Romanian is something else and you can notice that the moment you dwell in the language.
Re: “We also learn, here, that no one can understand French except the French”
There’s some occasional similarities between English and French too… 😉
Yeah, like about 50% of english words being of french/latin origin 🙂
As a native sardinian with a B2 european in romanian language i can confirm that italian and romanian have a very high grade of intellegibility, and even higher for us sardinians because what is not understandable between romanian and italian is between sardinian (particularly sssarese, my native dialect) and romanian.
As a portuguese I found some really strange things in this text. Intelligibility between portuguese and spanish is much higher than 54%. I took spanish for three years so I can now speak it fluently, knowing all the grammatical rules, but even before that I could pretty much get it as long as they didn’t speak too fast. Actually I would say that most Portuguese people understand at least 80% or even more of what they’re saying, the other way around is not so true since spanish dub EVERYTHING, and I mean, EVERYTHING and they barely have any contact with foreigner languages so I find pretty difficult that they understand a sentence of romanian since most of the times they don’t even understand portuguese. Also, it is not truth that no one in the romance languages family can’t understand french. Before I’ve started my french classes I was lacking a lot of french vocabulary but still, I would catch some stuff and get the direction of the conversation. Catalan is a bit harder than castilian spanish to me since it sounds like a middle term between spanish and french, however, I would say I get more or less 50% of what they’re saying. It’s easier when written. As for Galician is a bit easier than catalan but harder than castilian, when spoken, if written I can pretty much understand everything! As for italian is extremely harder for me and I have a really tough time with it, understanding probably only 25% of it or even less, again, it’s easier when written. And, at last, Romanian. I CAN’T UNDERSTAND A F*CK OF WHAT THEY’RE SAYING… Sometimes I get a word or two but that’s it, No more than that. So I guess for me the easiest to understand to the hardest is: Castilian Spanish (99,9%), Galician (85% spoken, 95% written), French (65-70%), Catalan (50%), Italian (25%), Romanian (0-1% I guess .. ahah don’t quite know).
Actually what you say is not true. It is not true at all that Portuguese speakers understand 80% of spoken Spanish. We tested this experimentally with Brazilian students. They only understood 58% of the Spanish recording. So you are wrong when you say it is much higher than that. We have tested this scientifically, and these are the results. If you disagree, you are entitled to design your own study. Personally, I have spoken Spanish to Portuguese speakers from Brazil and Portugal, and honestly, we did not have very rewarding conversations!
Furthermore, many speakers of Romance languages such as Spanish say they understand 0-5% of French.
It is strange you say so about not understanding romanian… romanian-portuguese are given a lexical similarity of 72% and if you take a lexicon you will recognize many patterns and words…
have a lok at this table
I think the reason that Portuguese and Spanish may be listed as low as 54% is because, as you stated, Spanish speakers don’t understand a lot of Portuguese versus the other way around. I’m sure having studied Spanish for three years puts you at a tremendous advantage on top of having Portuguese as your native tongue as well. I would also note that, while you say most Portuguese people understand at least 80%, I would disagree. I think that a lot of Portuguese speakers think that they understand that much but speaking Spanish with someone who speaks Portuguese, but has not studied it, they usually don’t. In fact, even when lusophones understand quite a bit of Spanish, they usually can’t adequately respond in Spanish. Just my observations based on experience. I can see why French would be easier for a Portuguese person to understand, because the pronunciation of the alphabet is pretty similar. In particular letters like G, J and R, which are very different than in Spanish and Italian. I think Catalan is somewhat easy to understand, and I can understand Italian very well, I’d say 65% (but I did study Italian for a year, but even before that). You’re lucky to speak Portuguese, it is not an easy language to learn, but very charming and enjoyable to hear.
Hello, Portuguese speakers understand 58% of Spanish and Spanish speakers understand 50% of Portuguese. So your first sentence is correct. I have typed in Spanish to Lusophones on the Internet and honestly, the communication did not go very well. It left much to be desired.
Are you a Spanish speaker?
Italian speakers who went to Colombia reported that Colombians could only understand ~35% of what they said. Communication was not good.
I believe that Spanish speakers have 65% intelligibility of Catalan.
Portuguese intelligibility of French is probably poor.
Hi Robert: I also want to point that intelligibility is not something that can be closed from language to language. For example: Argentinian Spanish has a lot of Italian influence and it’s speakers are way more exposed to Brazilian Portuguese than, let’s say, a Mexican or a Colombian speaker would. That means that there are not “virgin” speakers of one tonge versus the other, since location, history and immigration will clearly blur the boundaries.
Well the only study that I know that tested Spanish versus Portuguese intelligibility used Brazilian university students. Obviously they had been exposed to Spanish as most Brazilians have, but not much. I forget where they got their Spanish speakers.
I know many, many Spanish speakers in my town who have never heard a word of Portuguese and have no idea what it sounds like.
Anyway there are ways around this. Say we go into a village and the men understand 90% of Lect A but the women only understand 50% of it. Lect A is spoken in a nearby town. Obviously the men have been going over to that town in the course of work so their higher figure is due to bilingual learning whereas the women have stayed in town and never got exposed to Lect A. The true intelligibility of Lect A is 50%.
Well, that’s the point. There is no such thing as the town A. The difference between intelligibility between Spanish and Portuguese speakers in a study like that is easlily explainable:
Brazilians, even when they may be from the north and unexposed to the Rio de la Plata Basin cultural area, have a minimum but nonetheless existing exposure to spanish for the simple fact that is the most important language in the western hemisphere after english. (music, movies, you name it)
Mexicans or Central Americans (as most of the spanish speakers from your town surely are) are not exposed to portuguese probably in any way.
So it would be understandable that those brazilian students will have a higher understanding of spanish than the way around. It would be very hard then, to extrapolate that result to the rest of the portuguese and spanish communities.
The guy who did the study said that these Portuguese university students all said that they couldn’t really understand Spanish.
Nah should be about right. I have spoken to quite a few Brazilians, including young ones, and they tell me that they don’t really understand Spanish very well. I used to speak to them in Spanish and honestly it didn’t really work.
Portuguese understand 58% of Spanish
Spanish understand 50% of Portuguese.
Should be about right, and many speakers of these languages say the exact same thing – that Portuguese speakers can understand Spanish better than the other way around. This is probably due to all of the weird vowels in Portuguese.
Hello everybody, I’m Colombian, and I speak Italian, having lived in Italy. And I remember when my friends came to visit me, the “most intelligent” were able to follow every discussion after the first week. Yes of course they weren’t able to speak Italian or understand every word, but they were able to understand the majority of sentences.
The only hard thing for us is the plural form in Italian, once a Colombian understands that I and E are the plural forms, everything becomes clear immediately. Many Hispanophones know that in Italian a plural is changing the last letter with I, but nobody knows that when the name is feminine the change is with E. When I came to Italy, I understood about everything in about one month, but when I first arrived in Italy, I was able to understand about 50% of what they said when they were speaking slowly.
I’ll add something more. In northeastern Argentina, along the brazilian frontier, the argentinians are way more proefficient in portuguese than otherwise, which clashes with the concept or lusophones being able to understand more spanish than the way around.
Yeah but that’s due to bilingual learning.
Well, actually, portuguese in Argentine schools is a rather new development, let’s say, 10 years old. The situation in which Argentines are better at portuguese than the brazilians to the spanish is way older than that.
The value of media exposure should not be forgotten: Argentines in general are exposed to Brazilian culture more than the Brazilians to Argentine culture, and in Europe, the situation is the exact opposite, being the Portuguese way more exposed to Spanish than the way around.
This is what I was trying to explain all along as well, but Robert seems quite reluctant to understand- that Argentine Spanish has a much higher degree of similarities with Portuguese or Italian. Especially when you think Lunfardo, aka Argentine slang. I bet you Robert could not understand more than…let’s say 50% if exposed to it, even though he speaks Spanish!
In my first post I was explaining how I can understand much better my Portuguese speaking customers, BECAUSE of my exposure to Argentine Spanish. The Rioplatense dialect is a mixture of Spanish, Italian, French, even Portuguese and whatnot…
Also, I would like to comment on what Andrei said- Romanian IS very much similar to Latin, but not the CLASSICAL Latin, textbook stuff. It is similar to VULGAR LATIN, which was the folk, peasant language, a dialect if you want to put it that way.
Regarding the study, this is not to contradict the results, again, but maybe, just maybe- have you ever given it a thought?!-your test subjects were not the most representative?!
Hi Roxana, I just went around the web and to some of my friends and acquaitances and asked them how much they could understand of the other languages. Which study are you referring to?
And what language do you speak, Roxana?
Robert, I posted before in this thread, please look up and you will see my previous posts; I just used my Facebook account to post this time, instead of Google. For some reason Google fails to open on your site.
I’m a native speaker of Catalan and Spanish, and I’ve learnt French and Portuguese.
Spoken French was completely inintelligible before learning it. Written French did have some intellegibility, though.
Written Portuguese was intelligible to maybe a 90% before learning any Portuguese, but spoken European Portuguese was completely inintelligible.
Italian is very intelligible to Catalan speakers, to the point that it’s not even subtitled on Catalan TV (the same happens with Galician on Spanish TV). Written Italian is easily understood once one is aware of its unusual conventions (chi = /ki/, gli = /ʎ/, etc.), which from exposure to Italian restaurants alone, is easy to achieve. The “rule” “take out the last vowel” works wonders for converting most Italian words into Catalan
Written Occitan is very intelligible in any variety, but Lengadocian will probably score well above 90%.
Now, spoken intellegibility with Occitan is not that great: maybe comparable to Spanish-Portuguese intellegibility for Lengadocian and Aranese, probably less for other varieties.
I was also able to understand most of a Lombard conversation once. I was in awe because I could understand the language but I wasn’t able to identify it, so I ended up asking, and that’s how I know it was Lombard (this happened in Germany).
I can barely make out some words and sentences from written Romanian. I get less than what I get from written Danish from my knowledge of German… which is not much to start with. I can’t understand spoken Romanian at all.
Sardinian is also challenging and I’d say the other Romance language in which I am not able to read a text, despite its many Catalan loanwords.
I also think that intellegibility of spoken Catalan will greatly depend on whether it’s Eastern or Western Catalan. Western Catalan has a pronunciation that is very, very close to Italian, while Eastern Catalan features a vowel shift that sets it apart from other languages, thus greatly hindering its intellegibility.
Hi thank you for your input! Does this look correct to you?
Catalan has 94% oral intelligibility of Valencian Catalan, 63% of Belearic Catalan, 52% of Aranese Occitan and Lenguadocien Occitan, 40% for General Occitan, 27% of Italian, and, 3% of French, and 0% of Romanian.
Catalan has 90%+ of written Lenguadocien Occitan, 90% of Portuguese, 27% of Italian, 16% of French, 5% of Romanian 0% of Sardinian.
They seem overall too low to me.
Western Catalan speakers would have >98% mutual intellegibility, all the way from Andorra to Elx (regardless of what they call their language).
It’s within Eastern Catalan that there’s more variation in mutual intellegibility. As a native Central Catalan speaker, with no prior contact to other varieties, I’d say I could understand > 95% of Valencian TV, Ibizan and Menorcan Catalan (Balearic), and >90 – 90% for Majorcan (depending on the town/city). Alguerese Catalan would be lower, maybe between 60 and 70%.
I put Italian at a similar level with Lengadocian and Aranese Occitan, at around 40%. And spoken French and Romanian are completely unintelligible.
The +90% written Portuguese intellegibility comes largely from my Spanish knowledge. It will probably be much lower to Catalan speakers who don’t know Spanish (i.e. those in the French department of Midi-Pyrinees and the city of Alghero in Sardinia, plus some Andorrans, though the latter have likely had direct exposure to Portuguese.).
Thanks for this.
How much can you understand of Rousillonese (Northern Catalán)? And how much can you understand of Murciano?
As a native French speaker (from Québec) I used to pick up Spanish children’s books as small child a read them without realising that they were not in fact in french. As an adult now, I can read and understand Catalan and Italian without very much trouble at all, despite having never studied them. Spanish, portuguese are more difficult but certainly possible, and Romanian is much harder.
I can understand oral spanish if it is spoken very slowly and the way that you might speak to a three year old. I can understand italian and catalan this way too. It isn’t really mutually intelligibility but is still helpful for communication when there is no common language. Though it is worth noting that most Spanish and Italian speakers find it much harder to understand me. I can’t understand Romanian or Portuguese this way. Of course at a normal rate and complexity of speech, it is much harder, and I get maybe 10-50%, depending on the subject and if I knew the context before hand. For example, I went to a conference and because I knew what the speaker was talking about (the main subject) and she had visual aids, it was easier for me to follow that, say, a recording.
Same here, and I’m a native French speaker from France. And yes, to our english-speaking friends here, we canadian and european french understand each other just as well as americans and brits do, for the record.
I am Spanish from Sevilla Spain. Sorry if my English is not so good. I have travelled to lots of countries in Europe and South America. In my opinion the major languages, not dialects, that I understand best written and spoken are:
European Portuguese: written 90% spoken 75% (slowly and clear)
Brazilian Portuguese: written 90% spoken 80% (slowly and clear)
Italian: written 80% spoken 60% (slowly and clear)
European French: written 75% spoken 50% (slowly and clear)
Quebec French: written 75% spoken 40% (slowly and clear)
Catalan: written 85% spoken 70% (slowly and clearly)
Romanian: written 45% spoken 25% (slowly and clearly)
Of all these, I can only have a good proper conversation with the Portuguese speakers and them with me. I have always feel that the Portuguese and Spanish languages are like dialects and so alike in most ways. We are very, similar people, and we have very similar histories, cultures and languages. Its hard to explain unless you are Portuguese or Spanish and then you will understand my meaning. Thank you.
I completely agree with you! At times I believe people build walls around themselves blocking out a chance to grow and build solid romance vocabulary. An understanding between one Romans Language in its difference and commonality allows for a better rapport and dictation of words. I found studying the grammar and syntax of Roman Languages makes it easier to offset the difficulty. Como yo cree- Viva la lengua romana! I myself would read a similar book in another language to build up my foreign language capabalities. I find Portuguese and Spanish to be so similar that they are dialects of the same, while Italian in its spoken form could be an immediate counsin to Iberian Romance.
Hello I am from Portugal and I have never studied Spanish.
I have always felt an affinity between Portuguese and Spanish, not just in language. Personally I think that Portuguese speaking people are more open to reach for the Spanish people than the Spanish trying to reach us Portuguese speakers, perhaps because Portuguese is much more complex phonetically speaking? When Spanish tourists ask for directions etc they never try to use Portuguese(they might not know any) but those Portuguese people answering them always try to speak Spanish even if it is Portuguese with a kind of Spanish accent(Portuñol).
When I was 10 years old I started to watch the Spanish TV because my family bought an antenna that could pick up the TV signal from Spain. I can’t believe that I could understand just 58% of what I listened or I would be very bored and wouldn’t follow the weekly series on TV as I did then.
When I was 12 my parents bought me an 8 bit computer and I would buy Spanish magazines on the subject that were sold here in Kiosks. If people couldn’t understand Spanish I don’t think they would have them for sale. Of course, as it was said already, written Spanish is even easier to understand.
What I can agree is that there are some Spanish accents/dialects that can be harder. For instance I didn’t have problems understanding the TV programs perhaps because they had a Madrid accent but when I went to Seville some years later at first contact it was harder to understand but after some hours it was ok(They speak very fast and they change some sounds like the ending ‘s’, to me it sounds like more an ‘h’; Las casas -> Lah Casah).
Regarding Galician and Portuguese I believe they the same language, but the official Galiacian taught in Galicia is not authentic at all, they are just trying to make it a dialect of ‘Castelhano’ I think. There is now a Galician Academy of the Portuguese language in Galicia ( http://www.academiagalega.org/ ), the accent of Galego is mostly like Spanish these days but some isolated places still speak a more original Galician( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPRxAcckmUA ) close to the Portuguese spoken in the North of Portugal. Don’t forget in the bigger Galician cities the majority speak Spanish. I have heard that near the border it is where less Galician is spoken, some people say it was a manoeuvre by Franco to make people not perceive they were speaking the same language. I am sorry, there was a better Youtube video from somewhere in interior Galicia with people speaking in a way very close to Portuguese but I couldn’t find it.
I was born in Tuscany of an English-speaking father and Italian mother, so I learned both languages at the same time. I lived in France and learned French as a child. I am married to a woman from Madrid so though I have never studied Castellano, I can speak and understand it. I cannot understand Portuguese from Portugal at all. I can understand the Brazilian variety a bit. I can’t understand a word of Romanian. I can read all of those languages almost perfectly.
I was born and raised in Western Switzerland, I’m then a native French speaker. I first had to learn German at school (at age 9) and though I live close to the German-speaking border, I really had to learn the whole German lexicon. Then, at age 13, I learned English. Thanks to my German and French knowledge, I never had a problem understanding written English, since I could always guess out a word stemming from either French or German. Finally, I learned Italian at age 16 and I actually had no problem learning it. Out of 100 words we had to learn per week, I only had to focus on 5-10% of them, for I could always guess out the Italian counterpart from the French; but I’m from Switzerland and we used to speak Franco-provençal. My grandparents speak it and I understand, even though I’m unable to answer.( By the way, I needed just about a week to perfectly understand Quebec French in any contexts). Before learning Italian, I could read an Italian text almost without problem and I could pick up conversations from Ticinesi (Italian-speaking Swiss) and other Italian friends (60-70%). As for Spanish, I’ve never learned it, but I can read it easily (I bought a book once and just started reading; >90%), being able to speak both French and Italian helped a lot. As to spoken Spanish, I pick up well if it’s spoken slowly and surprisingly better from South Americans (75%). Catalan, I understand a text without problem (>95%), but I don’t understand them well orally (10-20%). It might be the closest written language to French (as I know of, though written Italian is very similar to French too). As for Portuguese, I understand it well in its written form (>90%), but I have a hard time understanding them orally (20-30%); and again better if Brazilian. Finally, I may read Romanian quite well (I’d say 75%), but I can’t make out the sounds, it sounds very Slavic to me. I once watched a tennis match in Romanian, being sure it was Serbian, until I heard that the ball “cade” (falls) and then I understood some more (20-30%) by getting used to the phonetics. So I’d say, from a French speaker from Switzerland, without exposure, we’d understand best (if written): Catalan, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish (more Arab words) and Romanian. Spoken-wise: Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese and Romanian.
David, Romanian has had some Slavic influences, that’s true, about 10-14% of the vocabulary is made up of Slavic origin words. However, this doesn’t make it a Slavic language at all! It may sound “Slavic” to an untrained ear, which gets stuck in the “da” usage.
To understand Romanian, one has to have a very thorough understanding of all the other Romance languages. Romanian preserves to this day the vocative case, being the ONLY Romance language still to have it in usage, from Latin! All linguists (Romanian and foreign alike) concluded that at its base, Romanian is at about 65-66% Latin. To that, you add about 6-10% Geto-Dacian (the language of the people colonized by the Romans), which is being preserved, mainly in the names of rivers, mountains, places, and common nouns such as “manz”, “branza”, etc…having “Z” in their midst.
Through the ages, the fertile land of the Romanians has been desired by a lot of “neighbours”, the Hungarians, the Russians, the Turks…They all have fought and eventually conquered some part of my nation’s land. Their influence on Romanian as a language was unstoppable. There are Turkish and Hungarian words in Romanian as well, because of that. Both of those don’t make up a significant part though.
Now, one has to see the influence of Russian (Slavic) upon Romanian as one surely understands the influence of Arabic upon Spanish, Portuguese, or even Italian. In the case of Spanish and Portuguese, the influence of Arabic is of even greater percentage than Slavic for Romanian.
That fact doesn’t make Spanish and Portuguese Arabic either. 🙂
influența rusă este târzie de fapt (cam sec Xviii-XiX)
au avut o mai mare influență limbile slave de sud și mai puțin poloneza (în Moldova mai ales)
Native Spaniard here.
I’m going to save you all some time:
Portuguese is like 90% identical to Spanish. In other words, Portuguese is the most similar major language to Spanish. The linguistic mechanics (grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure, etc.) between Portuguese and Spanish make them mostly mutually intelligible. Italian NO – never!