3 Vote

Spanish and Italian seemed closely related. What are some of the differences between the two languages?

  • Posted May 13, 2011
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  • I can tell you my personal experience: Spanish people understand Italian much better than Italians do with Spanish - sardonico Jun 17, 2016 flag

11 Answers

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They are different languages. They were both developed from Latin and they are similar, if you learn one, you have a big advantage when you come to learning the other, but they remain two different languages, so you will encounter different grammar, different pronunciation, different word choice, different spelling etc.

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Spanish and Italian are, indeed, two different languages and, as noted, certainly have significant differences in spite of their common derivation. The intriguing question for me, though, is to what extent their significant similarities provide mutual intelligibility between them and, indeed, between these two languages and other Romance languages, including Romanian.

I've often wondered about this and not too long ago had my curiousity piqued by (if I can admit watching it) a telenovela story line wherein a gorgeous Mexican heroine, finding herself stranded in France without a person who could understand her pleas for help, was saved from starvation or a life on the streets by an Italian restaurateur in Paris. I came away with the impression that, at least, they were able to share basic communication despite his not speaking Spanish, though I perhaps missed an episode or two there.

Is that a plausible scenario? Some here will perhaps have more to say about it, but, French apparently being the odd man out among Romance languages, it would seem possible, given comments from this website:

What Do We Mean By Spanish

Vocabulary comparison

Spanish and Italian share a very similar phonological system and do not differ very much in grammar. At present, the lexical similarity with Italian is estimated at 82%. As a result, Spanish and Italian are mutually intelligible to various degrees. The lexical similarity with Portuguese is even greater, 89%, but the vagaries of Portuguese pronunciation make it less easily understood by Hispanophones than Italian. Mutual intelligibility between Spanish and French or Romanian is even lower (lexical similarity being respectively 75% and 71%): comprehension of Spanish by French speakers who have not studied the language is as low as an estimated 45% – the same as of English. The common features of the writing systems of the Romance languages allow for a greater amount of interlingual reading comprehension than oral communication would.

By the way, someone on this forum (can't recall who) observed that Portuguese sounded rather like the result of throwing Spanish, Ilalian and French into a blender. That's an apt description, at least to my ears, which are soothed by many genres of music, but by none more than the bossa nova.

  • Yep..that was a correct assertion. Portuguese is a mixture of all 3 to a large extent. - claylavl May 13, 2011 flag
  • I can only congratulate you on watching such real life dramas! Bien hecho, clearly, there would be no problems of understanding.. none! - annierats Jun 10, 2013 flag
  • they may well be able to communicate on very basic level but things get confusing with more involved speech , without formal training. To me Spanish seems spoken faster or more clipped or something, a bit more "sibilant" at times, than Italian overall. - dsseventfive Jun 11, 2013 flag
2 Vote

French is odd man out mainly phonologically--the grammar is still largely a common feature, with some easily explained differences. Once the orthographical differences are recognized, it is quite easy to see the closeness of the language to the others.

Romanian has some archaic features because of being isolated but sound has been Slavicized.

The Romance languages are basically all the same language, differing as dialects, which dialects were already nascent under the late Empire. This also includes some now different words for common objects, for historical reasons (Arab conquest in the case of Spain, for example).

In fact, mutual intelligibility among speakers of Romance is much greater than speakers of the 300 or more dialects of Chinese, most of which, in the South especially, are mutually unintelligible, and even have different tone systems. On the other hand, the character system is shared, as was Latin by the Romance speakers.

Discounting foreign words, Spanish may be the closest to Late Latin, and indeed Late Latin in Hispania was considered particularly pure, and with a highly literate population.

1 Vote

Oh, I didn't know they were different languages. Is French a different language too? haha. I realize there are differences but there are some striking similarities too.

1 Vote

Mutual intelligibility between Spanish and French or Romanian is even lower (lexical similarity being respectively 75% and 71%)

That is odd since Romanian language is the one closest to Latin.

  • I heard some Romanian, during the Eurovision songcontest, and was amazed, it's understandable! In fact I decided to go and live in Romania.. - annierats Jun 10, 2013 flag
  • Well, a bit later, after I've lived in Spain and in Italy, or sooner, as life might be cheaper inRomania. - annierats Jun 10, 2013 flag
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I question that claim about Romanian language (often made, and often by Romanians..). Romanian may have certain things that are more common to Latin, in terms of some elements of grammar, such as style of declension, however frankly I believe Italian in general, as well as Spanish, also in particular the Sardinian language, are overall closer to Latin than Romanian actually is. Romanian has more eastern European / Slavic, influence than Spanish or Italian have of course. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavic_influence_on_Romanian

According to linguist Mario Pei, he used all of these criteria to determine the closest living language to classical Latin, and came up with this scorecard , the lower the % = the less different from Latin:

Sardinian - 8% different.  
Italian - 12%
Spanish - 20%
Romanian - 23.5%
Occitan - 25%
Portuguese - 31%
French - 44%
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Well, I have to say that Italian sounds more beautiful, it's spoken in a sing song manner and the Italians burst into operatic songs very easily because they are very musical.

As I'm not, I've had to settle for Spanish.

Italian does, actually seem easier to understand, being nearer to French, which, mysteriously, or, perhaps,by reason of being physically nearer, is a language we understand better , as we have had more cultural exchanges with France and Italy. By ' we' I mean those of us that live in the Northern Hemisphere.

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There also has been a huge exchange of vocabulary, idioms, and such, especially among French, Italian, and Spanish and especially since the Renaissance--that is, exchange of these items dialect to dialect and not through Latin.

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Aux armes, citoyens Formez vos bataillons, Marchons, marchons Qu'un sang impur Abreuve nos sillons

Alle armi, cittadini Formate i vostri battaglioni Marciamo, marciamo Che un sangue impuro Imbeva i nostri solchi!

¡ A las armas, ciudadanos!  ¡ Formad vuestros batallones!  Marchemos, marchemos,  Que una sangre impura  Empape nuestros surcos. 

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They are two different languages ​​but they have much in common vocabulary, but some differential structures. Derived from Latin. The accent is different and many words and verbs. It's like the difference between German and Dutch or Swedish and Danish. While speaking slowly is easier understood in both languages​​.

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Interesting page for this kind of topic: http://www.orbilat.com/Languages/Latin_Medieval/Dag_Norberg/03.html

Also I notice, in Italian today they still use some terms that are actually literally from Latin times, such as "salve" as a greeting. Certain words like "uomo" (homo) or "essere" (same as late Latin "essere" / to be ) , remind me of this also. There are many other examples, of course: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:Italian_terms_derived_from_Late_Latin

Some, as one can see from that list, are literally almost the same word as in late Latin.

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