Portuguese-Italian-Spanish mutual intelligibility

Warner   Sat Nov 01, 2008 4:33 am GMT
I am a native Spanish speaker, with previous training in French, Italian and Portuguese. I've read through some of the threads dealing with the topic of mutual intelligibility among Romance languages, in particular Portuguese-Spanish vs. Italian.
Even without any previous formal training, I was fortunately able to understand a lot of Italian (and Portuguese, for that matter), mostly in their written, but often also in their spoken forms. Portuguese is undoubtedly more transparent to us Hispanics, though. However I'd disagree with those people that concentrate on examples such as

"Je veux manger-Io voglio mangiare" vs. "Yo quiero comer-Eu quero comer"

to discredit a more thorough similarity between Italian and Spanish-Portuguese.

There are hundreds examples such as the one above. However, there are also hundreds of examples in which Italian and Spanish-Portuguese share words that Italian does not share with French.

Here are some of them:

"To hide"
Esconder (Sp) Esconder (Pt) Nascondere (It) CACHER (Fr)

Tío (sp), Tio (Pt) Zio (it) ONCLE (Fr)

Mientras (Sp) Mentre (It) PENDANT QUE (fr)

Ahora (Sp) Agora (pt) Adesso, Ora (It) MAINTENANT (Fr)

Siempre (Sp) Sempre (Pt, It) TOUJOURS (Fr)

and many others...

Spanish-Portuguese similarity, even though a fact, is grossly overstated. There is a very large number of false friends in the two languages.


exquisito (in Spanish "delicious", while in Portuguese it mostly means "elegant, rare")

polvo (in Spanish "dust", in Portuguese "octopus")

todavía (in Spanish "still", or in the negative "not yet"...In Portuguese "todavia" means "nevertheless".

cualquier (in Spanish means "any", just like Port. qualquer); however in Portuguese "qualquer" can also mean "none"; that does not happen in Spanish.

acordar (in Spanish "to remember", in Portuguese "to wake up")

Just as there are many Italian words that are not shared with Spanish, there are also many basic Portuguese words that would be completely alien to us Spanish speakers if taken out of context or used in isolation...

Ayer/óntem (yesterday); vs. Italian "ieri"
Olvidar/esquecer (to forget)
Temprano/cedo (early)
Recordar/lembrar (remember); vs. Italian "ricordare"
Quedar/ficar (to stay)
Ventana/janela (window)
Acostar(se)/Deitar-se (to go to bed)
Rodilla/Joelho (knee)

The point is: Mutual intelligibility is a complex issue, encompassing vocabulary, instinct, deduction, imagination, resourcefulness. Reducing that phenomenon to a few phrases or words is sheer oversimplification. Yes, Italian is further removed from Spanish if compared to Portuguese, but it is still close enough to our language to allow for clear overall communication when spoken slowly. I have witnessed many such cases.
JGreco   Sat Nov 01, 2008 5:26 am GMT
exquisito (in Spanish "delicious", while in Portuguese it mostly means "elegant, rare")

This is a little false. esquisito in Portuguese means "weird" and sometimes "rare" but never elegant. In Spanish exquisito means "delicious" but also has the same meaning as the English word "exquisite" an other words some what related to the word "rare" in English.
JGreco   Sat Nov 01, 2008 5:29 am GMT
There are also a couple of words on the list that have separate words related to Spanish that can be also used. But I am sure other responders will add these words to the discussion.
Mutual intelligibilty   Sat Nov 01, 2008 6:49 am GMT
@Warner: Excellent post!

And now my contribution:

Silla/cadeira (chair). "Cadera" means "hip" in Spanish.
Piso/chão (floor).
Espalda/costas (back). "Costas" means only "coasts" in Spanish.
Sombrero/chapéu (hat).
Abuelo/avô ou vovô (grandfather)
Abuela/avó ou vovó (grandmother) Notice here the difference between the masculine and feminine forms of these nouns in spanish and portuguese.

padres/pais (parents). In spanish there is the word "país" means country.

Tobillo/artelo ou tornozelo (ankle)
Calle/rua (street)
Por el/ pelo (for the, by the, because of the). In Spanish "pelo" means hair.
Rato: In Spanish it means "moment" or "a while". In european Portuguese it means mouse, in brazilian Portuguese it means rat.

Además/além (furthermore, beyond)

Cuchillo/faca (knife). In spanish there is also the word "faca", but it is very seldom (or never )used, and it means a special type of knife with a wide handle. I bet that 99,99999% of Spanish speakers have never ever read the word "faca" in a text written in Spanish.

Largo/comprido. In Portuguese "largo" means "wide", while in Spanish "wide" means "ancho".

The days of the week (from Monday to Friday) are completely different between Spanish and Portuguese.

I invite you to extend this list!
What color is this page's   Sun Nov 02, 2008 2:01 am GMT
"It's clear that Spanish and Pourtuguese are barbaric dialects of Italian."

Well... Yes.
In some way.
Way to go.

How come no one mentions Catalan when it comes to Spanish/Portuguese/Italian mutual intelligibility?

Catalan has obviously close ties to Spanish but shares a lot of similarities with Italian while being closely related to Occitan which is itself some kind of Mediterranean translation of French... Catalan is at the core of Romance languages (just like Frisian sits between Dutch, Low German, English and Scandinavian).
You should pay some more attention to Catalan.
It deserves to be taken in consideration.
Michael   Sun Nov 02, 2008 5:45 pm GMT
There are situations where one of the four (Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Italian) iscloser to one of the others or one is the most different from the other three. For example,

English - Spanish - French - Portuguese - Italian
door - puerta - porte - porta - porta
-The Spanish is the most different from the other three in this case.

to know - saber - savoir - saber - sapere
-Here, the French word is most different.

window - ventana - fenêtre - janela - finestra
-Here, the French and Italian are alike and the Spanish and Portuguese words are neither like eachother or the Italian/French.

always - siempre - toujours - sempre - sempre
-In this case the French is the most different again.

And don't get me started on Spanish stem-changing verbs, these throw off the likeness to both Portuguese and Italian.

Spanish - Portuguese
quiero - quero
entiendo - entendo
prefiero - prefero
and you get the picture.

One likeness between Spanish and Italian that Portuguese doesn't share is this (I don't know how to put it into words)

te amo (Spanish)/ti amo (Italian)/eu amo-te (Portuguese)
Michael   Sun Nov 02, 2008 5:48 pm GMT
* I made a mistake actually, in Portuguese it's "eu prefiro" for prefer.
ad   Sun Nov 02, 2008 8:54 pm GMT
Yeah yeah yeah you guys all talk about is Italian Portuguese French and Spanish, why not about Romanian? It's not as widely spread out in the world as all these romance languages listed above but how come no one says anything about how out of all Romance languages out there the closest ones ( among each other) are Italian and Romanian. I know people don't know much about Romanian language and don't even know it could be a latin language but the truth is, romanian and italian are the closest ones. My native language is Romanian and if you ask any other Romanian, they all readily know italian.
white color   Mon Nov 03, 2008 9:58 am GMT
"How come no one mentions Catalan when it comes to Spanish/Portuguese/Italian mutual intelligibility?"

Because we are tanlking about national languages. If you consider Catalan you have to consider also Occitan, Provencal, Arpitan and Gallo-Italian dialects that, with French, are part of the same linguistic group.
Uncatalan   Mon Nov 03, 2008 11:26 am GMT
"Because we are tanlking about national languages."

- Catalan qualifies as a national language, with a full-fledged literature, a long history, an academic standard and a large number of speakers.

"If you consider Catalan you have to consider also Occitan, Provencal, Arpitan and Gallo-Italian dialects"

- Nope.
Occitan/Provençal could have developed into a real culture language but failed to do.
So-called "Arpitan" and Gallo-Italic dialects never came close to that stage.

French was accepted as the written norm in the whole Occitan and Franco-Provençal areas as soon as printing presses were invented.
Same process for Toscan in Italy, from Sicily to Piedmont.

On the other hand Catalan underwent obvious competition from Castillan but never ceased to evolve, to enjoy a large speaker base and to be used as a literary medium.

You cannot compare the status of Catalan with popular dialects used in Southern France or Northen Italy. Even the staunchest Spanish fanatics wouldn't dare to.

(I am not Catalan BTW)
Dubal   Mon Nov 03, 2008 2:18 pm GMT

-Frédéric Mistral won Nobel Prize in 1904 writing in Occitan.
-Italian dialects are real languages with more speakers and more famous than Catalan.
-Catalan is not a national languages. is a co-official local language as Corsican in France or Slovenian in Italy.
Guest   Tue Nov 04, 2008 10:16 pm GMT
A nadie le importa un rabano el catalan .
Niko   Tue Nov 04, 2008 11:08 pm GMT
I honestly think people who only know one of the Romance languages cannot understand much of another. Even though Italian and Spanish have similar sounds, their vocabulary and even grammar differ quite a bit. So, the average Spanish speaker would only understand some words of Italian.
Qualsevol   Thu Nov 06, 2008 9:36 pm GMT
Muy bien, Guest, demuestras ser un auténtico español que, en su miseria intelectual más lamentable, desprecia todo lo que desconoce.
Paul   Fri Nov 07, 2008 2:24 am GMT
<< Muy bien, Guest, demuestras ser un auténtico español que, en su miseria intelectual más lamentable, desprecia todo lo que desconoce. >>

Hes just telling the truth. Nobody cares about Catalan.

People need to stop trying to elevate it to the status of other national languages.