Spanish and Italian are much closer than Italian and French

Dr. Costa   Sat Jan 07, 2006 7:00 am GMT
This is just a quick aside, but one of my students had directed my attention to this site. I found it interesting that there was a debate a while back about which language was closer to Italian, whether it was Castilian Spanish or Par. French. I was intrigued by the lenghty discussion, and happy to see that the general concensus was that Spanish and Italian are the closest of the three. I would direct your attention to the renowned linguistic researcher and auther, Dr. R. Posner, of the University of Cambridge, who through her extensive work clarifies this issue.

Sometimes as academics we over-analyze an issue that is plain as day. Have modern linguists concluded that there are more similiarities between the syntax, lex., phonology, etc. of Spanish and Italian than exists between Spanish and French? Yes, absolutely. However, I wonder why we need such complex discussions. I was born in Italy, and lived there for many years. We know the Spaniards are our cousins (of a Latin sort, and vice versa). Yes there is a Latin linguistic and cultural commonality with France as well, but even without all of Dr. Poser's (and the work of other noted linguists) I can easily say that Italians KNOW that Castellano is their closest brother language. The similarities are astonishing. Whole phrases are oftentimes the same, both grammatically and phonologically. Are there differences? Yes, of course there are; they are two distinct langauges, but as one of my very own teachers stated (in Italy) "Castellano and Italian are as close as two langauges can be; they are as similar as sisters and yet have their own personalities like sisters." There is really no room for debate. Italians can go to Spain (and vice versa) having never studied the other langauge and can mutually communicate with almost no problem; this wonderful experience cannot be shared between Italians and the French. French is so heavily influenced by Celtic and Germanic influences that it has departed from the mutual intelligibility that Italian and Castellano share. Look at our numbers and even the simple greetings. The similarities are astonishing. I tell you this as someone who lived most of his life in Italy and who has travelled througout Europe. The closests language to Italian? Undeniably Castellano...

(Ps... Please excuse my language errors as I am still trying to get a handle on English)....
Franco   Sat Jan 07, 2006 7:02 am GMT
Yes I think you're write. All the evidence points toward it, and I am with you 100%.
Latino   Sat Jan 07, 2006 8:37 am GMT
Brennus, you always has something profound to declare among us or reference to us; vice versa.

Anyways, Italian and Spanish are very similar due to the fact italian is considered the daughter of latin and spanish the son of latin. We should remember Latin is closet to spanish classical grammer and phrases and some junctions of verbs uses. And italian has simply lost this but holds the verbs intact.


posedere (while the junctions are different from the latin ones)

(italian retains the verbs latin.)

while.....Spanish retains the junctions of the verbs from I,you,they,we,you and others; example

amar (yo amo,amas,aman,amamos,amais)
tener (yo tengo,tienes,tienen,tenemos,teneis)
poseer (yo poseo,posees,poseen,poseemos,posseis)

amare (ego amo,amas,amant,amamus,amatis)
tenere (ego teneo,tenes,tenent,tenemus,tenetis)
posedere(ego posedeo,posedes,posedent,posedemus,posedetis)

while you can see spanish retains pretty much intact...while italian retains the verb instead of the junctions people (I,you,them,they,we,others)
greg   Sat Jan 07, 2006 9:17 am GMT
Le problème — car il y en a un — c'est qu'il faudrait d'abord définir ce qu'on entend par « similarité » ou « Abstand » : ce sont des concepts trop vagues et passe-partout qui méritent une définition précise ou alors une déclinaison suivant un ensemble de critères clairement spécifiés et distingués.

Par exemple, la formation du pluriel distingue l'espagnol et le français de l'italien. Autre exemple : l'absence d'arabophonie maternelle sur une très longue période sur les territoires correspondant à l'Italie et la France actuelles a un impact sur une fraction du lexique espagnol qui s'oppose ainsi à ceux des étymons communs à l'italien et au français restés latins (ou germaniques). En revanche, la phonologie vocalique du français est assurément différente de celles de l'espagnol et de l'italien car beaucoup de voyelles n'existent qu'en français (les nasales, mais pas seulement). Mais certains traits sont communs au français et à l'italien (conservation du [f] écrit <f> à l'initiale : Fr <farine> / It <farina> vs Es <harina> ou le [f] n'est plus prononcé mais subsiste sous la forme <h> — absence de diphtongaison dans certains cas : Fr <vol> / It <volo> vs Es <vuelo>).

D'ailleurs on pourrait étendre la comparaison géographiquement en incluant le portugais, les variantes occitano-catalanes, les langues gallo-italiques, le rhéto-roman ou le roumain.

La comparaison gagnerait en exactitude si l'accent était mis aussi sur une vision diachronique. Il serait intéressant de vérifier si le sytème de déclinaison bicasuel (sujet / régime) propre à l'ancien français et l'ancien occitan était présent ou absent de leurs équivalents castillan ou toscan.
I don't think   Sat Jan 07, 2006 11:17 am GMT
Lexically french and italian are the closest, phonetically spanish and italians are the closest.

Things aren't simple, do not forget all the phonetical and lexical gave by the arabs to spanish, this did not happen for french and italian.

Historical facts cannnot be ignored, for example the fact the french and north italians (= half of actual Italy) were the same people.

Culturally, facts cannot be ignored, fashion, perfums, food combined to wine (white wine for fish...) = italian cuisine and french cuisine are concepts which does not exist in any spanish cuisine. Italy is inspired on french philisophy about its republic constition.

Corridas in Spain and also in France, not in Italy.

France and Italy are culturally closer, it has an effect on the language of course.
Guest   Sat Jan 07, 2006 11:51 am GMT
"Castellano and Italian are as close as two langauges can be; they are as similar as sisters and yet have their own personalities like sisters." There is really no room for debate. "
" I can easily say that Italians KNOW that Castellano is their closest brother language."

celà ne me parait pas être un démarche scientifique digne d'un docteur en linguistique.

" Italians can go to Spain (and vice versa) having never studied the other langauge and can mutually communicate with almost no problem; this wonderful experience cannot be shared between Italians and the French."

What you say is very subjective, and most of my Spanish and Italian friends won't agree. When I went in Spain with two Italian friends I had to help them in spanish because they didn't speak it and were using English to communicate with the Spanish people.
Much of my Italian friends think french closer to Italian than Spanish, especially in lexical similarity. On the other side they think Spanish quite close to Italian on prononciation, but they think that too much words are different.

" French is so heavily influenced by Celtic and Germanic influences that it has departed from the mutual intelligibility that Italian and Castellano share."

The germanic influence in French is a myth : only about 400 words is not enuouth to make it a complete different language. It is nothing compared with the influence of arabic in Spanish.
greg   Sat Jan 07, 2006 3:08 pm GMT
Brennus : oui il se peut bien que des variantes italiques connaissent <harina>, mais ce que nous comparions c'était les mastodontes actuels que sont le castillan, le toscan et le français (à l'origine de simples variantes parmi tant d'autres) et non des langues voisines ou différentes quoiqu'apparentées.
Something to notice   Sat Jan 07, 2006 4:45 pm GMT
In the passage from Latin to Spanish, verbal inflection has survived much more than noun declesion. Morphologically, the verb system survived comparatively intact from Latin to Spanish. The ways in which the verb forms are used are not very different from Latin either.

The most obvious change has been the reduction of uses as well as forms of the subjunctive. When the subjunctive retains a function in Romance -- that is in contexts in which it can contrast with the indicative --, it has developed emotive overtones, especially suggesting doubt, unreality, or some sort of hypothetical futurity.

Use of Subjunctive

Subjunctive is used specially in subordinate clauses dependent on verbal expressions of command and exhortation, emotion or doubt, e.g.:

(Sp.) Temo que él lo diga.
I'm afraid he will say that.
The subjunctive also regularly follows subordinating conjunctions that project action forward into the future, notions such as 'until', 'before', 'in order that':
(Sp.) hasta que sea feliz...
until he is happy...
On the whole, however, Romance languages use the subjunctive less frequently than does Latin, with recession particularly, when no doubt is implied, in indirect speech and in temporal and concessive clauses. The infinitive is often used in subordinate constructions where Latin would have used a subjunctive.
Generally speaking, the indicative mood is used in stating a fact, whether positive or negative or in asking a question. The subjunctive mood is not used for these purposes. The subjunctive has a variety of uses and depends upon a preceeding verb or expression. It often expresses doubt or uncertainty.

In the sentence '"We ordered that he bring the report", the verb 'bring' does not state a fact, ask a question or give a command. It would be translated by the subjunctive in the Romance Languages. The difference between 'Bring the report' and 'We ordered that he bring the report', is that the latter refers to a command which was given.

The subjunctive is used after verbs expressing command, prohibition, desire, etc. It is used for example, after the verb 'to command' (Sp. mandar, It. comandare and Fr. commander).

(Sp.) Él manda que nosotros no salgamos.
(Fr.) Il comande que nous ne partions pas.
(It.) Egli ordina che noi non partiamo.
He commands us not to leave.
The verbal system, although less drastically reduced than the nominal and adjectival, is the area of greatest divergence among Ibero-Romance languages. (Castilian, Portuguese and Catalan). Castilian presents a rather conservative treatment of Latin tenses.
Having essentially timeless reference, expressing the speaker's lack of commitment to the reality of the event mentioned.

Expressing the atitude of the speaker to the event he reports, or conveying optative or volitive nuances.
Differences of tense form depend automatically on sequence of conventions, and not on real time setting of the event reported. Use of the 'past' subjunctive can in some languages imply a greater distancing of the speaker with regard to the veracity of the report.

According to traditional grammars, Romance Languages do show indicative/subjunctive distinctions however minimally. Optative, voluntative or potential semanticism has remained unchanged since Latin.
Romance now scarcely uses the subjunctive in main clauses, however.

Romance subjunctive is a form used principally in subordinated clauses, reflecting some Latin uses faithfully than others. In many cases it can be viewed as merely an agreement feature, a servitude grammaticale, which serves to reinforce the semanticism of the governing verb conjunction, usually implying or the lack of certainty inherent in anticipated events.

In other cases the choice seems one of style, with the subjunctive adding a certain air of elegance, to the subordinated post position. This is particularly so, for some languages, after verbs indicating pleasure, anger, fear and the like. Sometimes, where the choice of mood is prescribed by standard grammars, the actual verbs involved may differ:

(It.) Spero che venga.
In the Iberian languages "esperar" may be translated as 'to hope, to wait for' when followed by the subjunctive, and 'to expect' when followed by the indicative:
(Sp.) Espero que venga / vendrá.
I'm waiting for him to come.
I hope he will come.
I expect him to come.
In restrictive relatives, the subjunctive has semantic import. Here, the antecedent is understood as non-referential when a subjunctive follows:
(Sp.) Busco una chica que sepa (/sabe) el francés.
(It.) Cerco una ragazza che sappia (/sa) il francese.
I'm looking for a girl who knows French.
In Italian there is to a lesser extent, a tendency for the subjunctive to be avoided in many contexts. In these standard languages, it may be that the dead hand of Latin has forced the retention of a range of uses.
In the Iberian standars and in some non-standard dialects, on the other hand, the subjunctive seems to have retained more vitality in spoken usage, as it is difficult to say whether Latin has had the same sort of influence.

The sort of context in which the subjunctive is used - principally in elaborated discourse, with subordinate clauses -is in any case rare in unplanned everyday spoken usage. Certainly the subjunctive does carry with it an aura of refinement, which comes into play especially in more formal speech.

Present, imperfect. perfect and pluperfect all appeared in medieval Romance. The same four tenses persisted in Vulgar Latin in the subjunctive mood, but two of them were soon in difficulties.

The phonetic attrition of popular speech made the perfect and imperfect subjunctive so liable to confusion with other tenses that they were gradually discarded, the functions of both taken over in the west by the pluperfect subjunctive, with its unmistakable flex ions and its everyday currency. In the process, the pluperfect subjunctive lost in western usage its own pluperfect functions, a fate which readily befell the pluperfect indicative too.
Guest   Sat Jan 07, 2006 5:36 pm GMT
I am italian and understand better french instead of spanish, especially when it is written.
Dr. Costa   Sat Jan 07, 2006 6:47 pm GMT
Wow, it was nice to see that most agreed with me. Furthermore my degree is not in linguistics; I am a professor of Italian literature. I never said my degree was in linguistics. But I have to say that "I don't think so's.." response is hysterical. Spain and Italy are not only linguistically closer, but are much more culturally akin than France and Italy. As someone from Italy, I think it is important for Americans to understand that there are really two Italy(s); that which is north of Rome and that which is south of Rome. As I stated before, the similarities between Spanish and Southern Italian cutlure are undeniable; I was always raised recongizing it as a sister culture. With regard to lexicon, I would again refer back to Dr. Posner's award-winning work which debunks the myth of French and Italian having more lexicologically in common than Spanish and Italian. To whomever said "faker," I thank you for your informed response - quite typical of Americans. Regardless, as I stated before, the similarities between Castellano and Italian are so apparant that one need not even use such works of research. The entire French "sound," in that it departs from conventional Latin pronunciation is due to a prevalent Celtic/Germannic influence, the gutteral "r," instead of the Spanish/Italian trilled "r," etc. Througout history there was significantly more cultural happenings between Spain and Italy than there was between France and Italy. Lest we not forget that Spain also controlled Italy for hundreds of years via Aragon and the Kingdom of Sicily. I am not a professional linguist, just an Italian, and in Italy this is common knowledge. Thanks :)
Dr. Costa   Sat Jan 07, 2006 6:59 pm GMT
Thanks Brennus and Franco... glad we agree. Brennus, you are quite an intelligent person!

P.S. As an Italian, I sincerely doubt that "guest" is Italian (born and raised there) as he suggests. Why? Because what I state is quite a common opinion in Italy. Most Italians will tell you the same, and would never say they could understand French over Castellano. That's absurd. Also, although not to the extent as Spanish, I hope that "guest" realizes that there are Arabic loan words in Italian too, and is aware of their concurrent presence in the South of Italy which the Spaniards help to free them of. I sincerely hope this is not the first time he is hearing this.

Regardless, I thought it would just be fun to pop-in. Brennus better sums up my point because my English is pretty limitied. Again, Brennus I must say, you are quite the academic - kudos! I only came to comment on what is, as I stated before, common-knowledge in Italy - it is interesting how a few have decided to doubt me about the concensus in my own country. Regardless, it definitely separates the intelligent from those with some sort of slanted agenda.

Castellano e italiano - for we Italians, it doesn't really come much closer than that. And to the person who mentioned Sardinian (in quite a nasty way I might add - haha) oftentimes, colloquially in our country, we don't think of Sardinian as being "closer" per se because it has SEVERAL components that are pre-Latin.

Dr. Costa   Sat Jan 07, 2006 7:07 pm GMT
PS... Thanks "Latino" too. :)

Oh, one last minor aside. As you all know there are myriad prevalent dialects that dominate from Naples - southward in Italy. Due to the influence of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily (under Spain) there is even a futher phonetic influence. One that we've never seem come "backwards" if you will, from France. Yes we sent Latin "out," but Spain had a reverse effect during their domination. In the napolitano dialect, the "c's" and final "e's" are pronounced very differently from the north. Take the name Michael for example; in Italian it is Michele (Mi-kel-eh), but from Naples - southward the Spanish influence caused a hardening of the "c" to a "g" and many of the final "e's" are omitted. So the name Michele winds up sounding exactly like "Miguel." Even though I am not a professional linguist, the interchangeablitiy of puro Castellano con l'italiano are so vast and well-understood by Italians that I would be here for days if I tried to explain all the ways. To us it's clear, to most on the board it's clear. To the dissenters, I would suggest a posible "pro-Franco" agenda... haha.
Dr. Costa   Sat Jan 07, 2006 7:20 pm GMT
For the fromage people - lol - I give you ...

Castellano (and I am referring to Spain here, and espec. Argentinean Spanish - which is undeniabley so close that there are college courses in my own univerisity which compare the two)....

Ok... so for the "fromage, formaggio" comment, I give you....

Sp. - Casa
It. - Casa
Fr. - Maison

Brennus, how could something so clear cut, especially to Italians and Spaniards (Bocelli and Iglesisas frequently record songs in the other langauge, but never French)... something so factual, regarding the closeness of Castellano and Italian over French be debated by the few? I ask you because you seem very learned. I am perplexed as to how clear fact is debated by francophiles.
Catalanòfon   Sat Jan 07, 2006 7:31 pm GMT
I thought I would pop in too. I too am baffled at the alleged Dr. Costa's knowledge since I studied Romance Philology and majored in Catalan.

I learnt Latin and I know Italian, French, Catalan and Castilian fluently and I have travelled to all these places since I live half way between the Italian border and Madrid and France is next door.

Is is a fact that phonetically Tuscan ressembles Castilian due to clearness in pronunciation as far as vowel endings go. The words are "fuller" and that is what speakers of Tuscan and Castilian feel when they first hear each other.

The fact is Castilian and Portuguese, in their written form, are almost the same language but the Castlian do not understand the Portuguese unless it's with difficulty. European Portuguese has cut much of the written words.

The same thing happens with many Tuscans who don't understand many Sicilians! How could it be that Tuscans understand Castilians better than they understand Sicilian (in its pure dialectal form) when Sicilian is considered an Italian dialect? I know Italy, my friend, and I know what I'm speaking about.

As a Catalan speaker it was easier for me to learn Italian because I knew both Catalan, Spanish and French. In Catalan we say "mai" (never), "finestra" (window) and "porta" just the same way Italians do. I could pass a list with hundreds of words that are written and pronounced the same way.

Yet the Castilians say "nunca" "ventana" and "puerta". Spanish has the greatest evolution after French and if Mr. Costa is a Romance-language linguist he should know this. This is what astounds me.

The fact is gal·lo-romance languages and northern Italian dialects are more consonantic and lose final vowels. This baffles the central and southern Italians and the Castilian Spaniards.

Romania is a continuum and understanding is based in different factors. Nowadays, most Italians and Spaniards (Castilian) travelling to both these countries always carry a vocabulary with them. Bilingual Romance language speakers don't need to do this. We could carry on with syntax and we'd find that Standard Italian is closer to Occitan and Catalan than to Spanish.

My Italian professor at university once told us that Castilian Spaniard students get the worse marks in Italian in Europe. They are better in the first grade but once they pass to an intermediate level they just stop progressing. Even Germans and Brits get better marks! The reason is --due to nationalistic reasons-- that Italians and Spaniards (Castilian) are made to think they can understand each other whilst the Spaniards are made to think they can't understand Portuguese or Catalan. Italians won't even consider the existence of Romance languages that don't have a state behind them. For them they would just be "dialects". The reason is Italy wasn't even a unified country until 1860.

As far as the French are concerned they are made to believe they are the centre of Romania (and , some even believe, the world!). They probably are but it isn't through Paris. The centre has always been the south of France (from Marseilles to Toulouse) and includes Catalonia and the northern Italian varieties. Any serious linguist will tell you that Occitan and Catalan are the languages where the Western Roman Empire meets. Unfortunately, the south of France lost a great part of its language during the 20th century whilst the Catalan resist much better. Catalan is co-official for over 14 million people and is the only official national language of a small state, Andorra.

Nevertheless, Tuscans and Castilians will carry on with their nationalistic dreams whilst they will tell us that we should just culturally melt. The French they will realise, sooner or later, that
the rest no longer see them as the first heirs of Rome. They are just a peripherial variation that has evolved enormously in the past centuries. The Italians will realise that their language has the same world importance than Catalan or Occitan (except for Opera fans). That is still a lot since I consider my language has given quite a bit to Europe.

All the languages mentioned, whether bigger or smaller, are of course beautiful and have a great literary tradition behind them.
someone   Sat Jan 07, 2006 7:41 pm GMT
Well. I am surprised by the Franco-Italian similarity comment !

1.The closest language to Italian is obviously Castilian !
2.But what about the second related language to Italian?

Is it Portuguese , Romanian or French ?