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RockerChick14's avatar

How similar are Spanish, Italian, and French to Latin?

Asked by RockerChick14 (948 points ) January 16th, 2013 from iPhone

I’m wondering which one i should take.

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42 Answers

bookish1's avatar

Have you already studied Latin, and now you are wondering which modern Romance language to take? The way you phrased your question makes me suspect this is the case. Or are you trying to decide between Spanish, Italian, French, and Latin?

Do you have any practical reasons to study a language, or is it only for a school requirement? If it’s just for a school requirement, I would only recommend Latin if you are planning on going into classics, law, or the sciences.

I do not know Italian or Spanish, but I have heard that the grammar in both is much more regular than that in French.

Yeahright's avatar

Well, first you would have to establish the criteria for comparison, so that you would know how each of the languages that you are mentioning is more or less similar to Latin. In general terms, Spanish, Italian, and French are called Latin languages because they derive from Latin. They are also called Romance languages because Latin was spoken in ancient Rome in the days of the Roman Empire. In time, Latin —due to geographical reasons— derived in those other languages. As a result, you will find a lot of similarities in terms of structure and lexicon.
I do not speak Italian. But I speak Spanish and my French is OK. I find French more difficult in terms of grammar and pronunciation. Both Spanish and French share lot of cognates (words that are very similar in both languages) with English which is good because you can transfer a lot of the vocabulary from one language to the other. I find Spanish easier than French in terms of pronunciation and writing. Spanish is more phonetic than French, which means that you pronounce the words in a very similar fashion to how they are written.
From a more practical angle, Spanish is a more useful language because it is spoken by more people than French. I find French sounds better, but this is very subjective. I could probably be of more help if you are more specific in what you want to know. Your question is very broad as it is.

I can also point out that those languages are so similar that even though I don’t speak Italian, I can understand a lot of what they say if they talk to me.

zenvelo's avatar

Italian is easier to learn and from my anecdotal experience, closer to Latin. The beauty of Italian is it has consistent pronunciation of letters. The vowels are always expressed, and certain letter combinations always sound the same (like gh in spaghetti always has a hard g).

My mother grew up in a bilingual home speaking English and Spanish, and took Latin in High School. She said it was an easy A for her.

French is more developed and more complicated than Spanish or Italian, so it is more distant from Latin.

DominicX's avatar

Italian is probably the closest to Latin among the Romance languages (which would make sense considering its location). Italian and Latin share the most vocabulary out of the Romance languages, Italian retains Latin forms like geminate consonants, etc. but Italian is still a very different language; the verbal system is different, it has lost noun inflection, etc. Still, knowing Latin would certainly make learning Italian or any Romance language easier.

bhec10's avatar

Why not Portuguese? It’s a wonderful and awesome language!

dxs's avatar

Take the language that you feel will be most useful to you. Which is most popular in your community? I am partial to Italian because it is my ancestral language, but I’d say learn Spanish if you’re in the USA because it is so common here. Italian is definitely the closest to Latin. I’ve heard it been called “Latin slang”. You’re basically changing the ”-us“es ”-um“s at the end to vowels.

morphail's avatar

@DominicX which Latin geminates does Italian retain?

DominicX's avatar

@morphail I don’t know which ones specifically, but I know that Italian does retain contrast between long and short consonants, such as “beve” vs. “bevve”.

Yeahright's avatar

@RockerChick14 In order to decide which one you should take, you need to consider a few aspects other than the linguistic similarities of the languages you mention. I find @bookish1‘s questions are essential.
@bhec10 I agree with you. Portuguese is so beautiful…probably my favorite of all Latin languages.

morphail's avatar

@DominicX I think that a lot of Italian geminates, like bevve, are not in Latin – that is, Latin does not have geminates in the same place. But there’s probably some Latin geminates that continued into Italian.

DominicX's avatar

@morphail I guess an example would be like Latin “attributio” vs. Italian “attribuzione”. Italian has created a lot of new geminates (such as Latin “ct” becoming “tt” in Italian). But I don’t know enough about Italian to know if Italian has done away with other Latin geminates.

JLeslie's avatar

I speak Spanish and when I see or hear Latin it is not familiar to me. Italian and Spanish have some similarities, French and Portuguese might as well be Greek. However, I believe those above who say Italian is probably closest to Latin, first because those jellies know a lot about language, and second because it seems logical the language spoken near the vatican would be most alike.

I would not decide to study a particular romance language because of the Latin root. You could also decide to go into medicine, be a lawyer, or be a Priest with that logic. I say pick the language that will be most useful, that you can practice easily, or that you find most beautiful.

Yeahright's avatar

@JLeslie From the OP’s question it is not really clear whether he has already studied Latin or if he is considering studying it. But, one could assume that he already knows Latin and he wants to know which of the Romance languages mentioned is the most similar to Latin, so that he can use his knowledge of Latin to grasp and acquire the new language faster and easier.

I speak Spanish and when I see or hear Latin it is not familiar to me. I don’t know why that is because it is very obvious that a lot of words are very similar to their Spanish equivalents. For example look at these lines in Latin:

In nòmine Patris, et Fìlii, et Spìritus Sancti. Gràtia Dòmini nostri Jesu Christi, et càritas Dei, et communicàtio Sancti Spìritus sit cum òmnibus vobis. Et cum spiritu tuo. Gratia vobis et pax a Deo Patre nostro et Dominio Jesu Christo. Benedictus Deus et PaterDomini nostri Jesu Christi. Et cum spirtu tuo..

Someone who knows Spanish should be able to guess what most of them mean.

JLeslie's avatar

@Yeahright You can say the same about English. Words like castigate, verdant, culpable, pensive, if you know Spanish you can guess what those words mean in English very easily. I assume they have Latin roots, although I am not sure. My point is having some words in common doesn’t necessarily make it very easy to understand another language, especially when spoken, because prononciation can be so different from language to language. I doubt if someone spoke to me in Latin about cooking food, what work they do, or walking to the park I would understand it. But, the Spanish would be no problem for me.

DominicX's avatar

@JLeslie One of the biggest differences between Latin and the Romance languages is, regardless of how similar the vocabulary is, the word order. Latin had a relatively free word order, with the verb at the end of the sentence and the rest of the words scattered relatively freely in many cases. That could throw off any speaker of the Romance languages, even if the vocabulary is similar.

JLeslie's avatar

@DominicX Interesting. I never studied Latin, but when I see it, it is quite foreign to me. Particular words I can pick out, but the majority of a sentence or paragraph will be unknown. I have no doubt knowing Latin would help immensely in the romance languages with vocabularly, as it does to a limited extent in English, but I would not choose which romance language to study based on knowing Latin. Would you?

Yeahright's avatar

@JLeslie Yes, those English words are cognates and yes, if you know Spanish you can guess what they mean. They are cognates because etymologically a lot of them come from Latin. It is a fact that cognates help transfer between two or more given languages, and this is very clear among Romance languages. But, these cognates would not help someone who is learning a language that comes from an entirely different family. So, yes, for me it makes sense to try to learn a language that derives from Latin as opposed to one that doesn’t.

JLeslie's avatar

@Yeahright About your passage in Latin, I don’t really understand it well enough to fully translate it, I can guess some of the words, but those words are similar in English and in Spanish. Maybe if I were Catholic it would be more obvious to me. Religious vocabularly is not a strength of mine. For instance I can talk all day about food, clothes, travel and other topics in Spanish (although my conjugation and grammar is far from perfect) but cannot communicate well about politics or various specialized industries. One can be fluent, and still have a huge gap in volcabulary, just like they can in their first language.

I agree a romance language makes sense, I never said it didn’t. I am just saying I would not pick which one based on knowing Latin.

Yeahright's avatar

@JLeslie I know what you mean. But the passage was meant to refer to your comment I speak Spanish and when I see or hear Latin it is not familiar to me.
My point was that it should be somewhat familiar because it is similar to Spanish (or rather the other way around). I was not asking you to make a full translation but to acknowledge how similar some words are to their Spanish equivalents. I happened to put a religious passage, That’s not the point. The topic or the content itself is not the point. The point was to transfer knowledge (morphological in this case) from one language to the other, which is done by speakers of a second (or foreign) language all the time.

JLeslie's avatar

@Yeahright Familiar yes. It is familiar. But, to actually communicate and fully understand, I couldn’t. That passage is familar just knowing English. Do you speak Spanish? Just curious.

Yeahright's avatar

@JLeslie Yes, I do.

That passage is familar just knowing English I don’t think that the words in the passage are as familiar to and English speaker as they are to a Spanish speaker. (In terms of morphology of the words, again not referring to content.)

JLeslie's avatar

I agree more familar in Spanish, but still, gratia, Jesus Christi, communcátio, and some others are roots or extremely similar to the English words also.

JLeslie's avatar

Maybe the OP should pick up a book or google pages in the various languages and see how familiar the language looks. My spoken Spanish is better than my written; when I try to read French, Italian or Portuguese it is very difficult for me.

I think being bilingual helps learn a third language no matter what, even if the next language has barely anything in common with the first two.

bookish1's avatar

Pardon me for interrupting this tangent, but on the subject of cognates, French might be the easiest of the Romance languages to learn, if you are a native English speaker and linguistically oriented, because English must be… about ¼ derived from French.

@JLeslie: I agree with your last statement. Already having gotten my head around French made it easier for me to accept the fact that Arabic has radically different ways of doing things!

Yeahright's avatar

@JLeslie Yes, being bilingual helps to learn further languages. But learning a totally new language (say Japanese, Arabic) would take longer. Given the choice and to make things easier, I would chose a language from the same family.

JLeslie's avatar

Meanwhile, the question still is, which of the romance languages to study. I wish the OP would come back and state why they are learning the additional language. Maybe they are just looking for an easy A for their transcript and studied Latin in high school already.

Yeahright's avatar

@bookish1 Not a problem. The more the merrier! :)
French might be the easiest of the Romance languages to learn, if you are a native English speaker and linguistically oriented Well, that’s hard to prove. I’m always wary of making such assertions, but then again it could be true. However, as @DominicX mentioned, lexicon is only but a part, syntax and pronunciation are extremely important. So even if there are a lot of French words that assimilated into the English language the grammar posses a great challenge for the English speaker. Maybe Spanish is easier.

RockerChick14's avatar

I’m wondering because my mom thinks its completely useless to speak Latin so I want to know which language is closer to Latin.

JLeslie's avatar

@RockerChick14 So you don’t know Latin? Do you live in America? I say learn Spanish if you live in the US. Unless you have a specific interest that might lead to a career where another language would be more beneficial.

Yeahright's avatar

@RockerChick14 Well, Latin is useful if you are going to study law for instance.
And as to which is closer to Latin, it is hard to determine because all derive from Latin. However, based on what others have said here, Italian would logically seem the closest to Latin but Italian is not widely spoken so it wouldn’t be very practical.
French, as stated above, shares a great deal of vocabulary with English, but again, it is not widely spoken.
Spanish is the third most widely spoken language in the world.

JLeslie's avatar

@Yeahright I though Spanish was number 2 behind Mandarin Chinese.

Yeahright's avatar

@JLeslie The stats vary according to the classification criteria, i.e., if you rank them based on the fact that the language is spoken by native speakers (Chinese) or if you rank them according to the amount of people that speak the language by both native and non-native speakers and/or including the countries where the language is the dominant/official language, or if the language is used a second language (English/Spanish).

dxs's avatar

@bookish1 That may be true, but English is anglicized, and therefore the pronunciation is way off from original French. I took both Spanish and French classes in middle school and I found out that French was much harder. They rarely seem to pronounce the last few letters so it makes it hard for a novice to understand it let alone speak it.
@RockerChick14 Latin is also quite useful in biology with binomial nomenclature and all. It helps with linguistics, too, like understanding word origins and definitions, etc. Even better, if you know a friend who can also speak it, you can go around in public speaking your own secret language and nobody will understand.

bookish1's avatar

@dxs: Well, I was not referring to pronunciation, but just to vocabulary.
French pronunciation is hard if you are learning it from the written language. This is not how we all learn our first language, obviously. But, lamentably, it is how foreign language tends to be taught in school. I didn’t truly learn how to pronounce and hear French until I took a phonetics class in college. I wish that they taught foreign languages in high school using a phonetic approach, instead of confounded verb conjugation and memorizing vocabulary, like language is all a big math formula you have to memorize >_>

susanc's avatar

I keep hearing or reading that the living language now closest to Latin is:

Romanian.

It’s interesting, leads you into a curious culture and history, and only interesting people speak it. Why not.

Yeahright's avatar

@susanc I have heard that about Romanian too. I must look it up sometime. I have hear it is even more phonetic that Spanish.

I think it is essential to determine the purpose for studying the language. You need to learn a language that it will actually be useful to you and not only because it is nice because it really takes a long time and effort to learn a language to then not be able to practice it and in time ending up forgetting half of what you learnt. (Unless of course your purpose is to learn it for fun, as a hobby or past time.)

DominicX's avatar

Romanian was the first major Romance language to split off from Latin, which gives it some important similarities; however its long separation from Latin led to borrowing many Slavic words and thus Romanian is the least similar to Latin in terms of vocabulary.

morphail's avatar

Romanian preserves the neuter gender and a limited vocative case. On the other hand, unlike every other Romance language (I think), Sardinian didn’t palatalize velars before front vowels, so the Sardinian word for “hundred” is “kentu”.

DominicX's avatar

I’ve always wondered why certain phonological changes like that are so common, such as the diphthongization in Italian and Spanish; porta—> puerta, bonus—> buono/bueno, etc. Romanian too, like with sol—> soare.

morphail's avatar

It happened in English too: Old English /muːs/ – Modern English /maʊs/, Old English /myːs/, Modern English /maɪs/. Palatalization happened as well, compare kirk and church, German Kinn and English chin. What I wonder is why all the same changes don’t happen the same way in all languages.

dxs's avatar

@DominicX I’m certainly not a linguistic expert like you and others in this thread, but I have looked at quite a few “Romance” languages and saw that it’s more than just the “dipthongization” that changes, but vowels in general that just change for some reason. The inconsistency is really odd.

Chanute's avatar

I lived and went to school in Italy for four years and learned to speak Italian of course. Then I came back to California and got my master’s degree in Spanish and
taught high school Spanish for
years. All because I had learned
Italian first. Then I taught Italian to adults for 7 years. Many of my students were Spanish speakers and learned Italian subito. I also learned Portuguese and French.
It is much easier for an Italian speaker to learn Spanish than it is it is to learn French and for a Spanish speaker to learn Italian over French. Italian and Spanish vowels are the same. Italian and Spanish both roll the letter “R”. The Italian letter combo of gn is the same sound in Spanish. Montagna. Just think if even and English speaker can learn Italian how much easier is it for a Spanish speaker to learn Italian and visa versa. Then again I met a French guy who lived in Mexico who spoke fluent Spanish because as he said it was easy for him to learn. All the Latin languages are similar and can be learned if you speak anyone of them.
BTW even English vocabulary is 60% Latin. (12% is Greek words which come to us from Latin.)

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