New Civilization News: Romance Languages    
 Romance Languages25 comments
14 Jul 2005 @ 16:48, by Flemming Funch

Now I'd kind of like to be able to speak Italian, since I think I'll be coming back. And it seems like it actually would be easier than French. You pronounce it like it is written, the conjugations are more simple, and many of the words are familiar. But learning a whole language is kind of a big thing.

Anyway, besides getting some beginning Italian books and a dictionary, I got a book teaching several Romance languages at the same time. Which kind of makes sense. They all come from Latin, they have many similarities, and it all becomes more clear when one is looking at the systematic differences and similarities between them.

I found an excellent book, "Comprendre les Langues Romanes", which teaches Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian to French speakers. And there's a parallel book in each of those 4 languages doing it the other way.

The book, interestingly, turns out to have been organized by some Danish professors in Romance languages, with the collaboration of colleagues in a number of countries. See, there's an idea that maybe is more likely to occur to somebody from a Scandinavian country. The 3 Scandinavian languages, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, are to a large degree inter-comprehensible to people from those countries. Oh, they're different in many ways, almost as different as the Romance languages are. Certainly not just a matter of a different accent. At least a third of the words are different, and pronunciation has very different rules between them, different phonemes (units of sounds), etc. But the Scandinavians learn the basics about the other languages in school, and they consider each other close. So, in principle, one should be able to speak in one's own language, say Danish, and another person speaks Swedish, and we can understand each other. There will be gaps and little things one doesn't quite get, but generally that works. Even if I can't list the rules for Swedish grammar and pronunciation, I mostly understand it when a Swede speaks it, and he'd understand most of what I say in Danish.

So, the idea is that one could have the same inter-comprehensibility between the Romance languages. There's no big reason a French person shouldn't understand a Spanish or Italian speaker, and they should understand him when he speaks French. Mostly that isn't so at all, but it could be if each of them learned the basic differences and similarities, and a bit about how they've evolved.

For examples, in French the word for the English "full" is "plein". In Italian that is "pieno", in Spanish it is "lleno", "cheio" in Portuguese, and "plin" in Romanian. That at first looks very different. But they all come from the Latin "pleno". It is simply that they've converted it according to different rules. Many words that would start with pl- in French would the same way start with pi- in Italian, ll- in Spanish, ch- in Portuguese and pl- in Romanian. Which suddenly makes it easier to recognize what the words are. There are a lot of situations like that, where the differences are quite systematic, and one can see the similarities through it.

Potentially, many people could be capable of having a basic understanding of quite a few languages, if they went straight to learning how they relate to each other, how they've evolved from common roots, and what the essentially differences are between them. Which would be a very good thing for cross-cultural understanding. Less of a Tower of Babel. Maybe you don't master the languages, but you can understand most of them.

But, hey, maybe there's a conspiracy against it. There is a curious coincidence in this book. Its main author is listed as Paul Teyssier, a Danish language professor. But the foreword is by a different Danish language professor, Jørgen Schmitt Jensen, the project's coordinator,who gives a lively introduction to the book, and ends with the sad note that Mr.Teyssier unfortunately has passed away, so therefore, in his place, he would be writing the introduction to Romance languages. And then, under that, there's another note, from somebody else, that unfortunately, because of Mr.Schmitt Jensen's untimely illness and death, the introduction will not be written by him either, but by so-and-so. Who apparently survived through it. But it is a bit like they all get killed off, because they have the audacity to teach more people to understand each other. Nah, they were probably just old, but one never knows.

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14 Jul 2005 @ 17:21 by jstarrs : I'm currently translating... Italian website into english (for free!)
Of course, I know nothing about Italian but between the English & French translations that Babelfish come up with and my own discerning & overworked neurons, I think I can come up with something that will be, at least, this side of embarassing...;0)  

14 Jul 2005 @ 17:55 by Tim Rowe @ : I'm brushing up...
.. my Dutch at the moment. I lived in Holland for nearly 2 years - but that was about 26 years ago. :) I picked up the basics - plus a bit more - mainly from watching subtitled TV. I didn't get the chance to practice much either, as most of the Dutch wanted to practice their (already good) English on me!  

14 Jul 2005 @ 18:37 by ming : Language
Dutch is one of those languages where I always get surprised about how well I understand it. If I read it, that is. Seems like I can read a Dutch newspaper and it all seems fairly clear. Based on knowing some German, French, English, Latin, Danish, etc. But it would probably be a little hard to actually learn Dutch in the Netherlands, as they all speak perfect English and switch to that without hesitation.  

14 Jul 2005 @ 20:50 by ming : Language competence
Cool. I also get to think of languages such as {link:|Interlingua}, which is pretty instantly intelligible to anybody having any knowledge of a western european language, particularly any Romance language. Or {link:|Slovio}, meant to be usable by anybody who speaks any slavic language. Both try to use what most speakers seem to have in common, avoiding the things that have a lot of variance.  

15 Jul 2005 @ 13:59 by jstarrs : And esperanto has been...
..hanging on the shelves sometime, also...  

15 Jul 2005 @ 14:11 by rayon : The conspiracy I think lies with the

15 Jul 2005 @ 14:29 by rayon : . . . . to continue . . . .
description Romantic, this is a misnomer, should be Classical because like Sanskrit it is a root language, and engenders learning. With the Romantic languages there are still intrinsic meanings relating to greater awareness of life mysteries; ie the Romantics speak with head and hearts joined up. Should not say it of my own tongue (think I was French in previous existence) but the impression does come over that the heart is missing from English language sadly. A news item in yesterday's leading broadsheet, the Japapese are saying French is not an international language, because it cannot count properly. Definitely a conspiracy here. Well anyway, my prayers are certainly better in French.  

16 Jul 2005 @ 09:30 by ankh : The commonalities
in language is something I look for when I try to understand another language from English. I don't honestly know how I find it easy to understand Romance it because I was raised in a home with many languages and learned a few of them, or because my early education was so strongly focused on learning the roots and parts of words? Perhaps it's also telepathic, empathic? Maybe a bit of all of these?

I find that today even though American kids learn about roots, they just don't really know them well enough to figure out a word in another language such as French or Spanish or Portugese, whereas I find it very easy to do. I can understand people perfectly well if they're speaking in Portuguese to me, and I can translate it into English for others, I can read it and understand a lot of what I'm reading in Portuguese and I've never studied the language. I can just pick out the roots of the words or similarities in sounds to Spanish and French, for instance, that help put them together in my mind. Sometimes I find Scandinavian languages easy to understand - because of my English. I do agree that Romance languages should be studied together. They are almost interchangeable when you see them as having the same basic roots and know how to seek them out in a word.

I disagree about no heart in English. English is a very hard language for foreigners to learn - there are so many words, and so many ways to say things that look the same and should sound the same, but don't; and there are many exceptions to rules. Isn't English based on Romance languages? Aren't prayers heard with the heart no matter what language you speak? Or do the French think God favors the French language? lol  

16 Jul 2005 @ 09:47 by ankh : English
The English language belongs to the western sub-branch of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family of languages. The closest living relative of English is Scots (Lallans), a West Germanic language spoken mostly in Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland. Like English, Scots is a direct descendant of Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon.

After Scots, the next closest relatives are Frisian - spoken in the Netherlands and Germany - and modern Low Saxon language, spoken primarily in northern Germany. Other less closely related living languages include Dutch, Afrikaans, German and the Scandinavian languages. Many French words are also intelligible to an English speaker (pronunciations are not always identical, of course), as English absorbed a tremendous amount of vocabulary from the Norman language after the Norman conquest and from French in further centuries; as a result, a substantial share of English vocabulary is quite close to the French, with some minor spelling differences (word endings, use of old French spellings, etc.), as well as occasional differences in meaning.  

16 Jul 2005 @ 15:01 by ming : Languages
I find also that it makes quite a difference if I take the attitude that I ought to be able to understand. Like, yesterday there was a program I needed, which was made by some Czech guy, and all the documentation was in Czech. I have absolutely no knowledge of Slavic languages, and normally I would just regard it as complete gibberish. But I found that, when I actually tried, I could make out a number of things. Like which are the verbs, nouns and adjectives. And I could quickly figure out which word meant "is", and some of the words actually turned out to remind me of things I could guess the meaning of. To the points where it actually was helpful to read it.

I wonder if anybody has made any easily accessible "cliff-notes" for all languages. You know, a half page about each, providing the basic clues. Does it give sylables or pictograms, does it have articles and pronouns, how are words constructed? How do you say "is", "have", and "go"?  

18 Jul 2005 @ 15:00 by ming : Occitan
Yeah, I wish my book was covering Occitan rather than Romanian. I don't think I have many Romanians to talk with, other than when somebody tries to scam me out of some money on eBay.  

14 Sep 2005 @ 05:16 by Peggy Sue @ : Comprendre les Langues Romanes
Hi--I speak spanish fairly well and am taking an italian class and feeling frustrated that I would be able to learn so much faster (and reinforce my spanish) if I could just see a good comparison between the two. So far I haven't had much luck. I'm interested in the spanish version of the book you mentioned in French but had no luck finding it. Is it by the same author? Do you happen to know the title in spanish? My guesses aren't working. Thanks for the help!  

24 Sep 2005 @ 13:32 by Giancarlo @ : romance
I just post this to confirm you said about the similarities in the romance languages.
And I am going even further.

Looking at some words, there are many of them
(italian and french are, for example, 89% similar, italian and spanixh about 75%),
«non-romance» speaking people could say, from the outside, that
an italian could not tell that fr. manger is it. mangiare or fr. regarder is it. guardare.
They could say that these words are too different from each other.

Instead, the fact is that they understand them when french people say them in sentences and
they even understand much of what they say.

The reason is that, I think, that they are used to them, they grew up listening to that.

It would have been different if french people, spaniards italians, etc weren't in contact
with each other. This is the case. for example, of rumanian. I and other «romance» can
understand only those words which look like theirs because they have never heard them.

As french, spanish, etc have been heard and are heard a lot, many people know also words
which look different.

So, in Italy, everybody also knows what beaucoup means when a frenchman says it, just to
mention a word which is different from the italian molto.

Same think can be said with regard to spanish and portuguese.

Even if the similarities between them are less than those between french and italian,
most of them are mutually intelligible.

Just as an example, when italians meet foreigners and neither of them knows the language
of the other they usually try to communicate in english. Even when they meet with a romanian
for the reason I have said.

But when italians, french people, spaniards or portugueses meet, after the first trial to talk in english,
they turn to their own language.

You may ask how they do?
For example, I once met a frenchman, we didn't even think to use english. We both started
speaking our own two languages mixed up and we got along very well.

Regarding spanish. I know a judge who told me that he went once to meet a Spaniard colleague.
He told me that at first they tried to speak in english. After much effort they realized
that they could understand each other speaking each one his own language. So he spoke italian and
the spaniard spanish. Without straining themselves.
This couldn't have happened if those people hadn't been in contact. In fact, many words
are similar but others are vary different and we know some of them just because we have heard
them many times.

Of course all that is only true when we met. In tv films and interview are always dubbed and

There is one more thing I have recently discovered.

Look at this passage. It is from the oath of Strasbourg, in old french.

Well, the amazing thing I have discovered is that ..... I could read and understand
most of it. A frenchman can't do it anymore.

This is the language spoken in france in the nineth century (800 AD) and it looks
so close to modern italian and distant from modern french.

Pro Deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro commun salvament, d'ist di en avant,
in quant Deus savir et podir me dunat, si salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo, et in
aiudha et in cadhuna cosa

Here is, in modern italian, what I have understood.

Per amore di Dio e per il popolo cristiano e la nostra comune salvezza (salvamento), d'ora in avanti,
se (in quanto) Dio sapienza e potere mi dona, se salverò questo mio fratello Carlo e in aiuto e in
qualsiasi cosa

in english

For the love of God and for the Christian people, and our common salvation, from this day onwards,
if God gives me the knowledge and the power, I shall save (defend) this brother of mine Charles in help
and in everything.

In the past one thousand years italian hasn't changed much.
Something written one thousand years ago in Italy or France is intelligible.

Considering that english people have great difficulties in understanding something written just three hundred
years ago, isn't it amazing?!  

3 Mar 2006 @ 12:35 by alex @ : they are more similar thatn they seem
when you talk about differences in vocabulary between romance languages you all must understand that there aren't so many. for instance when you talk about the latin word "pleno" which it's plein in French, pieno in Italian and lleno in Spanish, I'm sure you don't know that pleno also exists in Spanish, it0s just they have towo words that mean the same idea, and it isn't a strange word for them, it's almost as used as the other, although when you study it, it isn't taught as much. look for the "pleno al quince" and you'll tell me  

5 Mar 2006 @ 14:27 by ming : Comprendre les langues romanes
That's a nice introduction to the book, Cochonfucius! Thanks for the mention.  

5 Mar 2006 @ 14:42 by ming : Comprendre les langues romanes
I've looked around on the net, also with the {link:|publisher} of the French version, and I can't seem to find any versions in other languages either. That's a shame. Maybe they didn't get around to finishing them yet. The French one is only from 2004. Or maybe it has a different name and different author and publisher, which makes it a bit hard. But I would have expected some site to list them.  

11 Nov 2006 @ 22:56 by Thomas @ : Spanish book version
@ming: I think that this is the Spanish version (which was published before the French version):

It's highly recommendable! It also provides nice information about language history and etymology of some concepts (e.g. did you know that a couple of centuries ago there was not only oeste-este-norte-sur "system" of orientation but also ponente-levante-tramontana-mezzogiorno!?)  

24 Dec 2006 @ 03:01 by ming : Spanish
Great. Yes, that looks kind of like the matching Spanish version. Although I would have expected them to have roughly the same name. No wonder I couldn't find them.

Yes, actually I ran into the explanation of the compass directions recently. Interesting that the same system was used in, for example France, for quite a while, even though they were based on seeing things from Italy.  

24 Dec 2006 @ 03:16 by ming : Professors
Btw, I should mention that recently I was contacted by the widow of Jørgen Schmitt Jensen, the project coordinator for the book I mentioned above. She was not happy with the lighthearted and un-academic manner I had addressed the subject here. I wrote back and offered my apologies for any perceived dis-respect, which in no way was what I meant. I think that book project is an absolutely excellent piece of work, but I'm not an academic, so I don't necessarily give the properly formatted references.

She didn't answer back again. I had otherwise hoped to maybe learn where one could find all five of those books.  

11 Mar 2007 @ 06:19 by Ariana @ : in English, per favore/por favor?
Hi. Does anybody know of a book like this (or other online resources) written for native English-speakers who would like to learn more than one of the Romance languages at one time? I have some background in French (studied it in high school and college, but don't have anything like a working fluency of it - certainly not enough to read the book written in French, teaching me how to understand Spanish, Italian, and Romanian from the perspective of French), I have studied about a year of Spanish, and have recently found myself with occasion to be spending quite a bit of time in Italy (and in France). I want to brush up on my French, deepen my knowledge of Spanish, and develop a working knowledge of Italian. I've started using Pimsleur Italian CDs, but it seems like there ought to be some system for learning these languages at once. Does anybody have any guesses? I'd be most obliged. If you do, could you please email me at (because I am unfamiliar with this website and if you just post here, I might forget to check back again and again). I would really appreciate it. Thank you  

11 Mar 2007 @ 13:19 by ming : Romance languages in English
I'd be interesting in hearing that too, if there's an English language book teaching all the romance languages simultaneously. It really ought to exist.  

16 Apr 2008 @ 21:24 by brascina @ : the book "comprendre les langues romanes
you mentioned that there are the same books from the 4 romance languages.
do you know how i can find the one for
italian, to spanish, portugese, french and romanian and from
spanish to italian, portugues, french and romanian
do you know what their titles might be? thank you.  

10 Aug 2010 @ 15:50 by ELIAS @ : português do brasil
oi, vejo que ninguém mencionou o português  

19 Dec 2014 @ 19:03 by Zizou @ : PuxjqiJUCe
Llyane Hi, TokiVery valid question!While the world sepkas English on a regular basis (especially for business), do not forget that our own mother tongue is very organic to us.We learn our mother tongue at the same time we learn to walk, to eat and to behave like a human being, which is why we feel so much differently when we say the words in our mother tongue.Did you notice that it is easier to swear in a foreign language? That is because it is farther from the heart, so to speak, there is a distance between the meaning and the words themselves, the actual meaning is in a way remote.That is the exact reason why we should speak other languages, to be able to communicate with people in THEIR mother tongue, to connect at a deeper level.And even in business, you will become much more convincing when you make a pitch in someone's mother tongue I hope my little rant make sense to you Hope this helps!  

23 Dec 2014 @ 11:22 by Shule @ : JVdgxIvZKBlCOQxgx
Moneybag pointless is sutecjbive.even learning latin has its uses.for example, japanese. why do you want to learn japanese? do you plan to interact with japanese people? do you plan to go to japan? do you want to learn it so you can watch anime without subtitles or play japanese video games a year a half before they release out in the west?find the reason you want to learn them. don't learn them, and then find your reason.without reason, everything is pointless.nothing is pointless, learning languages is NOT pointless lol that's a skill many don't have, to be bilingual. i'm not perfect, but i have skills in 4 different languages. it's not pointlessif you master japanese, or are really good in it yet you never watch anime or never talk to japanese, never show that you know it, never put it in your job resumes that you know japanese, then yeah it's pointless because you never use it.  

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