Jumpstart My Second Romance Language Using My Spanish

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Spanish to Italian

This page is used to permit users of the Second-Language site to build examples of predictable changes in the conversion from Spanish to Italian.

Relation to the object language

According to “A Manual of Comparative Romance Linguistics” , Spanish is a member of the Ibero-Romance subgroup of the Western Romance languages while Italian is a member of Italo-Romance subgroup of the Eastern Romance languages. This means that Spanish has more in common with the other Iberian Romance languages like Portuguese and Catalan than it does with Italian, whose closest relatives are three Sardinian dialects.

This helps to explain some of the prominent differences between Spanish and Italian, particularly in how the plural of nouns is formed and pronunciation differences, as you will see.

However, fortunately for you, the reader, who wants to apply the Spanish that you have learned to learning Italian, there are a number of factors that make this endeavor worthwhile. First, all the Romance languages share a high level of common words. Even if some old Latin roots have fallen out of favor here or there, these words are still frequently recognized to one extent or another across the Romance languages, much as native English speakers recognize older English words in the King James Bible, even if these words are not used in common speech anymore.

Second, all of the countries that now speak a Romance language – except for Romania – were part a common culture and religion that encouraged communication long after the Roman Empire had fallen.

And third, conveniently, Italian happens to have many features in common with Western Romance in any case. You will find that your friends who speak Spanish natively will be able to follow Italian conversations to a greater or lesser extent. For example, A che ora parte il treno? is perfectly intelligible to a Spanish speaker (¿A que hora sale el trén?). The problem that native speakers of Spanish have is when they reply, since it is somewhat more difficult for Italians to understand Spanish than vice versa.

However, you are a native English speaker who has learned some Spanish and wishes to use this in learning Italian. You will find that conversation Italian in particular will not sound anything like the Spanish conversation you learned in class. Oh, yes, when you read *finish this paragraph*

Vocabulary differences (in common words)

It is an interesting aspect of related languages that while common words (numbers, close family relationships, etc.) can help identify languages with common ancestors, the common words are also often the most different words between two languages. It’s not that the same words don’t exist in both languages; it’s that the limited subset of words that non-native speakers learn tends to be different between the languages.

For example, take the very common phrase te quiero “I love you” in Spanish. Although this literally means “I want you”, this phrase is used in modern Spanish instead of the more traditional te amo – which is very similar to the Italian ti amo “I love you”.

When I asked a female friend from Peru what she thought of te amo, she giggled and said that it sounded like a very quaint old man speaking, not a modern young man.

Note, however, that my Peruvian friend understood perfectly what te amo meant. The lesson for you is that if you don’t know what the proper Italian word or phrase is, then you should try the Spanish word or phrase, because the odds are that you’ll be understood.

The reason is that native speakers have a far larger passive vocabulary than what they might use in speaking and what you might learn in a foreign language class. One day, I was speaking with a Mexican friend (from Mexico City) and wanted to say “immediately” without saying inmediatemente. In Italian, the usual way to say this is subito, but I hesitated to say this because I had never heard this in Spanish class nor had ever seen it in my (perhaps limited) exposure to Spanish media. Not a problem, he said, he knew exactly what it meant, particularly in context.

Returning to te quiero, however, this does bring up a good example of two related languages choosing quite different words for very common uses. In Spanish, querer means “to want”, just as it does in Portuguese. This comes from the Latin word quaerare “to ask for”. However, both Italian and French continue to use the original Latin word volere “to want”, so “I want” is voglio in Italian, but is quiero in Spanish.

In cases such as this, in which the most common word used for a particularly meaning just is not recognizable, think about synonyms. For example, if you are attempting to speak Italian and are falling back on your Spanish and have discovered that the Italian with whom you are speaking doesn’t recognize what querer means, try using a synonym like desear “to want, desire”. The Spanish ¿Que desea? is closer to the Italian Che cosa desidera? and more likely to be understood.

One of the times that I lived in Italy, I was living in a wing of a hotel on the outskirts of Rome. This hotel, besides housing the University of Dallas’ Rome campus, catered primarily to large tour groups coming out of the U.K.

One of the owners of the hotel had two nephews, both in their early twenties, who worked at the hotel as well as hung out. They would frequent the lobby and common rooms, looking for likely women to become better acquainted with. One evening, they were in luck. The current tour group, although originating in the U.K., had a beautiful eighteen-year-old Venezuelan girl, who was traveling to Italy with her mother.

The two nephews swooped down. They pitched themselves on the couch opposite mom and her daughter, and proceeded to have a fine time talking to the daughter in Italian while the daughter responded in Spanish, with mom ignoring the whole thing.

Of course, good things come to an end. Some time after I had joined the group, mom decided that it was time for her to go to bed. She turned to her daughter and said, more or less, “Let’s go.” The nephews understood what was happening and asked the daughter if she would like to go out with them.

I no longer remember the exact question that one of the nephews asked, but I do recall that the question in Italian used very common and incomprehensible words to a Spanish-speaker. For example, in Spanish you might say “¿Quisieras...?” for “Would you like...?” while in Italian you would say “Voresti...?” or “Vuoi...?”. In other words, the Latin word volo that gave root to the Italian words, has been totally lost in Spanish, at least, in the same context. The Iberians use a form of quaerare, which was ‘to ask for’ (query) in Latin, for ‘to want’.

The young woman had no idea what the more forward of the two nephews said, even after he repeated it. Mom was getting antsy. I looked at the nephews, then looked at the signorina, and I told her in Spanish what the nephews had asked in Italian. It is humorous that I, a native speaker in neither language, understood the simpler phrases while the native speakers could not.

Unfortunately, after hearing my translation, she looked at the nephews, thanked them, but said that she was going upstairs with mom. End of evening. It was unfair, I think, that the nephews immediately turned to me and asked me why I hadn’t persuaded her to stay, as if it were my fault that she left. Try to do a guy a favor...

Summary of changes

Voiced And Unvoiced Sounds

To help you understand one of the major changes between Spanish and Italian, let’s look at ‘voiced’ and ‘unvoiced’ consonants.

A ‘voiced’ consonant is a consonant that you pronounce while vibrating your vocal cords. Thus, b, d, soft g, hard g, v, and z are voiced consonants, while p, t, ch, k, f, and s are the corresponding unvoiced consonants. Placed in a table, we see:

Voiced Unvoiced
B P
D T
soft G (J)Ch
hard G K
V F
Z S

You will notice that many of the changes you see from Spanish to Italian are that consonants that are voiced in Spanish tend to be unvoiced in Italian. This is not actually Italian’s doing – these same consonants were also unvoiced in Latin. It was Spanish that changed. Thus, the Spanish word estado is the Italian stato and the Spanish word amigo is Italian amico. Here is a table that very briefly(!) summarizes the changes from Spanish to Italian.

Vowels

Spanish vowelsItalian equivalentsNotes
aaseldom changes
ee, i
ii, e
iee, ie
oo, u
uu, o
ueuo, o

Consonants

Spanish consonantsItalian equivalentsNotes
bb, vinitial - unchanged, medial - often v
cc, zinitial - unchanged (but note pronunciation), -ción (Spa) becomes -zione (Ita)
chtt
dd, tinitial - unchanged, medial - often t, -dad (Spa) becomes -tà
ff
gg, cinitial - unchanged, medial - often c
hf, u-, -ha-, he-, hi- (Spa) - usually fa-, fe-, fi- (Ita); ho- (Spa) - o- or uo- (Ita);hu- (Spa) - fu- (Ita)
jgi-, -gli-, -ss-initial - gi-, medial - -gli- or -ss-
ll, rinitial - unchanged, final often becomes r
llchi-, pi-, -gli-initial - chi- or pi-, medial - -gli-
mm
nn
ñ-gn--ñ- (Spa) is pronounced the same as -gn- (Ita)
pp, -tt-initial (both word and syllable) - unchanged, medial -pt- (Spa) becomes -tt- (Ita)
quch, cinitial qu- (Spa) usually becomes ch- (Ita); -qu- (Spa) often becomes -c- (Ita)
rr
ss
ttnote: -pt- (Spa) becomes -tt- (Ita), -ct- (Spa) becomes -tt- (Ita), etc.
vvnote: many Spanish speakers pronounce ‘b’ and ‘v’ the same, Italian has two distinct sounds
x-ss-, sx exists mostly in Indian word borrowings - often changed to -ss- in Italian , late Greek borrowings change x to s
yg(g)i-rarely occurs in Spanish, results vary in Italian
zc, s -z (Spa) becomes -ce (Ita)

Detail of Changes

Vowels

"A"

Spelling

In most words, when the letter a is used in Spanish, it is also used in the Italian cognate.

Pronunciation

The letter a is generally pronounced the same between Spanish and Italian.

*Spanish word* *Italian word* *English* *Notes*
vaca vacca cow
amar amare to love
casa casa house the s‘s are pronounced differently - see s
jugar giocare to play

"E"

Spelling

In terms of spelling, curiously, e and i frequently interchange between Spanish and Italian.

Pronunciation

Unlike Spanish, which has fundamentally one e sound, Italian has two sounds, called “closed” and “open”.

The “closed e” in Italian is similar to the standard e in Spanish – se is pronounced similarly in Spanish and Italian (even if they mean different things – see the note above - because si = se and se = si).

The “open e” in Italian is something between the “closed e” and e in the English word “get”. Although note that if you don’t differentiate between these two e‘s, you will still be understood, your speech will stand out as a foreigner.

Also note that in a few cases, the difference between the closed and open e marks the difference between two words; for example, e (closed e) is “and”, while é (open e) is “is”.

Also, also note that accents marked are not used the same way in Italian as in Spanish. In this case, the accent mark is used only to indicate the difference in writing of these two commons words, not to indicate that one is “open” and the other is “closed”.

*Spanish word* *Italian word* *English* *Notes*
pez pesce fish pesce = pez and pescado
edad età age
si se if
se si (reflexive)
si se dice se si dice if one says the c in dice is not pronounced the same, see “c”
entrada intrata entrance

"I"

Spelling

As noted above, the i and the e are frequently interchanged between Spanish and Italian.

Pronunciation

The letter i in Italian is pronounced the same as in Spanish.

*Spanish word* *Italian word* *English* *Notes*
libro libro book
minuto minuto minute
vecino vicino near the c’s are pronounced differently - see “c”
si se dice se si dice if one says

"IE"

Spelling

Certain stressed syllables with e in Late Latin changed to ie in Spanish. Although this occurred in Italian as well, it happened far more consistently in Spanish than in Italian.

Pronunciation

ie is pronounced the same in Italian as in Spanish.

*Spanish word* *Italian word* *English* *Notes*
tiene tiene (he) has Italian uses both ha and tiene for “he has”
tiempo tempo time, weather
viejo vecchio old
pie piede foot

"O"

Spelling

The Spanish o usually remains an o in Italian.

Pronunciation

Like for the letter e, there are two versions of the letter o in Italian: closed and open. The closed o in Italian is similar to the o in Spanish. The open o is pronounced somewhat like awe in American English. Thus, oggi in Italian (“today”) is pronounced somewhat like the Spanish cognate hoy, but with the “g”s.

*Spanish word* *Italian word* *English* *Notes*
libro libro book
ojo occhio eye
no no no
probar provare to test, try

"U"

Spelling

The Spanish u is often spelled as o in Italian.

As an aside, this confusion of u and o is probably due to the Etruscans. (Warning: a pet theory by polyglot!)

The Etruscans?

The Etruscans were a mysterious people who lived in north central Italy prior to the Roman Empire. The Etruscans ruled Rome during its early days, and they had a huge influence on Roman culture, including teaching the Romans how to write.

A curious thing is that the Etruscans had no o in their language or alphabet. They had borrowed the alphabet from the early Greeks, but didn’t need the o.

So Latin spelled “friend” as amicus even though other early Italic languages in the Italian peninsula clearly used -os as the ending for masculine nouns (as did ancient Greek). The Latin that was exported around the Empire contained a disproportionate number of u‘s compared to o‘s. Thus Spanish often retains the letter u while Italian – affected by the Italic dialects that existed in Italy alongside Latin – often changed the standard Latin u back to o.

Pronunciation

The letter u in Italian is pronounced the same as it is in Spanish.

*Spanish word* *Italian word* *English* *Notes*
humo fumo smoke
uva uva grape
jugar giocare to play
mundo mondo world
lobo lupo wolf an exception to the rule

"UE"

Spelling

The dipthong ue in Spanish is usually uo or just o in Italian.

Pronunciation

*Add something here*

*Spanish word* *Italian word* *English* *Notes*
nuevo nuovo new
nueve nove nine
duerme dorme (he) sleeps
sueño sogno dream gn is pronounced the same as ñ
cuenta conto bill, check change of gender

Consonants

"B"

Spelling

The letter b in Spanish is either a b, v, or a p in Italian. The letter b normally remains the same at the beginning of the word, but the intervocalic -b- can be -v- or -p- in Italian. In other words, Italian tends to keep the consonant unvoiced while Spanish makes the consonant voiced.

Pronunciation

In many dialects of Spanish, the pronunciation of b and v are indistinguishable – hence the phrase “b as in burro, v as in vaca” to help explain which letter to write. But in Italian, the two letters are always distinct. The b is always a voiced p, and the v is always a voiced f.

*Spanish word* *Italian word* *English* *Notes*
banco banco bank
bueno buono good
abierto aperto open the sign you will see at shops and gas stations
caballo cavallo horse
cebolla cipolla

"C"

Spelling

The letter c in Spanish usually remains a c in Italian. Note that occasionally, the c is doubled in Italian, and that the common ending -ción is -zione in Italian. Note that the pronunciation of soft c (that is, followed by an e or an i) is different in Spanish than Italian.

Pronunciation

The letter c has two standard sounds in Italian, just as it does in Spanish; however, the soft sound is different. The “hard” c is pronounced like a k when it’s followed by an a, an o, or a u. Note that these vowels are pronounced more towards the back of the mouth. While the “soft” c in Spanish when followed by the vowels e or i is pronounced like an s in the Americas or as an unvoiced th in Castilian, it is pronounced like a ch in Italian when followed by an e or an i. That is, ci in Italian is pronounced like chee in English. What happens when you want a hard c to be followed by an e or an i? In that case, the c is followed by the letter h – the pair ch is always pronounced like a k no matter what vowel follows. For this reason, che? in Italian is pronounced exactly the same as ¿que? in Spanish.

*Spanish word* *Italian word* *English* *Notes*
casa casa house The s is Italian is pronounced more like an English z
cena cena dinner
vaca vacca cow the double c in Italian is pronounced like kk in bookkeeper
banco banco bank a common meaning is “counter”, that is, eating at the counter rather than sitting at a table
nación nazione nation

"CH"

Spelling

The consonantal group ch in Spanish often came from the group -ct- in Latin. This group became -tt- in Italian.

Don’t confuse ch in Italian (see above) with ch in Spanish.

Pronunciation

As noted under the letter c, the ch in Spanish is pronounced like a j in English, while the ch in Italian is always pronounced like a k. These groups are not related; see above.

*Spanish word* *Italian word* *English* *Notes*
leche latte milk
noche notte night
lucha lotta he fights

"D"

Spelling

The initial letter d in Spanish usually remains a d in Italian, which the very common dia - giorno being an exception (actually, giorno is from the related diurnus). In the intervocalic position (i.e., between two vowels), d in Spanish is often the unvoiced t in Italian, which is what it was in Latin.

The common ending -dad (Spa) becomes - in Italian.

Pronunciation

The d in Spanish is often pronounced more softly than the d in Italian. Especially in Mexico, the d almost disappears between vowels, whereas the d in Italian remains distinctly pronounced.

*Spanish word* *Italian word* *English* *Notes*
de di of
derecha destra right (i.e., not left)
verdad verità truth
estado stato
hígado fegato Note that the Italian is also stressed on the first syllable. Remembering which syllable gets the stress in Spanish can help in Italian, since Italian does not mark variant stresses with accent marks as Spanish does.

"D"

Spelling

The initial letter d in Spanish usually remains a d in Italian, which the very common dia - giorno being an exception (actually, giorno is from the related diurnus). In the intervocalic position (i.e., between two vowels), d in Spanish is often the unvoiced t in Italian, which is what it was in Latin.

The common ending -dad (Spa) becomes - in Italian.

Pronunciation

The d in Spanish is often pronounced more softly than the d in Italian. Especially in Mexico, the d almost disappears between vowels, whereas the d in Italian remains distinctly pronounced.

*Spanish word* *Italian word* *English* *Notes*
de di of
derecha destra right (i.e., not left)
verdad verità truth
estado stato
hígado fegato Note that the Italian is also stressed on the first syllable. Remembering which syllable gets the stress in Spanish can help in Italian, since Italian does not mark variant stresses with accent marks as Spanish does.

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start.txt · Last modified: 2006/09/27 11:50 by polyglot
 
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