Spanish and Italian are both examples of modern-day Romance languages, meaning that they are siblings in the larger Indo-European language family, having both evolved from Latin. Spanish and Italian share significant similarities when comparing vocabulary root-words because of their common Latin roots.
Over the 500 years the Roman Empire conquered Europe, North Africa and Asia, Latin was enforced as the ‘lingua franca’. However, despite efforts to spread Latin far and wide, many of the Roman soldiers were poorly educated, or not native Latin speakers themselves, the form of Latin they spoke came to be known as ‘Vulgar Latin’. This more casual Latin was more open to outside influence from other languages than its classical Latin counterpart, and many of the pre-Roman languages such as Gaelic, Aramaic, and Germanic languages leave their mark on the Latin that was now commonly spoken. The official Roman language, Classical Latin, was only spoken in Rome and places where laws and doctrines were made.
For languages that share such an intimate history, and whose main populations of speakers still live side by side to this day, there are both significant similarities as well as significant differences.
In this article we will discuss the following topics:
- When Spanish and Italian Became Distinct Languages Apart from Latin
- Similarities Between Spanish and Italian
- Differences between Spanish and Italian
When Spanish and Italian Became Distinct Languages Apart from Latin
As Latin spread throughout Europe during the Roman Empire’s conquest of Europe, the soldiers of Rome enforced the language throughout. However, since the soldiers tended to have little formal education, their dialect came to be known as ‘Vulgar Latin’. Afterwards, different local nuances and eventually dialects and languages began to emerge in their respective geographic regions of Europe.
The Italian language emerged from Latin, language most similar to Latin that is still spoken today. While Latin is considered a dead language, it is still used by scholars and religions throughout the world. In the past, Latin was the officially used language in Italy because the center of the Roman Empire was of course, Rome. The Italian language developed into many regional dialects, but by the 14th century the Tuscan dialect began to dominate because of the central location of Tuscany and the city of Florence, which was considered Italy’s most important city at that time.
The Spanish language also emerged from Latin, taking its place among the Romance languages. Spain had a different linguistic experience than Italy in terms of influence. In fact, many of the pre-Roman languages in the area have been forgotten, wiped out by Latin. Spain also had the added benefit of being geographically isolated due to its extensive coastline and Northern mountain range, cutting it off from other parts of Europe.
Similarities between Spanish and Italian
The main similarity between Spanish and Italian is that they are both Romance languages, and both derived from Latin. Both languages have many root words that originated from Latin and are similar in spelling, pronunciation and meaning.
Linguistically speaking, Italian and Spanish rate highly on the ‘lexical similarity’ index. This index is a measure of how similar two languages are to each other. Two languages that have a similarity of 0.85 (85%) or higher are considered to be related dialects, and have a strong genetic relationship. Since both Italian and Spanish are derived from Latin, they have a lexical similarity of 0.82 (82%). Only Catalan and Portuguese have a higher lexical similarity percentage.
Spanish and Italian vocabularies are so similar, that there are often only a few subtle differences to be seen. For example:
- The Spanish word for ‘to leave’ paritr and the Italian word, partire differ only by one letter, as Italian words tend to not end in consonants, whereas Spanish words do.
- The word for ‘time’ is tempo in Italian and tiempo in Spanish, as Spanish uses ‘ie’ more commonly than Italian.
- The word for strong is forte in Italian and fuerte in Spanish, as Spanish uses ‘ue’ in place of the Italian ‘o’ sound.
As you can see, many words with similar meanings in both Spanish Italian are very similar, and are often only separated by one or two letters.
As the minor differences between Spanish and Italian spelling would suggest, both are very similar in terms of pronunciation. They have many of the same vowel sounds, silent ‘h’ and other similarities such as the sound ‘ni’ in the English word ‘onion’. Take for example the Spanish word baño and the Italian word spagnolo.
The Differences between Spanish and Italian
There are many differences between the Spanish language and the Italian language. Most importantly are the vocabulary differences, as many words can appear quite similar, but differ significantly in meaning.
The term ‘false friend’ is used to describe an instance where a word in one language that looks the same in another language, but has a completely different meaning. There are many ‘false friends’ between Spanish and Italian.
Some examples are:
- The Italian word pronto means ready, whereas in Spanish pronto means soon
- The Italian word barato means cheated, in Spanish barato means cheap
- The Italian word subire means to undergo, in Spanish subir means to go up
Of course there are also significant differences in sentence structure, as well as differences in the way articles, pronouns, prepositions, adverbs, adjectives and verb tenses are used. These have all come about after many centuries of evolution, to become the two similar yet quite different languages we know today – Spanish and Italian.
There are both subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the Italian and Spanish, and this can be confusing for someone who is not a Spanish language or Italian language expert. Using a professional translation service such as Spanish with Style is very important when undertaking translation projects, as well intentioned translations done by non-professionals could fall victim to ‘false friend’ misunderstandings. Hiring a professional Spanish translation and copy editing services such as Spanish with Style ensures your message is being conveyed in the way in which you intended it to be, clearly and correctly.