Coincidence or Conspiracy?  Conspicuous Similarities among the Romance Languages


            The table below displays common vocabulary in four common Romance languages, in close juxtaposition.  The close relationships among these Latin-based tongues are conspicuous; in most cases, the word in one language is strikingly similar to the equivalent term in its relatives, with characteristic phonetic changes.  Like a sedulous forensic detective on CSI, you could use these relationships to recreate ancient conversations and modes of speech which characterized the languages in their early developmental stages and later marked them as unique.  All of the Romance languages, of course, descended from “Vulgar Latin,” the rough-hewn, colloquial idiom of the Roman soldiers and settlers who spread throughout Rome’s vast domains in the four centuries straddling the birth of Christianity.  As Augustus Caesar and his successors linked the empire with innumerable roads and bridges, established and buttressed a capable civil service, and standardized financial and trade relations, the Vulgar Latin became the de facto medium of common discourse in the Empire’s western domains (Greek predominating in the East and, of course, itself heavily impacting the Latin tongue).  However, preexisting languages and the differential effects of the German invasions produced distinct varieties of the Vulgar Latin in different regions by the 7th century A.D., a fact of crucial importance since it helped to solidify separate national identities that would become nation-states nearly a millennium later.  In any case, the common descent of the Romance languages is still evident, and can be used practically to assist in learning one Romance tongue based on a foothold already acquired in another.


            Codes:  Words in bold show the f(p)à h shift in Spanish, in which vocabulary in Vulgar Latin (and modern Portuguese, Romanian, Italian, and French) shows a shift from an “f” or “p” consonant to a silent “h” ; underlined words show relationship between Italian and either Spanish or French (usually the latter, the reason for the highlighting here).  Italicized words are different in each of the Romance languages.  (A bold in the English column means the word is itself of Greco-Latin origin.)


Eng                  Sp                                Port                             Fr                                Ital


also                  también                        também                        aussi, également            anche, pure

although            aunque, si bien  mesmo que, embora     bienque, quoique          sebbene, benché

beach               playa                            praia                             plage                            spiaggia

because of             debido de/a cause de          devido/por cause de            a cause de, par suite de       a causa di

bed                  cama                            cama                            lit                                  leto

book                libro                             livro                              livre                              libro

box                  caja                              caixa                            boite                             scatola

breakfast         desayuno                     café de manha             petit dejeuner              prima colazione

bridge               puente                          ponte                            pont                             ponte

to burn             quemar                         queimar                        bruler                           bruciare

but                   pero, mas                     mas                              mais                             ma, pero

butter              mantequilla                   manteiga                       beurre                          burro

buy                   comprar                       comprar                       acheter                         comprare

cheese             queso                           queijo                           fromage                        formaggio

child                 niño                             crianca                        enfant                          bambino

cry                   llorar                            chorar                          pleurer                          piangere

dance               bailar                            dançar                          danser                          ballare, danzare

dry                   seco                             seco                             sec                               secco, asciutto

elbow               codo                            cotovelo                       coude                           gomita

even (adv.)       aun, incluso, también     mesmo, ainda, até         même                           perfino

face                 cara                              cara                              visage                           faccia

flag                   bandera                        bandeira                       drapeau                        bandiera {Ger}

to glue              encolar, pegar               colar                             coller                            incollare

grass                hierba                           grama, relva                  herbe                            erba

hair (on head)   cabello                         cabelo                          cheveux                        capelli

happen             pasar, acontecer           acontecer                     passer                          avvenire, succedere

harsh, rough      aspero                          aspero                          apre, brut                     aspro

hay                   heno                            feno                             foin                              fieno

head                 cabeza                          cabeça                         tête                               testa

headlights         faro                              farol                             phare                            anabagglianti

heat                  calor                             calor                             chaleur                         calore

help                  ayudar                          ajudar                           aider                             aitutare

house               casa                             casa                             maison                          casa

hunter               cazador                        caçador                        chasseur                       cacciatore, cacciare

ice                    hielo                             gelo                              glace                            ghiaccio

improve           ameliorar                      melhorar                       ameliorer                      migliorare

itch                   picazon                        coceira, coçar             démangeaison             prurito/smania

lunch               almuerzo                       almoço                         déjeuner                       seconda colazione

meal                 comida                        prato                           déjeuner                      colazione

menu               carta                             cardápio, ementa          menu, carte                   lista

money             dinero                           dinheiro                        argent                           denaro

needle              aguja                            agulha                           aiguille                          ago

notice              percatar, notar              notar, reparar em          apercevoir de               notare

oven                 horno                           forno                            four                              forno

pain                 dolor, pena                   dor                               douleur             dolore             

perhaps, maybe    tal vez, quiza, a lo mejor      tal vez                                     peut-etre                                                forse

to pursue         perseguir                      perseguir                      poursuivre                    inseguire

shoulder           hombro                        ombro                          épaule                          spalla

such                 tal                                 tal, pl. tais                     tel                                 tale

to stir                revolver                       agitar                          remuer                         mescolare

string                      hilo, cordon                           barbante, cordel                   corde, ficelle                          spago

suffer              sufrir                             sofrer                           soufrir                           soffrire

then, so, after    pues, entonces              pois, então                    puis, ensuite                  poi

there is/are        hay/han                         ha, tem                         il y'a                             c' è/ci sono

toe                   dedo                            dedo do pe                   orteil, doigt de pied       dito del piede

too                   demasiado                    demasiado                    trop                              troppo

unless               a menos que                 a menos que                 au moins que                a meno che

waiter               camarero                      garçom, empregado      garcon                          camereire

water                agua                             agua                             eau                               acqua

to wear                   llevar, usar, traer puesto     usar                                        porter                                     portare, indossare

window            ventana                         janela                           fenetre                          fenestra

to wonder         preguntarse                   querer saber                 se demander                 domandarsi

worse               peor                             pior                              pire                              peggiore

wound              herida                           ferida                            blessure                        ferita

write                 escribir                         escrever                       ecrire                            scrivere


-- Wes Ulm


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