Ladino – Judaeo-Spanish : A Language Frozen in Time


Endangered languages are very close to my heart because learning one is a way where anyone in the world can make a huge difference, as a language is so much more than just spoken words but an entire culture and history of its people. There are few endangered languages however that are interesting as Ladino or as it is also known, Judaeo-Spanish.

First of all what is Ladino? Well it is a language of the Sephardi Jews, and most of its vocabulary derives from Medieval Spanish and it is in some ways a time capsule showing us what Spanish language used to be like and how much Modern Spanish has evolved since. Not only this but Ladino was once a major trade language in the Mediterranean and this, along with its complicated history, explains why its vocabulary was mainly influenced by Turkish [via the Ottoman Empire] with of course Hebrew and Aramaic influencing the language through the religious practices of its people.

Grammatically, phonologically and through means of vocabulary, 60% of the language derives directly from Old Spanish. In the way that Latin American Spanish sometimes has more archaic elements of Spanish than Peninsular Spanish, Ladino resembles Latin American Spanish much more so than that of the Spanish of Spain. What is interesting about Ladino though is that it can often be written using the Hebrew alphabet.

The story of Ladino is the story of the Sephardic Jews [derived from the Hebrew word Sepharad, meaning Spain].

Throughout the Middle Ages there was a substantial jewish population lived in the Iberian penisula. However in 1492, after the end of the Spanish Reconquista of Spain from the Muslim Moors, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, decided to expel the Jews that refused to convert to Catholicism following the religious persecution of the Spanish Inquisition. Nearly 70,000 Sephardi Jews left Spain for Portugal, which soon followed suit in expelling the Jews in 1496. The Sephardi then left for the Ottoman Empire: North Africa, The Balkans or Asia Minor; or they became Catholics and either became good Christians and stayed in Spain or the Americas or they later converted back to Judaism and left Spain for safe havens such as Amsterdam.

The Old Spanish in question that Ladino is derived from is that which was spoken at the time of the Sephardic expulsion of 1492. Ladino has preserved some of the original sounds of Old Spanish such as the ‘j’ which was originally not pronounced as ‘h'[x]  like it is in Modern Spanish. For example mujer, meaning “woman” or “wife”, was pronounced, with the [ʒ] sound. Also the well known ‘z’ sound [θ] or ‘Spanish Lisp’ in Peninsular Spanish, did not exist in Old Spanish and has been preserved in Latin American Spanish and Ladino.

The pronunciation of Ladino is somewhat closer to Galician and Portuguese than Modern Spanish because both of the latter languages retained characteristics of the medieval Ibero-Romance language that was later lost by the modern Spanish language. Some examples of this proximity are for example the Judaeo-Spanish aninda (“still”), in comparison with Portuguese ainda (Galician aínda, Asturian aína or enaína) and in contrast, the Spanish aún. There is also the initial consonants from Old Spanish that were retained in Judaeo-Spanish fija, favla(“daughter”, “speech”), and these appear iin Portuguese as filha, fala (Galician filla, fala, Asturian fía, fala, Aragonese filla, fabla, Catalan filla). In modern Spanish they have evolved into hija, habla following some modern sound changes.

Here are two examples Ladino and Spanish side by side :

Ladino : El djudeo-espanyol, djudio, djudezmo es la lingua favlada por los djudios sefardim ekspulsados de la Espanya enel 1492. Es una lingua derivada del espanyol i favlada por 150.000 personas en komunitas en Israel, la Turkia, antika Yugoslavia, la Gresia, el Maruekos, Mayorka, las Amerikas, entre munchos otros.

Spanish : El judeo-español, djudio, djudezmo es la lengua hablada por los judíos sefardíes expulsados de España en 1492. Es una lengua derivada del español y hablada por 150.000 personas en comunidades en Israel, Turquía, la antigua Yugoslavia, Grecia, Marruecos, Mallorca, las Américas, entre muchos otros.

You can see the lexical similarity between the languages and they look to be mutually intelligible. If you are still not convinced, here is a video of a Ladino lesson on YouTube:

Modern Ladino has since fallen under the influence of French and Italian. Usually to explain to new and modern concepts. Also as many of the Sephardic Jews lived in the safety of the Ottoman Empire, many Turkish and Greek loanwords entered Ladino.

Ladino itself was known as Castilian by the educated Sephardim even though it had become increasingly different from the language spoken in Castile

In Israel today where the majority of the remaining Ladino speakers are found, the language is known as (E)spanyolit or Ladino in Hebrew.

Judaeo-Spanish was the common language of Salonika during the period of Ottoman rule. The city became part of the modern Greek Republic in 1912 and was subsequently renamed Thessaloniki. Despite a major fire, economic oppression by Greek authorities, and mass settlement of Christian refugees, the language remained widely spoken in Salonika until the deportation of 50,000 Salonikan Jews in the Holocaust during the Second World War.

Nowadays Judaeo-Spanish, which was once the trade language of the Adriatic Sea, the Balkans and the Middle-East and was renowned for its rich literature especially in modern day Thessaloniki, today is under serious threat of extinction. Most native speakers are elderly and the language is not transmitted to their children or grandchildren for various reasons.

The figures indicate that Ladino had 112,130 first language speakers in Israel in 1985 and 10,000 speakers in Turkey so it is evidently an endangered language. The massive depreciation in the amount of Ladino speakers is due mainly to the effects of the Holocaust where the vast majority of its speakers were murdered during one of the most horrific tragedies in modern human history.

It is indeed a fascinating language and is well worth learning. An ancient relic which despite all odds has survived to this day.  A language that opens up a world to a culture which to many, including other Jews, has not yet been discovered. Today it has its own newspapers and on Radio Nacional de España has its own programme in the language!

The Spanish state has recognised its role in the atrocities of the Inquisition and Expulsion and has since launched a plan to give Sephardic Jews or those of Sephardic descent a Spanish Passport. On top of that the Real Academia Española, (the insitution responsible for overseeing the Spanish language) has announced it is opening a branch in Israel to regulate and oversee the proper use of Ladino!

Hope you enjoyed reading this article.

Have a nice day!


Why does the French language have exceptions?


French is not the easiest language in the world to learn for English speakers. On the one hand the shared vocabulary makes it easy to pick up at first, but as you start to make progress in the language, learners are often hit with the brick wall that is the exceptions to the rules that they would have spent hours learning off. Students would often ask their teachers why there was an exception, to which the teacher would reply “That’s just how it is and it has to be learnt”.

Well I am a firm believer in the fact that everything happens for a reason. This also is applicable to french grammar!

We’ll start off with grammatical gender.


At a very basic level, the rule is that if a noun ends in a consonant, it is masculine and if a noun ends in an ‘e’ it is feminine. Easy enough right?

However once we learn that we are told that there are numerous exceptions :




-il, -ail, -eil, -euil

-eau, -eu






-am, -um, -em

-it, -est

-an, -and, -ant, -ent, -in, -int, -om, -ond, -ont

-ème, -ège


-tion, -sion and -son


-ude, -ade





-ance, -ence

-consonant + -ie

Now why is this the case?

Well the answer for this and for most other questions I’ll pose in this article is the fact that while they are irregular in French, they are perfectly regular in French’s predecessor.

In Latin, nouns fall into categories known as declensions. There are 5 of these declensions and have different endings depending on which grammatical case they fall under in the sense.

The First Declension in Latin has mainly feminine nouns.

Lat. – ROSA –> Fr. – ROSE

However there are nouns in the First Declension that are masculine and are usually to do with professions.

Lat. – POETA –> Fr. POÈTE (masc)

Lat. – SCRIBA –> Fr. SCRIBE (masc)

These nouns in French are at first glance feminine and we now know that these exceptions make perfect sense by when we take the original Latin into account.

So that was the first declension in Latin. What about the rest?

The Second Declension in Latin is mainly masculine and neuter (a third neutral gender in Latin that disappeared over time and many became masculine nouns in the romance languages). Some examples of it are:

Lat. – MURUS –> Fr. MUR (Masc)

Lat. – MYTHOS –> Fr. MYTHE (masc)


Under the largest declension in Latin the Third Declension we have :

Lat. – MARE –> Fr. MER (fem)

Lat. – HOMO –> Fr. HOMME (masc)


In the Fourth Declension we have:

Lat. – TRIBUS –> Fr. TRIBU (fem)


And in the FIFTH DECLENSION we have :

Lat. – SPECIES –> Fr. ESPÈCE (fem)


Latin is itself the explanation of why nouns have irregular gender or irregular plural endings. It was all regular at some stage!


Irregular Verb Conjugation

Latin had 4 verb conjugations (-are, -ire, -ēre and -ere) whereas French has only 3 (-er, -ir and -re). The 4th verb conjugation did not simply disappear however. It merged with the other conjugations which lead to more exceptions!

-are verbs in Latin become -er in french

-ire verbs in Latin became -ir in french

Looking at the verb ÊTRE in French. You might have noticed that in the present tense it is


and in the Simple Future :


You maybe be wondering why the stem of the verb changes from ‘Je suis’ to ‘Tu es’. This is because the future simple of etre is based of the Latin verb STARE rather than ESSERE. These two verbs both mean ‘to be’ in Latin and both survive in Spanish as SER and ESTAR, whereas in French we only see hints of its Latin past.

In Conclusion

Latin was a highly complex and ordered language. As the language developed into Vulgar Latin, it began to simplify and became less orderly as such with rules that were less rigid and lot of exceptions. This made it a complex language in a very different way. French is a complex language and it has a very interesting story to tell if you only dig a little.  There is an explanation for everything in this world if you only ask!.

Merci à tous et bonne journée!



A shortcut to learning Chinese? – Dungan


One of the most common online questions is which language is the most difficult for someone to learn these days. And also another common question is which language is the most important to learn in our changing world. Usually the answer to both of these questions is Chinese. Mainly because of the emergence of China as a Global Super Power and the fact that almost 1/7th of the world’s population speak it as a first language. Many people predict China to become the world’s biggest economy, some say as early as 2031. Reason enough then to learn it?

So why doesn’t everyone learn Chinese?

There seems to be a series of daunting challenges that discourage some people from taking the plunge and learning it. But first, an Overview.

Firstly, Chinese is not one single language but a collection of closely related languages. Some are easier to learn than others. Mandarin is the most widely spoken variety of Chinese with almost 960 million speakers, and it is also the standard language used in the media and in education and writing so this seems like the most obvious version to learn. Mandarin also has some other elements in its favour when comparing other Chinese languages, such as for example the fact that it has 4 tones compared to 6 to 9 tones in Cantonese. I am not a person who likes to learn things simply because they are easier but most people seem to like results quick and easy.

So Mandarin is what most people end up deciding to learn. However, despite Mandarin being the easiest or most practical to learn, for some people it is still not easy enough. The main obstacles to learning it for some people are the tones and the thousands of Chinese Characters need to write the language which take years to master. But…what if I told you there was another way…


Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you, Dungan Chinese.

What is this language? Well it is a form of Mandarin that is spoken outside of China in parts of the former Soviet Union and is written using the Cyrillic Alphabet. This alone cuts out thousands of hours of learning the complicated Chinese characters. To quick learners, the Cyrillic alphabet only takes a few hours to master. And as if this wasn’t enough, it only has 3 tones compared to standard Mandarin Chinese’s 4 or 5 even though it itself is a form of Mandarin. Well that looks less daunting doesn’t it?? Let me explain how this is the case.

Dungan Chinese is spoken by the Dungan people who live in the former Soviet Union republics of Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. This alone explains why Dungan is written not in Chinese characters but in the Cyrillic alphabet. The same is the case for Mongolian which originally had its own script until it became part of the Soviet Union, where it then began to use the Cyrillic Alphabet.

The Dungan people, are ethnically Hui Chinese (a mainly Muslim ethnic group of Chinese), who fled from China following the aftermath of the Hui Minorities’ War in the middle and end of the 19th century. Some say 20 million died in these revolts against the Qing Dynasty. This explains why Dungan Chinese was originally written in the Arabic script before they came under the Soviet Union.

Due to the religious beliefs of its speakers, Dungan Chinese contains many loanwords from Arabic. The use of these was perhaps exaggerated during the period of persecution in the late 19th century as a way of keeping their communications secret from the Chinese.

Following the Hui migration into what would become the Soviet Union, the language also became fell under the influence of Russian along with neighboring Turkic languages and it began to be written with the Cyrillic Alphabet. During the Soviet era, Russian technical vocabulary began to enter Dungan which made it a more unique form of Mandarin.

Although it is a form of Mandarin, under the Soviet Union it developed its own standard from the Gansu dialect, which again further distanced it from the more widely known Standard Beijing dialect.

Nowadays, mutual intelligibility varies between Dungan Chinese and other forms of Mandarin. It is reported that speakers of the Beijing variety of Mandarin can understand Dungan to an extent, however this does not work both ways. The influence of the foreign vocabulary, along with also archaic Qing-dynasty vocabulary that is not preserved in other forms of Chinese does not help this.

Here is an Example of Written Dungan.


1) Where is my room?
2) Where is the beach?
3) Where is the bar?
4) Don’t touch me there!


So why is Dungan Chinese important and why should you know about it?

Well first of all it is an example of how Chinese can be successfully written with an alphabet. There are many that argue the contrary and that it is even impossible!

Secondly, and this is just my opinion, it can be used as a linguistic stepping stone. What I mean by this is that if you started learning Dungan Chinese, you could later make the transition to Standard Mandarin Chinese which would make learning much easier than if you started off with just Standard Mandarin in the first place. This would be especially true for Russian and Arabic speakers due to the numerous loanwords.

Thanks as always for your attention. Have a nice day!





East Ulster Gaelic – A Forgotten Dialect


Ulster Irish today is pretty much a synonym for Donegal Irish. But did you know that Irish was also widely spoken in Eastern Ulster, despite the high number of English and Scottish settlers since the Plantation of Ulster? Indeed, East Ulster Irish was seen as an Intermediary dialect between Irish and Scottish Gaelic forming part of perhaps part of a dialect continuum. This is backed up by the fact that there is still confusion to this day over whether Rathlin Island Irish is an East Ulster dialect or dialect of Scots Gaelic!

First of all, Ulster Irish is one of the three main dialects of the Irish Language (The others being Munster and Connaught Irish) and is spoken in the northern province of Ireland called Ulster (a province which straddles two countries, that of the Republic of Ireland and that of Northern Ireland which belongs to the UK). Traditionally Irish was spoken across the province but the last native speakers were dying out in East Ulster by the mid twentieth century. Nowadays, Ulster Irish is mainly spoken in the Donegal Gaeltacht and Shaws Road in Belfast [although in East Ulster, Donegal Irish is used].

Eastern Ulster Irish or Gaedhilge as it was known in the dialect, is very interesting linguistically and were it to still exist, it could perhaps be a mechanism through which strong ties could be maintained between Irish, Scots Gaelic [Gàidhlig] and Manx as the same language would be spoken on both sides of the Strait of Moyle and it would be the centre of the Gaelic speaking world.

Since the dialect survived into the 20th Century, there is plenty of recorded evidence of the language that we still have today such as video or audio recordings, placenames and books (in the past, spelling was much more phonetic). The recordings which captured my imagination years ago when I heard about their existence on the radio are the famous Doegen Recordings [I will attach a link at the end of the article]. These recordings were of native speakers of various different regional dialects in Ireland (many of which are now extinct) made between 1928 and 1931 by the German linguist Dr Doegen and to whom we should all be eternally grateful. At a time when Irish was more widely spoken, we had pockets of speakers recorded (these pockets have since disappeared) in the Sperrin Mountains, the Glens of Antrim, Rathlin Island, North-West County Cavan, South-East County Monaghan, South Armagh and North County Louth in a place called Omeath. Irish survived in the Sperrins until the 1950s, until the 1970s in the Glens of Antrim and 1985 in Rathlin Island, Bella McKenna of Rathlin Island was the last speaker of East Ulster Irish and fortunately she was recorded on video speaking before she died.

These recordings reveal the pecularities of this dialect and what makes it different from the rest of Irish. You may have seen earlier in this post the East Ulster way of saying Gaelic – Gaedhlig. Very similar to the Scots Gaelic – Gàidhlig in contrast to Gaeilge in the south of Ireland. We also have examples such as bhfeil in East Ulster (the same in Scots Gaelic) compared to the Irish – bhfuil. They also pronounced vowels differently like ‘ea’ for example. In most Irish dialects fear was pronoucned far but in East Ulster Irish, it was pronounced ferr. This sound rule is also applied in Manx and Scottish Gaelic. Also the common name Seán is pronounced Shawn in most of Ireland, but in East Ulster it was pronounced Shane.

East Ulster Irish also has some of its own unique vocabulary for vocab that it is the same in every other Irish dialect. For example  coinfheasgar (tráthnóna – evening in Irish. The Manx for good evening is fastyr vie), arsúigh (innis – tell), corruighe (fearg – angry), práinn (deifir – hurry), go seadh (go fóill – yet), márt (bó – cow), toigh (teach – house).

Rathlin Island Gaelic is fascinating and deserves its own post (actually someone has made their own blog dedicated to it and I will attach a link to it at the bottom). Rathlin Gaelic had its own features such as bhá (considered a Scottish Gaelic feature) instead of the Irish bhí and the -adh endings would have been pronounced -ag. Ainm ‘name’ was pronounced like arm. As I have previously stated, scholars have long debated over whether it is Irish or Scots Gaelic. It contains features of both languages and could have been a transitional dialect between both. What perhaps facilitated this was that the inhabitants of Rathlin Island were themselves descended from Scottish settlers. Some of these were Highlanders who fled persecution following the Battle of Culloden in 1745. This influx of new settlers brought variations in the language, which were enduring. The dialects closest to Rathlin Gaelic that are still alive today are Islay Gaelic in Scotland and the Irish in Fanad in North Donegal.

Languages are too often seen as mechanical and impersonal. Here, in East Ulster Irish we have not just a dialect but a story of a people. We see how despite these people lived on the island of Ireland, they were under the massive influence of Scotland and they themselves were evidence for how close gaelic cultures were to each other. I would very much be in favour of the revival of these dialects. Like any language it cannot die, it can only be dormant. A dialect that could act as intermediary between language would truly be a treasure. Foreign learners of gaelic could choose to learn this dialect in order to maximise the amount of people thet could speak to and it would also fascilatate the rapid acquisition of another of the gaelic languages. With our help, Ulster could again become centre of the Gaelic World.

Thanks for listening, have a nice day!



Manx – A third Gaelic Language


Everyone has heard of Irish and Scots Gaelic. Not many people have heard of a third Gaelic language, Manx. Some of those who have, think it’s extinct. But those on the Isle of Man would disagree with you. So what is this language known as Gaeilge Mhanann in Irish (the Irish language of the Isle of Man)??!

Let’s start off with an overview.

Manx is a Goidelic Celtic Language (my second favourite language group), closely related to Irish and Scottish Gaelic. Manx or Gaelg as it is known in Manx, descends from the old form of Irish that was brought to the Isle of Man by Irish colonisers in around 700 AD. There is evidence of the Irish colonisers via the various Ogham stones around the island. Not only that but also the shared mythology and identity Irish and the Manx seem to have. For example Oisin i dTír na nÓg, a famous Irish legend is also a Manx legend. And indeed the Isle of Man gets its name from an Irish sea deity, Manannán MacLir.

The language spoken at the time was Old Irish, a language which during the Dark Ages following the fall of the Roman Empire, was one of the most widely written and well attested in the world, certainly in Western Europe. Old Irish developed into Middle Irish and as time went on, Manx began to differentiate itself from Irish as did Scots Gaelic.

Whereas Scottish Gaelic (SG) and Irish (IR) continued to write with the Classical Gaelic spelling, Manx, due to the weakening of ties with Scotland and Ireland, the Manx language diverged from the other two Gaelic languages and began to be written in English Orthography which explains how the language looks so different on paper. In reality, it is to an extent, mutually intelligible as the great man Manchan on the TG4 programme No Béarla  found out here.


Manx is listed as “Extinct as a First Language” on Wikipedia and Ethnologue says that Manx has no L1 speakers left. What has happened here?

Manx slowly began to lose ground to English in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was not used in education. By the 19th century, Manx was no longer the main language on the Isle of Man. The language had lost its prestige and was no longer being passed on to the next generation. Sadly Ned Maddrell (there is recordings of him on YouTube), the last native speaker died in 1974. That could have been the end of the story, but fortunately it wasn’t.

A man everyone in Ireland has heard of, was responsible for the survival of the Manx Language. Eamon De Valera. It’s fascinating how the story goes actually. De Valera, a proud and prominent Irishman, 3 times president and 3 times Taoiseach (Irish for Prime Minister) was a major advocate of Irish language revival and was instrumental in Ireland leaving United Kingdom and becoming a republic. But in a BBC article (link at the end), we see how ‘Dev’ managed to reach out to our distant Manx cousins and help save the language.

“It was summer 1947 and Irish Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera was visiting the Isle of Man as part of a tour around the Irish Sea. During his sojourn on the island, De Valera, a fervent advocate of Irish Gaelic, met and spoke with Ned Maddrell, a native Manx speaker. De Valera spoke Irish; Maddrell Manx but the languages were close enough for communication. What De Valera learnt alarmed him: the Manx language was dying out and the Manx museum had no technical means to record the last speakers. On returning to Ireland, De Valera demanded that the Irish Folklore Commission immediately send a mobile recording unit to the island and in 1948.”

So there you have it, ‘Dev’ helped preserve Manx for future generations. Other Manx people have taken his lead. Brian Stowell is a scholar who, arguably has been even more important is saving and preserving Manx is the man who talks to Manchan at the end of the aforementioned YouTube video. Good things are happening, there is a Manx medium primary school on the Isle of Man the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh so now children are learning the language. There are Manx programmes on the radio station Manx Radio and students can take Manx as a subject in secondary school.

So what does this language look like? How different can it be? Well here we go

The standard version of the Lord’s Prayer in Manx
Ayr ain t’ayns niau,
Casherick dy row dt’ennym.
Dy jig dty reeriaght.
Dt’aigney dy row jeant er y thalloo,
myr t’ayns niau.
Cur dooin nyn arran jiu as gagh laa,
as leih dooin nyn loghtyn,
myr ta shin leih dauesyn ta jannoo loghtyn nyn ‘oi.
As ny leeid shin ayns miolagh,
agh livrey shin veih olk:
Son lhiats y reeriaght, as y phooar, as y ghloyr, son dy bragh as dy bragh.
The Prayer in modern Irish
Ár n-Athair, atá ar neamh:
go naofar d’ainm
Go dtaga do ríocht.
Go ndéantar do thoil ar an talamh 
mar dhéantar ar neamh.
Ár n-arán laethúil tabhair dúinn inniu,
agus maith dúinn ár bhfiacha,
mar mhaithimid dár bhféichiúna féin 
Agus ná lig sinn i gcathú,
ach saor sinn ó olc
Óir is leatsa an Ríocht agus an Chumhacht agus an Ghlóir, trí shaol na saol.
Spelt quite differently alright but if you sound it out when you know how it works phonetically, it does not sound that different to Irish. It is closer to Ulster Irish and Scots Gaelic, you would know this immediately from the pronunciation of Manx. Think for example the spelling of row in Manx, this can be used as a guide for the pronunciation of raibh in Ulster Irish. Manx also has the negative particle Cha(n), which is also in Scots Gaelic. In Irish it is Ní, which you place before a verb, apart from Ulster Irish where instead of being Ní, it’s………Cha. See the pattern here?


Manx is undergoing a revival and is now spoken by 2% of the Isle of Man’s 88,000 [2015]. It needs as many speakers as possible and it is a beautiful language. Learning it would make Scots Gaelic and/or Irish very easy to learn indeed. Or if you already know Irish or Scots Gaelic, Manx should be no difficulty to learn whatsoever. From my learning of Irish in primary and secondary school, I found Manx easy and very fun to learn. It gives you a window into the culture of the Isle of Man you would not get simply with English. It also offers the opportunity of a rapid language acquisition should you know another Gaelic language and could perhaps be your third language. Each language learnt makes the next one easier! Manx’s future hangs in the balance, it is undergoing a revival yes but it is still critically endangered. Could you make a difference?

It’s getting bright outside so this is where I sign off. Have a nice day.


Which Language is Closest to Latin? – Italian

Most people would say that Italian has to be the closest Romance Language to Latin. Latin of course came from Italian Peninsula and was the first place it was spoken and Latin or a descendent of Latin has been spoken throughout the Italian Peninsula for the last 2000 years. Surely it’s no contest.

Let’s get the science to back this up.

But first of all, what is Italian? Do we mean the Italian spoken in Rome? Or in Venice where it is called Venetian? What about in Sicily where it is called Sicilian?

This is the problem with Italian. The Italian Peninsula is full of various different dialects (some call them different languages) and the Italian state as a whole is a relatively new one (similar situation to Germany). There have been always linguistic differences in the Italian Peninsula since Roman Times.

Greek was spoken in the southern part of Italy that was part of Magna Graecia (some Greek survives in Sicily where it called Griko although it severely endangered), the other Italic languages related to Italian are Faliscan, Umbrian and Oscan, which was spoken in Benevento among other places. From Graffiti in Pompeii, it is clear Oscan was still very much spoken in 79 AD. All these languages have influenced the Latin spoken in different parts of Italy leading them to develop into different languages or dialects.

The “Italian Language” itself is a standardised version of the Tuscan Dialect which was used by Dante in the Middle Ages. So let’s get to it, how close is Italian to Latin?

Wikipedia says this about Italian’s connection to Latin:

“Unlike most other Romance languages, Italian retains Latin’s contrast between short and long consonants. As in most Romance languages, stress is distinctive. In particular, among the Romance languages, Italian is the closest to Latin in terms of vocabulary.”

Here is an example of the Italian preservation of short consonants: Latin: Erat (he was); Errat (he wanders) > Italian: Era (he was); Erra (he wanders)

Italian is very similar to Latin vocabulary wise. Standard Italian arose from Tuscany, evolving directly from vulgar Latin, and it has evolved little in the last 1000 years. The reason for that is, while other Romance Languages suffered in some cases multiple invasions, Arabs in Spain, Franks in France and the Slavs in Romania. Italy, mostly free from outside influence retained a lot of the vocab from Latin. These words may not appear Latin based at first in Latin, but it becomes obvious once the root of the word is analysed.

Italian is however different to Classical Latin grammar wise, for example Italian has a verb tense called il passato remoto which does not occur in Latin. Italian derives from Vulgar Latin which got rid of the case system existing in Latin and it no longer remains in any Romance Language (except Romanian but that’s a story for another day). Below, the lack of a case system in Italian is obvious with the endings.

Latin Italian English
Lupus – Il lupo – The wolf (subject)
Lupi – Del lupo – Of the wolf
Lupo – Al lupo – To the wolf
Lupum – Il lupo – The wolf (object)
Lupe – Lupo – Wolf (vocative)
Lupo – Con il lupo – With the wolf

Italian is seen of one the closest Romance Languages to Vulgar Latin and resembles it closely in syntax compared to Classical Latin.

Venio in domum (I come home) Classical Latin
Venio ad casam – Vulgar Latin
Vengo a casa – Italian

Vulgar Latin often came from the vernacular and slang terms from the Classical Latin and these words became our present day Romance Vocabulary.

Italian – donna = woman –> Latin – domina = mistress

Italian – testa = head –> Latin – testa = earthenware jar

New pieces of vocabulary were however obtained by borrowing the word from Classical which helped maintain the proximity between the two languages.

Perhaps evidence of how close Italian is to Vulgar Latin is how mutually intelligible it is with other Romance languages. It seems to be like a central language that is well understood by both eastern and western romance languages.Romanians seem to manage ok when they arrive in Italy, learning Italian and understand it, seems to be done with minimal effort. The lexical similarity between Italian and other Romance languages is quite high including with French at 89%. However pronunciation is a major factor in why lexical similarity is different to mutual intelligibility. You could argue that Italian people could communicate better with Spanish people than say a Spanish person could with a Portuguese person  because of the sheer difference in terms of pronunciation. Portuguese is very nasal and can sound very very different to a Spanish speaker, despite being closer lexically to Spanish than some dialects are to their languages!.

Perhaps there is a historical reason for this. The heaviest areas of Roman settlement were southern Gaul and western Hispanic. The languages in these areas currently are, Spanish, Catalan, Occitan and Italian. These languages seem closer to each other in pronunciation than they would be to French or Portuguese. French and Portuguese are very nasal languages, of that there can be no doubt. The areas of Northern France and Lusitania were less heavily settled by the Romans and the pre-Roman, Celtic Languages would have held out longer in these areas and therefore have influenced these languages more than the others. Another reason for French being different pronunciation wise is the influence of the Germanic language Frankish, which would have been the first language of Charlamagne.

As regards declensions from Classical Latin, Italian developed a plural based on the First Declension which featured mainly mainly words in the feminine gender and the second masc/neutral declension of Latin. Italian also seem to have preserved the root modifications typical of the third declension.

Latin -> homo → pl. Homines Italian – uomo -> uomini

Italian, as mentioned in my previous Spanish post, derives much of its vocabulary from Late Latin, whereas as Spanish vocabulary seems to stem from an older form of Latin. For example, in Italian buon giorno comes from late Latin bonus diurnus whereas the Spanish buenas dias comes from the older Latin bonus dies.

Pei’s lexical chart had Italian at 12% distant to Latin, closer than Italian, Portuguese, Spanish or french. but it came second in terms of which language was closest! What could be more close to Latin that Italian?? Stay tuned…

If anyone is interested in the sound changes from Latin to Italian, I recommend a blog I read in preparation for this article. Fantastic read!



Which Language is Closest to Latin? – Spanish

DIORAMA 2-04Ah Spanish, my second language and the language of my mother’s family. My experience of Spanish is of one of it’s Latin American dialects, Peruvian Spanish. 

Is Spanish the closest language to Latin? Has it diverged much from Vulgar Latin? Perhaps it could be argued as the closest to Classical Latin or even Old Latin! 

The Roman Conquest of Spain began  during the Second Punic War, starting in 210 BC. Making it one of the first provinces of the Roman Republic which later became the Roman Empire. The East of Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula) was heavily settled, particularly by Roman Veterans who would have brought the Latin language with them. At the height of the Rome’s power under Emperor Trajan and Hadrian (both themselves from Spain), the Latin spoken throughout the Roman Empire was no longer like the Classical Latin we all have studied, but the language of the masses, vulgar latin, with the native languages in each roman province, Celtiberian for example in Spain, influencing the development of latin into each varyingly different version of vulgar latin.

Vulgar Latin spoken in Hispania later came under Arabic influence under the Al-Andalus caliphate until 1492 when the reconquering of Spain or the ‘Reconquista’ had been completed. By then a few hundred words of Arabic origin were added to the Spanish language. Also spoken was an arabized form of vulgar latin or romance called Mozarabic (which went extinct). These languages grew into Old Spanish/Old Castilian, which eventually evolved into Modern Spanish.

So how close is Modern Spanish to Latin?

In brief, quite close. The verbal conjugations in Spanish as very similar to Latin in some ways. But however in Spanish there are three conjugations whereas Latin has 4. Latin seems to resemble Spanish a lot in the first person plural of most verbs.

When thinking about this question however, you have to think of what we mean by Latin. Whether we mean Classical Latin, Vulgar Latin and older or younger versions of each of these varieties. 

Spanish has preserved some older forms of Latin vocabulary that have been lost in other Romance Languages. For example French and Italian have more words derived from Late Latin whereas Spanish has words from older Latin.

For example in Italian and french have fromaggio/fromage derived from the late Latin formaticus vs queso in Spanish derived from the older caseus. Also from this we get the English “cheese”. Spanish also uses some archaic verbs that are not used in Italian such as, “comer” and “ir” = “comedere/edere” and “ii”.
Perhaps because Spain was a colony the language of the colonists was spread and adapted more stationary following this while in Italy, Latin continued to develop and evolve and develop new vocabulary. Perhaps the primitiveness of the Iberian People prior to conquest in comparison with the Gauls made romanisation there much easier. 

Then of course we have the Our Father (Pater Noster). Even if Spanish isn’t the closest language to Latin you can certainly see the similarities.                                                                    


Pater noster, qui est in coelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum, fiat voluntas tua sicut in coelo et in terra. Panem nostrum cottidianum da nobis hodie et dimitte nobis dedita nostra, sicut nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in temptationem, sed libera nos a malo. Amen. 

Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos, santificado sea tu nombre. Venga tu Reino. Hágase tu voluntad, así en la tierra como en el cielo. El pan nuestro de cada día, danosle hoy y perdónanos nuestras deudas, así como nosotros perdonamos a nuestros deudores. Y no nos dejes caer en la tentación, más líbranos de mal. Amen.

You could perhaps argue that Spanish is more like Old Latin which was spoken until around 75 BC. It is true that Spanish resembles Old Latin in some areas of vocabulary.

Archaic latin: Manios med fhe fhaked Numasioi
Classical Latin: Manius me fecit Numerio
Spanish: Manio(s) me hizo por Numerio


Archaic latin: quoi honc… sakros esed
Classical latin: qui hunc… sacer erit
Spanish: esto…sera santificado/sagrado

Many say that Spanish is closest to Latin in Syntax and Grammar. Here is a sentence example, with Italian for comparison:

Ella siempre cierra la puerta antes que vengan. (Spanish)

Ea semper portam claudit antequam vēneant. (Latin)

Lei chiude sempre la porta prima di venire. (Italian)


If we want to look at this scientifically there was a study conducted in 1949 by Italian by the linguist Mario Pei who analysed the lexical difference between Latin and it’s daughter languages by comparing areas such as phonology, inflection, syntax, vocabulary, and intonation with Spanish coming out at 20% distant to Latin (only Sardinian and Italian less distant than it).

Spanish was similar to the other Romance Languages in that definite articles were a step away from the cases of Classical Latin to Vulgar Latin and evolved from demonstrative pronouns or adjectives, the Latin demonstrative ille, illa, illud evolved in to el and la in Spanish. In Spanish like in many Romance Languages the neuter nouns became Masculine Nouns. Spanish has also undergone sounds changes from Latin so words starting with f, begin with h in Spanish and words that begin with T in latin, begin with D in Spanish. Other sound changes are the internal e  in Latin which often becomes ie;  and the o may become ue. (tierra, bien,tienes; bueno, muerte)

Some examples of Spanish Irregular verbs turn out to be archaic remenants of old Latin conjugation; Spanish verbs with the infinitive in either-ir or -er, the participle regularly ends in -ido: vivir vivido “to live,” and responder respondido “to respond.” Against this pattern, escribir escrito (not escribido) “to write” and poner puesto (not ponido) “to put, place” indeed look irregular, but however both are in fact faithful to their Latin ancestors, scribere scriptus and ponere positus.


Spanish is of course a beautiful language and very close to it’s parent language Latin. In some ways yes it has stayed very close to Latin definitely in terms of Syntax and Grammar. In some ways it has remained close to Classical Latin where other languages have drifted  further away. So in these aspects it could be argued to be one of the closest languages to Latin. Of course Old Spanish would have been closer but that is no longer spoken….unless….you take a look at Judeo-Spanish/Ladino. Although it has a large Hebrew and Aramaic influence, Ladino is seen as a living relic and an example of Old Spanish spoken in the present day. Sorry I’m being side tracked, that is a blog post for another day. But yeah, Spanish is definitely one of the closest languages to Latin. Hearing spoken Latin and knowing some Spanish, I can definitely pick up a good bit of what is being said. I am sure if an Ancient Roman landed in Spain, although being freaked out by how different the world, they would at least be comforted in finding Spanish somewhat familiar.