Are Spanish and Portuguese One Language?

Janie writes:

And Robert, your comment about ”There should be a link to the Spanish-Portuguese study. The rest is just native speakers guessing”, sounds like a weak and unfair attempt on your part to discredit the opinions of others. Just because you have an MA in Linguistics doesn’t make you an infallible expert on language matters. If anything, a person with a PhD in Linguistics would certainly seem more credible to me.

As a previous writer correctly pointed out, sometimes the ‘real’ labs are, as he put it, ‘the streets’. Much of my graduate sociology graduate research was conducted ‘on-the-streets’. When you mingle with the speakers of languages, in this case Portuguese and Spanish, you gain a very different perspective, certainly different than what your academic labs statistics show. For the record, I am a native Spanish speaker from Spain. In Europe, Portuguese and Spaniards have no trouble at all communicating with one another – we consider ourselves brothers, historically, culturally and linguistically. This is fact.

Additionally, I actually studied in New Jersey where there are tons of Spanish and Portuguese speakers. I have many friends who speak these two languages, and I have heard them conversing rather effortlessly with one another all my life. What are you going to tell me, that I’m imagining things? Please. You might be tempted not to post this, but please do the right thing and do post it. Judging from some of the earlier posts, I can assure you that there will be many future responders who will agree with many of the things I have said.

Yes, and many Spanish speakers around me told me flat out that “they can’t understand Portuguese.” On the Net, when I write in Spanish to my Brazilian friends who speak Portuguese, *they can’t really understand me.* I asked them if they speak Spanish, and they said, “Not really.” And in the article the commenter commented on, there are many reports of Spanish and Portuguese speakers not understanding each other very well.

That’s right, I do not believe that it is the typical experience of Spanish and Portuguese speakers in Europe to communicate effortlessly.

I understand that Spanish speakers can’t even understand Fala, and that’s Galician (Portuguese with heavy Spanish influence) with heavy Castillian influence on top of that. Spanish speakers say they “can’t understand a word” of Fala.

On a recent program on Galician TV, a variety of odd forms of Galician or Portuguese spoken in Spain were highlighted. All of these odd forms received subtitles on Galician TV. Brazilian Portuguese speakers told me that they often have a hard time understanding and especially reading European Portuguese. Speakers of the Portuguese dialect closest to Galician report that attempts to speak with Galician speakers on the border with Spain are so difficult that both parties resort to Castillian to be understood. And Ethnologue says that is one language. Portuguese speakers report that they can’t understand Barranquenho, an archaic form of Portuguese full of Castillian spoken on the border with Spain.

My understanding is that even on the border of Spain and Portugal, border villages can’t exactly communicate with each other.

Spaniards can’t even understand other forms of so-called Castillian which are said to be one language.

Spaniards cannot understand either Asturian or hard Extremaduran. In fact, Extremaduran speakers can’t understand Asturian, and some say that that is one language. The Castillian spoken by old Galician women is so odd and full of Galician that most Spaniards cannot understand it. Spaniards can’t even understand Aragonese very well. In fact, on opposite ends of Aragonese, Aragonese speakers can’t even understand each other. Spaniards, especially from the north around the Basque country, can’t understand a word of hard Andalucian. Some Manchengo speakers even say that they are not understand by speakers of Standard Castillian.

Asturian speakers can’t understand Galician, and both are almost Portuguese. Younger speakers of West Asturian Eonavian can’t even understand Galician, and Eonavian is the closest Asturian to Galician.

If Spaniards can’t even understand other forms of so-called Castillian, how the Hell can they understand Portuguese?

When people speaking different languages talk to each other, they can often negotiate a certain meaning by speaking more slowly, adjusting their speech, etc. That doesn’t mean that they are speaking the same language. I meet Italian speakers around here, tourists who are confounded by English. I speak Spanish to them, and we negotiate some sort of a meaning where they can figure out what to order or whatever. So Spanish and Italians are the same language? No.

The intelligibility test for Spanish and Portuguese was very good. The results came back 54% intelligibility. The truth is that with 54% intelligibility in a face to face encounter, you may be able to negotiate some sort of a meaning via the mechanisms I described above. Intelligibility studies produce proper and correct results.

If what you say is true, that Spanish and Portuguese speakers communicate “effortlessly” everywhere they go, then guess what? Spanish and Portuguese are the same language! You believe that?

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Filed under Andalucian, Applied, Aragonese, Asturian, Europe, Galician, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Linguistics, Multilingualism, Portugal, Portuguese, Regional, Romance, Spain, Spanish

8 responses to “Are Spanish and Portuguese One Language?

  1. dano bivins

    Man, for a native spanish speaker from Spain, Janie sure has a remarkable command of American.
    All Euro languages that I’ve had close contact with share a number of words, and since Spanish, Italian, Portugese and French are all latin derived, Robert’s description of how a negotiation can occur is understandable.
    I love to listen to various languages to see what words are similar. My mother was Portugese and when I listen to the family (immigrated to france in the early 20th century) I even hear Arabic influences..I never recieved a formal education in languages but I’ve always found them to be fascinating.

  2. Nordic Plant

    It has been my experience that many French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese speakers can get the gist of a conversation but don’t expect a conversation about nuclear physics. When I went to Brazil, I was told that I could use Spanish to get by. This was true in the tourist areas where they were used to many Spanish speaking tourists. Outside of the city, where there weren’t so many tourists and probably less of an opportunity to study Spanish in school, they did not understand Spanish at all.

    • Yes that sounds about right tome.

      I met some Brazilian chicks on the Internet. They hardly understood English at all, so I asked them if I could speak Spanish to them. They said sure, they sort of understood Spanish. So I spoke Spanish to them. Well, that didn’t work out very well at all!

  3. jnonymous81

    I remember a professor saying that Portuguese is a dialect of Spanish. Pronunciation is different but if you speak Spanish, it is fairly easy to read Portuguese.

  4. Nadir

    I think it’s cause of the similarities of related languages in certain areas that the speakers on both sides can share. But as for the most part it’s only restricted to these areas, or at times common words that coincidentally join in the same sentence ie. both Spanish & portuguese word for cat “gato” or “gata” for female cat. Take away discussions on common terminology in both languages and you’re not able to communicate. Also this “I know my language better than the linguist who studied it” is totally wrong. It’s like saying you know more about your own car than the mechanic who studied it just because you can drive it and he/she can’t.

  5. Pingback: Let’s chat up a few million Spaniards and have nice days | My Five Romances

  6. Pamelli

    Spanish and Portuguese are TWO diferent ( although quite similar) languages! People who speak Portuguese can understand and read a lot of Spanish ( esp. if spoken slowly), even if they never learned it. However, Spanish-speaking people will NOT be able to understand or read Portuguese if they never learned it – especially if it is Portuguese from Brazil ( which is very diferent from that of Portugal !!). They can pick up a word or two , here and there, but will not really be able to follow a fast, everyday, conversation in Portuguese with all its current expressions. slangs etc. So , No. Portuguese and Spanish are NOT the same language, and most native speakers of these languages would feel quite insulted to hear someone say that they are. It would be like saying that Americans or Australians are the same… or something like that.
    (from a native Portuguese speaker)

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