Europe families tree; Germanic, Slavic and Romance have

portrays the complete version of multilingualism environment within a large
number of indigenous languages which approximately represents 91% but, with
respect to all dialects and accents in Europe, only 24 languages from the total
are considered as official according to the European Union (Lewis, Simons,
& Fennig, 2015), these languages are  Bulgarian, Croatian, Hungarian,
Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese Czech, Danish, Dutch, English,
Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak,
Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish. Between 2007 and 2009 the
European commissioner responsible for multilingualism Leonard Orban stated that
despite multilingualism is the tool to build the bridge between people and
linguistic diversity, linguistic problems in communication appear and the only
way to come over it is the sufficient knowledge about language. Haugen (1966),
coined the term ‘semi-communication’ in conversations where speakers of closely
related languages communicate using only their
respective native language. He was one of the first to conduct a study about
the mutual intelligibility of closely related Scandinavian languages. Focusing
on Danish, Swedish and Norwegian languages which are in general so close to
each other and speakers of these languages can communicate each by using their
own language without prior language instruction, (Delsing & Lundin Åkesson
2005, Bø 1978, Maurud 1976). Braunmüller & Zeevaert (2001), referred to
that phenomenon as ‘receptive multilingualism’ or ‘mutual intelligibility’.
Also, the term was used the first time by Peter Trudgill in his book
Sociolinguistics: An Introduction 1974 in which he clarifies that Mutual intelligibility
is the extent to which speakers from two or more speech communities can
understand each other. At Wikipedia, it is defined as “a relationship
between languages or dialects in which speakers of different but related
languages can readily understand each other without intentional study or
extraordinary effort. Sometimes it is used as a criterion to distinguish
languages from dialects. Linguistic and nonlinguistic factors play a basic role
in mutual intelligibility; Lexicon,
Orthography, Pronunciation, Morphology and Syntax are linguistic factors whereas Exposure, Years learned and Attitude are nonlinguistic
factors. According to Charlott Gooskens, Vincent J. van Heuven (2017),
if two languages have mutual intelligibility such as Scandinavian group there
would be no need to teach the related languages in a school curriculum, or even
if there are gaps between them educators can design materials to come over it. The
main European languages families tree; Germanic, Slavic and Romance have been under the spot and few
language combinations such as Spanish and Portuguese have been studied.  In the Romance
language family tree, there is a disagreement about the sub-grouping of those
languages, but the accepted classification has been done by Hall (1974), who based his classification on phonological
criteria. In figure (1) Romania comes from Eastern branch while all the other languages
belong to Italo-Western branch. The later branch divides Italo and Western,
Italian is the only subdivide language from Italo, whereas Western is
subdivided to libero-Romance (Spanish and
Portuguese) and Gallo-Romance (French). Generally speaking, Romance speakers
can understand Italian easier than French and Romanian which require more
efforts. Spanish and Portuguese are very close to each other, to a large extent
these two languages are mutually intelligible. Although the relation between
these two languages is described as sisters asymmetrically, Portuguese speakers easily understood Spanish than the other way around.

In this paper, we will summarize
the reasons behind that.

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        According to Gooskens,2007; Tang& Van Heuven,2015
these two languages come from the same ancestors so it will be easy for a
reader or listener to understand them. The first one who tested test mutual intelligibility
between Portuguese and Spanish was Jensen (1989), the results showed the success of the Portuguese
speakers than the Spanish at interpreting what they heard.

For European Portuguese and
Spanish, a similar has been observed informally between them but was never
tested experimentally. According to Cressey (1978), Spanish vowel system only
has five vowels while Mateus & d’Andrade (2000) clarify that Portuguese has
a complicated vowel system with nasalized vowels and a high prevalence of
assimilations. Voigt and Schüppert (2013) reveal that in spontaneous conversations Portuguese reduce more syllables and produce
fewer, Spanish speakers use less complex syllables than Portuguese speakers do.
Charlotte Gooskens, Vincent J. van Heuven, Jelena
Golubovi?, Anja Schüppert, Femke Swarte and Stefanie Voigt (2017) have repeated
Jensen’s study as a part of a much larger project under the name of Mutual
intelligibility between closely related languages in Europe; Germanic, Romance
and Slavic Spanish and Portuguese were a part of it and compared with each
other. In this paper we will summarize this study, focusing on Spanish and Portuguese
and compare it with the previous ones.




Charlotte Gooskens, Vincent J. van Heuven, Jelena Golubovi?, Anja
Schüppert, Femke Swarte and Stefanie Voigt (2016) conducted their study with a
large-scale web-based investigation to examine the degree of mutual
intelligibility of 16 closely related spoken languages within the Germanic,
Slavic and Romance language families in Europe, according to Charlotte Gooskens
and Vincent J. van Heuven few studies have been done in this area, to do the
web-investigation they used a group of listeners who had learnt or exposed to
language tests before and another group of listeners who had had minimal
exposure to the test language. Most of the participants were young adult
between 18 and 33 years old, they were or had been university students.
Participants for further analysis were selected by matching groups according to
specific criteria. The selected listeners all came from the same countries
where the speakers came from. Note that listeners who had learned the test
language for a long time more than the maximum period of the offered duration
in secondary school were excluded. 

The aim of that experiment is to
investigate how well the listeners understand the test language on the basis of
structural similarities between their own language and the test languages.

To conduct the study researchers
developed a cloze test to be carried out via the internet and could be scored
automatically using the software. This kind of tests has been used to test the
mutual intelligibility by Scharpff and Van Heuven (1988) and Van Bezooijen and
Gooskens (2005).   Participants should understand the text to
recognize the words or type of words to fill the gap correctly. The number of
correctly selected words is the measure of intelligibility. Four English texts
at the B1 level, as defined by the CEFRL (Council of Europe, 2001), were
modified to length of approximately 200 words each (16 or 17 sentences) and
translated in to each of the 16 target languages and recorded by four native female’s speakers aged between 20 and 40
years of each of the 16 test languages. The reason behind using four native
females’ speakers’ voices to neutralize the potential influence of voice
quality differences on the results. In the experiment, the recording of one
text from each speaker was used randomly, each text was divided into twelve
units, corresponding to sentences or clauses. The listeners were tested via
online application (see
Before doing the intelligibility tests, each participant filled a questionnaire
on language attitudes towards, prior exposure to and familiarity with a number
of European languages. they were asked to specify their age, sex, the country
where they had grown up, the country they have spent their most life in and how
many years and which language they normally heard at home. These data helped to
collect extra-linguistic data about the participants. The answers to the
questions were used to select listeners with a similar background in order to
compare the results of the various listener’s groups. The entire online session
lasted approximately 15 min (questionnaire and test together).


The results for Romance Family Tree showed that a) Romance
group mean score is slightly lower than of the Germanic group (36.7%), b) Romanian,
not unexpectedly, is hardest to understand (mean score of all listeners of
12.5%), c) Romanians are quite successful in understanding the other languages
but all other listeners in the same family tree have difficulties with
Romanian, d) Spanish is
the language that is easiest to understand for all listener groups (a mean of
57.2% correct answers across all listener groups, e) The Portuguese listener
group has the highest mean score (47.2%) but still Romanians understand the
other languages almost as well (44.9% correct), f) Portuguese listeners
understand Spanish better than vice versa, g) Portuguese is also more difficult
for Italian listeners than the other way around. h) As it was expected the second
group (data set) showed higher correlations with the tree distances in the case
of the Germanic language family while in Romance language family correlation
was not significant. For Slavic, the results showed that the communication
situation in the Slavic area is well reflected in the Slavic language family


Back to Jensen (1989), he found the same asymmetry for Portuguese
and Spanish, according to Voigt, Schüppert & Gooskens the only disadvantage
of Jensen (1989) experiment was that the texts used differed across the
languages, which makes the intelligibility results difficult to compare at that
time. Yet, the genre (stories for children, news article, etc.) was kept
constant throughout the languages.

Both languages are closely related in terms of structural
features, e.g. simple syllable structure CVC and a common lexis (Blasco Ferrer

European Spanish and Portuguese differ significantly in terms of
pronunciation. Phonetically, Portuguese shows more similarity to French or
Catalan (Mateus & d’Andrade 2000) while Spanish pronunciation is more
closely related to Italian pronunciation (Eddington 2004). They stated that
most languages can be categorized as either stress-timed or syllable-timed
(Pike 1945), Spanish and Portuguese also show differences in timedness. Voigt, Schüppert & Gooskens, showed that speakers
of European Portuguese do not speak faster per se but due to vowel elision
Portuguese shows more reduction, which might make it less intelligible. Also,
they clarified that Portuguese has a much more varied vowel inventory than
Spanish make it difficult for Spanish speakers to firstly identify the right
sounds in order to secondly identify possible cognates.


To conclude Spanish and Portuguese are related sister
languages, despite being different in phonology, grammar, and lexicon. The
major difference comes from Portuguese system which includes 14 vowels while
only 5 in Spanish. Also, in conversation Portuguese as Voigt, Schüppert &
Gooskens clarified they don’t speak faster but they use vowel elision which
makes it hard for Spanish to understand them well.

In my opinion, educators can solve this problem by designing
especial material to teach Portuguese vowels and consonants in Spanish schools
and vise verse. Games and language applications can help the new generation to
practice to come over these differences.























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