Eli5: why do languages have spelling and pronunciation in common? Counting is the easiest example. Most words that are in a foreign language can be almost guessed in English which is very weird to me.


Eli5: why do languages have spelling and pronunciation in common? Counting is the easiest example. Most words that are in a foreign language can be almost guessed in English which is very weird to me.

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10 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

I think this has more to do with English adopting words from other languages. English is based on versions of the Russian/Germanic, but obviously influenced by Latin as well, meaning theres French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian in there. And that’s just old English.

Modern English uses words from almost every language. There’s Japanese words in regular use in most English countries. There’s no English word for “Haiku” for example, but im sure most people who speak English are familiar with the word.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Most languages in popculture and business a lot of people experience are romanance, or European which share a lot of loan words and structure; thus due to a similarity in stucture and via travel/business?media, people have some experience with them. This makes it a lot easier to notice things like this.

and yes I know that this is not true overall, Mandarin is the most spoken language…. da da da! But between what I mentioned above, and on average languages using similar(ish) words for simple stuff that is my take.

Look at the words for yes and no across languages.

Anonymous 0 Comments

English and French are probably the most notable for this phenomenon.

The reason is that when William the Conqueror led the Norman Invasion of England, he and all of his loyal followers that took over the English court spoke French. For centuries after that, official government business in England was conducted in French, even though the commoners spoke early forms of English.

In time, this led to the English adopting a ton of French words as part of the common vernacular.

Other languages though, like French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, are all branches on the Romance Language tree, because they are all derived from Latin. A long time ago, they were just regional dialects of Latin that gradually grew into their own languages. But even so, they share a lot of things in common.

And even in the modern times, it’s fairly common for new words that pop up in one language to just be adopted by other languages instead of trying to create another new word for whatever the thing is.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Because a lot of languages have the same roots.

English for example is a Germanic language with roughly half of its vocabulary stemming from the French. So it means that German / Nordic syntax and words are going to sound very familiar to a native English speaker. Same with a lot of words coming from Romance languages like French, Spanish & Italian. 3 = Three = Drei = Trois = Tre, etc.

But you’ll notice that English doesn’t have many similarities to languages from completely different groups, like Korean or Kikongo.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Most languages you’ll encounter are descended from Proto-Indo-European. Many sounds and structures have been passed through the ages as languages diverged.

A second major factor is that there has been a much more recent divergence in the most popular languages today. In Europe and the Americas the most common languages are derived from either Latin or Germanic only over the last millennia or so.

Anonymous 0 Comments

You are mistaking a subset of foreign languages for the majority.

Languages don’t exist in a vacuum. As humanity expanded out across the world, we became separated into groups. These groups would begin to find new things, express things differently. As time passes some groups split apart, and how they refer to things may change. Sometimes they would interact with other groups and find new words for new things, or better words for existing things. And sometimes misfortune and war kill entire groups of people, whole languages. As such we see that many languages are related to each other. Groups that once spoke one language split apart and through time the language drifts.

Whole family trees of languages start to form. The closer on the tree more related they are. We can group these similar languages together, and divide them into small collections of languages. English is a Germanic language, birthed from the same groups that would go on to form modern German, Dutch, Yiddish among others. As such we can see some very similar words, similar pronunciations. Arm, fan, gas, mental, mild, oval are all examples of English words that, while pronounced a little different, are the same in German.

However no language exists in vacuum. Much of the language is heavily influenced by French, and Latin. This is again a result of intermingling of neighboring groups, just further up on the family tree. As you go further up we find that some 3 billion people’s languages are all intertwined, in a huge web, The Indo European language family. all totally different but zoom in and you can see the connections.

While a large group, you’ll note that tree only makes up some 40% of the population of earth. Your ability to speak English will not help you in the slightest learning Japanese or Chinese or Swahili. It might not even help you with European languages like Hungarian. However as English speakers were more influenced by European languages, and a select few at that. Your experience of foreign language is very likely limited to Romance Languages influenced by Latin, and Germanic languages. This might explain your perception of the similarities of Foreign languages to english.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Because many languages today are basically offshoots of ancient languages.

Imagine if the US breaks into fourteen different regions today, and 100 years from now, each region is speaking different accents of English. After even more time (100s to 1000s of years) those accents become basically new languages. One region says “fish,” and another says it like “feesh,” and over time, the words sound very different, etc. They could still have many similarities, but still be considered separate languages. This is kind of a super basic explanation, but anyway:

That’s basically what happened.

“Romance” languages like Latin, Italian, Spanish, some English, Romanian, Catalan, Portuguese all come from ancient Latin, etc — or more accurately, from the Indo-European language family.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Kinda feel like you’re “guessing” the counting words in either the same language root or in a very “1 2 3” type of situation.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Counting is easy because there is a really easy context for it.

If I say “one” and hold up a single finger, “two” and hold up a second, “three” and hold up a third, and so on… it’s really simple to see that I’m saying the words for numbers.

Ditto if I say “un, deux, trois” or “uno, dos, tres” or “ichi, ni, san” or “ein, zwei, drei” with the same hand gestures (apologies for any of those languages’ numbers whose spellings I butchered.)

And with the exception of Japanese, these were all languages that evolved on the same continent as one another – If you hop into Africa you get some stuff that you just can’t easily guess. Divorced from the context of the above examples, can you really guess that “saba, nane, tisa” means “one, two, three” in Swahili?

If you said yes, then *you just activated my trap card!* Because that actually means “seven, eight, nine” – “one, two, three” would be “moja, mbili, tatu”

Anonymous 0 Comments

Many languages have common ancestors so they have many words with the same root. This exists in a continuum with languages like Portuguese and Spanish which are mutually intelligible in one end and English and Mandarin on the other where not a single word is remotely close (your premise is just false).