Sounds & Graphic Rules

Unmasking corresponding words in different languages

The following text is directed to teachers and advanced learners of foreign languages. It provides a short description of the most important phonetic and orthographic rules of Romance idioms in order to foster reading intercomprehension for students who already have a good command of at least one of these languages. It accompanies the app EuroComDidact ToGo. In combination with the app, this paper invites learners to analyze the app’s series and to assign the words’ features to the sound and orthographic rules. Knowing these rules entails comprehension at a first or second glance which facilitates productive skills acquisition (reading and even speaking).

Knowing Romance languages phonetic and orthographic rules entails plurilingual reading comprehension[1]

How to improve vocabulary learning: Your learning outcome is much better when you compare words with a same meaning (adequacy of meaning) in different languages, i.e. their shapes, meanings, grammatical properties, and use.

Framing

Not only for ‘unmasking’ form-congruent words in different languages (type: it. accettare, pt. aceitar, sp. aceptar, ge. akzeptieren), it is helpful to recall the following historical context: In Romance languages (vernaculars), Latin has always accompanied people’s daily lives. However, concerning phonetics, word formation and sentence building, the peoples’ speeches were far from classical Latin patterns, as encountered in literature and Latin teaching.

The development of Latin shows how much the everyday pronunciation changed the original words’ shape: Lat. AQUA > fr. eau, MAND(U)CARE > fr. manger, it. mangiare. Words, which have always survived in the Romance languages, are classified as hereditary or vernacular (mots populaires). Written Latin (which only a small part of the population could use) was left to scholars, the church and commerce – Europe-wide, and far beyond Romance-languages area. The Latin of erudition – and its learned words (mots savants) – was exclusively conveyed by reading and writing. Its elements were even picked up when it came to meet new naming needs, for example creating scientific neologisms like oxidation or communism. The composing elements were provided by the Latin and partly the Greek scriptural vocabulary of antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modern times. The words concerned are of international spread (mots savants internationaux). This explains duplicates, which are derived from a hereditary pattern and from a learned one (mère, maternel) as well. Such duplicates are due to reborrowing from Latin. The sciences for their part created new terms reverting to Latin or Greek elements (oxidation, communism, etc.)

 

Rules

The most important phonetic and orthographic rules exclusively concern the hereditary words.

A) Speaking of vowels[2]

1. Distinguish between bright and dark vowels: Bright vowels are i and e, dark ones a, o, u. Bright and dark vowels rarely change the group.

2. The Latin difference between long and short vowels does not exist in Romance languages.

3. Stressed syllables are more stable than unstressed ones.

4. At the beginning of a word, vowels (and consonants) are comparatively stable: fourmi, formica, hormiga < *FORMIX, FORMICA; they change rarely, sometimes they change slightly. (see B1)

5. Distinguish between open and closed syllables. An open syllable ends with a vowel: MA-RIS, PA-TREM, a closed one with a consonant: MAN-DUCARE; DAM-NATIO.

6. Latin A in open syllables > fr. -e-: TA-LEM > fr. tel it. tale/sp. tal, MA-RE > fr. mer it. mare/sp. mar.

  1. Stressed and/or long vowels in Latin tend to change:

a) Ē, Ī > /ei/oi/ie/e/i/ : DĒBET > fr. doit it. devve; DĪG(I)TUS > fr. doigt, sp. dedo, it. ditto ; D(I)RĒCTUS > fr. droit it. dritto ; PĒDE(M) > fr. pied, it. piede ; FĒRIA (vacances, foire) > pt. feira, fr. foire, pt. férias (vacances), sp. feria (Messe), it. fera, an. fair.

b) Ō > /eu/ue/uo/õ/ : NŌVU(M > fr. neuf, sp. nuevo, it. nuovo; BONU(M), fr. bon, sp. bueno, it. buono, pt. bom ; BŌVIS > bœuf, sp. buey, it. bue.

c) U > /ou/o/u/ : URSU(M) : sp. oso, fr. ours, it. orso, pt. urso.

d) AU > /o/ : AURU(M) ≠ sp. oro, fr. or, it. oro.

  1. Double vowels (diphthongs) often arise in French, Portuguese and Spanish in the following cases:

a) by excluding intervocalic consonants: CADĒRE > fr. choir, pt. cair, sp. caer (to fall); CLAUDĒRE > fr. clore en. close, it. chiudere; PLACĒRE > fr. plaire en. to please, it. piacere, pt. aprazer, sp. placer (see B5); NOCĒRE > fr. nuire it. nuocere (to harm).

b) by changing of -CT- > -i+t-: LAC-TE(M) > fr. lait [l, pt. leite ≠ it. latte, sp. leche ;. D(I)RĒCTUS ) > fr. droit via a.fr. dreit, pt. direito ≠ it. dritto, sp. derecho.

c) by changing stressed syllables: lat. VĪTA > afr. > [viða] > fr. vie (silencing). Or: FĒRIA (holidays, fair) > feire, fr. foire, pt. férias (holidays), sp. feria, it. fera, en. fair.

  1. Portuguese, Spanish and Italian largely maintain Latin forms or modify them only slightly.

10. Even the German ‘educational vocabulary’, as far as it goes back to written Latin or ancient Greek, does not change vowel quality: PRAEDICARE > dt. predigen, sp. predicar, it. predicare, fr. prédication, prêcher, to preach.

B) Speaking of consonants

The following text is directed to teachers and advanced learners of foreign languages. It provides a short description of the most important phonetic and orthographic rules of Romance idioms in order to foster reading intercomprehension for students who already have a good command of at least one of these languages. It accompanies the app EuroComDidact ToGo. In combination with the app, this paper invites learners to analyze the app’s series and to assign the words’ features to the sound and orthographic rules. Knowing these rules entails comprehension at a first or second glance which facilitates productive skills acquisition (reading and even speaking).

Knowing Romance languages phonetic and orthographic rules entails plurilingual reading comprehension[1]

How to improve vocabulary learning: Your learning outcome is much better when you compare words with a same meaning (adequacy of meaning) in different languages, i.e. their shapes, meanings, grammatical properties, and use.

Framing

Not only for ‘unmasking’ form-congruent words in different languages (type: it. accettare, pt. aceitar, sp. aceptar, ge. akzeptieren), it is helpful to recall the following historical context: In Romance languages (vernaculars), Latin has always accompanied people’s daily lives. However, concerning phonetics, word formation and sentence building, the peoples’ speeches were far from classical Latin patterns, as encountered in literature and Latin teaching.

The development of Latin shows how much the everyday pronunciation changed the original words’ shape: Lat. AQUA > fr. eau, MAND(U)CARE > fr. manger, it. mangiare. Words, which have always survived in the Romance languages, are classified as hereditary or vernacular (mots populaires). Written Latin (which only a small part of the population could use) was left to scholars, the church and commerce – Europe-wide, and far beyond Romance-languages area. The Latin of erudition – and its learned words (mots savants) – was exclusively conveyed by reading and writing. Its elements were even picked up when it came to meet new naming needs, for example creating scientific neologisms like oxidation or communism. The composing elements were provided by the Latin and partly the Greek scriptural vocabulary of antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modern times. The words concerned are of international spread (mots savants internationaux). This explains duplicates, which are derived from a hereditary pattern and from a learned one (mère, maternel) as well. Such duplicates are due to reborrowing from Latin. The sciences for their part created new terms reverting to Latin or Greek elements (oxidation, communism, etc.)

 

Rules

The most important phonetic and orthographic rules exclusively concern the hereditary words.

A) Speaking of vowels[2]

1. Distinguish between bright and dark vowels: Bright vowels are i and e, dark ones a, o, u. Bright and dark vowels rarely change the group.

2. The Latin difference between long and short vowels does not exist in Romance languages.

3. Stressed syllables are more stable than unstressed ones.

4. At the beginning of a word, vowels (and consonants) are comparatively stable: fourmi, formica, hormiga < *FORMIX, FORMICA; they change rarely, sometimes they change slightly. (see B1)

5. Distinguish between open and closed syllables. An open syllable ends with a vowel: MA-RIS, PA-TREM, a closed one with a consonant: MAN-DUCARE; DAM-NATIO.

6. Latin A in open syllables > fr. -e-: TA-LEM > fr. tel it. tale/sp. tal, MA-RE > fr. mer it. mare/sp. mar.

  1. Stressed and/or long vowels in Latin tend to change:

a) Ē, Ī > /ei/oi/ie/e/i/ : DĒBET > fr. doit it. devve; DĪG(I)TUS > fr. doigt, sp. dedo, it. ditto ; D(I)RĒCTUS > fr. droit it. dritto ; PĒDE(M) > fr. pied, it. piede ; FĒRIA (vacances, foire) > pt. feira, fr. foire, pt. férias (vacances), sp. feria (Messe), it. fera, an. fair.

b) Ō > /eu/ue/uo/õ/ : NŌVU(M > fr. neuf, sp. nuevo, it. nuovo; BONU(M), fr. bon, sp. bueno, it. buono, pt. bom ; BŌVIS > bœuf, sp. buey, it. bue.

c) U > /ou/o/u/ : URSU(M) : sp. oso, fr. ours, it. orso, pt. urso.

d) AU > /o/ : AURU(M) ≠ sp. oro, fr. or, it. oro.

  1. Double vowels (diphthongs) often arise in French, Portuguese and Spanish in the following cases:

a) by excluding intervocalic consonants: CADĒRE > fr. choir, pt. cair, sp. caer (to fall); CLAUDĒRE > fr. clore en. close, it. chiudere; PLACĒRE > fr. plaire en. to please, it. piacere, pt. aprazer, sp. placer (see B5); NOCĒRE > fr. nuire it. nuocere (to harm).

b) by changing of -CT- > -i+t-: LAC-TE(M) > fr. lait [l, pt. leite ≠ it. latte, sp. leche ;. D(I)RĒCTUS ) > fr. droit via a.fr. dreit, pt. direito ≠ it. dritto, sp. derecho.

c) by changing stressed syllables: lat. VĪTA > afr. > [viða] > fr. vie (silencing). Or: FĒRIA (holidays, fair) > feire, fr. foire, pt. férias (holidays), sp. feria, it. fera, en. fair.

  1. Portuguese, Spanish and Italian largely maintain Latin forms or modify them only slightly.

10. Even the German ‘educational vocabulary’, as far as it goes back to written Latin or ancient Greek, does not change vowel quality: PRAEDICARE > dt. predigen, sp. predicar, it. predicare, fr. prédication, prêcher, to preach.

B) Speaking of consonants

  1. At the beginning of words, consonants are stable, with a few exceptions.

a) In French C- > ch-: CABALLU(M) > cheval; CAT(TUM) > chat [ʃa] it. gatto, sp. gato, en. cat, ge. Katze; CANE > chien it. cane; CA-PUT/CA-P(I)-TI > fr. chef, en. chief, pt. chefe, sp. jefe < fr. chef (de cuisine). Generally, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian do not innovate: sp. cabo, it. capo, en. cape, ge. Kap, fr. cap; fr. chiffre, it./pt./sp. cifra < mlat. CIFRA < ar. SIFR (zero).

b) Exclusively in Italian: B-, C-, F-, G-, P-plus-L > bi, ci/chi, fi, pi- gi/ghi: frankish BLANK > bianco, lat. CLAMARE > chiamare, FLORE(M) > fiore, PLACĒĒRE > piacere, vlat. GLACIA > ghiaccio.

c) In Spanish and Portuguese: initial CL- > sp. ll [j] llave, llamar > pt. ch– [ʒ] or [ʃ] chave, chamar.

  1. In spoken Latin, the initial h- already was mute when the city of Pompei was hit by the Vesuvio eruption in 78. It does not appear in Italian either: it. abitudine, osteria, erede, esitare fr. habitude, heritier, hésiter; sp. habitud, heredero, hesitar. The maintenance of the initial h- in other Romance languages is due to etymological writing.

3. In Spanish, the initial /f/ turns to h- hacemos, faisons; hormiga, fr. fourmi; horno, fr. four, it. forno; it. [ʒ] in gelato > sp. helado fr. jamais, sp. jamás.

4. Sometimes, intervocalic consonants undergo striking changes from classical Latin to French, which often lead to their entire disappearance. Often sonorization (lenition) phenomena precede: VĪTA(M) > *[viða] > fr. vie; fr. plaire < PLACĒRE, plaît ≠ piace, pt. apraz < PLĀCET ≠ plaisons, piacciamo, aprazemos < PLACĒMUS.

5. In general, Romance languages show varying degrees of sonorization: AQUA > eau via afr. aigue, see sp. agua; PLACĒRE > fr. plaire via afr. plaisir, pt. prazer, sp. placer, it. piacere, also en. please/pleasant; TACĒRE > fr. taire sp. tacer, sp. tacēre. Or -T- and -D- > -s-/-z-: RATIONEM > it. ragione, pt. razo, sp. razon, fr. raison, en. reason; VĀDO > fr. [vɛ] vaisK, sp. voy it. vado.

6. New consonants (simple letters, digraphs): -ch- for [ʃ] in fr. cher, trigraphs: ge. -sch- for [ʃ] in schön) often appear after weak vowels’ exclusion: lat. MAND(U)CARE > fr. *mantger > manger, it. mangiare; PRAED(I)CARE > *pred(i)cer > fr. prêcher, en preach.

7. Once again: Instability leads to sonorization in the case of double consonant groups: COLUBRA > couleuvre, sp. culebra (de cristal) (blind worm); brit.en. better [bɛtə] ≠ am.en. [bɛdə], Italy [itəli] ≠ [idəli]. Sometimes, consonants disappear entirely: CATH(E)DRA > chaire, INTĒGRA > entier [ɑ̃tje], entière [ɑ̃tjer], entièrement [ɑ̃tjermɑ̃] ≠ sp. entero, pt. inteiro.

8. It happens that sounds and letters swap within series (metathesis): FORMAT(I)CUM > fromage formaggio; Parfümerie, profumeria, en. perfumery; en./fr. crocodile, ge. Krokodil sp. cocodrilo; it. profilo pt./sp. perfil.

F.-J. Meissner


 

 


[1] The following observations exclusively focus on didactic purposes. Completeness about historical Romance phonetics is not intended. For further information go to William McCann. Horst G. Klein & Tilbert D. Stegmann: EuroComRom – The Seven Sieves: How to read all the Romance languages right away. Aachen: Shaker 2002. The book exists in various languages (Catalan, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish). The French version includes an Introduction à la didactique de l’eurocompréhension (pp. 7-140).

[2] Some terminological explanations are necessary: the brackets () stand for weak sound (clitization); [] includes phonetic transcription; a series contains morphosemantic correspon-dences between languages: fromage, formaggio, queso, queijo, cheese; shortcuts like ar. (Arab), fr. (French), gr. (ancient Greek), sp. (Spanish), afr. (ancient French), mlat. (medieval Latin) vlat. (vulgar Latin), etc. stand for languages; < means: derived from; > means: gives; different from, but; * indicates ‘form without reference’; brit.en. British English, am.en. American English.

 

At the beginning of words, consonants are stable, with a few exceptions.

a) In French C- > ch-: CABALLU(M) > cheval; CAT(TUM) > chat [ʃa] it. gatto, sp. gato, en. cat, ge. Katze; CANE > chien it. cane; CA-PUT/CA-P(I)-TI > fr. chef, en. chief, pt. chefe, sp. jefe < fr. chef (de cuisine). Generally, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian do not innovate: sp. cabo, it. capo, en. cape, ge. Kap, fr. cap; fr. chiffre, it./pt./sp. cifra < mlat. CIFRA < ar. SIFR (zero).

b) Exclusively in Italian: B-, C-, F-, G-, P-plus-L > bi, ci/chi, fi, pi- gi/ghi: frankish BLANK > bianco, lat. CLAMARE > chiamare, FLORE(M) > fiore, PLACĒĒRE > piacere, vlat. GLACIA > ghiaccio.

c) In Spanish and Portuguese: initial CL- > sp. ll [j] llave, llamar > pt. ch– [ʒ] or [ʃ] chave, chamar.

  1. In spoken Latin, the initial h- already was mute when the city of Pompei was hit by the Vesuvio eruption in 78. It does not appear in Italian either: it. abitudine, osteria, erede, esitare fr. habitude, heritier, hésiter; sp. habitud, heredero, hesitar. The maintenance of the initial h- in other Romance languages is due to etymological writing.

3. In Spanish, the initial /f/ turns to h- hacemos, faisons; hormiga, fr. fourmi; horno, fr. four, it. forno; it. [ʒ] in gelato > sp. helado fr. jamais, sp. jamás.

4. Sometimes, intervocalic consonants undergo striking changes from classical Latin to French, which often lead to their entire disappearance. Often sonorization (lenition) phenomena precede: VĪTA(M) > *[viða] > fr. vie; fr. plaire < PLACĒRE, plaît ≠ piace, pt. apraz < PLĀCET ≠ plaisons, piacciamo, aprazemos < PLACĒMUS.

5. In general, Romance languages show varying degrees of sonorization: AQUA > eau via afr. aigue, see sp. agua; PLACĒRE > fr. plaire via afr. plaisir, pt. prazer, sp. placer, it. piacere, also en. please/pleasant; TACĒRE > fr. taire sp. tacer, sp. tacēre. Or -T- and -D- > -s-/-z-: RATIONEM > it. ragione, pt. razo, sp. razon, fr. raison, en. reason; VĀDO > fr. [vɛ] vaisK, sp. voy it. vado.

6. New consonants (simple letters, digraphs: -ch- for [ʃ] in fr. cher, trigraphs: ge. -sch- for [ʃ] in schön) often appear after weak vowels’ exclusion: lat. MAND(U)CARE > fr. *mantger > manger, it. mangiare; PRAED(I)CARE > *pred(i)cer > fr. prêcher, en preach; sp. capitán en. captain.

7. Once again: Instability leads to sonorization in the case of double consonant groups: COLUBRA > couleuvre, sp. culebra (de cristal) (blind worm); brit.en. better [bɛtə] ≠ am.en. [bɛdə], Italy [itəli] ≠ [idəli]. Sometimes, consonants disappear entirely: CATH(E)DRA > chaire, INTĒGRA > entier [ɑ̃tje], entière [ɑ̃tjer], entièrement [ɑ̃tjermɑ̃] ≠ sp. entero, pt. inteiro.

8. It happens that sounds and letters swap within series (metathesis): FORMAT(I)CUM > fromage formaggio; Parfümerie, profumeria, en. perfumery; en./fr. crocodile, ge. Krokodil sp. cocodrilo; it. profilo pt./sp. perfil.

F.-J. Meissner


 

 


[1] The following observations exclusively focus on didactic purposes. Completeness about historical Romance phonetics is not intended. For further information go to William McCann. Horst G. Klein & Tilbert D. Stegmann: EuroComRom – The Seven Sieves: How to read all the Romance languages right away. Aachen: Shaker 2002. The book exists in various languages (Catalan, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish). The French version includes an Introduction à la didactique de l’eurocompréhension (pp. 7-140).

[2] Some terminological explanations are necessary: the brackets () stand for weak sound (clitization); [] includes phonetic transcription; a series contains morphosemantic correspon-dences between languages: fromage, formaggio, queso, queijo, cheese; shortcuts like ar. (Arab), fr. (French), gr. (ancient Greek), sp. (Spanish), afr. (ancient French), mlat. (medieval Latin) vlat. (vulgar Latin), etc. stand for languages; < means: derived from; > means: gives; different from, but; * indicates ‘form without reference’; brit.en. British English, am.en. American English.

 

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