Intercomprehension means understanding a foreign language or linguistic variety (dialect, socio-electrical) without having acquired it in its natural environment or through targeted learning. The material prerequisites of intercomprehensive competence can be found in structures (words, grammar) individuals know from other languages. As a special form of linguistic comprehension, intercomprehension already happens when incidentally listening or reading the “unknown” target language. In order to achieve sustainable language skills, in addition to the material basics, the will or motivation to acquire competence in the language as well as monitoring are indispensable.
As a form of comprehension, intercomprehension is ‘natural’ and encounters in all kinds of speech acts.
Intercomprehensively based understanding can be scaled on a continuum from incomplete to (nearly, quasi) full understanding.
Boundaries between languages and languages, languages and dialects, dialects and dialects are by no means sharp.
European languages owe their ‘connections’ not least to Latin, which for over a thousand years enriched the national idioms (German, English, Italian, etc.) as a learned jargon (adstratum).
Historically, intercomprehension is much older than our ancient and, a fortiori, our modern languages, whose standardization and democratization date back only a few centuries. As late as the 19th century, more Germans spoke their local dialect than High or standard German. Before the standardization of our languages, intercomprehension was always in play, where people of different idioms – languages and dialects – communicated with each other.
In German, Polish, Russian and Dutch… there are large portions of similar words (cognates) especially derived from ancient Greek, Latin or some other idioms. The long-reaching etymological relationship (etimologia remota) was enriched by the adaptation of the inherited word material to the designation needs of new epochs and different societies. The enrichment covered wide thematic areas: sciences and applications of all kinds, trade and education. Romance linguistics speaks of “learned filiations” (migrazione dotta): Frequently, etyma, which often had fallen in oblivion, survived in written sources and sometimes have been filled with new contents. The Greek or Latin vocabulary provided elements (lexemes and morphemes) with which new words were formed. Experts speak of “new Latin compositions”(liberalism, communism, digitization…). Above all, our current scientific terminology largely consists of such formations.
Both etymological filiation patterns – the distant and the modern ‘learned’ – presuppose a multilingual literacy, which regularly came along with reading or listening intercomprehension. This kind of multi- and plurilingualism has made the profile of the learned European for more than a thousand years. Without this widespread multilingual literacy, no European culture could have developed its peculiar individual character.
The most striking traces of the tradition described here are interlexemes such as theatre-théâtre-teatro…, mathematics-matemática…, police-policja-polizia-Polizei…, continuous-to continue-continuare-continually-kontinuierlich-continuous-continuidade…
Worldwide comparisons of languages also show the relationship between European languages in grammar or grammaticography (morphology, syntax, tempus systems, etc., etc.). [see Intercomprehension didactics].