Degree of mutual intelligibility in Slavic languages as compared to other groups

pastet89

Senior Member
bulgarian
Hi,
it's just my impression, but I have just little experience and would like to ask what other people think about it, but isn't it true, that the degree of difference between Slavic languages is highest among the Indoeuropean groups of languages?
What I mean is: it looks to me that Portugal, Spanish and Italian (have no idea about Romanian tough) are at least as similar between them, as are similar all the South Slavic languages - BCS, Bulgarian, Slovene... I guess some kind of communication is possible with not that big efforts. Also, the German languages, I guess that German is the only one to be quite separated from its group, but all the Scandinavic ones are also understandable to a quite high degree.
On the other side, look at the Slavic family: while the East Slavic are also the same languages, the West with an exception to Polish - also, and the South Slavic having biggest difference between them - I guess around 50% of MI roughly, each one from these 3 subgroups will have extreme problems, if not completely impossibility, to understand anyone from the other groups (The only exception would be Bulgarian and the East Slavic group). I think that for example, West Slavic languages and any South Slavic ones with exception maybe to Slovene may be absolutely impossible to understand each other to any degree. I guess the same is true for Slovene and East Slavic family.
Is your opinion the same, e.g., the MI among the non Slavic families is much higher in general, than among us?
 
  • francisgranada

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    I thing this is a complex question and hardly "measurable" ... As to the Western Slavic languages, from the point of view of the Slovak my opinion/experiences are the following:

    The Western Slavic languages are mutually well understandable on the everyday level. A Slovak can communicate with Poles (almost) without any problem, e.g. in a supermarket, in a pub, on the street, in a family ... but he/she hardly can read a Polish book or understand the terminology concerning the grammar, official letters, understand legislative or scientific texts (or even the TV news), etc ... In case of the Czech it's no problem, but not necessarily for linguistic (or "natural") reasons: a plenty of Czech terms were adopted into Slovak ("slovakized") during the the process of the normalization/creation of standard Slovak in the 18th/19th centuries. This tendency continued (and was reinforced) during the period of the common state. Of course, the Slovak has also influenced the Czech language to a certain degree in the Czechoslovak period.

    Plus, the Czech and the Slovak orthography (including the diacritical signs) are almost identical, while the Polish spelling is totally different, which makes the reading of Polish texts for Slovaks/Czechs difficult. It's not the substance of your question, I know, neverthless I think it contributes significantly to the mutual intelligibility of written texts. An example for illustration: "you go" (2nd pers.sg.) is jdeš in Czech, ideš in Slovak and idziesz in Polish. Inspite of the spelling, phonetically (when pronounced) the Polish version is nearer to the standard Slovak than the Czech version is.

    So I guess, if we - for some reason - have had a hypothetical "Polacoslovakia" instead of Czechoslovakia, the Polish and the Slovak would be today perhaps more mutually understandable than the Czech and Slovak. In fact, after the separation of Czechoslovakia, the mutual intelligibility between the Czech and Slovak is evidently decreasing (especially for the Czech younger generation).

    I think that for example, West Slavic languages and any South Slavic ones with exception maybe to Slovene may be absolutely impossible to understand each other to any degree.
    I think this is an exaggeration, i.e. not true.

    In case of the Romance languages (except the Romanian, at least in many or most cases) the abstract/political/religious ... terminology is also common to a very high degree because of the common cultural/religious/political ... traditions. The differences in spelling are also less significant as e.g. between the Slovak and Polish. Even more, we have often the same (Latin) spelling but different pronunciation (see e.g. gente = people). For these reasons I have the impression that in case of a complex written text the Spanish, Portuguese and Italian are mutually more intelligible than the Slovak and the Polish (surely more intelligible than e.g. the Slovak and Russian or Bulgarian and less intelligible than the Slovak and Czech), but in case of the spoken "simple" language the Slovak and the Polish are a bit nearer to each other.

    In case of the Germanic languages (letting apart the Scandinavian group), my impression is that the mutual intelligibility in general is less than among the Slavic ones in general. I can imagine that a native Slovak understands practically better a native Russian or Bulgarian than for example an Englishman understands the German ...
     
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    vit52

    New Member
    English - UK
    I think it's impossible to discuss this in a meaningful way without backing up one's claims with data from actual studies on mutual intelligbility. Anything other than that will be entirely subjective, irrelevant and most importantly pseudoscientific.
     
    Firstly, there are many more Romance languages than just Portuguese, Spanish and Italian. Try testing the mutual intelligiblity of Neapolitan and Portuguese, Aromanian and Venetian, Sardinian and Asturian, Milanese and Sicilian or Romansh and Picard and you'll see just how different they can get. In terms of formal texts there is often quite a lot of shared vocabulary due to Latin-based neologisms, which are commonly shared with English or even some other European languages as well, but in terms of speech the only languages that are really intelligible without much exposure are those that are geographically close or within the same subgroup (Vlach, Ibero-Romance, Gallo-Italic, Occitano-Romance, Oïl, etc.).

    Secondly, the Germanic group is also much more than just German and Scandinavian languages. There is a Continental Western Germanic dialect continuum which includes Low German languages (like Standard Dutch and the traditional speech of northern Germany) and High German languages (Standard German, Yiddish, Swiss German, Luxembourgish), where each language is intelligible with the next one along the chain but intelligbility drops incrementally the further along you go, with the biggest jump cutting straight through Germany just north of Berlin. Then we also have the Anglo-Frisian languages, where the Anglic group (English and Scots) and the Frisian group (West Frisian, North Frisian, Saterlandic) show little-to-no intelligibility between each other (indeed, due to historical contact Frisian is more likely to be descyphered by a Dutch person than an Anglophone).

    Furthermore, there are many more Indo-European families than just Germanic, Romance and Slavic. There is Celtic, where the Brythonic and Goidelic languages are very different (Scottish Gaelic and Irish are to some degree mutually intelligible but neither is with Welsh). There is also Indo-Aryan, which is made up of more than 200 languages spoken in northern India and by Roma people in Europe - again, here intelligibility is on a continuum with several different subgroups like Magadhic (Bengali, Assamese, Oriya), Gujarati-Rajasthani, Pahari (Nepalese), Central Zone (Hindi-Punjabi) or Northwestern Zone (Punjabi-Saraiki-Sindhi). The other big group is Iranian, which includes several different subgroups where there only seems to be much intelligibility within the subgroups.

    It may seem like Slavic is more diverse than these other families, but only because it has a relatively higher number of standardized languages used as the official language of nation-states. In the case of Germanic and Romance there are many more vernaculars with no or little official status (comparable to Rusyn or Kashubian within the Slavic group) and in the case of Indo-Aryan and Iranian the extension of these languages is not visible to Westerners due to fact that many of the sovereign states concerned are highly multilingual (Iran is only 50% Persian, Pakistan 45% Punjabi, India's definitely not more than 30% Hindi-speaking).

    For some scientific measures of the internal diversity of this group, we can use the estimates historical linguists have made on when these families started to split up:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balto-Slavic_languages#cite_note-19
    . Novotná & Blažek (2007) with references. "Classical glottochronology" conducted by Czech Slavist M. Čejka in 1974 dates the Balto-Slavic split to -910±340 BCE, Sergei Starostin in 1994 dates it to 1210 BCE, and "recalibrated glottochronology" conducted by Novotná & Blažek dates it to 1400–1340 BCE.

    This book compares the split between Baltic and Slavic to the split between the two surviving branches of Celtic and the various Indo-Aryan subgroups.
     

    Christo Tamarin

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Let us consider the following four groups of European IE-languages: Celtic, Germanic, Romance, and Slavic.

    They were listed according to the time the common ancestor of the corresponding group split into different languages. The common old Slavic language split most recently - in the 10th century CE. In my opinion, the Romance split in the 5th century, at the time when the West Roman empire recruited legions last. Celtic and Germanic split earlier.

    This may convince us that the mutual intelligibility inside the Slavic group is best than the mutual intelligibility inside Romance. And indeed, such Romance languages as French and Romanian are totally unintelligible and obscure for others and between.

    On the other hand, some PIE language groups consist of just one language and they did not split so far. E.g., Greek, Armenian, Albanian.
     

    Diaspora

    Senior Member
    USA
    Serbocroatian, English
    Here is my personal perspective as someone who is very familiar with English (Germanic), Serbo-Croatian (Slavic) and Spanish (Romance). I agree that Slavic languages have the greatest mutual intelligibility.

    From the English perspective I can't even comprehend basic phrases of other Germanic languages except for Scots and Frisian to a small extent. English has simply deviated too much from other Germanic languages since the Norman invasion. From what I heard, Scandinavian languages are however largely intelligible between themselves.

    From the Spanish perspective I can read Portuguese and understand most of it but hearing it being spoken is a totally different story and I struggle a lot. Italian phonology sounds similar to my ears to Spanish but again it's a struggle to understand anything significant. French and Romanian are totally incomprehensible.

    As a speaker of Shtokavian Croatian, I can understand Macedonian better than Kajkavian Croatian despite the strange Macedonian grammar. Bulgarian is tougher but I can pick it up if I focus more, Slovenian phonology sounds natural to me yet I find many unfamiliar words. Russian and Ukrainian are somewhat understandable if I concentrate a lot. Czech, Slovak and Polish sound Slavic to me but I can maybe understand only 5% to 10% if I'm lucky. Polish orthography in a nightmare.
     

    Karton Realista

    Senior Member
    Polish - Poland
    Czech, Slovak and Polish sound Slavic to me but I can maybe understand only 5% to 10% if I'm lucky. Polish orthography in a nightmare.
    Ó sounds like u, rz sounds like ż (Slovak "ž") , ź and ś are soft z and s, sz sounds like Slovak "š", dż sounds like English "j", J is "y", y is hard i, dź is like in Slovak word "Dieťa" or Russian "деревня" , dz is like deaf dź. Also ch and h sound the same. There is also ł, which is the similar to "л" in "глава" in Russian. Ą and ę are hard to explain to me, they sound kinda French, like Mont Blanc (Pronounce in Polish letters Mą Blą), ę is Frenchy e.
    Polish grammar is so hard that even Polish people make a lot of mistakes in it. There are some rules about which letter is used where, but there's million +1 exceptions. ;)

    The language Polish has least in common is probably Slovene, at least that's my impression (I got it from reading things in Slovene on this forum).
    When I went to Slovakia during my holiday I understood most things. My mother got tricked by "jahoda", which sounds like jagoda (berry) but is actually strawberry (truskawka) and bought strawberry ice cream.
    I don't mean to be insensitive, but Slovak and Czech sound like joke languages to me, Polish uses so many Czech and Slovak words in different meanings and also as derogatory or coloquial terms (examples-robota is in Czech work, in Polish coloquial for work, zmrzlina - ice cream in Slovak, zmarzlina in Polish - something frozen, wieczna zmarzlina - never-melting ice caps).
    Serbian-Croatian sounds like it doesn't have vovels.
    And eastern languages sound to us all like Russian, which we kinda understand, I explained something to an probably Ukrainian (poor bastards, they have migrate here to get better jobs) guy and we kinda understood each other (well, part of that is that I learn Russian as my third language, but still).
     

    klemen

    Member
    Slovene
    Hi,
    it's just my impression, but I have just little experience and would like to ask what other people think about it, but isn't it true, that the degree of difference between Slavic languages is highest among the Indoeuropean groups of languages?
    What I mean is: it looks to me that Portugal, Spanish and Italian (have no idea about Romanian tough) are at least as similar between them, as are similar all the South Slavic languages - BCS, Bulgarian, Slovene... I guess some kind of communication is possible with not that big efforts. Also, the German languages, I guess that German is the only one to be quite separated from its group, but all the Scandinavic ones are also understandable to a quite high degree.
    On the other side, look at the Slavic family: while the East Slavic are also the same languages, the West with an exception to Polish - also, and the South Slavic having biggest difference between them - I guess around 50% of MI roughly, each one from these 3 subgroups will have extreme problems, if not completely impossibility, to understand anyone from the other groups (The only exception would be Bulgarian and the East Slavic group). I think that for example, West Slavic languages and any South Slavic ones with exception maybe to Slovene may be absolutely impossible to understand each other to any degree. I guess the same is true for Slovene and East Slavic family.
    Is your opinion the same, e.g., the MI among the non Slavic families is much higher in general, than among us?
    My opinion is contrary than yours: MI among the slavic languages is higher in general than among non slavic IE languages.

    Example: If you understand a slavic language, you can to a degree understand also other slavic languages (if you can read cyrillic, to a degree also Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian).

    But with other groups it isn't the case:

    - Germanic:
    * knowledge of German alone doesn't help you understand Scandinavian languages and English.
    * knowledge of English alone doesn't help you understand other Germanic languages (including German and Scandinavian languages)

    - Romance:
    * Italian, Spanish and Portugese are to some degree similar and mutually intelligible, but other Romance languages (French, Romanian and Rheto Romance languages) aren't understood by speakers of above mentioned languages.

    - Indo-Iranian:
    These are two groups of languages - Persian and Indo-Aryan, thus differences are very high and are written in different writing systems.
     

    Self-taught

    Member
    Catalan, spanish and english
    Hi, first message here.

    Intelligibility among so many languages, and I believe that many people are mostly interested in auditory intelligibility, is difficult to establish. Anyway, what I have to say is that knowing that there are three slavic main groups I thought I could give you some examples of how similar diverse slavic languages can be. I chose one language for each of the three main groups, though at the last moment I added slovak. I'm not born nor ever lived in any of the slavic countries. The only thing I can tell you is that I'm studying russian.
    With my experience in the romance and germanic languages I believe that mastering quite well a slavic language helps you understand any other slavic language that you choose in a very short time. Let's say two, three or four months depending on which language we aimed. Here are my examples:


    Russian: (Я) вижу свет

    Polish: Widzę światło

    Slovak: Vidím svetlo

    Serbian: Видим светлост


    Russian: мама была на террасе

    Polish: mama była na tarasie

    Slovak:mama bola na terase

    Serbian: мама је била на тераси


    Russian: Он говорит новый язык

    Polish: Mówi się nowego języka

    Slovak: Hovorí sa nový jazyk

    Serbian: Он говори нови језик


    Russian: Я играю в футбол на улице

    Polish: Gram w futbol/piłkęna ulicy

    Slovak: Som hrať futbal na ulici

    Serbian: Ја играм фудбал на улици


    Russian: (Мы) будем в контакте

    Polish: Będziemy w kontakcie

    Slovak: Budeme v kontakte

    Serbian: Бићемо у контакту


    Russian: Метла(есть) на кухне.

    Polish: Miotła jest w kuchni.

    Slovak: Metla je v kuchyni

    Serbian: Метла је у кухињи.


    Russian: (Я) не могу тебя слушать.

    Polish: Nie mogę cię słuchać.

    Slovak: Nemôžem ťa počuť/poslúchať.

    Serbian: Не могу да те слушам.

    So, since the topic about the slavic languages' intelligibility has already been cleared up in this and other forums and it's fine to read them to get the information, I wouldn't waste my time anymore on the topic and I'd start learning a new slavic language with the certainty of learning it in a short time. Yeah, for sure it all depends on the level one wants to achieve, but in my case I'm talking about normal communication, like my english is.

    Hope my examples help. Any correction will be welcome. Thank you! ;)
     
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    marco_2

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I don't know what Karton Realista had in mind - BCS sounds very melodious with its tonal stress and it definitely has vowels (the words like trk or vrba are not so frequent to spoil the impression) :).
     

    Panceltic

    Senior Member
    Slovenščina
    BCS has wovels, despite there are a lot of words without them - such as in Slovene.

    I am not aware of any Slovene word without vowels - except proclitics (z, s, k, h, v [when not pronounced "u"]) which bind with the following word.
     

    Panceltic

    Senior Member
    Slovenščina
    Oh, of course. But this is just an orthographic convention. Words like smrt do have vowels, they are just not written. There are no true vowel-free words in Slovene; as opposed to BCS, where smrt is actually pronounced [smrt].
     

    Karton Realista

    Senior Member
    Polish - Poland
    Russian: Он говорит новый язык

    Polish: Mówi się nowego języka
    Polish: Mówi w nowym języku!!!
    In that context, more speciphically, Posługuje się nowym językiem or kolejnym językiem. (less literal, but more likely to be said)

    Well, I haven't heard much Serbo-Chroatian, so I only know extreme examples.
    This made me chuckle as Polish sounds exactly as if it has no vowels :p
    It has vowels, they are just put between letters that are hard to pronounce, like
    "Chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie w Szczebrzeszynie "
    Ch=h, rz=ž, sz=š, cz=č
     

    Self-taught

    Member
    Catalan, spanish and english
    Polish: Mówi w nowym języku!!!
    In that context, more speciphically, Posługuje się nowym językiem or kolejnym językiem. (less literal, but more likely to be said)
    Hi, Karton

    Thank you for your correction but I still don't know anything about declensions/declinations in polish, yet. It's too soon for me, but I guess one day I'll have the strenght and patience to learn it. It's in my mind to do it, but by now I'm struggling with russian.
    My intention was to just show that such simple sentences in these languages can be made and can be very similar no matter how far away these countries are from each others. As I pointed before there is one language of each of the three main slavic groups, though finally I added slovak.
    Though I'm still with russian as my first slavic language I'm already comparing it with the other ones, and it surprised me how easy it could be to learn Serbo-Croatian. I think it's being called here as BCS (Bosnian-croatian-serbian). In writing there are lots of similarities (slovak has disappointed me a little bit :(), but auditory wise it could be very different.
     

    Karton Realista

    Senior Member
    Polish - Poland
    Hi, Karton, blah blah
    Sorry for being kinda rude, but it's Polish custom to be as bitter as our Vodka. I put those exclamation marks there, because what you have written sounds like: It's said: "of new language".
    I'm struggling with Russian too, so I feel you, man (or whoever). I have (right now) to learn names of female clothes that I don't even know in Polish. ;)
    In writing there are lots of similarities (slovak has disappointed me a little bit
    Well, I'm also trying to learn Slovak and find it relatively easy, it's the language Polish has a lot in common.

    PS. A lot of Polish people don't know how to speak their own language, you're not the only one who makes such mistakes.
     

    Self-taught

    Member
    Catalan, spanish and english
    ·man (or whoever)
    ·Well, I'm also trying to learn Slovak and find it relatively easy, it's the language Polish has a lot in common.

    ·PS. A lot of Polish people don't know how to speak their own language, you're not the only one who makes such mistakes.
    ·Man
    ·I can't consider I'm studying polish or slovak. Just russian and comparing it with the other ones.
    ·You know, the few times that someone asks me what the word declension (or declination) means their reply after my explanation is "I didn't understand anything". :D:D:D
    I wonder why the hell you have to complicate everything so much when speaking. :D
     

    Karton Realista

    Senior Member
    Polish - Poland
    You know, the few times that someone asks me what the word declension (or declination) means their reply after my explanation is "I didn't understand anything". :D:D:D
    I wonder why the hell you have to complicate everything so much when speaking. :D
    Declination - something that changes the noun form depending on context. Except when it doesn't. Mwahahaha, our secret plan to destroy western brains goes unchallenged!

    ·I can't consider I'm studying polish or slovak. Just russian and comparing it with the other ones.
    Good. You're not gonna waste your time perfecting a language that you're never gonna speak properly (I go to school in Warsaw, I've seen foreign or half foreign people and how they talk) , or torture yourself with Slovak words like smrť, srsť or krv, that have, as you may have noticed, no vowels.
     
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