Why do Portuguese and French sound so different from Spanish?

Portuguese and Spanish have a very similar grammar, vocabulary and structure. However, they are phonetically very different. Portuguese pronunciation is more like French, and Spanish is Italian. But before knowing the reason why Portuguese sounds the way it sounds, we must know the process that shaped the French pronunciation.

French is a Romance language that descends from Gallo-Roman, an ancient Romance language, spoken by the Gauls and more specifically by the Belgians. Ancient Gaul (now France) was always a multilingual place. It is estimated that at the time of the French Revolution, three quarters of the French population spoke a language other than French. The alteration of its pronunciation could be due to the Celts and Germans.

The Gauls spoke a Celtic language, and the Franks a Germanic language; These two languages ​​had a lot of influence in French. There are written testimonies that Gaulish continued to be used in isolated places until the 4th or 5th century AD, although most of the descendants of the Gauls would have been romanizing and adopting a Romance language (Gallo-Roman) as a frank language instead of Gaulish, that’s why a Latin language replaced the former Celtic language. It is for this reason that much of the French vocabulary is of Celtic origin, specifically from the French. The following table shows some words that the French language took from the Gaulish.

French Gaulish
Aller (to go) Allu
Soc (ploughshare) Soccos
Pison (finch) Pincio
Mélèze (larch) Melissos
Manteau (coat) Mantlon
Maint (many, much) Manti
Lotte (monkfish) Lotta
Gober (to gobble, guzzle) Gobbo
Glaner (to glean) Glennu (I glean)
Grenon (mustache), ancient french Grenna
Dun (fortress) ancient french Dunon

Gaul from the third century was co-populated by the Franks, and the first Christian king of the Franks emerged. , Clovis I, in 486 A.D. His domain was called Francia and currently retains the same name; At that time that territory covered the north of present-day France, present-day Holland and much of Germany. In Francia, the nobility was bilingual, they spoke Frankish and Gallo-Roman. The Franks spoke Frankish, a Germanic language, while a part of the peasant population spoke Gallo-Roman, a Romance language, which several centuries later became old French. The Germanic language continued to be spoken among kings and nobility until the 10th century, after which it was replaced by ancient French.

As a result of more than 500 years of German-Latin bilingualism, many Germanic words were incorporated into the Gallo-Romanic language when it was transformed into ancient French in 900 AD. And after the Franks stopped from speaking Frankish, the old French they spoke tended to have a strong Frankish influence, with a distinctive Frankish accent, which introduced new phonemes, the stress-timing, Germanic grammar and syntactical elements, and contained many more Germanic loans that were not found in ancient French spoken by native Gallo-Romans. Although the Gallo-Roman population far exceeded the Franks, the position of the Franks as leaders and landowners lent their version of ancient French a greater power of influence over that of the Gallo-Romans; therefore, it became the basis of later versions of the French language, including modern French. It is for this reason that the pronunciation of modern French has a rather different and undeniably “Germanic” sound when compared to other Romance languages, such as Italian and Spanish.

Although approximately 10% of modern French words are derived from Frankish, Frankish was not the only source of Germanic words for French. French also borrowed words from Old Norse, Gothic languages such as Burgundian and other words were borrowed from modern and ancient Dutch and German

Breton is another language that possibly influenced French pronunciation. This language is the only Celtic language currently spoken in France and has nasal vowels and a French-like r. The Bretons emigrated from the southwest of Great Britain and arrived in France in the 5th century fleeing from the Anglo-Saxon invasión. Part of the current pronunciation of French may have arisen from the influence of Breton, or rather, much of the Breton population began to speak French and retained features of the Breton pronunciation such as nasal vowels. Originally French did not have the sounds that characterize its current pronunciation, its pronunciation was more similar to Spanish or Italian.

Why does Portuguese sound so different from Spanish?

Portuguese pronunciation as well as French pronunciation was also influenced by the Celtic and Germanic languages; This makes sense if we consider that the Iberian Peninsula has always been a multilingual land. Some of the languages ​​spoken in the Iberian Peninsula before the arrival of the Romans in 218 a. C. they were Aquitanian, Tartessian, Lusitanian, Celtiberian, Phoenician and Gothic. All have been lost in history (except perhaps Aquitanian, which may have survived in his possible daughter language, Basque). But more specifically, in the current territory of Galicia and Portugal, languages ​​such as Suebian and Lusitanian were spoken.

Within the languages ​​that could have influenced Portuguese pronunciation are Suebian and Lusitanian. The Suevi were a Germanic tribe, so their language was not very different from the Gothic of the Visigoths. The Suevi settled in the fifth century in the former territory of Gallaecia, which was once the north of Portugal and the northwest of Spain. The Suevi eventually formed a stable kingdom (Kingdom of the Suevi) that covered Portugal, Leon, Spanish Extremadura and western Andalusia to its fullest extent. This period of domination would last very little, since the Visigoths entered Hispania in 418 AD with the imperial mandate to get rid of the invading Suevi people, who were forced to go back to the north and, in the middle of the fifth century, their territory was limited to the confines of the Roman province of Gallaecia.

The influence of the Suebian language could not have been very great since it does not have many of the Portuguese sounds like the nasal vowels. The only inheritance left by the Suebian language in Portuguese is approximately a total of 300 words of Germanic origin such as guerra (war), esgrimir (to fence), guardar (to keep) and trégua (truce); many of those words can also be found in the Spanish language; Fruit of the 300 years of Suevi and Visigothic rule in northwestern Spain.

Portuguese should also have been influenced by a Celtic language, just like French. In the current territories of Spain and Portugal the Celts also arrived from Great Britain, although there are researchers such as Ramón Sainero Sánchez, who claim that the Celtic culture had its origin in the Iberian Peninsula. Some Celtic peoples that existed in the Iberian Peninsula or that have Celtic influence are the Cantabrians, Asturians and Lusitanians.

If a Celtic language such as Breton has the nasal vocals of French and Portuguese, then possibly they also had other Celtic languages ​​that existed in the Iberian Peninsula. Some of these languages ​​continue to keep many mysteries, such as Lusitanian, language of the Lusitanians, which was spoken in the ancient Roman province of Lusitania, which occupied the current region of Portugal and existed since the second century B.C. Even today the words lusophony and lusophone are still used to refer to countries that have Portuguese as their official language and Portuguese speakers, respectively. These words are derived from the Portuguese root of the word Lusitanians. This shows us that the phonetic influence of the Lusitanian must have been very great. This language does not have an exact classification, because linguists do not know for sure if it is a Celtic or italic language, since it has characteristics of both languages.

Although a study has not yet been found that shows the exact explanation of why Portuguese phonetics is so different from other Romance languages ​​such as Spanish and Italian, it can be assumed that Portuguese took its pronunciation from another language. Spanish and Portuguese are more similar in grammatical structure than other languages, only pronunciation is diametrically different. The only explanation that could clarify this is that the Portuguese language has gone through a process in which a linguistically different group such as the Celts or Germans has adopted Portuguese while retaining the pronunciation and accent of their mother tongues; similar to what happened with the old French, which thanks to the Franks obtained a Germanic accent and a different pronunciation.

The theory that a Celtic language spoken in that territory influenced the pronunciation of Portuguese is still possible.


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