Why Does Greek Sound Like Spanish?!


Hello everyone, welcome to the Langfocus Channel, and my name is Paul. Today we’ll be looking at why Greek sounds like Spanish. What? Greek Sounds like Spanish?! If you’ve never noticed it yourself, than I’m sure that idea sounds ridiculous. I mean, they’re both Indo-European languages and share a common ancestor language, but Greek essentially forms its own branch of Indo-European, while Spanish is a member of the Romance language branch. But many native speakers of both languages say that they sound alike. For example, some Spanish speakers say that Greek sounds like a Spanish speaker talking in a made-up language without even trying to fake a foreign accent. But do they really sound alike? Before we go any further, let’s stop for a minute and hear a sample of each language. Listen with an open mind, and see if you think they sound alike. First, European Spanish. [Spanish] ‘Barcelona is located on the Mediterranean coast. It is famous for its modernist architecture, its mild climate, and its open-minded people.’ ‘The city is bordered by the sea to the east, and by mountains to the west, and it has about 4,000 years of history.’ ‘Its primary attraction is the Sagrada Familia, a Catholic basilica designed by Antoni Gaudí, that is still in construction 136 years after the work began.’ And now, Modern Greek. [Greek] ‘Athens is my city. It is Greece’ capital. Located in Attica prefecture, near the Aegean sea, Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities. Its main monument being the Parthenon, the most attractive places here are Plaka, Thiseio, and Monastiraki. The majority of Greeks live and work in the capital. Next to Athens can be found many towns and islands, that its residents can visit for a getaway.’ So, what do you think? Do they sound alike? I’m willing to bet that a lot of you said “yes”. So what makes them sound similar? In many ways, they have similar phonology. This is particularly true when we’re comparing Modern Greek to European Spanish, or “Iberian” Spanish. Similar consonants. If we ignore writing and focus only on sounds, the Spanish and Greek consonant inventories — — that’s just a fancy way of saying “the consonants that appear in each language” — — are almost exactly the same. I imagine that a lot of you are more familiar with Spanish consonants than Greek ones, but Greek also shares most of the consonants that you might consider “characteristically Spanish”. Xa. Here is a Spanish example: (Spanish speaking) Here is a Greek example: (Greek speaking) ʎa… (Spanish speaking) (Greek speaking) ɤa… This represents the soft G sound in Spanish. For example: (Spanish speaking), meaning “giant”. Here, the second G is pronounced as a soft G: ɤ (reiterated Spanish speaking) And in this Greek word, meaning “blue” (Greek speaking) In Greek, this letter is always pronounced with that soft G sound. θa… a Spanish example: (Spanish speaking), meaning “city”, and a Greek example: (Greek speaking), meaning “anger”. The “θ” sound doesn’t appear in most European languages, so it may stand out as quite a noticeable characteristic of Spanish and Greek and make them sound somewhat similar. Though, it’s worth noting that this “θ” sound is mainly a feature of Iberian Spanish, “European” Spanish, and doesn’t appear in other dialects of Spanish. ɲa… a Spanish example: (Spanish speaking), meaning “bathroom”. In Standard Greek this isn’t really a separate consonant, but basically, the same sound can occur if “n” is followed by certain diphthongs, and it’s also used in some Greek dialects. In Greek: (Greek speaking), also meaning “restroom”. But wait a minute. Why is that word the same in both languages? Well, we’ll get back to that a little later. And then there are rhotic sounds. Rhotic sounds (or “R” sounds) are partly similar and partly different. Spanish has two R sounds: an alveolar tap: ɾa …and an alveolar trill: Rrrrrrrrrr (Greek speaking), meaning “stop”. This rhotic sound is an alveolar tap. (Greek enunciating “ɾ”) In Greek, trills occur occasionally in certain positions, but they’re short. The main sound that occurs is the alveolar tap, similar to the Spanish one, just a “ɾ” sound. And between vowels, it can sometimes also be an alveolar approximant: “r” like the R sound at the beginning of words in English, but the most common realization of the Greek rhotic is as a tap, as it is in Spanish. (Spanish speaking), meaning “window”. This is also an alveolar tap. (Greek speaking), (reiterated Spanish speaking) Similar vowels. When it comes to the vowels of Spanish and Greek, the similarity is clear as a bell. Both languages have the same set of five vowels: (Spanish enunciating “a”) (Greek enunciating “a”) (Spanish enunciating “e”) (Greek enunciating “e”) (Spanish enunciating “i”) (Greek enunciating “i”) (Spanish enunciating “o”) (Greek enunciating “o”) (Spanish enunciating “u”) (Greek enunciating “u”) Also neither language has any phonemic distinction between short vowels and long vowels. In Greek, there are more than five symbols to indicate these vowels because some symbols represent identical sounds. And the vowel “u” is represented by a digraph. But in terms of phonetics, there are just those five vowels. Now let’s have a look at a couple of words from each of the short sample speeches we heard before. From the Spanish sample: (Spanish speaking) This means “modernist architecture”, and we can see each of the five vowels in this phrase, and no others. (reiterated Spanish speaking) And a phrase from the Greek sample: (Greek speaking) This means “the capital city”. Again, each of the five vowels are present, and no others. (reiterated Greek speaking) Both languages contain some diphthongs, but since diphthongs are combinations of the five basic vowels, just with two of them side by side in one syllable, many of the diphthongs are the same. Spanish has (Spanish enunciating “ai/ay”) For example: (Spanish speaking), meaning “there is” or “there are”. With its silent H, this word just sounds like the diphthong itself. And Greek has (Greek enunciating “ai”) For example: (Greek speaking), meaning “donkey”. Spanish has (Spanish enunciating “oi/oy”) (Spanish speaking), meaning “today”. And Greek has (Greek enunciating “oi”) (Greek speaking), meaning “sucker”. Spanish also has several diphthongs that begin with the sound “i” (Spanish enunciating “ia, ie, io, iu”) For example: (Spanish speaking), meaning “city”. And in Greek, there are similar diphthongs that begin with E and are followed by a vowel with an accent. For example: (Spanish speaking), meaning “children”. And in Spanish, there are some other diphthongs that are not common in Modern Greek and mostly appear in loanwords, so the diphthongs are not entirely the same. Syllable structure. In terms of syllable structure, Spanish and Greek are fairly similar. Both languages contain a lot of open syllables, meaning that the syllables end in a vowel rather than a consonant. For example: the Spanish word: (Spanish speaking), meaning “van”, and a Greek word: (Greek speaking), meaning “I understand”. You might notice that these words end in vowels, which of course, means that their final syllables end in vowels. The other syllables end in vowels too. The prominence of these open syllables gives a certain sound and rhythm to the languages. Both languages have closed syllables as well, but in both languages, only a limited number of consonants can appear in the coda. In other words, the end of a closed syllable, especially at the end of a word. In both languages, the final consonant of the word, if there is a final consonant, can be “n” or “s”, and in Greek that’s it. In Spanish, a few other sounds are possible, including the rhotic “l”, “d”, and “θ”. But the most common seem to be “n”, “s”, and the rhotic sound. In Greek, (Greek speaking), and in Spanish, (Spanish speaking) In Spanish, one of the reasons the final “s” sound is common is that it indicates the plural, and since masculine nouns commonly end in “o”, and feminine nouns commonly end in “a”, many plural words end in “os” in the masculine or “as” in the feminine. (Spanish speaking) There are two similar endings in Greek, not for the plural, but they indicate the nominative case. But hearing a lot of “os” and “as” at the end of words might add to the similar sound of the languages. (Greek speaking) You may have noticed that in both the Spanish speakers and Greek speakers, pronunciation the S sound is a little different from mine, especially after “o”. That’s because in Greek and European Spanish, at least in Castilian Spanish, the S sound is retracted, pronounced a little further back on the roof of the mouth than the English “s”. So after “o” it may sound like something between “s” and “sh”. (Spanish speaking) (Greek speaking) On top of that, there are noticeable similarities between Spanish and Greek verb conjugations. Let’s take a look at the present tense forms of the verbs meaning “make” or “do”. “I do”… (Spanish speaking)… (Greek speaking) “You do” singular… (Spanish speaking)… (Greek speaking) “He does” or “she does”… (Spanish speaking)… (Greek speaking) “We do”… (Spanish speaking)… (Greek speaking) “You do” plural… (Spanish speaking)… (Greek speaking) “They do”… (Spanish speaking)… (Greek speaking) I’m sure you would agree that there’s some similarity in these conjugations, and since endings like these appear so often, they have an effect on the overall sound of each language. Stress and syllable timing. In the video, “Why Does Portuguese Sound Like Russian?”, I said that both Portuguese and Russian are stress-timed languages, meaning that stressed syllables become longer, and unstressed vowels undergo a lot of reduction. Well, there are also syllable-timed languages, in which each syllable is more or less the same length and there isn’t a lot of vowel reduction. Spanish is a syllable-timed language, and Greek is sometimes considered a syllable-timed language, but it’s often left unclassified, or is thought to be somewhere in the middle between stress-timed and syllable-timed. It’s not heavily stress-timed like Portuguese or Russian, but stressed syllables are somewhat longer, and there is some vowel reduction that affects the quality of the vowel, but not too much. If we look at this graph here, we can see that Greek vowels vary in length somewhat more than Spanish vowels, but Greek is in the middle, between Spanish and languages that are normally considered stress-timed. But other direction at the bottom represents the variability of time between vowels, and Greek and Spanish are almost the same in this regard. That similarity, along with the lack of strong vowel reduction in either language, might contribute to the perception of their similar sound and rhythm. Vocabulary. So, we’ve looked at the phonological similarities of Spanish and Greek, but what about the similarities in vocabulary? Well, I think this is not as important to the way the languages sound as phonology because a lot of the people who think they sound alike don’t really know many words in either language. They’re judging the similarity just based on how the languages sound. But some people may also recognize some similar words in either language. Spanish developed from Latin, and Latin adopted some vocabulary of Greek origin. These are some Spanish words that ultimately came from Greek, alongside their Modern Greek equivalent (Spanish/Greek speakers alternating enunciation) And there are also some Latin-derived words in Greek, some of them from Italian or regional languages of Italy. So to the extent that Spanish and Italian sound similar, those Greek words might sounds Spanish-y, or at least Romance-based. For example: (Greek speaking), from Latin “porta”. And in Spanish: (Spanish speaking) (Greek speaking), from Italian “bagno”. And in Spanish: (Spanish speaking) (Greek speaking), from Venetian “cusina”. And in Spanish: (Spanish speaking) But shared cognate vocabulary is certainly nothing unique among these two languages. There are lots of words of Greek origin and lots of words of Latin origin in all of the Indo-European languages of Europe. The presence of those cognate words doesn’t make those languages sound similar, but the sounds of those words make the languages sound similar. That includes the open syllables and the final vowels. That includes the similar vowel sounds and the similar consonants. In other words the phonology of the two languages is what makes them sound similar. The question of the day! After hearing the spoken samples of Spanish and Greek side-by-side in the video, do you think they sound similar? What similarities do you notice? And for native speakers of either language, have you ever thought that Spanish and Greek sound similar? What do you think gave you that impression? Be sure to follow Langfocus on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And once again thank you to all of my amazing Patreon supporters, especially these people right here on the screen for their top-tier Patreon pledges. So, many many special thanks to them. I apologize for my strange voice today. I caught a cold last week, but you made it to the end of the video, so thank you for watching, and have a nice day. (outro music playing)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *