Similarity between Greek and Spanish phonemes

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Kraus, Jan 20, 2010.

  1. Kraus Senior Member

    Italian, Italy
    Hi everybody :)

    I've noticed that Greek and Spanish, among other things, have three sounds in common:

    1) Spanish intervocalic "c" or "z" = Greek "θ" (unvoiced interdental fricative)
    2) Spanish "g" = Greek "γ" (voiced velar fricative);
    3) Spanish "d" = Greek "δ" (voiced dental fricative).

    Is it simply a coincidence or is there a historical (philological) reason?

    Thanks in advance for your help! :)
  2. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    I think it is quite safe to say that there's no direct relation between those similar sounds of Spanish and Greek: both Spanish and Greek sounds only developed after the division of the Roman Empire into a western and an Eastern half, and especially the Spanish sound changes probably are even dated much later (the Greek ones could be earlier for all I know).

    A direct influence of Greek on Spanish is highly unlikely, one would have to prove that significant influence through Greek traders on the Iberian peninsula took place in the last centuries of the Western Roman Empire and in the early Middle Ages - and I think there is good reason to believe that no such influence existed.
    So highly unlikely at best.

    The opposite, influence of Spanish on Greek, I'd not even consider worth discussing.
  3. Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Hauts-de-Seine, France
    English (Ireland)
    It is quite astonishing how close Greek and (European) Spanish can sound to each other (or at least to the untrained ear). I personally still have a good deal of difficulty in telling them apart if I don't pay attention.
    I presume there is a link there somewhere, it would be remarkable indeed that two languages have such similar sound systems without one of them impacting the other somewhere along the line. It could be that Greek phonology had an impact on Latin, especially given the influence of Magna Grecia, subsequently leading to the emergence of a similar sound system in Spanish, but it's just a wild guess.
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2010
  4. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    The g and d sounds reflect natural sound evolution and do not need to be explained as foreign influence (and they are not quite the same sounds in Spanish and Greek). It is notable that b, v sounds in Spanish fit the same pattern as the g and d sounds but not the pattern of the Greek beta, delta, gamma sounds.

    The Spanish interdental z is more interesting. At some point, before several Spanish consonants became devoiced, Spanish s had developed sounds, voiced and unvoiced, that could be distinguished from the c, z sounds resulting from dropping the first part of the voiced and unvoiced c-cedilla africate sounds (that sounded like ts, dz). Then after the devoicing, or along with it, the distinguishable s sound(s) underwent pressure to move forward (toward the c, z sound(s)), and different regions handled this in different ways.

    One way of handling the changing s sound(s) was to shift the c, z sound to be less like an s. It makes sense for the c, z sound(s) to move forward ahead of the s sound(s).

    Of course if a Spaniard, just after the devoicing, had contact with Greek, there might have been some confusion about whether z was a mispronunciation of zeta or an incorrect way to write theta.

    By the way, Basque has the distinguishable s sound of Old Spanish, and Arabic has a theta-like sound.
  5. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    It seems to me that quite unrelated languages can sometimes sound alike.
  6. clevermizo Senior Member

    St. Louis, MO
    English (USA), Spanish
    I've been hearing Greek and Spanish my whole life and the fact that they sound similar for half a second is analogous to Portuguese and a Slavic language like Russian sounding similar for half a second. Once I start paying attention though I don't notice anything other than cursory similarities.

    For example, the /γ/ & /δ/ have audible fricative "buzzing" in Greek. The equivalent approximants in Spanish don't sound like this at all, to me. It's subtle, but still audibly different enough. We're also not talking about etymological correspondences. The "similarity between Greek and Spanish phonemes" is just convergent evolution, like whales and dolphins having fins but different underlying structure.
  7. Kraus Senior Member

    Italian, Italy
    Thanks to everybody for your posts! :)
  8. XiaoRoel

    XiaoRoel Senior Member

    Vigo (Galiza)
    galego, español
    Hay muchas similitudes:
    1. Un sistema de cinco vocales [a], [e], , [o], , aunque el numero de grafemas para representarlas es más abundante en griego.
    2. En cuanto a las consonantes: hay muchas similitudes ya que ambos idiomas comparten , [ƀ], [p], [t], [d], [k], [g], [θ], [y], [r], [ɾ], [ṋ], , [f], [m], [n], [ŋ], [l], [x], [ks/gs].
    3. Ambas lenguas provienen del indoeuropeo y sus evoluciones fonéticas han sido parecidas (el español por intermedio del latín que no sufre influencias en lo fonético del griego). Es especialmente similar el sistema vocálico, aunque la frecuencia de aparición de en griego (iotacismo) es infintamente a la frecuencia de esta vocal en español. Seguramente he olvidado algunas correspondencias (escribo de memoria) y hay que tener en cuenta las pronunciaciones diatópicas en griego como en español, y los alófonos influídos por los sonidos colindantes, pero en general el parecido es asombroso, más teniendo en cuenta la distancia geográfica entre ambas lenguas y la poca influencia cultural de lo griego medieval y moderno en el español (y viceversa).
  9. viaggiatore21 New Member

    Greek and Spanish (Castillano) have many same sounds in common but in fact the structure and vocabulary are completely different. When I visited Spain I felt like home hearing the Spanish sound all around me. Spanish is so much similar with Italian. I speak Italian and I can understand Spanish pretty easy when I read I text because they are both Latin languages.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 10, 2013
  10. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Portuguese sounds very much like Polish (lots of nasal vowels and sh, zh sounds). If you hear people from a distance it can be difficult to decide which of the two languages they are speaking.
  11. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    There are only so many phonemes possible and cultures tend to use the majority of them in their languages. So a lot of them simply must be identical or similar in various languages that have no direct connection. That is no coincidence, but a simple fact, based on mathematical and statistical logic.

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