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"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more



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Subject: Te/Ti, Me/Mi, Se/Si of Spanish and Italian
Question: I've noticed an interesting phenomenon in Spanish and Italian -- when it's 'te' in Spanish, it's 'ti' in Italian and vice versa, like Spanish "Te Amo" vs Italian "Ti Amo" and Spanish A ti vs Italian A te. This is the same for 'me' and 'mi', "a mi" in Spanish and "a me" in Italian. The Spanish say "me interesa" and the Italians say "m'interessa" (from mi interessa). Then also for 'si' and 'se', the Spanish say "como se dice" and the Italians say come "si dice." The Spanish say 'si' for if and the italians 'se'.

It seems like there is a pattern of 'e' and 'i' in Italian and Spanish, like when it's 'i' in Spanish it's 'e' in Italian and vice versa.

Can you explain this pattern to me? I'm sure it has to do with how they evolved from Latin.

Thank you!

Reply: This is just one consequence of a very general fact, namely that sound-laws normally operate consistently throughout a language. In this case evidently the /e/ of Latin has remained the same in Spanish but has regularly changed to /i/ in Italian. I'm not a Romance-language specialist so I don't know exactly what happened in Italian (whether _all_ Latin /e/'s became /i/, or just in unstressed monosyllables, or in some other identifiable circumstance); but we expect that sounds will change in a regular way rather than sporadically, this way in one word and that way in another word. This is technically known as the "Neogrammarian Principle".

Geoffrey Sampson
Reply From: Geoffrey Richard Sampson      click here to access email
 
Date: 11-Jan-2014
 
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Te/Ti, Me/Mi, Se/Si of Spanish and Italian    James L Fidelholtz     (10-Jan-2014)

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