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I speak English and Bengali with similar proficiency, at least in the 'lower' registers of the languages. Since I was a small child in a bilingual home I've been struck by how, despite having different vocabularies, the two languages seemed very similar - faithful word-by-word translations could be performed on sentences without need to restructure or heavily rework their fundamentals or word order.. This contrasted later with my frequent frustration at the French and German learnt later at school, here even the concepts behind the language often seemed alien and upside-down.

I was wondering if any work has been done to compare the 'similarity' between languages and, if so, what languages most closely each other in this way. And which are most like English.

UPDATE: After reading this article at Wired.com I realise that the question I'm asking involves 'lexical distance' in addition to syntactic distance, a phrase I think I just made-up. The diagram above shows the LD between European languages - does anyone have anything similar to show LD/sd between global or Indo-European ones?

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migrated from english.stackexchange.com Aug 25 '12 at 22:23

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5arx, you may find What characteristics are unique to the English language? of interest –  jwpat7 Aug 25 '12 at 20:50
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English is deemed closer to French and German than to Bengali. So perhaps your familiarity with English and Bengali deceives you. –  GEdgar Aug 25 '12 at 20:53
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It could be that Bengali is normally analysed using terms borrowed from English grammar, whereas different methods of analysis are used for German and French. I believe Frisian is quite close to English, and Dutch is somewhat close to. –  Cerberus Aug 26 '12 at 0:07
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One of the problems this runs into is that of determining whether a variety is a dialect of English or a closely-related language. Eg Scots is for me (Australian) largely unintelligible so could be considered a separate language, but it's very close to English. –  Gaston Ümlaut Aug 26 '12 at 1:20
    
Fairly closely related languages can often have different word orders. For instance many Germanic languages besides English require the finite verb to be in the second position of a sentence, but English does not. It could be that besides being related to English, Bengali also happens to have most of the same word-order characteristics. –  hippietrail Jan 28 '13 at 4:39
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2 Answers 2

Check out this Indo-European language family tree image from Wikipedia:

Excerpt

and also Indo European languages and Latin influence in English.

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+1 for revealing the (former) existence of the fascinating language Yola to me. I'd never heard of it before. –  hippietrail Jan 11 at 16:14
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Scots is the closest language to English, after that perhaps Norwegian. Norwegian seems slightly closer to English than either Danish or Swedish is.

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I don't have any credible sources to back it up but I thought it was general consensus that the closest [major] language to English was Dutch. –  acattle Aug 26 '12 at 4:55
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@acattle while Dutch and English are closely related, both being West Germanic languages, Scots is usually said to be the closest relative of English with Frisian the next closest, all three being in the Anglo-Frisian group. –  Gaston Ümlaut Aug 26 '12 at 13:18
    
@GastonÜmlaut I was actually referring to the comment about Norwegian. –  acattle Aug 26 '12 at 15:22
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Dutch is considered a close relative but a) the question is about typological similarity rather than genetic language relations and b) Frisian is considered closer to English than Dutch. Also interesting along the "languages vs dialects" axis would be AAVE (African American Vernacular English) and various Creoles such as Tok Pisin, Bislama, etc. –  hippietrail Aug 26 '12 at 17:13
    
@Ste Ríkharðsson: Bokmål or Nynorsk? –  hippietrail Aug 29 '12 at 19:57
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