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I've found this Worldwide map or data for linguistic distance here when looking for a way to know if Portuguese is the most similar language to Spanish. Unfortunately neither of these languages are in the marked answer. Is it know through this mean or another, which language is the most similar to Spanish?

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    I'm afraid this will break down to a definition of "language". Does South American Spanish count? What about Aragonese or Asturian? Does Valencian count? – jk - Reinstate Monica Aug 30 '19 at 15:55
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    As pointed out in the previous question, where you found the map, the data in this map is suspect and certainly not definitive. And as @jknappen points out, "closest" is a matter of opinion and definition, neither of which is certain. – jlawler Aug 30 '19 at 17:25
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    Besides the great points others make, I would point out that distance ie intelligibility is not necessarily symmetric. Doublets ie loans from related languages or classical forms, conservative spelling, prescriptivism, exposure and so on make speakers of some variants of some languages much more attuned to related languages. The Iberian situation has plenty of such asymmetry. – Adam Bittlingmayer Aug 31 '19 at 14:06
  • And continuing @jknappen's point, if Valencian does count, is it the Valencian of the Acadèmia de la Llengua Valenciana or the Valencian of Lo Rat Penat? – Peter Taylor Sep 3 '19 at 7:47
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The map you have doesn't pass the sniff test for me. I don't imagine anyone realistically saying Catalonian being closer to Spanish than Galician. I can't speak for other Romance groups, but for Iberian languages, the chart on Wikipedia is in line with my experience (I speak Asturian, Castilian, and Portuguese, and regularly consume media in Galician and Aragonese).

The problem, however, when doing a lexical analysis is how you handle words that exist in both languages but have different frequencies of use, or with pronunciations that line up closer in one than another.

For example, cerrar (to close) exists in Portuguese, but fechar is used infinitely more. On the other hand, in both Asturian and Aragonese, the verb is zarrar. Which is closer? You can argue for Portuguese because cerrar is identical — but should the comparison really be with fechar which is more used and thus you could argue for Asturian or Aragonese with zarrar?

Or looking at Spanish’s despertar to Asturian's espertar, Portuguese and Catalan's despertar and Mirandese’s spertar which one is closer? Do we count them all the same since it's a direct etymological link and the only difference is the morphological form of *des ? How do we factor in Asturian's esconsoñar and Portuguese and Mirandese’s acordar? Do we link Asturian more closely because the two are about equally common in it but (de)spertar is rare in PT/MWL?

Do we let pronounciation factor in because some languages like Mirandese indicate vowels that would be spoken (but not written) in others like Portuguese? If you do, how do you decide which spoken variant to use? Gato in Portuguese/Mirandese is gato which might make them look closer to Spanish, but oftentimes the pronunciation will trend closer towards /u/ (Mirandese) or even silent (Portuguese) in which case … are they really closer to Spanish than Asturian’s gatu?

If you don't establish a clear methodology for how you're comparing things, then the numbers are meaningless. Most likely I would say that Ladino would be the language closest, but it has a modern writing system that probably obscures that closeness and I'm not familiar enough with it to say definitely. Otherwise, any of the West Iberian languages would be good candidates and I'm not sure you can say confidentally which one is lexically closer than the others for the reasons above.

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  • Can you give me your personal feeling about it here in the commentaries? If you speak those languages, and I'm pretty sure you have a good idea of catalan since it's from the area of the languages you know, which one sounds more closer to spanish for you? – Pablo Aug 30 '19 at 19:20
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    @Pablo not all of the similarity is purely lexical though. I don't believe Catalonian to be the closest by any stretch of the imagination. From a pure "if I listen to it do I understand it" it absolutely would need to be Ladino: youtube.com/watch?v=6q323m0RRPU . You can compare it to Aragonese ( youtube.com/watch?v=SkBIv78gEMk ) or to Asturian ( youtube.com/watch?v=AkSzEtbX9Wo ), Eonaviego/Fala ( youtube.com/watch?v=TGIVhHJ6e8U ), Mirandese ( youtube.com/watch?v=-gnJtZFyzZA ) or Galician youtube.com/watch?v=WDgxTUwEXes – user0721090601 Aug 30 '19 at 20:04
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    -1 : it's a bit harsh because I like your answer, but your "sniff test" doesn't focus on the way the lexical distances have been computed. You may critic the shortness of the lexic list used for computing the distances, or other things in the method. But your answer carefully avoid to enter in such details. If we look at the original answer mentionning this map, there are some clear details: – Stephane Rolland Sep 1 '19 at 6:41
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    @StephaneRolland the point is, why limit to a Swadesh list? Do you count Portuguese ça as equivalent to Spanish za or Asturiano dixo as equivalent to Spanish dijo (because, prior to orthographic reform, Spanish used ça and dixo). If not, then you are letting the artifices of writing influence the LD. And of course the words chosen for analysis effect things greatly. So you have two very arbitrary numbers being plugged into an equation. – user0721090601 Sep 1 '19 at 17:15
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    @StephaneRolland, you seem to be confusing a hypothetical used to illustrate a definition with a claim of fact. guifa didn't say that anyone (much less Tyshchenko) is claiming that the distance Basque-Spanish is smaller than the distance Spanish-French: they said that (1) if someone were to claim that then it would cast doubt on the validity of their method; (2) the claim which Tyshchenko does make that the distance Spanish-Catalan is less than Spanish-Gallego is not as extreme as that example, but still enough to make guifa mistrustful. – Peter Taylor Sep 3 '19 at 7:33
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NB: The problem with the other answer by guifa is: it claims that there is no methodology behind the lexical distances used in the map in question, and that those numbers are meaningless. I'm ill at ease: Reading entirely the two original answers and their links shows otherwise (though unfortunately I can't read Russian to comment Konstantin Tishchenko's work).


In the map in the marked answer: Catalan language is displayed as the closest to Spanish.

Galician and Portuguese, both are more distant than Catalan.

Looking the original map in Russian by Prof. Konstantin Tishchenko in the other answer, Galician AND Occitan/Provencal are closer to spanish than Portugese.


About the validity and the methods used for the two maps: the answers mentions Levenstein distance, as a systematic method for computing the distance between two sentences. Check those answers for more detailled informations.

The answers suggest that the author Konstantin Tishchenko used only a limited set of very usual words to calculate the Levenstein distance, or a similar metric.

e.g. if you look at the Swadesh list that could have been used, then you notice it is really short a list! Only a hundred of words.

That may be insufficient for saying that two languages are close. Maybe. But it is another matter to state that those distances are meaningless, and I don't subscribe to that point of view.

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    This is very strange. Even though I can understand something of catalan by speaking spanish, I can't understand as much of it as portuguese. Could there be other factors to consider that those maps aren't counting? – Pablo Aug 30 '19 at 19:14
  • @Pablo Catalan and Occitan belong to a completely different branch of Western Romance than the one on which one can find Castilian and Asturian, Portuguese and Galician. The Languedoc branch differs from the latter branch by about 20% measured in shared cognates in the overall lexis. We're talking low 70s versus 90s. – tchrist Sep 1 '19 at 13:14
  • @Pablo I heard Portuguese people half-jokingly saying that Portuguese language evolved from Castilian by changing the pronunciation so that Spanish people could not understand. Are you referring to spoken or written Portuguese? – bli Sep 6 '19 at 14:30

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