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Why do a number of languages have similar words?

Why do a number of languages have similar words?

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Mariana S. | Most recommended tutor (100+) SAT,ACT,PRAXIS, SSAT,TOEFL,GRE...Most recommended tutor (100+) SAT,ACT,PR...
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This is a very interesting question and opens other questions as well. There are many words in different languages that sound similar or even the same.  The wonderful answers of the other tutors give examples of languages using only the Latin alphabet.

 One look at the Slavic languages. For example the word "heart" in all Slavic languages sounds almost the same.  Several examples:

Bulgarian - surce, Macedonian - srce, Russian - serdce, Czech - srdce, Croatian - srce, Serbian - srce, Slovac - srdce, Slovenian - srce, Polish - serce. 

Notice that they use two different alphabets - Cyrillic and Latin, but the word sounds so similar in the different languages!  (The site does not use Cyrillic, so I cannot write the words with the right letters here, sorry.)  Back in the time when tribes were travelling from a place to another place, they were very often sharing land, and respectively - words, customs, culture...  Geographically close, they developed many similar things together.

Languages that have a common Latin root, share words, too, as the tutors before me wrote.  

But how about some words that sound very similar in languages that don't have anything in common, like the word "no" , for example? One can find more than 30 languages (from different Language families) in which the word "no" sounds so similar, or at least starts with the sound "n"!  Including Japanese. (But excluding Greek in which the word "no" is pretty exotic "ohi" (oxi).)

Languages borrow words from one-another.  Words like "computer" and "Internet" cross language barriers and don't need translation in any language. As the world is getting smaller, and people are travelling everywhere, more words get accepted in different languages.

Languages are fascinating!  There is a saying: "One lives as many lives as many languages one speaks."



I thought I would try copying and pasting "??????", and it works!
Japanese, like Basque, is an isolated language.
Kenneth H. | Reading/Study Skills, English and ESLReading/Study Skills, English and ESL

Many words stem from Latin, and they will be very similar in sound, spelling, and pronunciation.  French, Spanish, and English fall into this particular situation.  Plus, as time changes, so do words.  There are more  words put into the English dictionary every year, and many of them stemming from another language.


English is Germonic in origion not Latin.  I took a Cultural Anthropology class in college that studied the origion of languages and it maped many of the languages used in the precent in Europe and Asia, English is thought to have had a Germonic origion.  While some of the words were derived from Latin when the Roman Empire invaded the British Ilse, the root of the langege can be traced to the Germonic langueges.

Sarah, you're correct that English is classified as a Germanic language by comparative linguists and the Roman invasion of Britain has had quite the effect in lending vocabulary.  I would recommend searching for 'the History of English in Ten Minutes' as provides a brief, humorous account of how words came into English usage.

I would add, however, that while English is classified as a Germanic language, both Germanic languages and Romance (Latin-based) languages are part of the Indo-European family.  If you do an image search for Indo-European languages you will quickly find pictures of a language 'tree' which shows linguists' conclusion that Germanic languages are so related to Romance languages -- to fully support these conclusions would require other materials which I could not fit into this space.


Joshua M. | Spanish Superhero / English Guru in the Beaverton-Portland AreaSpanish Superhero / English Guru in the ...
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All of these tutors hit it on the nose: Our origin in language stems from simply a few sources and have exploded onto the world stage with only some major permutations.

A lot of languages will 'share' words and phrases because of geographical promixity, but this isn't always the case. We wonder, then, how do they continue to share words and phrases in the absence of closeness? The answer then becomes 'geopolitical' proximity - this is what KEEPS those words and phrases  from morphing beyond recognition.

The term 'geopolitcal proximity' can be a bit misleading: 'Closeness' in geography is not equivalent to 'closeness' in political structures, which span a much wider area and indeed touch larger parts of the world. Looking at a 'political' map, the nations look a lot closer together and appear joined by common ideas (Unfortunately, this isn't ALWAYS the case). What all this means is that whoever 'holds the mantle,' no matter their political affiliation, THEIR language becomes the dominant language of the political arena over which they govern.

In looking at the phrase 'How are you?' in Spanish (Latin America), Brazillian Portuguese, Italian and Catalán (all Romantic languages), we see the following:

SP: ¿Cómo está?

BP: Como vai?

IT: Come sta?

CA: Com està?

As you can see, even though these areas are widely separated by geography, they share a common interrogative 'Com-' to indicate 'how' and their conjugation for 'to be' is similar as well.

They are not necessarily joined by the SAME political system, just similar political makeup (Democracy, or something turning into qualities akin to Democracy). 




Moire L. | ESOL, English, Speaking,Reading, and Writing, for AdultsESOL, English, Speaking,Reading, and Wri...
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Language does not come from only one source and evolves as the needs of its users change.  Romance langauges are variations of the orginial Latin. Other languages, German, Japanese, Farsi, etc. each have their own beginnings.  As people travel the world, they adopt words and phrases from other languages, for example: in English the selection of food items was once called 'bill of fare', but this has been replaced with the French word 'menu'.  In modern times, the language of country that invents or popularizes a new item or passtime generally is the one that makes the word universal; for example: Karioke or iphone.  

Andrea J. | Computer, Business, Art and MoreComputer, Business, Art and More
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The language that we speak today has evolved from just a few original languages and are based on that language, therefore, any sub-language that has evolved from that original language will have similar word spellings, pronunciations and word meanings.  Please see for a complete explanation of where your language came from and how it evolved.

Ken M. | French for school, travel or conversation, by France nativeFrench for school, travel or conversatio...
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I would echo all of the above and add only that, as Paul points out, as the Internet connects everyone worldwide, more words have become adopted as fairly universal.  Of course, "internet", "computer", "web" are striking examples.
Less familiar changes have occurred over the years.  For example, 'bocadillo' was used in Spanish for 'sandwich' in the past.  That word is rarely used anymore and 'sandwich' is probably understood and even commonly used in many countries, although it is clearly English.  It's common use has crossed borders.
IN business as well, many terms, often English, are used and become adopted worldwide.
We seem to be going in the direction of a universal language driven by the internet, media, business & it's worldwide marketing efforts to simplify globalization, and perhaps our need to reach out to other cultures around the world.
I'm happy to see that we still embrace the beauty of diversity in languages, culture, and tradition.
Paul T. | Mathematics, Spanish, Writing and World History TutorMathematics, Spanish, Writing and World ...

Many languages have similar words because the words were borrowed or derived from a common language, or from newly derived terms, e.g. computer, television, taxi. English, for example has words derived from practically every other language in the world. Words are borrowed because of seemingly new concepts and needs, such as safari, bazaar. Cognates are words or languages which have a common "ancester". English apple and German "Apfel", for example, are cognates, as both are derived from Old English. The dictionary also defines English and Flemish as language cognates.

Paul S. | Well-Rounded Tutor with Cross-Cultural ExperienceWell-Rounded Tutor with Cross-Cultural E...
English follows other languages down dark alleys, beats them up, and then searches their pockets for loose vocabulary, which it then mispronounces.

The same can be said about most Central Asian Languages with Arabic.
Julie F. | The Spanish, Phonics and Vocabulary Trusted TutorThe Spanish, Phonics and Vocabulary Trus...
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Many languages such as Spanish and English  share Latin as their root language. Therefore, they share many similar words.  Many Spanish words are refered to as cognates.  A cognate is a Spanish word that can be easily translated due to its similary to the Spanish word that defines it. For example, the word  tigre is obviously a cognate for the English word tiger. The word confusado is a cognate for the  English word confused. Again this goes back to the Latin roots of both languages.


Isn't English a Germanic language?  Although France did occupy England for a stretch, and it therefore influenced the language, I don't think it's derived from Latin.