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Te/Ti, Me/Mi, Se/Si of Spanish and Italian

asked 2015-03-19 15:04:30 -0500

anonymous user


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!


(Transferred from old LINGUIST List Ask-a-Linguist site)

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answered 2015-03-19 15:05:32 -0500

anonymous gravatar image

Hi, Elisa,

I'm not an expert on historical Romance, but I do know that there was consderable switching around with the high front and mid front vowels in the development of Late Latin (Vulgar Latin), certainly in the history of Spanish. One fairly early change in Vulgar Latin was the loss of the distinction between long vowels and short vowels in Latin. The different patterns might be due to differences in Latin vowel length, but you need to check a historical grammar of Romance to be sure.


James L. Fidelholtz Graduate Program in Language Sciences Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades Benem'erita Universidad Aut'onoma de Puebla, M'EXICO

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

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answered 2015-04-13 15:19:20 -0500

In Italian, unstressed e often yields i, e. g. Latin securus, Italian sicuro, Spanish seguro. However, when it is after the stress, i becomes e in Spanish: Latin feci, Italian feci, Spanish hice. Italian me (unstressed mi when attached after the infinitive) is from the accusative (direct objet) Latin me. Spanish mi is from the dative (indirect object) Latin mihi. On the whole, however, you have mostly Latin i = Italian i = Spanish i and Latin e = Italian e = Spanish e (or ie), or in many popular words: Latin short i = Italian e = Spanish e.

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Asked: 2015-03-19 15:04:30 -0500

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Last updated: Apr 13 '15