Friday, January 15, 2021

Slaves and slavery, part 21: Eng. indenture

  [This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 21 of Slaves and Slavery: Go to Part 1

Other English and Spanish words related to slavery

Eng. indenture

The last word that we are going to look at in this chapter is indenture [ɪnˈdenʧəɹ], a word that was used in the past to describe certain types of a written agreement or legal contracts. One of the most common types of indentures was ‘an agreement binding an apprentice to a master’ (COED). The word indenture has also been used at times to refer to some types of land transactions. Later on, in the 17th century, indenture came to be used to refer to ‘a contract by which a person agreed to work for a set period for a colonial landowner in exchange for passage to the colony’ (COED). This word is relevant here because the conditions of colonial indentured workers have often been compared to those of slavery.

A more general, earlier meaning of the noun indenture was ‘a document in duplicate having indented edges’ (AHD), that is to say, ‘a formal agreement, contract, or list, formerly one of which copies with indented edges were made for the contracting parties’ (COED). Spanish has no cognate of this word. To translate the ‘apprenticeship contract’ sense, which is the most common one found in English-Spanish dictionaries, one may use the expression contrato de aprendizaje (OSD). This is the only translation that most English-Spanish dictionaries give for the word indenture. Some provide a translation for the ‘contract’ sense, which is simply contrato ‘contract’. For the general sense of ‘contract with indentations’, we can use the expressions acuerdo dentado or documento dentado, though these descriptive expressions are rare.[a] Why dentado, a word that means ‘with teeth’? That is because as we will see, the word indenture contains the root dent‑, the source of Sp. diente ‘tooth’ (from Lat. dĕnt‑em) and a number of other related words such as the cognates Eng. dental ~ Sp. dental and Eng. dentist ~ Sp. dentista.

The noun indenture was converted in English into the verb (to) indenture in the 17th century. The few English-Spanish dictionaries that have this verb translate it as contratar como aprendiz, using only one of the senses of the noun indenture. Harrap’s English-Spanish Dictionary tells us that this verb is old-fashioned and we are given the following example He was indentured to a carpenter Sp. Lo contrataron como aprendiz de carpintero (Harraps).

Eng. indenture is also related to the verb indent and, thus, to the noun indentation derived from that verb. Modern English indenture descends from Middle English endenture, which was a late 14th century loan from Old French endenteure or endenture, which meant literally ‘indentation, furnishing with teeth’. This word was probably based on an unattested Late Latin noun *indentātūra (same meaning), derived by means of the feminine noun-forming suffix ‑ūr‑(a) from the stem *indentāt‑, of the passive participle of the unattested Medieval Latin verb *ĭndĕntāre ‘to indent, provide with teeth’, a verb that contains the Latin root dĕnt‑ ‘tooth’ (ĭn-dĕnt-ā‑re).

This English verb indent (there is another one, as we shall see) was borrowed in the 15th century from French endenter (attested in the 12th century), which meant ‘to make a tooth-like incision or incisions in the edge or border of; to notch or jag; now, chiefly, to give a zigzag or strongly seriate outline to’ (OED).

The noun indentation, used to refer to ‘the act or result of furnishing with teeth’, synonymous with one of the senses of Lat. *indentātūra and thus related to Eng. indenture, is not found in English until the late 16th century. The OED tells us that indentation was formed in English from the verb indent by means of the Latinate suffix ‑ation, and not borrowed from Latin. Finally, English also derived a noun indent from the verb indent that could in some cases be a synonym of indenture, and in British English can also mean ‘an official order or requisition for goods or stores’ (COED).

To understand what all this stuff about teeth has to do with contracts, we have to go to an even earlier sense of the English verb indent, found in the 14th century, which was ‘to make a contract by means of documents with indentations (‘teeth’)’, or as the OED explains, ‘to sever the two halves of a document, drawn up in duplicate, by a toothed, zigzag, or wavy line, so that the two parts exactly tally with each other; to cut the top or edge of two or more copies of a legal document in such an exactly corresponding shape; hence, to draw up (a document) in two or more exactly corresponding copies’ (OED), cf. Figure 9. This way of making contracts that neither party to the contract could alter, by means of making identical or mirror-image indentations in both copies of a document, is reminiscent, no doubt, of the use of notched tally sticks to record debts used in England in the Middle Ages.[b]

Figure 9: Half of an indenture document of 1723 showing the randomly cut edge at the top[1]

The meanings just described for the verb indent and its derived nouns indentation and indent are not the ones most modern speakers are familiar with. Most speakers are familiar with the typographical of printing sense in which the verb indent means ‘position or begin (a line or block of text) further from the margin than the main part of the text’ (COED) and the noun indentation means ‘the action of indenting or the state of being indented’ (COED). The printing senses of the verb indent and thus of the noun indentation are from the late 17th century.

Another common modern sense of the verb indent is ‘make a dent or depression in’ (COED), which we might have thought to be derived from the early sense ‘to notch or serrate the edge of’ (AHD). Actually, the OED tells us that the ‘notch’ and the ‘dent’ senses are two different verbs indent in English. Thus, whereas the former was borrowed from French endenter (see above), the latter was derived by conversion in English from the verb (to) dent by means of the prefix in‑. Although the origins of these verbs may be different, the OED concedes that ‘the two are in actual use (and perhaps have always been) consciously regarded not as distinct words, but only as senses or uses of the same word’ and that ‘[t]his blending is even more apparent in the derivatives, such as indentation’ (OED).

Interestingly, Spanish does use two different words for the two senses of Eng. indentation that we just mentioned. This noun translates into Spanish as mella if made along an edge and as hendidura if it refers to a dent or depression. Spanish typically translates to the two English verbs indent by means of periphrastic expressions that use the nouns: hacer una mella and hacer una hendidura. (There is a verb mellar in Spanish but it is not common today. Actually the noun mella, which is also not very common either, as derived from the verb mellar. Most common is the idiomatic expression hacer mella ‘to make an impression’.) In the context of printing, the noun indentation, i.e., ‘the blank space between a margin and the beginning of an indented line’ (AHD), translates into Spanish as sangría (the indented space itself is just espacio) and the printing sense of the verb indent translates as sangrar, a verb that also means ‘to bleed’.

Going back to Eng. indenture, we find that much more common that the noun indenture or the verb indenture is the adjective indentured derived by conversion from the verb’s past participle. This adjective is often found in the phrase indentured servant (or, much less commonly, indentured laborer or indentured worker). This expression used to refer to ‘a man (almost never a woman) who took out a loan (an indenture), most often to pay for the cost of his transportation to a job location: from Europe to North America, for example. In order to pay off this loan, the employee (indenturee) agreed to work without salary for the lender for a specific number of years’ (Wikipedia).[c] In the early days of the American colonies, many of the newcomers from England and other places paid their way by becoming indentured workers. This system of labor has come to be known as indentured servitude.

There is no commonly accepted phrase to translate indentured servitude into Spanish, which is often translated as servidumbre (see above). Two types of indentured servitude may be specified, namely servidumbre de aprendizaje for the apprenticeship type mentioned earlier, and servidumbre por contrato for the other ones. There is also no standard way to translate indentured servant either. Among the options that one finds some simple ones such as sirviente contratado, sirviente por contrato, or trabajador contratado, whereas some are resort to explaining the institution, such as sirviente atado a un contrato de cumplimiento forzoso.[2]

Indentured workers started to arrive to the American colonies after the settling of Jamestown by the Virginia Company in 1607. An indentured worker in the North American context was not strictly speaking a slave, since in theory they became free after the period of time stipulated in their contract (indenture), which was typically four to seven years. In the early years, such workers received a ‘freedom package’ at the end of their service, which included some land. Later on, however, all the good land was taken, and these workers were pushed west towards the mountains and other less desirable areas.

In practice, however, the life of many indentured workers was not much better than that of slaves. They were often treated as harshly as slaves were treated and their contracts could be bought and sold as well. Landowners tended to prefer slaves, however, who started to come to Virginia in 1619 and eventually African slaves came to replace indentured servants in this British colony, though indentured servitude persisted to some extent until the end of the 18th century. At the beginning, however, between the early 17th century and the time of the American Revolution, between half and two thirds of all immigrants to the British colonies (south of New England) were indentured servants, mostly from England and Germany. They were most common in the region between New Jersey and Virginia. Note also that although most Europeans entered indenture willingly, a small number of them where tricked or forced into such an arrangement, which includes being kidnapped.[3] About 10% of the indentured servants were prisoners.

The length of period an indentured servant served could also be lengthened for a number of reasons, which included pregnancy for female servants. Also, we must not forget that many indentured workers died before the end of their service. The death rate of indentured servants in the Americas is not known, though it has been claimed to have been very high, between a third and half of all the indentured servants, but it seems that death was more common in the Caribbean British colonies due to sicknesses such as malaria.

Indentured servitude was a system similar to one known as debt peonage, which was used in southern New England and Long Island especially with Native Americans early on and until the American Revolution. Debt peonage, also known as just peonage, debt slavery, debt bondage, or bonded labor, is ‘a system by which debtors are bound in servitude to their creditors until their debts are paid’ (AHD).[4] These terms are usually translated into Spanish as servidumbre por deudas, lit. ‘debt servitude’. This type of servitude or slavery goes back to ancient times. A peon is primarily ‘a worker bound in servitude to a landlord creditor’ (AHD) but also, in the American context, ‘an unskilled laborer or farm worker of Latin America or the southwest United States’ (AHD). (For more on Eng. peon ~ Sp. peón, see Part II, Chapter XXX).

A special type of indentured servant in the Americas were the redemptioners, who did not sell themselves into indenture until they arrived in the US in order to pay for their passage. Since the passage was not paid up-front and they did not have a contract before they left, they were at a disadvantage since they did not have many options once they had already arrived and had to take whatever terms and conditions they could get.[5]


[a] The site Traducción Jurídica explains the different ways in which the term indenture has been used in English and the different ways in which it can be translated into Spanish, cf. (accessed on 2021.01.15).

[b] As David Graeber explains in his book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, “One of the most important forms of currency in England in Henry’s time [Henry II (1154–1189)] were notched “tally sticks” used to record debts. Tally sticks were quite explicitly IOUs: both parties to a transaction would take a hazelwood twig, notch it to indicate the amount owed, and then split it in half. The creditor would keep one half, called “the stock” (hence the origin of the term “stock holder”) and the debtor kept the other, called “the stub” (hence the origin of the term “ticket stub.”) Tax assessors used such twigs to calculate amounts owed by local sheriffs. Often, though, rather than wait for the taxes to come due, Henry’s exchequer would often sell the tallies at a discount, and they would circulate, as tokens of debt owed to the government, to anyone willing to trade for them.”.

[c] Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (En-En) defines indentured servant the following way: ‘Amer. Hist. a person who came to America and was placed under contract to work for another over a period of time, usually seven years, esp. during the 17th to 19th centuries. Generally, indentured servants included redemptioners, victims of religious or political persecution, persons kidnapped for the purpose, convicts, and paupers’. [1665-75] (RHWU). Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate dictionary dates indentured servant to 1723 and defines it as ‘a person who signs and is bound by indentures to work for another for a specified time especially in return for payment of travel expenses and maintenance’ (MWC).

The End

[1] Source: (2021.01.15) “One half of an indenture document dated 24 June 1723, the ninth year of the reign of King George I of Great Britain. Characteristic of an indenture is the randomly curved cut (or torn) edge (visible at the top on this half), capable of proving a match to the counterpart document.”

Slaves and slavery, part 20: Eng. emancipation ~ Sp. emancipación and Sp. mancebo/a

  [This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 20 of Slaves and Slavery: Go to Part 1

Other English and Spanish words related to slavery

Eng. emancipation ~ Sp. emancipación

As we saw in the preceding section, although English and Spanish have borrowed the words Eng. manumission ~ Sp. manumisión that refer to the freeing of slaves, these words are today used mainly with a historical context of the Romans’ freeing of their slaves. The words used for freeing of slaves in the modern world in English and Spanish are the cognates Eng. emancipation ~ Sp. emancipación, which descend from Latin ēmancĭpātĭōnem, a action noun derived from the verb ēmancĭpāre that meant ‘to emancipate’, that is, ‘to put out of the hand and power of the paterfamilias; to declare free and independent, to emancipate a son from the patria potestas by the thrice-repeated act of mancipatio and manumissio’ or, more generally, ‘to give from under one’s own power or authority into that of another’ (L&S). This word also had a derived wider sense, namely ‘to give from under one's own power or authority into that of another’ (L&S) and, ‘beyond the juridical sphere, to give up, surrender, sell’ (L&S). Latin did not use this verb to refer to the freeing of slaves, but rather the freeing of a wife or, usually, a child from the legal authority of the pater familias, a Latin phrase that means the male guardian of a family. In Spanish, it was common at least until very recently to use the concept padre de familia, a clone of Lat. pater familias, to refer to the male head of a family, and it still uses the term emancipación, and the related verb emanciparse, for the leaving by young people of their parents’ home.

English borrowed the noun emancipation from the Latin word through French émancipation in the middle of the 17th century. Fr. émancipation is already attested in the early 14th century (LGR) and it was first borrowed to refer to the Roman ‘action or process of setting children free from the patria potestas’ (OED). However, by the late 18th century, Eng. emancipation, just like its French and Spanish cognates, was being used to refer to ‘the action or process of setting free or delivering from slavery; and hence, generally, from restraints imposed by superior physical force or legal obligation; liberation’, which is the sense that is most common today (OED).[1] The word emancipation in English was also used in the cause of religious toleration in the 17th century, the anti-slavery cause in the 18th century, and in the women’s liberation cause in the 19th century. In addition, the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church has other senses for the term emancipation, such as ‘release from ecclesiastical obedience’.[i]

In English, the noun emancipation is often heard in the phrase Emancipation Proclamation, which refers to ‘the announcement made by President Lincoln on 22 September 1862 [during the US Civil War] emancipating all black slaves in states still engaged in rebellion against the Federal Union’ (OD).[ii] The same source goes on to say that ‘although implementation was strictly beyond Lincoln’s powers, the declaration turned the war into a crusade against slavery’ (OD).

Figure 8: Abraham Lincoln Writing the Emancipation Proclamation, by David Gilmour Blythe (1863)[iii]

As we said, the Latin noun ēmancĭpātĭōnem (nominative: ēmancĭpātĭo), is derived from the verb ēmancĭpāre (earlier ēmancŭpāre). As we have seen in so many other occasions, such as when we described the word manumission, it was formed by adding the action noun suffix ‑ĭōn  to the passive participle stem of the verb, in this case ēmancĭpāt‑. The principal parts of the Latin verb ēmancĭpāre (earlier ēmancŭpāre) were present tense ēmancĭpo, present infinitive ēmancĭpāre, perfect ēmancĭpāvī, and passive participle ēmancĭpātus.










The verb ēmancĭpāre was derived by means of the variant ē‑ of the prefix ex‑ ‘out’ from the verb mancĭpāre ‘to transfer, sell’, a verb derived from the noun manceps (genitive: mancĭp‑is) ‘one who takes formal possession, a legal purchaser’, ‘a purchaser by lifting the hand, buyer at auction’, etc. (CTL). This noun itself was ultimately derived from a compound verb containing the root man‑ of the noun manus ‘hand’, followed by cep‑s which meant something like ‘taker’, since it is derived from the verb capĕre ‘to take, capture, etc.’ (cf. the cognate verbs Eng. capture ~ Sp. capturar, derived from this verb’s root). Spanish has borrowed Lat. mancĭpāre as mancipar ‘to make someone a slave’, a synonym of exclavizar, though it is a rare word.

English borrowed the verb emancipate in the 17th century from the passive participle form ēmancĭpātus of the Latin verb ēmancĭpāre. The French cognate of this verb, émanciper, is already attested in the 14th century and no doubt influenced the borrowing of the English word, even if English used the Latin verb’s passive participle as the source for this word, not the present infinitive. Sp. emancipar is attested quite early too, in 1260 (Partidas, cf. DCEH), and it is obviously a learned word (a loanword from classical, written Latin; Sp. cultismo), not an inherited or popular one (Sp. patrimonial).

The main meaning of both of these verbs is ‘to free from bondage, oppression, or restraint; liberate’, but a secondary legal meaning in both languages is ‘to release (a child) from the control of parents or a guardian’ (AHD).[2] In Spanish, more common than the transitive form emancipar is the intransitive pronominal form emanciparse, which translates as ‘to become emancipated’ when referring to a child or a wife, or ‘to gain independence’, when referring to a colony. Sp. emanciparse is also used in ways which do not typically translate into English by means of the verb emancipate, as in Las mujeres se han emancipado mucho ‘Women have become a great deal more liberated’ (OSD) or (synonym of independizarse) Difícilmente encontrará un trabajo que le permita emanciparse económicamente ‘He will not easily find a job that allows him to become economically independent’ (DUEAE).

Sp. mancebo/a

There is another Latin word that was related to the verb mancĭpāre that we saw earlier, and thus to the noun manceps and to the verb ēmancĭpāre, namely the noun mancĭpĭum (earlier mancŭpĭum). This noun meant first of all ‘a possession, property, right of ownership’, but also, by extension, ‘a slave obtained by legal transfer’ (CTL).[3] In other words, Lat. mancĭpĭum was yet another word for ‘slave’ in Latin, besides sĕrvus. The noun mancĭpĭum was derived from the stem mancĭp‑ of the verb ēmancĭpāre by means of the suffix ‑ĭ‑(um) that we have seen before in this chapter (cf. §1.8.7 about sĕrvĭtĭum) that derived second declension neuter nouns (man‑cĭp‑ĭ‑um)

Interestingly, the word mancĭpĭum has been inherited patrimonially by Spanish, resulting in the now somewhat archaic patrimonial noun mancebo ‘youth, young man’. In the earliest attestations of this word, its meaning is clearly ‘slave’ or ‘servant’ (equivalent to criado, see above), but Berceo was already using in in the 13th century with the sense of ‘young man’, equivalent to joven and muchacho (DCEH). Actually, Sp. mancebo derives from the Hispanic Vulgar Latin version *mancĭpus of Lat. mancĭpĭum, presumably derived from the phrase homo mancĭpīi (DCEH). This *mancĭpus had penultimate stress, presumably by influence of mancĭpĭum (DLE), which has stress on the first (antepenultimate) ‑ĭ‑ because the penultimate syllable (the second ‑ĭ‑) is light (cf. Part I, Chapter 8).

Sp. mancebo has a feminine form manceba, which was derived in Spanish at some point from the masculine word. Some dictionaries give these words separate entries, however, for a manceba is not just a female version of a mancebo. Rather, manceba developed a separate and pejorative sense, namely that of ‘concubine’. Larousse defines manceba clearly (and only) that way, as ‘concubine, woman who lives with a man without being married’ (GDLEL).[4] María Moliner’s dictionary gives the same, single definition.

One dictionary that presents both words in the same entry is the academies’ DLE (earlier versions in the DRAE do too), though curiously there is also an entry manceba that all it does is refer us to the entry mancebo -ba. This dictionary gives six senses for this lexeme. Three of them apply to both the masculine and the feminine wordforms, though they are all rare (poco usado) and in one case, the feminine use is even rarer (in this use, the word is said to be primarily an adjective that can also be used as a noun). Finally, the sixth sense, which strangely enough we are not told is little used, is only feminine and thus refers only to women, which is the ‘concubine’ sense. Actually, the DLE defines this sense by means of the adjective amancebado/a ‘living together’ derived from the verb amancebarse ‘to cohabit, live together [without being married]’ (AEIV), which is itself derived from the noun mancebo/a (a‑manceb‑ar‑se).[5] Note that this verb, which appears already in Nebrija’s dictionary (1495), is only conjugated reflexively and, thus, there is no verb *amancebar, only amancebarse. The action noun derived from this verb is amancebamiento.

It is fair to say that all of these words, the noun mancebo/a, the verb amancebarse and the adjective amancebado/a, sound more than a bit archaic or historical today. Curiously, none of the major dictionaries seem to alert us of this fact, as the probably should. Also, because of this, it is fair to say that many Spanish speakers are not familiar with these words, though most educated speakers obviously are.

Go to Part 21

[1] The Latin term patria potestas, lit. ‘paternal power’, refers to ‘the power of the head of a Roman family over his wife, children, agnatic descendants, slaves, and freedmen including originally the right to punish by death and always embracing complete control over the limited personal and private rights and duties of all members of the family’ (Webster’s New Third International Unabridged Dictionary). The equivalent term in Spanish is patria potestad, a well-known and common term in the language. It is a legal term equivalent to the Roman one that refers to the legal authority that parents have over unemancipated children (‘autoridad que según la ley tienen los padres sobre los hijos no emancipados’, Gran Diccionario de la Lengua Española Larousse).

[2] The DLE defines emancipar as ‘Libertar de la patria potestad, de la tutela o de la servidumbre’ (DLE).

[3] The concept of mancipium in Roman law refers to ‘the status of a freeman subject to the power and control of the head of a Roman family similar to that of a slave except that he could not be abused or killed without legal cause’ and ‘the power or control so exercised by such head of family over such freeman’, as well as ‘a form of quiritarian as opposed to bonitarian ownership of property common in early Roman law’ (Merriam-Webster).

[4] Original: ‘manceba. sustantivo femenino. Concubina, mujer que vive con un hombre sin estar casados. SINÓNIMO barragana’ (GDLEL).

[5] Original: ‘mancebo, ba. … 6. f. Mujer que vive amancebada’ (DLE).

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Slaves and slavery, part 19: Eng. manumission ~ Sp. manumisión

 [This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 19 of Slaves and Slavery: Go to Part 1

Other English and Spanish words related to slavery

Eng. manumission ~ Sp. manumisión

Slavery in Rome was not necessarily a life sentence, the way it was in many other societies, whether ancient or more recent. It seems that the freeing of slaves occurred quite regularly in the Roman world, at least for urban slaves, if not so much with rural slaves and those who worked the mines. After a period of, say, 20 years of service, slaves could be freed by their owners.

There were different ways in which the freeing of a slave could take place, but the most common one was for a slave owner to write it in his will. There came to be legal restrictions, however, as to what percentage of one’s slaves could be freed this way. As Mary Beard tells us in her book SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome:

Roman slavery was in some respects as brutal as Roman methods of military conquest. But for many Roman slaves, particularly those working in urban domestic contexts rather than toiling in the fields or mines, it was not necessarily a life sentence. They were regularly given their freedom, or they bought it with cash they had managed to save up; and if their owner was a Roman citizen, then they also gained full Roman citizenship, with almost no disadvantages as against those who were freeborn. The contrast with classical Athens is again striking: there, very few slaves were freed, and those who were certainly did not gain Athenian citizenship in the process, but went into a form of stateless limbo. This practice of emancipation – or manumission, to follow the Latin term – was such a distinctive feature of Roman culture that outsiders at the time remarked upon it and saw it as a powerful factor in Rome’s success. As one king of Macedon observed in the third century BCE, it was in this way that ‘the Romans have enlarged their country’. The scale was so great that some historians reckon that, by the second century CE, the majority of the free citizen population of the city of Rome had slaves somewhere in their ancestry.[1]

The Latin name for the freeing of a slave was mănūmĭssĭo (genitive: mănūmĭssōnis), a noun derived by means of the third declension suffix ‑ĭōn(is) from the stem mănūmĭss‑ of the passive participle mănūmĭssus, of the verb mănūmittĕre ‘release, free, emancipate’. This verb was a compound formed of the ablative form manū of the word manus ‘hand’ (root: man‑; cf. Sp. mano ‘hand’), which meant something like ‘from the hand’, plus the verb mĭttĕre that meant ‘to send, let go, send off, etc.’, the source of Spanish meter ‘to put in(to)’ (principal parts: present tense mĭttō, present infinitive mĭttĕre, perfect active mīsī, passive participle mĭssus).

In addition to the literal meaning ‘hand’, the Latin word manus had several figurative senses, one of which was ‘legal power’. More specifically, in legal language, manus could mean ‘the legal power of a husband over his wife, the manus’ (L&S). And although the main meaning of the verb mĭttĕre was ‘to send’, additional sense was ‘to release, let go’, which is the sense that applies here. The fact that this compound contained a conjugated word form, manū, with the ablative inflection ‑ū, not just the root man‑, shows that this compound word was derived from the contraction of a phrase, cf. mănū mittĕre, which literally meant something like ‘to release by the legal power’, and was thus not formed as a regular compound word (which would have been *măn‑ĭ‑mittĕre). This phrase is not attested in Latin, but a similar one is, namely manū ēmittĕre, which contains the verb ēmĭttĕre instead of mĭttĕre, the former being derived from the latter by the prefix ē‑ which was a variant of the prefix ex‑ ‘out’ (Lat. ēmĭttĕre is the source of the loanword cognates Eng. emit ~ Sp. emitir. In addition to meaning ‘the freeing of a slave, manumission’, Lat. mănūmissĭo had a secondary sense, namely ‘a remission of punishment, pardon’ (L&S).

English and Spanish have borrowed this Latin word, resulting in the cognates Eng. manumission ~ Sp. manumisión. Eng. manumission [ˌmænjəˈmɪʃən] was borrowed in the middle of the 15th century, either from Latin or French, or both. Fr. manumission is attested in the early 14th century, a loan from Latin, and it was used to refer to legal freeing of Roman slaves, but also of feudal serfs, cf. Modern French manumission, pronounced [manymiˈsjɔ̃]. From around the same time (early 14th century) is the patrimonial French version of this Latin noun, namely mainmise, a synonym of manumission derived from the verb mainmettre, the French version of the Latin verb mănūmittĕre (see below).

Eng. manumission’s original meaning was just as in the original, ‘the action of manumitting a slave; the fact of being manumitted; formal release from slavery or servitude; an act or instance of this’ (OED). However, as the OED tells us, this word is now historical and it is used to refer just to the freeing of Roman slaves, not of slaves in other historical contexts. As we will see below, the word for freeing of slaves in modern times goes by another name, namely Eng. emancipation ~ Sp. emancipación ~ Fr. émancipation (also affranchissement).

We mentioned that the Latin noun mănūmissĭo is derived from the verb mănūmittĕre ‘to legally release, free, emancipate’. This Latin verb has also been borrowed by English and Spanish, cf. Eng. manumit ~ Sp. manumitir, though the verbs are even less common than the nouns. Eng. manumit [ˌmænjəˈmɪt] was first used in the middle of the 15th century, much like the noun. The verb is also now used with a historical meaning, to refer to the freeing of Roman slaves (OED says: ‘Now chiefly historical’). Sp. manumitir is quite a late loanword, from as late as the 18th century perhaps. Other Romance languages, however, borrowed this verb even earlier than English, e.g. Italian manomettere (late 13th century) and French manumettre ‘to set free’ (1338; cf. Middle French manumitter or manumiter) (OED). Thus, although English is said to have borrowed this word directly from (written) Latin, it is quite likely that this loan was facilitated by the existence of the loans in Romance languages, especially French. Modern French does not have a descendant of these verbs anymore, but it has a patrimonial or actualized version of it, namely mainmettre [mɛ̃mɛtʀ], formed from the noun main ‘hand’ and the verb mettre, the patrimonial version of Lat. mĭttĕre and cognate of Sp. meter. Derived from the participle of this verb is the noun mainmise, which, as we saw earlier, is the French equivalent of Eng. manumission.

As we saw, both Sp. manumisión and manumitir are loanwords and there are no patrimonial Spanish words related to them. Catalan, however, has a patrimonial word derived from the verb mănūmittĕre, namely marmesor, which meant ‘executor’, the person charged by a testator or a judge to carry out the provisions of a will and testament. The word marmesor is derived from Lat. mănūmĭssor (genitive: mănūmĭssōris, regular stem: mănū‑mĭss‑ōr‑), a post-classical agent noun meaning ‘one who gives a slave his freedom, a liberator, emancipator’ (L&S), derived by means of the agent suffix ‑ōr‑ from the stem mănūmĭss‑ of the passive participle mănūmĭssus of the verb mănūmĭttĕre (same stem as the noun mănū‑mĭss‑ĭōn‑). This was the name given in Latin to the executor of a will in which faithful slaves or servants were freed. DCEH tells us that the Murcian variety of Spanish borrowed the word marmesor from Catalan in the 14th century. In Modern Standard Spanish, however, the word for ‘executor’ is albacea, which is a loanword from Andalusian Arabic صَحْب الوَصِيَّة (ṣáḥb alwaṣíyya), lit. ‘companion of the will’, cf. Arabic صَحْب (ṣaḥb) ‘companions’ and وَصِيَّة (waṣiyya) ‘will, bequest’. A less common synonym of Sp. albacea is testamentario/a.

[1] Beard, Mary. 2015. SPQR: a history of ancient Rome. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation. See also: Thomas E. J. Wiedemann. 1985. “The Regularity of Manumission at Rome.” The Classical Quarterly, 35(1), 162-175 ( ) and Marcus Sidonius Falx, J. P. Toner, and Mary Beard. 2014. The Roman guide to slave management: a treatise by nobleman Marcus Sidonius Falx. New York: Overlook Press.

Slaves and slavery, part 18: Eng. robot ~ Sp. robot

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 18 of Slaves and Slavery: Go to Part 1

Other English and Spanish words related to slavery

Eng. robot ~ Sp. robot

Robots are not slaves, but they have a lot in common with them for, just like slaves, they are owned by people and do their bidding. And the prototypical robot is probably a machine that has human form. The first sense for the word robot in the American Heritage Dictionary is ‘a mechanical device that sometimes resembles a human and is capable of performing a variety of often complex human tasks on command or by being programmed in advance’ (AHD, my italics). Interestingly, the word robot, which first appeared in a Czech work of fiction in 1920, contains the root of the word for ‘slave’ in Slavic languages. Thus, we can say that Slavic languages have given us the word for ‘slave’ but also the word for ‘robot’.

Slavic words for ‘slave’ include Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian раб (rab), and Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbo-Croatian and Slovene роб (rob)/rob. The word in Old Church Slavonic was рабъ (rabŭ) in Cyrillic script, which in Glagolitic, was ⱃⰰⰱⱏ (rabŭ). The ancestor of these words’ in Old Slavic has been reconstructed as *õrbъ (*orbu). What the ancestor of this word was in Proto-Indo-European, we do not really know, though there have been some proposals in the linguistic literature.

In Slavic languages, the noun meaning ‘work’ was derived from the basic root that meant ‘slave’. In Proto-Slavic, the word was *orbòta ‘work’, which was derived from *orbъ ‘slave’ plus the suffix *‑ota that formed abstract nouns from adjectives, equivalent to Eng. ‑­ness. Thus the word for ‘work’ meant literally something like ‘slave-ness’. The word for ‘work’ in in the modern Slavic languages all descend from this Proto-Slavic word. In East Slavic languages such as Russian and Ukrainian, the word for ‘work’ is рабо́та (rabóta) or робо́та (robóta). In West Slavic languages such as Czech, Slovak, or Polish, it is robota, and in South Slavic languages, it is ра́бота (rábota) in Bulgarian, and ра̀бота/ràbota in Serbo-Croatian.

Figure 6: Toyota Robot at Toyota Kaikan[i]

English and Spanish borrowed the word robot from the word robot that Czech writer Karel Čapek created out of Czech robota ‘work’ to refer to human-like mechanical devices in a science fiction play that first saw the light of day in 1921. Note that in Czech, in addition to meaning ‘work’, the noun robota can also mean ‘forced labor’, ‘drudgery’, and ‘servitude’. So much for the claim that work dignifies man.

The word robot first appeared in a 1921 science-fiction play by Czech writer Karel Čapek, and when the work was translated into English and Spanish, the word robot was taken whole, not translated, hence entering these languages. The OED explains that the word robot occurs ‘as though an English word in the title of Čapek’s (Czech) play. The play was first performed in an English translation in New York in 1922’ (OED). This word caught on in all European languages, becoming the name for these machines in them. Although this Czech play was written in the Czech language, its original title was in English, and the title was R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots. Interestingly, Čapek had intended to create a word for these mechanical devices based on a Latin word, but he was convinced by his brother to use a word derived from the Czech word for ‘work’ and ‘forced labor’ instead. The rest is history.

English robot is pronounced [ˈɹoʊ̯.ˌbɒt] or [ˈɹoʊ̯.ˌbɑt], depending on the dialect. French also borrowed the word as robot [ʀɔ.ˈbo], in 1924. German added the agent suffix ‑er to it, resulting in German Roboter [ˈʁɔ.bɔ.tɐ], first attested in 1922. Spanish borrowed the word through English as robot, and it is pronounced [ro.ˈβo(t̪)] (DLE).

A shortened version of the word robot was developed in English in the second half of the 20th century, namely bot, pronounced [ˈbɒt] or [ˈbɑt].[1] This word is first attested in a 1969 work of fiction as a clipping of the word robot, spelled ‘bot in that work (OED). By as early as 1990, but especially after 2000, the word bot was being used with the meaning ‘an automated program on a network (esp. the internet), often having features that mimic human reasoning and decision-making…’ (OED). The word bot has become extremely common in our computer- and Internet-centered world.

Figure 7: 1983 Industrial Robots KUKA in car manufacturing[ii]

There are a few compounds derived from the word bot in English, such as botmaster ‘person who controls a bot’ and botnet ‘a network of computers infected with malicious software and controlled as a group without the owners’ knowledge, typically used to send spam, perform distributed denial of service attacks, etc.’ (OED). A common type of bot is the search bot, also known as a spider or webcrawler, which ‘crawls’ the web an indexes its content for search engines. Then there are chatbots, which answer customers questions.

Some technologically savvy speakers of Spanish have borrowed the English word bot as bot, pronounced [ˈbot]. However, this word is still not as common in Spanish as it is in English and it is not found in dictionaries such as the Academies’ DLE. Thus, English-Spanish dictionaries, such as Collins, translate Eng. bot as robot. The expression search bot, for instance, is still best translated as robot de búsqueda in Spanish, instead of bot de búsqueda.

Go to Part 19

[1] Note that there was already a noun bot in English, one that meant ‘the parasitic larva of a botfly’ (AHD). This word dates from the early 16th century and we are told that it is ‘probably of Low German origin’ (OAD).

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Slaves and slavery, part 17: Eng. bondage and Eng. villeinage ~ Sp. villanaje

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 17 of Slaves and Slavery: Go to Part 1

Other English and Spanish words related to slavery

Eng. bondage

The word bondage [ˈbɒn.dɪʤ] is used in English as a synonym of both slavery and serfdom. The COED defines the first and main sense of this word as ‘the state of being a slave or feudal serf’ (COED). The word has had that meaning since the beginning of the 14th century when the word first appears on the record. Since the 1960s, however, the word has had a secondaryor for many speakers, primarymeaning related to sexual sado-masochism, namely ‘sexual activity that involves the tying up or restraining of one partner’ (COED). Indeed, some dictionaries give this meaning as the first one, such as Macmillan English Dictionary, whereas the original meaning is seen as secondary and marked as formal.

Figure 5: Bondage, Gag & Blindfold[i]

Some dictionaries mention an additional, figurative sense for this word, something like ‘a situation in which you are not free because someone or something controls your life’, as in Would he ever have enough money to be wholly free from the bondage of work? (Macmillan). This dictionary also marks this sense as formal, that is, one not used in everyday language. Other dictionaries present this sense as a subsense of the slavery sense used figuratively, such as Merriam-Webster’s Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (MWALD).

English-Spanish dictionaries give esclavitud and servidumbre as the only or main translations for the word bondage. Some dictionaries mention the word cautiverio as an additional possible equivalent, a synonym of cautividad, which is a cognate of Eng. captivity. Some English-Spanish dictionaries, such as Collins, tell us that the sexual sense of Eng. bondage translates into Spanish as… bondage, a loanword (not even adapted as bondaje). Interestingly, most English-Spanish dictionaries do not translate that sense of Eng. bondage at all. In other words, Eng. bondage has been borrowed by at least some Spanish speakers for this particular meaning. However, the word bondage is not found in the academies’ ‘official’ DLE or in any of the other major Spanish dictionaries yet.

The origin of the word bondage is actually quite interesting. It comes from either Anglo-Norman bondage or Anglo-Latin bondagium. (Anglo-Norman was the French language used by the Norman invaders in England after 1066 and Anglo-Latin was the Latin used in England around the same time.) The word bondage contains the French ending ‑age used to create nouns in this language (cf. Part II, Chapter XX). Although the French suffix ‑age descends from Late Latin ending ‑ātĭcum, some words containing this suffix that were created in French were sometimes transferred to Medieval Latin with the ending ‑gĭum, which was not properly a Latin suffix, but which contained the suffix ‑ĭum that we saw earlier in the chapter.) The root of bondage and bondagium was not Latinate like the suffix, though, but was rather the Middle English word bond ‘a serf, tenant farmer’, which was bond or bonde in Anglo-Norman, and bondus in Anglo-Latin. Middle English bond descends from Old English bonda ‘householder’, which is a loanword from Old Norse noun boandi ‘free-born farmer’, which itself descends by conversion from the present participle of the verb boa ‘dwell, prepare, inhabit’.[1]

Eng. villeinage ~ Sp. villanaje

The word bond in Middle English was equivalent to the descendants of the Latin word villānus in Romance languages, originally the word for a peasant, one who worked in a Roman villa, a farm or country-house complex (cf. Eng. villa ~ Sp. villa, with a very different meaning today).[2] Thus, it is not surprising that another word for bondage to refer to the status or the people without noble status in Anglo-Norman was vi(l)lenage, from Old French vi(l)lenage or vila(i)nage, a word equivalent in the Romance world to Provençal vilanatge, Spanish villanage (Modern Spanish villanaje), Portuguese villanagem, and medieval Latin villenagium, vil(l)anagium, or vileinagium (OED). Undoubtedly, the English word bondage was formed on the model of Anglo-Norman was vi(l)lenage, by substituting the first part or root of this word, namely villain, from Old French vilain, which originally meant ‘peasant, farmer’, by the equivalent Old English word bond.[3]

The word villeinage is found in the dictionary with the meaning ‘the tenure or status of a villein in the feudal system’ (COED). It can be pronounced [ˈvɪlənɪʤ] or [ˈvɪleɪ̯nɪʤ]. Most dictionaries mention that this is a historical word, namely one used to refer to institutions of the past, not current ones. As we saw, the Spanish cognate of this word is villanaje, which just like pretty much all Spanish words ending in ‑aje comes from French (cf. Part II, Chapter XX). According to DCEH, this word is not found earlier than the 17th century, though it is found in a document from the early 16th century (OSTA). At any rate, it seems to be a more recent loan than its English cognate. This word is found in modern Spanish dictionaries, though none of them mention that it is a historical word. Just like Eng. villeinage, Sp. villanaje means ‘people of non-noble status in some place’ or ‘the status of being a non-noble person’, the latter sense being akin to the sense of bondage in earlier times.

The cognate of Eng. villain is villano, both of which share a meaning in modern times, which is different from the meaning that both of these words had in medieval times. The word villano has a strong negative meaning today, just like its English cognate villain does, but that was not originally the case, as we just saw. In other words, the Spanish word villano and its English cognate villain do not mean ‘non-noble person’ or ‘peasant’ anymore, but rather ‘a wicked person or a person guilty of a crime’ (COED).

Go to Part 18

[1] The source word for this verb has been traced back to Proto-Indo-European *bhow‑, from the verbal root *bheue- that meant ‘to be, exist, dwell’, relatd to the verb to be. The meaning change from ‘free-born farmer’ to ‘serf’ has been said to have been influenced by the unrelated English word bond (related to the verb bind). Anglo-French bondage was equivalent to English bondehede (bondhead) or bondescipe (bondship) (OED).

[2] In English, the word villain, which was borrowed in the early 14th century, has never had good connotations. As the OED explains, ‘Originally, [a villain was] a low-born base-minded rustic; a man of ignoble ideas or instincts; in later use, an unprincipled or depraved scoundrel; a man naturally disposed to base or criminal actions, or deeply involved in the commission of disgraceful crimes’ (OED).

[3] The OED defines villain thus: ‘Originally [c. 1300], a low-born base-minded rustic; a man of ignoble ideas or instincts; in later use, an unprincipled or depraved scoundrel; a man naturally disposed to base or criminal actions, or deeply involved in the commission of disgraceful crimes’ (OED).

[i] Source:,_Gag_%26_Blindfold.JPG (2021.01.15)

Slaves and slavery, part 21: Eng. indenture

  [This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook  Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Sp...