Sunday, April 9, 2017

Family Relations, Part 1: Mother and Father

[This entry comes from the second section of chapter 5 ("Words for family relations") of Part II of the book Spanish-English Cognates.]

The main words for mother and father

The Spanish words for mother and father, namely madre and padre, come from Latin mater and pater, and are patrimonial words, that is, they descend directly from Latin words, and were not borrowed from Latin later on, as many Latinate Spanish words were. These Spanish words are historical cognates of the equivalent English words, which are also patrimonial in English. In other words, the pairs of words madre-mother and padre-father descend from common ancestors in the Proto-Indo-European language spoken 5,500 years ago, and are not cognates due to borrowing in either of the languages like so many other cognates are (cf. Part I, Chapter 3).

The Spanish words madre-padre evolved out of the accusative case of the Latin parent words, as patrimonial Spanish words typically do, with two minor changes: the loss of the final m of the accusative inflection, a loss that was already present in late spoken Latin, and the voicing of the medial t to d (cf. Part I, Chapter 10, § In the Modern English words there are also changes from what they were in Old English, the most noticeable being the change from d [d] to th [ð] (spelled ð⟩ in English until the 15th century).[1]


Old English
nom. māter
acc. mātre(m)

nom. pāter
acc. pātre(m)


In Old English, the word for father was fæder (Middle English fader), which was a cognate of Latin pater. We know that the initial p in the Latin word is the original sound for this word in Proto-Indo-European and that this p changed (‘mutated’) to f in Germanic languages (see Part I, §3.6.5). The medial t in both original Proto-Indo-European words changed to d in Germanic and then to th ([ð]) in English. Note that the Latin t also changed to d in Spanish, whenever it was between vowels or a vowel and an r (cf. Part I, Chapter 10). As for the changes in the vowels, those sounds are much less stable and much more likely to change through time.

So, we say that the words in each of these pairs are (historical) cognates in the sense used in this book, because they have the same source. Because they are not loanwords, we also say that they are (patrimonial) cognates in the sense of the word used in historical linguistics. The words in each of the pairs are also similar enough that they probably qualify as cognates in language study as well. Thus, each of these pairs of words are cognates in all three senses of the word (cf. Part I, Chapter 1).

Nursery words for mother and related words

In addition to these standard words for parents, both languages also have what are known as ‘nursery words’ or ‘pet words’ for the same concepts, words that children typically use. Words for ‘mother’ and ‘father’ in many languages are formed out of the first sounds that a child makes in the babbling stage, or babble words, namely the syllables ma, ba, pa, da, and ta. As you can see, the vowel is always the same, though the consonant is either labial (m, b, p) or dental-apical (t, d) (cf. Part I, Chapter 7). The association of a consonant with a particular parent seems to be arbitrary. Thus, for instance, in Old Japanese, the word for ‘mother’ was papa, a word associated with ‘father’ in many European languages.

This source for pet names for parents results in a great number of coincidences among the languages of the world.[i] So, for instance, the word for ‘mother’ in Mandarin Chinese is māma and in Swahili mama, just like in many European countries. This is not due to a common source or origin, but to the limited options available. Thus, pairs of words such as Chinese māma and Swahili mama are not cognates in the sense used in this book, though they are cognates in the language learning sense.
The main nursery words for English mother (pronounced [ˈmʌ.ðəɹ]) are the following (some have more than one pronunciation due to the vowel being pronounced differently in different dialects): mamma [ˈmæ.mə] (more common in British English), momma [ˈmɒ.ma]/[ˈmɑ.mə], mom [ˈmɒm]/[ˈmɑm] (more common in American English), mommy [ˈmɒ.mi]/[ˈmɑ.mi], mum [ˈmʌm] and mummy [ˈmʌ.mi] (more common in British English).[2] Each of the variants may be more popular in a particular region or with a particular family, due to diverse origins in the old country.[3]

The main nursery words for ‘mother’ in Spanish are mama [ˈ] and mamá [ma.ˈma], the two differing only on what syllable the stress falls. As in the case of the words papa vs. papá (see below), the version with penultimate stress is the original one, stemming from Lat. mamma which originally meant ‘breast, udder’ but which was used as a pet name equivalent to Eng. mom. The version with final stress, Sp. mamá, which is the most common one today, came from French, where all words have final stress. This Gallicism (French loanword), like many others in Spanish, dates from the 18th century.

As we just saw, Lat. mamma, besides being the pet name for mother, originally meant ‘breast, tit, boob’. That is the meaning of Mod. Sp. mama, with penultimate stress, though this is a learned loanword from Latin, not a patrimonial word, used only in technical or scientific contexts. A more common and ‘modest’ word for ‘breast’ in Spanish is pecho, a word that also means ‘chest’, its original and main meaning (from Lat. pĕctus, regular stem pĕctor‑), though in the plural, pechos typically means ‘breasts’. (Note that the English word breast also has both meanings.)

A more ‘formal’, or perhaps ‘aseptic’, Spanish word for ‘breast’ is seno, a patrimonial Latin word that used to mean just ‘cavity’, since it comes from Lat. sinus ‘curve, cavity’. The meaning ‘breast’ for this word is a Gallicism, derived from the sense ‘cleavage’ that the cognate of this word, sein, word adopted in that language. The use of seno to mean ‘breast’ is common in some dialects of Spanish, but not in others (other than in written form). The colloquial (some would say vulgar) term for a womans breast is teta ‘tit’. This word is a cognate of Eng. tit, which is a variant of teat, a mid-13th century loanword from Old French tete ‘teat’ (Mod.Fr. tette). Eng. teat/tit and Sp. teta are thought to be of Germanic origin, not Latin, though the exact source is not clear.

From the root mam‑, Spanish has a derived verb mamar ‘to breast-feed, suckle’. It comes from Lat. mammāre, derived from the root mamm‑ of mamma (mamm-ār-e). Another related word in Spanish is amamantar ‘to breast-feed, nurse’ (mamantar in Old Spanish), an antonym of mamar, which seems to be a Spanish creation. Another word that derives from the same root is the technical word mamífero ‘mammal(ian)’, which is a 19th century New Latin creation made first in French and which Spanish borrowed. The word mamífero (mam-i-fer-o) has the root fer- ‘to bear’ besides de root mam‑, so it was made to mean something like ‘breast bearing’.

Also from the same Latin root mamm‑ are the English equivalents of Sp. mamífero, namely mammal [ˈmæ.məɫ] and mammalian [mə.ˈmeɪ̯.li.ən], which are also learned scientific words in English. The English noun mammal is an adaptation of the technical term Mammalia, a New Latin term created by Linnaeus (1758) to refer to a class of animals, the mammals (in English, it is pronounced [mə.ˈmeɪ̯.li.ə]). The word mammalia is taken from a Late Latin neuter plural form of mammalis ‘of the breast’, an adjective derived from the noun mamma (minus the inflectional ending ‑a) and the derivational suffix ‑āl‑: mamm‑āl‑ia. An alternative term for mammal in English is mammalian,  is a creation, in English, from the same word Mammalia and the Latinate adjectival suffix ‑an.

Nursery words for father and related words

The main nursery words for English father [ˈfɑ.ðəɹ] are dad [ˈdæd], daddy [ˈdæ.di], pop [ˈpɒp] / [ˈpɑp], poppa [ˈpɒ.pə] / [ˈpɑ.pə], and papa Br. [pə.ˈpɑ] / US [ˈpɑ.pə]. The word dad and its diminutive daddy were first recorded around the year 1500. The word papa in English is a late 17th century loanword from French papa. The word pop for ‘dad’, first attested in the 19th century, is derived from papa.

The word dad is first recorded in English in the 15th century, but it is no doubt much older. As we said earlier, pet names for parents in many if not most languages are often derived from the first sounds that an infant makes. The derived word daddy is just a ‘diminutive and endearing form of dad’ (OED), formed with the suffix ‑y (see Part I, Chapter 5).

The main nursery words for Spanish padre are (traditional) papa [ˈ] and (modern) papá [pa.ˈpa]. The former, with penultimate stress, seems to be the original, patrimonial word, descendant from Lat. papas, a loanword from Greek πάππας (pappas), which meant ‘dad’. Actually, in Latin it meant ‘bishop’. That is because in Greek, pappas, which meant ‘dad’, was the name given to patriarchs and bishops and, as such, it was adopted in Latin in the 3rd century. The main Latin word for ‘dad’ was tata. (Another word for ‘dad’ in Greek was τατᾶ ‎(tatâ), just like in Latin.)

Latin had a different word pāpa (variant: pappa) meant originally ‘an infant’s cry for food’, for it was ‘the word with which infants call for food’ (LS). That is the source of the Spanish word papa that means ‘mush, pulp, baby food, soft food’, a homonym of the other word papa. This word is archaic nowadays, but it is still found in its diminutive version papilla ‘mush, pulp, baby food’ and in expressions such as No entiendo ni papa ‘I don’t understand a thing’.

The word for the bishop of Rome and leader of the Catholic Church, Pope in English and Papa in Spanish, has this very same Greek source. From the 5th century on, this name came to be used only for the bishop of Rome in western Europe, namely, for the pope. In Spanish, the word for ‘pope’ is also papa, which is the traditional, patrimonial word for ‘dad’ as well. The English word pope [ˈpoʊ̯p] is the natural derivation from Old English papa, from the same source. The adjective derived from pope is papal [ˈpeɪ̯.pəɫ] in English and papal [pa.ˈpal]) in Spanish, two learned cognates, and the derived abstract noun is papacy [ˈpeɪ̯.pə.si] (Sp. papado).

The Spanish word papa meaning ‘potato’ is unrelated and, thus, yet another (a fourth) homonym of the other words papa we just saw. This one comes from Quechua. This was the original Spanish name of this vegetable, which originated in South America, and which became popular in Europe in the 18th century. It was at that time that in Spain it came to be known as patata, not papa like in the Americas. This seems to have been due to a confusion between this vegetable and a related one known as batata, a type of ‘sweet potato’ that originated in the Caribbean, not South America. The ‘confusion’ seems to have been common in Europe, which explains the English name for the vegetable, potato /pə.teɪ̯.to/ (late 16th century), and the Italian name, patata (18th century) (the word for ‘potato’ in French is pomme de terre, lit. ‘earth apple’, and is thus unrelated).

Eng. parent and related words

Finally, the word for the mother-father pair in English is parents, plural of parent, from Lat. parĕntem, accusative of parēns, a noun meaning ‘mother, father, ancestor’. Its plural (nominative) form was parentēs ‘mother and father’. English borrowed the word parent from French in the early 15th century with the same meaning it had in Latin. This Latin noun is derived from the present participle (nom. parens, gen. parentis, acc. parentem) of the verb parĕre ‘to give birth’, the source of the patrimonial Spanish verb parir, with the same meaning. (This verb’s principal parts are: pariō, parĕre, peperī, partum and it is one of a number of third conjugation ‑ĕre Latin verbs that changed to third or ‑ir conjugation in Spanish.)

The past participle of Lat. parĕre was partus (stem: part-), from which comes the zero-derived Latin noun partus ‘birth, delivery, labor, childbirth’. This noun is the source of the Spanish noun parto, with the same meaning, and thus of the derived nouns partera ‘midwife’ and partero ‘male midwife, accoucheur’. In addition, the woman who gives birth is known as parturienta, a learned noun derived from the present participle of the Latin verb parturīre ‘to be in labor; to be pregnant’, which is derived from the verb parĕre by means of the ‑ur‑(īre) desiderative suffix.

Spanish has a cognate of Eng. parent, a patrimonial descendant of that Latin word parentem, namely the patrimonial word pariente. However, as is well known, these two words are false friends, since the Spanish word pariente has come to mean ‘relative’. It seems that ‘relative’ was a secondary meaning of the Latin word in Late Latin, but by the time of Old Spanish that was the only meaning the word had. Spanish does not have a word that means ‘parent’. In the singular, Eng. parent translates as either padre or madre, depending on the person’s gender. In the plural, however, Eng. parents translates as the plural of the word for ‘father’, namely padres.

The ‘parent’ meaning of the parent‑ stem has made a comeback into Spanish in the form of the new derived word monoparental, which has been created to describe what in English is expressed by the adjective phrase (or compound) single-parent, as in single-parent family, which translates as familia monoparental. The adjective phrase single-mother translates as monomarental, as in familia monomarental. There is no way to translate the adjective phrase single-father, however. The noun phrase single parent (as in I am a single-parent), also has no direct translation by this same method. The noun phrase single father and single mother translate as padre soltero or madre soltera.

Spanish has a few other words derived from the present participle stem parent‑, namely the nouns parentela and parentesco and the verb emparentar. Sp. parentela ‘kinfolk, relatives, relations’ is a learned borrowing from Lat. parentēla, with the same meaning. It is a synonym of Sp. parientes. The noun parentesco ‘kinship, relation by blood’ first appeared in writing in 1275 and it is probably an Occitanism. This word is used in expressions such as tener un parentesco lejano ‘to be distant relatives’, no tener parentesco ‘to be unrelated’. Finally, the Spanish verb emparentar ‘to become related by marriage’ is formed from the same stem by means of the prefix en‑, along with the first conjugation endings, so common in the creation of verbs in Spanish (cf. Part I, Ch. 5, §5.6.1). More common than this verb is the adjective emparentado/a (con) ‘related (to)’ derived from the verb’s past participle.

[1] The reconstructed source words in Proto-Indo-European are *méh₂tēr and *ph₂tḗr (earlier reconstructions are *mātēr and pətḗr), cf. Old Greek μήτηρ (mḗtēr) and πατήρ (patḗr), and Proto-Germanic Germanic *mōdḗr and *fadēr.
[2] The word, mum, which is more common in British than American English, has the same vowel as the word mother, namely [ʌ], though in mother it has the less common spelling 〈o〉 for this sound. The sound [ʌ] is typically spelled 〈u〉 in English, but it is spelled 〈o〉 in many words, such as love and glove.
[3] Note that in all these words, the consonants m-m remain the same, whereas the vowels differ. As often is the case in language change, the consonants of a word tend to be more stable and less likely to change than the vowels.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Sp. llamar / clamar & Eng. claim: the root CLAM, Part 3

[This entry comes from Chapter 15, "Llamar/clamar & claim: the root CLAM- and related words", of Part II of the open-source te...