Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Embarrassing pregnancies, Part 3: Sp. preñada and Eng. pregnant

[This entry is the third section ("Sp. preñada and Eng. pregnant (and Lat. praegnās and *praegnāre)") of Chapter 3 ("Embarrassing pregnancies") of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unusual Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Sp. preñada and preñar

Going back to the topic of pregnancy, we must mention the words Eng. pregnant and Sp. preñada, which happen to have pretty much the same meaning, ‘Carrying developing offspring within the body’ (AHD). They are not used the same way, however, since whereas Eng. pregnant can be used for women and for (female) animals, Sp. preñada cannot (anymore) be used for women.

Note first, however, that at first sight we cannot say that these words are cognates in the sense used in this book, for although they share the same root (pregn‑/preñ‑ < Lat. pregn‑), their endings seem at first sight to be quite different. Words ending in ‑ant in English typically come from a Latin present participle words, whereas words in ‑ada in Spanish typically come from the Latin past/passive participle suffix ‑ata. Because the two words share the root/stem, we say that they are cognate (or paronyms), but we cannot say that they are necessarily cognates until we know more about their origin (for a discussion on cognates and paronyms, see Part I, Chapter 1).

Other than that, the main difference between these two words, as we said, is that the Spanish word preñada is typically only for animals, not typically for women. This did not use to be the case, however, and the modern words for ‘pregnant’ for women are modern euphemisms for an earlier preñada (for a discussion on euphemisms, see Part I, Chapter 6, §6.4.2).

Note, however, that in dialects of Spanish spoken in many rural areas, the word preñada is still used for women, a usage that is not found in standard Spanish. Using it for a woman nowadays in most contexts, however, sounds at best quaint and archaic, since for most ‘modern people’ the word preñada has been substituted in Spanish in recent centuries by euphemisms such as embarazada (see above), encinta (see below), and en estado (de buena esperanza). There are additional non-standard euphemisms, such as grávida, gestante, and gruesa. Notice that English too uses euphemisms and other colorful expressions for pregnant women, such as with child, expecting (or expectant), and in a family way. Two other colorful expressions to express the meaning of being pregnant are to be up the spout, and to have a bun in the oven. Another reason for not using preñada for a pregnant woman is its modern association with the verb preñar ‘to make pregnant’, as we will see below.

It turns out that these two words are indeed cognates in the sense used in this book, since they do have the same origin. It’s just that the Latin word they come from had two different variants. The words pregnant and preñada go back ultimately to a Latin adjective that is either praegnās or praegnans in the nominative singular form (for both masculine and feminine). Both of these forms are found in Latin and the one with the n is the earlier one, from with the n-less one is derived. In other words, there were two versions of this word, one with an n in the stem and one without it:

Variant 1
Variant 2
Nominative singular
Genitive singular
Accusative singular

This adjective is formed with the prefix prae‑ ‘before’ (Lat. prae‑ was replaced by pre- in later times) and the root ‑gnā(n)t‑, though in the nominative case, the t is missing from the stem, as you can see. The root ‑gnā(n)t‑ is somehow related to the deponent verb gnāscī, or nāscī, ‘to be born’ (the source of Sp. nacer ‘to be born’.[1] In other words, the Latin word praegnā(n)s meant originally, according to its word parts, something like ‘(in a state of being) before birth’.

It would seem that Sp. preñada is probably related to Variant 1, for Latin ‑t‑ became ‑d‑ in Old Spanish between vowels (cf. Part I, Chapter 10), though the ‑a ending remains unexplained (see below). Likewise, it would seem that Eng. pregnant is probably related to Variant 2 of this word, the one with an ‑n‑ in it. In other words, the ending ‑ant of Eng. pregnant is not related to the suffix ‑ant associated with many adjectives and nouns derived from Latin first conjugation present participle forms, such as important, servant, expectant, or pleasant.

And, if this theory is correct, Sp. preñada does also not contain the participle suffix ‑ada from Lat. ‑ata. In other words, preñada would be derived from the accusative form praegnātem, of the adjective praegnās. The problem is that, given what we know about sound changes from Latin to Old Spanish, praegnātem should have given us Sp. preñad, not preñada, since all patrimonial Latin words that end in ‑ātem end in ‑ad in Modern Spanish, such as verdad ‘truth’ (from veritātem). This could be explained by the word having been turned feminine (for obvious reasons) and having changed the final ‑e to ‑a (see below).

However, there is the lingering issue that preñada has an  ending that is typical of a feminine past participle verb form, ‑ada, one that typically comes from the Latin passive participle ‑āta, and which often turns into adjectives (and nouns).  In other words, preñada can be interpreted (by a modern speaker who does not know any better) as an adjective derived from the verb preñar, which in Modern Spanish means ‘to impregnate, make pregnant’. The word preñada would then necessarily mean ‘impregnated, made pregnant’, not just ‘pregnant’ or ‘with child’, which was the original meaning which was the meaning of the original Latin adjective praegnās. And sure enough, the word preñada can be interpreted both ways (‘pregnant’ and ‘impregnated’) in modern Spanish.

However, there are good reasons to believe that preñada was not originally a past participle of a verb preñar, as it looks at first sight today. The first thing we should keep in mind that there does not seem to have been a verb *praegnāre in classical Latin, which would in theory have been the source of Sp. preñar, since such a verb is never attested in writing. On the other hand, there was a derived (prefixed) verb impraegnāre in Latin, the source of semi-false friends Eng. impregnate and Sp. impregnar, which is attested in Late Latin writing in (though not in Classical Latin). This Lat. impraegnāre seems to have been originally intransitive, meaning ‘to conceive, to become pregnant’, not transitive, meaning ‘to make pregnant’. However, the patrimonial Old Spanish verb form empreñar derived from Lat. impraegnāre may have come to be transitive in meaning and to mean ‘to make pregnant’.

Because of all this, eminent Spanish etymologist Corominas does not think that Sp. preñada was originally a participle form of the verb preñar. He thinks that, as we said earlier, it is derived from an unattested Vulgar Latin *pregnata, which substituted the original praegnate(m) by giving it the typical feminine ending ‑a, since this word was used only to refer to females. Corominas thinks that the verb preñar ‘to make someone pregnant’ is a back formation from the adjective preñada, and that it is relatively recent. (For more on the phenomenon of back formation, see Part I, Chapter 5, §5.7.3.)

Eng. pregnant

As for English pregnant /ˈpɹɛɡ.nənt/, this is a 16th century borrowing from the Classical Latin adjective praegnantem ‘with child’, though it may have been mediated by a French version of this word, such as prégnant (this word prégnant is only used figuratively in Modern French and it is quite rare, though there is another word prégnant, as we shall see). This word replaced, and thus was a euphemism for, traditional English terms such as mid-bearne, literally ‘with child’. Soon thereafter, however, it became a taboo word itself, something that lasted until the mid-20th century, when it became a polite word again. Among the euphemisms that replaced this word, we find anticipating, enceinte (from Fr. enceinte, cf. Sp. encinta), expecting, in a family way, and in a delicate (or interesting) condition. Slang words have also developed in the English-speaking world out of the word pregnant, such as preggers (1942) and preggo (1951).

We should note that English has a second word pregnant that, surprisingly, is not related to the other one. This second adjective pregnant means currently ‘meaningful, full of meaning’ and it is found in phrases such as a pregnant pause (= a pause full of meaning). Most people who use this word (not many, admittedly) probably think that this is just an quirky secondary meaning of the regular word pregnant. But this second word pregnant comes from Old French preignant, presumably the present participle of the verb preindre ‘press, squeeze, stamp, crush’, which ultimately comes from Lat. premere ‘to press’. English borrowed this word pregnant in the late 14th century, even before it borrowed the other one, though it is quite rare in Modern English, other than in the phrase pregnant pause. In earlier times this adjective pregnant could be used to describe an argument, proof, evidence, reason, etc. and its meaning was ‘pressing, urgent, weighty; compelling, cogent, forcible, convincing; hence, clear, obvious’ (OED).

Finally, let us look at the noun pregnancy, which is obviously derived from the adjective pregnant. However, this noun does not descend from a Latin word, as one might have thought, something such as *pregnantia. One might have thought that was the case for there is a pattern in English morphology of Latinate words that might have made us think this way. The pattern is that words that end in ‑ant or ‑ent, which as we saw are almost invariably derived from Latin present participles, have a related derived noun that ends in ‑ancy or ‑ency, respectively. That is to say, English words in ‑ant, which alost invariably come from first conjugation Latin present participles (‑a‑nt‑), could be further derived by means of the noun ending ‑i‑(a) attached to the stem, which in participles ended in ‑nt‑. And Latin nouns ending ‑nt‑+‑i-a nouns have become English nouns in ‑cy, through the vagaries of sound change in French (from where these English words come). Thus, we have infant (< Lat. infant-em) and infancy (< Lat. infant-i-a; cf. Sp. infante and infancia), vacant and vacancy (cf. Sp. vacante and (rare) vacancia), expectant and expectancy, and president and presidency (cf. Sp. presidente ~ presidencia), for example.

However, remember we said that Eng. pregnant was not originally a present participle in Latin, so it would have never been possible to add the ending ‑ia to it in Latin, giving us *praegnantia, a word that did not exist because could not have been derived that way.[2] However, some English speaker who did not know this decided to derive the noun pregnancy out of the adjective pregnant nonetheless and so, the word pregnancy was born in the 16th century.

The way you say pregnancy in Spanish is embarazo, a back-formation or zero-formation (conversion) derived from the verb embarazar (see above) (cf. Part I, Chapter 5, §5.7). Another, much less common synonym for the noun ‘pregnancy’ is preñado, a masculine noun related to the feminine adjective preñada.

Eng. impregnate ~ Sp. impregnar

Before leaving the words Eng. pregnant ~ Sp. preñada, let us go back to Eng. impregnate and Sp. empreñar/impregnar. We said earlier that according to Corominas, Late Latin impregnare was primarily intransitive and meant ‘to conceive, to become pregnant’. It seems, however, that this verb also came to be used transitively, that is, with the meaning ‘to make pregnant’. That would mean that Spanish transitive preñar ‘to make pregnant’ could have come in as a variant of transitive empreñar. Notice that Sp. empreñar is very rare in modern in Standard Spanish, though it is still found dialectally.

Interestingly, this very same verb impraegnāre has made a comeback in both English and Spanish as learned words. In other words, the verb was borrowed from written Latin at a later point by both English and Spanish, giving us the cognates Eng. impregnate ~ Sp. impregnar. English impregnate is a 17th century loan that follows a borrowing of the word through French as impregn in the 16th century. Eng. impregnate comes from the past participle of the Latin verb, namely impraegnātus, hence the different ending from the Spanish infinitive, which comes from the Latin infinitive impraegnāre.

However, Eng. impregnate and Sp. impregnar are actually false friends of sorts or, as we have been calling the phenomenon in this book, semi-false friends. English impregnate has the original sense of the word, namely ‘to impregnate, make pregnant’, but it has also acquired a secondary sense (use) in addition of the original one, though it is not as well known as the original one. This second sense is ‘[to] soak or saturate with a substance’ (COED), or ‘imbued or saturated with something; having some active ingredient diffused through it’ (OED), as in the phrase impregnated wood, wood that has been treated with a preservative. In Spanish, on the other hand, the original sense has totally disappeared and has been replaced by the one we just mentioned as secondary for English. In other words, Sp. impregnar can never mean ‘to impregnate’, but rather ‘to soak a solid with some active ingredient’.

Let us end this section by mentioning an English word related to the word impregnate, namely the adjective impregnable ‘not able to be captured by attack : very strong’ (MWALD), as in an impregnable building. This word was borrowed from Old French impregnable, at around the same time the 16th century as the word impregn was borrowed, the one that preceded the more Latinate version of this loanword, namely impregnate. (Notice that if this adjective was derived from this verb, it would be *impregnatable, which is not a word.) Eng. impregnable does not have a cognate in Spanish. Its main equivalent in Spanish is inexpugnable, which is not a related word.

[1] The principal parts of this deponent verb meaning ‘to be born’ are: (g)nāscor, (g)nāscī, (g)nātus sum. For more on deponent verbs, see Part I, Chapter 8, § The initial g was lost by Classical Latin times, but it can be observed in words derived from this one by means of prefixes, as in the adjective/noun cognatus (fem. cognata), from co‑ (< con‑) ‘with, together’ +‎ (g)nātus ‘born’, which meant primarily ‘related by blood, kindred’. This is, of course, the source of the words Eng. cognate and Sp. cognado, both of them learned words (loanwords from written Latin). Spanish also has a patrimonial descendants of this word, namely cuñado and cuñada, that means ‘brother in law’ and ‘sister in law’. By the way, the root of this verb goes back to Proto-Indo-European root *gene- ‘give birth, beget’, found in many New Latin words such as gene and genetics.

[2] Actually, the wordform praegnantia did exist in Latin, though not with a derivation typically associated with the endin ‑antia. It was the neuter plural nominative and accusative wordform of the adjective praegnāns.

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