Friday, May 5, 2017

The Latin root PLĬC-, Part 1: Introduction

[This entry consists of the first two sections of a new chapter (still not incorporated) of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unusual Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Lat. plĭcāre and its descendants in English and Spanish

The Latin verb plĭcāre meant primarily ‘to fold, bend, flex’. One way it was used was to refer to the folding (or rolling up) of a ship’s sails upon arriving to port. By extension, this verb also came to mean ‘to arrive’ since for sailors, folding sails was synonymous with arriving to port. The principal parts of this verb were present indicative plĭcō, present infinitive plĭcāre, perfect active plĭcui, and supine plĭcātum (passive participle plĭcātus). In other words, it was a regular first conjugation verb.

The root plĭc of this Latin verb goes back to Proto-Indo-European *pleḱ- ‘to plait, to weave’ (it had i instead of e in the compounded forms). This root has also given us Latin plectĕre, meaning ‘to plait, weave, braid’ and ‘to twist, bend, turn, intertwine’, which has the same root. This third conjugation verb has an irregular passive participle (supine) form plexus (stem plex) that we will return to below.

The verb plĭcāre has given us two Spanish verbs, a fully patrimonial one, llegar, which means ‘to arrive’, and a semi-patrimonial (or semi-learned) one, plegar, which means ‘to fold’. Both of these verbs display two of the expected sound changes that took place when Vulgar Latin morphed into Old Spanish:
  • Latin C became g between vowels and
  • Latin short ĭ always became e
As for the third change, we also expect Latin initial PL to become ll in Spanish, which is a single sound, despite the two letters it is written with. In other words, it is a digraph 〈ll〉. In Old Spanish and in some Modern Spanish dialects this digraph represents the sound written in the International Phonetic Alphabet as [ʎ]. However, for most speakers this sound has now changed to is now [j], the sound of the letter 〈y〉 in English yam, or [ʝ], a sound similar to the sound [ʤ] in English, usually written 〈j〉, as in jam (cf. Part I, Chapters 7 and 11). This third change took place in one of the words, llegar, but not in the other, plegar.

Spanish semi-learned   
Spanish patrimonial

Spanish llegar is a true patrimonial word, i.e. one that was transmitted orally from one generation to the next, whereas plegar is a semi-learned word in that it was modified at some point presumably under the influence of the written Latin source word, namely plĭcāre.

Sp. llegar has only retained the extended, metaphorical meaning ‘to arrive’. Curiously, the English equivalent of this verb, arrive, derives from a different verb that used a similar metaphor to acquire its current meaning.  This verb is a 13th century loan from Old French ariver ‘to come to shore/land’, from Vulgar Latin *arrīpāre ‘to come ashore’, derived from the phrase ad rīpam ‘to the shore’, from ad ‘to’ and the accusative form of the word rīpa ‘bank (of a river); shore (of the sea)’.[1]

Going back to the Spanish descendants of Lat. plĭcāre, we find that plegar is not found in Spanish with its current meaning, ‘to fold’, until the late 15th century. There is an attested (written) pregar that appeared first in the 13th century in the Leonese dialect with the meaning ‘to nail’, and some think that this is the antecedent of Modern Spanish plegar. For that to be the case, the meaning would have had to be changed in learned circles, along with the initial consonant cluster.

English too has a descendant of the verb plĭcāre, namely the verb to ply, which is now rare, literary, or dialectal. It means ‘to bend, bow’, ‘to fold or double (cloth or the like)’ and, finally, ‘to mould or shape (anything plastic)’ (OED). Lat. plĭcāre became Eng. ply by a series of sound and meaning changes that took place mostly in Old French. Eng. ply is a 14th century loanword from Old French plier, earlier pleier, meaning ‘to fold, bend’, a patrimonial descendant of Lat. plĭcāre in that language. English ply of course was pronounced [ˈpliː] until the Great Vowel Shift converted its pronunciation to [ˈplaɪ̯] (cf. Part I, Chapter 12).



A word derived from this English verb is not so rare, namely the noun pliers, which was derived from the verb in the 16th century. There is also another verb to ply in English, but that is a 14th century shortening or clipping of the verb apply which, as we shall see, is related to this verb ply. This second ply, which is a shortened form of apply, is a literary word whose main meaning is ‘to work steadily at something’, as in the sentence She spent a long time plying them with questions (DOCE).

Verbs derived from Lat. plĭcāre

There are a number of Latin verbs derived from plĭcāre by the addition of prefixes, most of which have learned descendants in English and Spanish.

Original meaning
‘to (fold to) attach;
to join, connect’
‘to fold together’
comply, complicate
‘to unfold; to explain’
(Late Latin) ‘to scatter’
‘to unfold; to
disentangle;to explain’
explicate (but not explain)
‘to entangle; to associate;
to implicate, involve’
implicar, emplear
(O.Sp. emplegar)
implicate, employ, imply
‘to increase; to multiply’
‘to fold back;
to unroll, unwind’
replegar, replicar
replicate, reply
‘to beg’
supplicate (but not supply)

As we can see, the Latin root plĭc has given us a number of verbs in English and Spanish. Some, those that have the root plic in English and Spanish, are learned verbs, taken from written Latin at a fairly late time. Those that end in ply or ploy in English were taken from French, where they were patrimonial words, not learned ones.

Some of the Spanish verbs have the root pleg, which as we saw, is a semi-learned version of the original root since it contains two of the expected sound changes but not the third. We also find that whereas the Spanish verbs are quite ‘normal’ words, some of the English ones are quite rare, formal, or literary, such as explicate and supplicate.

We find that in some cases one of the two languages has doublets, that is, two different words derived from the same source word but acquired through different means, as in Eng. reply and replicate, both ultimately derived from Lat. replĭcāre.

As for the equivalence in meaning between cognates, sometimes it is complete, as in Sp. multiplicar(se) ~ Eng. multiply, but sometimes it is more nuanced, so we are dealing with false-friends or semi-false friends if the cognates are not equivalent in meaning or use.

Note that Lat. mŭltiplĭcāre is different from all the other verbs on the list because the prefix is not derived from a preposition, as the other ones are, but a quantifier. The root mŭlt comes from the determiner mŭltus ‘(sing.) much, (pl.) many’ (the source of Sp. mucho). The i between mult­ and plĭcāre is a linking vowel, used in Latin when two word parts or morphemes came together where the first one ended in a consonant and the second one started with a consonant too.

Lat. mŭlt not the only verb to which a quantifier is prefixed. The root of regular numbers could also be added to mŭltiplĭcāre, giving us verbs such as dūplĭcāre ‘to double, duplicate’ and triplĭcāre ‘to triple’, as we shall see.

In the following sections, we will explore each of these Latin verbs and their descendants in English and Spanish.

[1] Spanish has a cognate of Eng. arrive, namely arribar. This verb, however, is used primarily of ships with the meaning ‘to reach port, dock’ and it is quite rare (it is very rarely used, though it is widely known). There was a descendant of Lat. rīpa in Old Spanish, namely riba, first attested in the 10th century, but which it is now obsolete. There is a noun derived from riba that has survived, however, namely ribera, which can have the same meanings as Lat. rīpa, namely ‘bank, shore’, but which has primarily the derived meaning ‘riverside, fertile plain’. The very common Spanish word arriba is also derived from the expression ad rīpam ‘to the shore’. As an adverb, arriba means ‘on top, high; (in a writing) above; (in a building) upstairs’ and as an interjection, it means ‘come on’, ‘hurray for, long live’.

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