In this chapter, we are going to look at Spanish and English words that contain some version of a root that means ‘foot’. The English word foot and the Spanish word pie do not look or sound alike at all, but they are patrimonial cognates. This means that they are patrimonial words in their respective language, not loanwords, and that they go back to the same word in the language that is the ancestor to both languages, namely in Proto-Indo-European. We do not have any records of this language that was spoken over 5,000 years ago, but linguists have established its existence by comparing daughter languages derived from it. And the word for ‘foot’ was transmitted orally for thousands of years all the way to the present time in each of these languages. The connection is not so surprising once we realize that linguists have established that Proto-Indo-European p and d mutated into Germanic f and t, respectively (see Part I, Chapter 3, §3.6.5).
The English word foot /ˈfʊt/, plural feet /ˈfit/, is a native, Germanic word, the root of which was fōt /ˈfoːt/ in Proto-Germanic, the language that English, German, and other European languages come from. The Spanish word pie /ˈpi̯e/, plural pies /ˈpi̯es/ (it was piedes until the 13th century), is a native word too, one which goes back to the Latin root pĕd- /ˈped/. This word had an irregular nominative case form, namely pēs, but its accusative case form was pĕdem, and that is the form that Sp. pie derives from.
Both of these words go back to the same Proto-Indo-European root *pōd- ‘foot’. Proto-Germanic, the ancestor of English, changed the Proto-Indo-European consonants p and d to f and t, respectively), and Latin, the ancestor of Spanish, changed the vowel o to e. Other than that, foot and pie are (what linguists call) modern reflexes of the same original word in two different daughter languages.
Of course, if you didn’t know about those sound changes, you would have never guessed that these words are cognates, both in the sense of the word cognate used in this book (words derived from the same original source word) and in the sense of the word cognate used in linguistics (words derived from the same original source word that are not loanwords). Obviously, however, these two words are not cognates in the sense of the word used in language study (words that look alike and have the same meaning).
foot (pl. feet)
How we get from the Proto-Indo-European word to the English and the Spanish ones is easy to explain by regular sound-change rules that have been well known for over a century. So, as we said, in the Germanic branch of daughter languages, Proto-Indo-European p changed to f and d changed to t, both changes predicted by Grimm’s Law (see, Part I, §3.6.5).
The relationship between the singular and the plural of the English word (foot-feet) is also explained by a regular phenomenon known as i-mutation, umlaut, or metaphony, by which a back vowel, in this case the /ʊ/ in the singular word foot, becomes fronted to /i/ in anticipation of a similar sound in the suffix (cf. Part I, Chapter 7). This is a sound mutation that took place in many Germanic languages around 1,500 years ago.
The phenomenon of i-mutation or i-umlaut in Old English originally resulted in the change of vowels, such as the one we see here, when the sound in the following syllable was /i/ or /j/, as in the plural suffix ‑iz and the noun suffix ‑ith (that derived nouns from adjectives, e.g. filth < foul).[i] Although some of the vowel changes that took place have been reversed over the centuries by other regularizing processes, we still find reflexes of this change in singular-plural pairs such as foot-feet /ˈfʊt ˈfit/, mouse-mice /ˈmaʊ̯s ˈmaɪ̯s/ (pronounced /ˈmus ˈmis/ until about 500 years ago), and man-men /ˈmæn ˈmɛn/.
As we said earlier, Spanish pie is derived from the accusative form of Latin pēs, namely pĕdem. In this word the final -m was lost first, very early on, giving us pede. Then the stressed ĕ became the diphthong ie [i̯e], cf. piede. This is what happened to the short vowel ĕ in Latin as it morphed into Spanish if it was stressed. Then, the d was lost between vowels as it typically did, giving us *piee. Finally the resulting ee were simplified to a single e (pie), which is also an expected development. The changes are summarized thus:
Latin pĕdem > pede > piede > piee > Mod. Spanish pie
The Latin word pēs evolved differently in other Romance languages:
- Mod. French pied (Old French pié): the d, which is not pronounced, was added in recent times to the spelling of the word to make it look more like its Latin source word
- Portuguese pé (Old Port. pee): in Portugues, Latin short ĕ did not become a diphthong
- Catalan peu (a variant of Old Provençal pe)
- Italian piede: here the ĕ became a diphthong, but the d was not lost
English foot and Spanish pie are not the only patrimonial cognates that refer to body parts, though there aren’t very many of them. We find a few other such cognates, having to do with body parts. Sometimes, such pairs are not full cognates (sharing the root and all affixes), but they at least share the word’s root in the original source word. All of those pairs of cognates look very different from each other at first sight in the modern languages, since they split from the original source word thousands of years ago and the sounds in these words have mutated independently of each other (though not their meaning, in this case). The main such cognate words are the following:
- Eng. tongue ~ Sp. lengua are also cognates (it was dingua in Old Latin; cf. Chapter 16).
- Eng. tear ~ Sp. lágrima (from Latin lācrima, which comes from an earlier dacruma),
- Eng. tooth ~ Sp. diente (from Latin dent‑)
- Eng. ear ~ Sp. oreja (which comes from a diminutive of the Latin root aur‑)
- Eng. eye (from Old English ēaġe) ~ Sp. ojo (from Latin ocul‑)
- Eng. heart ~ Sp. corazón (from a word derived from Latin cord‑)
- Eng. nose ~ nariz (derived from Latin nār‑is, from nās-us, with rhotacism of the s)