Sunday, June 4, 2017

Family relations, Part 4: Word for brothers and sisters

[This entry comes from fifth section ("Words for brothers and sisters") of Chapter 5 ("Words for family relations") of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

English brother and Latin frāter

The English word brother /ˈbɹʌ.ðəɹ/ is a native (patrimonial) Germanic word and it is a cognate of the Latin word for ‘brother’, namely frāter (acc. frātrem, regular stem frātr‑). Both brother and frāter go back to Proto-Indo-European *bhrā́ter- (also reconstructed as *bʰréh₂tēr) and are patrimonial cognates of Ancient Greek φράτηρ (phrátēr).

Proto-Indo-European bhrā́ter-
Eng. brother
Lat. frāter
A.Gk. φράτηρ (phrátēr)

Many other Indo-European languages have keep this basic word for a family relationship for the last five thousand years, such as for example German Bruder, Dutch broer, Russian брат (brat), Romanian frate, Iranian برادر (barâdar), or Hindi/Urdu भाई (bhāī; Urdu spelling بھائی), which descends from Sanskrit भ्रातृ (bhrā́tṛ). Do note that the word for ‘brother’ in Modern Greek is the unrelated αδελφός (adelfós), a word that comes from Ancient Greek ἀδελφός (adelphós), an alternate word for ‘brother’ in that ancient language, one which is derived from the word‎ δελφύς (delphús) ‘womb’.

Spanish hermano and hermana

This ancient word, which made it through thousands of years of language change, did not survive into all languages that descend from Latin, Spanish being one of them. In Spanish, the word for ‘brother is hermano, which is unrelated to either Eng. brother or Lat. frāter.

So, where does the Spanish word hermano ‘brother’ come from? It comes from the Latin adjective germānus ‘true, authentic’, or actually from the shortening of the Latin phrase frāter germānus ‘true/authentic brother’, which was used to refer to brothers with the same mother and father, as opposed to stepbrothers and half-brothers. The phrase frater germānus was used already in Rome’s golden age and, for some reason, it got shortened to germānus in some of the western Romance languages, such as Spanish (hermano), Portuguese (irmão), and Catalan (germà).

The change of the ending ‑us to ‑o in Old Spanish is perfectly regular. Actually, the ‑o derives from the accusative ending -ŭm, not the nominative ending ‑ŭs (cf. Part I, Chapters 8 and 10). As for the change of the initial g to h, it is not the result of any sound change, as it might have seemed. What happened is that the sound of the letter g at the beginning of a word was lost when followed by the short vowel ĕ. This resulted in the word ermano in Old Spanish, without an h. The addition of the silent h (Sp. hache muda) in the spelling took place later. For some reason, someone thought that it would be a good idea to put an h at the beginning of this word as if to hold the place for that lost Latin consonant.

Old Sp.


What we just said about hermano applies to its feminine form hermana ‘sister’, which comes from the Latin phrase soror germāna ‘true sister’, also by shortening (for the Latin word soror ‘sister’ and derived words found in English and Spanish, cf. §5.5.4 below).

The Latin adjective germānus is derived from the Latin noun germen, same in the nominative and accusative cases (the regular stem was germin‑). Lat. germen meant primarily ‘shoot, sprout, bud’. It comes from Proto-Indo-European *ǵénh₁mn̥ ‘offspring; seed’. The Latin sourceword  was derived from the root *ǵenh₁‑ ‘to beget’, ‘to give birth’, a root found in many other words from Eng. genetics ~ Sp. genética to Eng. generic ~ Sp. genérico/a to genitals ~ Sp. genitales.

Going back to the Latin adjective germānus (feminine: germāna; stem: germān‑), this word meant ‘genuine, real, actual, true’. It was formed from the stem germ‑ and the adjective forming suffix ‑ān‑, and the inflectional ending: nominative, masculine singular ‑us, or nominative feminine singular ‑a). From this Latin word, we get the nouns Eng. germ ~ Sp. germen, as well as the derived verbs Eng. germinate ~ Sp. germinar. From the exact Latin word germanus , and thus a cognate of Sp. hermano/a, comes the English adjective germane /ʤəɹ.ˈmeɪ̯n/, which means ‘relevant to a subject under consideration’ (COED). It translates into Spanish as pertinente or relacionado.

English derivates
‘to beget’, ‘to give birth’
genus, genetic, genome,…
‘offspring, seed’
germ, germen, germane,…

The Latin adjective germānus is not to be confused with its homonym noun germānus ‘a Germanic person’ (germān‑us), whose adjective form was germānicus ‘Germanic’ (germān‑ĭc‑us; fem. germānica). The equivalents in English and Spanish are Germanic and germánico, respectively. It is not clear where the noun germānus (plural germāni) for Germanic people comes from. It seems Julius Caesar was the first to use it, as he was also the first to use the word Germania for the land they inhabited, west of the Rhine, a name that is the source of the English country name Germany (Sp. Alemania). The Germanic tribes played a major part in both in the fall of the Western Roman Empire and in the creation of Medieval Europe.[1]

As we saw, the switch from Lat. frater ‘brother’ and Lat. soror ‘sister’ to a derivate of Lat. germānus and germāna is not common to all Romance languages, only to those in the Iberian Peninsula, such as Catalan germà ‘brother’ and germana ‘sister’, and Galego/Portuguese irmão ‘brother’ and irmã ‘sister’ (in addition to Sp. hermano/hermana). Descendants of Lat. germānus/a are also now found in parts of Italy and they were supposedly found in the whole Italic peninsula in earlier times, only to be later replaced back by fratello ‘brother’ and sorella ‘sister’ later, in standard Italian. These two words come from diminutive forms of Latin frater and soror. The French word for ‘brother’ is frère /ˈfʀɛʀ/, a patrimonial descendant of Lat. frater.

Words derived from Lat. frāter

Sp. fraterno/a and fraternal and Eng. fraternal

Spanish has a couple of learned adjectives derived from the Latin noun frater, one of which has an English cognate of the same provenance. One of them is fraterno, from Lat. frāternus ‘fraternal, brotherly’, as in Sp. amor fraterno ‘brotherly love’ (frātern‑us). Lat. frāternus seems to be derived from the noun frāter plus the adjectival ‑ān‑ suffix. In other words, it contains the morphemes frātr+an+us and is thus an irregular formation, probably influenced by the nominative wordform frāter. This learned adjective was borrowed into Spanish in the 15th century. The feminine form of this adjective in Spanish is fraterna, as in amistad fraterna ‘brotherly friendship’.

From the Latin adjective frāternus, a synonymous adjective was derived in Medieval Latin by the (redundant) addition of the adjectival ending ‑āl‑, resulting in the word frāternālis (frātern‑āl‑is), accusative frāternālem. From this word, we get Sp. fraternal /fɾa.t̪eɾ.ˈnal/, a synonym of Sp. fraterno/a, and its English cognate fraternal /fɹə.ˈtɜɹ.nəl/, which came into English in the 15th century. Both words probably came in through French fraternel (fem. fraternelle), which was already present in Old French by the 12th century.

Verbs derived from Lat. frater

There are some verbs in English and Spanish that contain the root of the Latin noun frater, such as the cognates Sp. fraternizar /fɾa.t̪eɾ.ni.ˈθaɾ/ ~ Eng. fraternize /ˈfræ.təɹ.naɪ̯z/. These verbs come from Medieval Latin frāternizāre, derived from the Latin adjective frāternus and the verbal suffix ‑iz‑, a loanword from Ancient Greek Ancient Greek ‑ίζειν (-ízein) (frātern‑iz‑ā‑re). English borrowed this verb from French quite late, in the 17th century, and so did Spanish, probably around the same time or a little bit later.

English-Spanish dictionaries typically say that fraternizar and fraternize are perfectly equivalent (i.e. “very good friends”), since both can mean something like ‘to associate with others in a brotherly or congenial way’ (AHD). Actually, English fraternize has a second sense that the Spanish cognate does not have, one that seems to derive from its use in the military. This sense is ‘to associate on friendly terms with an enemy or opposing group, often in violation of discipline or orders’ (AHD), and in particular, ‘to have relations with foreign women when stationed overseas’. Spanish fraternizar does not have that sense (but see below).

Spanish has a somewhat archaic synonym of fraternizar, namely confraternar, also meaning ‘to treat each other with love and friendship like brothers’ (DUEAE). This word, which contains the prefix con‑ ‘with’, is older than fraternizar. There is also a blend in Spanish of fraternizar and confraternar, namely the verb confraternizar, which presumably was influenced by the French word confraternité, a learned 13th century derivation based on an older confrère (see below). The verb confraternizar is often used with the narrow sense we just saw Eng. fraternize has, namely ‘to associate on friendly terms with an enemy or opposing group’.

Sp. fraternidad, Eng. fraternity, and related words

The cognate nouns Eng. fraternity /fɹə.ˈtɜɹ.nɪ.tɪ/ and Sp. fraternidad /fɾa.t̪eɾ.ni.ˈd̪ad̪/ are learned words that go back to Lat. frāternitātem (accusative of frāternitās), which meant ‘brotherhood, fraternity; the relationship of brothers’, a word derived from the adjective frāternus we just saw that meant ‘brotherly, fraternal’. English borrowed it in the 14th century through Old French fraternité, a learned word in that language, first attested in the 12th century.[2]

Eng. fraternity of course had to compete with the native word brotherhood, which has basically the same meaning. Although brotherhood, with the ending ‑hood, is only first attested in the 15th century, it comes from an earlier form broþerhede in Middle English. In Old English, we find the equivalent forms derived from the word for brother: broþerrede, broðorscipe (i.e. brothership), and broðorsibb, all meaning something like ‘fellowship, brotherhood, kinship of brothers’.

Spanish fraternidad appears in writing for the first time in the 15th century and is also, no doubt, a loanword from French, who borrowed it from Latin first. These two nouns are not perfect friends either, despite being cognates. The two are synonyms when fraternity is used with the sense of ‘the quality or condition of being brothers; brotherliness’ (AHD). But Eng. fraternity can have other senses that Sp. fraternidad does not have. English fraternity can have a sense of ‘association’ or ‘society’, that is, ‘a group of people sharing a common profession or interests’ (COED). The Spanish equivalent of that sense would be asociación, hermandad, or cofradía. Let us look at the last two of these words, which do have the ‘brother’ component incorporated in them.

In American English, there is an added sense for the word fraternity, which is probably the most common sense of this word in the US, at least in the academic sphere. The sense refers to ‘a chiefly social organization of men students at a college or university, usually designated by Greek letters’ (AHD). The feminine equivalent is sorority, from the Latin word for sister, soror (see next section). Fraternities and sororities do not exist in the academic Spanish-speaking world, so there are no words to describe them. One dictionary offers the option club de estudiantes (AES). Spanish speakers in the US often use the cognate fraternidad to express this meaning, which is an estadounidismo, that is, a word (or use of a word) that is only found in United States Spanish (cf. Part I, §2.7).

One native Spanish way to express a meaning similar to that of (borrowed) fraternidad is the noun hermandad, first attested in the 12th century. This noun is made up of the stem of the noun hermano (herman‑) and the suffix ‑dad (herman+dad). Thus, it would seem that this word was created, in Spanish, by analogy with the Latin word frāternitātem, since the Spanish suffix ‑idad is a patrimonial descendant of Lat. ‑itatem.


In the Middle Ages, the word hermandad was used to refer to certain ‘voluntary organizations formed in Spain during the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries to maintain public order and resist the depredations of the nobles and later to exercise general police functions’ (WU). Modern hermandad still has that meaning of ‘brotherly association’, as well as the same abstract sense of ‘close relationship’ or ‘a feeling of kinship and closeness’ that Eng. brotherhood has. Because the root herman‑ is not intrinsically masculine, the word hermandad can also mean ‘sisterhood’ in addition to ‘brotherhood’, at least in theory.

The Spanish noun cofradía is also quite old. It means ‘brotherhood, association, guild’. It is derived from the noun cofrade, which now means primarily ‘member of a guild, brotherhood, etc.’. Its literal meaning is ‘co-brother’ or ‘fellow brother’. This word is first attested as confrare (12th century), confradre (13th c.), confrade (14th c.) and, finally cofrade (16th c.). In the earlier forms, we can see clearly that this word is formed from the prefix con‑ ‘with’ and a patrimonial derivation of Lat. frater ‘brother’ or, rather, the accusative wordform of this Latin noun: frātrem. (Remember that it was common for Latin words that had two r’s in them to lose one by the time the word got to Old Spanish, cf. Part I, Chapter 10.) The verb confraternar, mentioned earlier as a synonym of fraternizar, is related to this noun, though it seems to be more learned.

By the way, in addition to the learned noun fraternité (a 12th century loan from Lat. fraternitās, as we have seen), French also has the word confrérie ‘brotherhood’, a cognate of Sp. cofradía. This word still exists in French but it now used only in religious and freemasonry contexts. An earlier version was confrarie (c. 1190), which some see as coming from Medieval or Church Latin confratria, again, derived from the prefix con‑ ‘with’ and the noun fratria ‘siblings, brothers and sisters’ (cf. Latin phrātria, from Greek φρατρία (phratría) ‘tribe, clan’, derived from φράτηρ (phrátēr) + ‑ία (-ía).) This word also originally had the same two meanings that brotherhood and fraternity have, the abstract one (‘brotherliness’) and the concrete one (‘association, society’).

Other words from the Latin root frātr

There is another way in which the Latin word frāter has made it into English and Spanish, namely Spanish fraile and its English cognate friar, with the same meaning, referring to a Catholic monk, a member of a Roman Catholic religious order of men, in particular one of the four mendicant orders (Augustinians, Carmelites, Dominicans, and Franciscans).

English borrowed the word friar in the 13th century from O.Fr. frere, a word that meant both ‘brother’ and, in a religious context, ‘friar’. This word a patrimonial descendant from Lat. frater ‘brother’. Modern French has retained the patrimonial word frère /ˈfʀɛʀ/ to this day, which still has both meanings, ‘brother’ and, in the right contexts, ‘friar’. Note that the English word brother can also be used in both contexts, though interestingly, in the religious one, the plural of brother is often not brothers but brethren, the Old English plural form of this noun.

Spanish fraile is a medieval borrowing from Occitan fraire, which is how Latin frater was changed in this Romance language of southern France. It is thus a cognate of northern and standard French frère. The word hermano in Spanish and the word brother in English can also be used in a special sense to refer to certain members of Christian orders, particularly Catholic ones, though calling fellow Christians brothers in English and hermanos in Spanish is something that goes back to the beginnings of Christianity.

Finally, Spanish has the words fratricidio and fratricida, both of which correspond to their cognate Eng. fratricide. Sp. fratricida means ‘a person who kills his or her brother’. It comes from Lat. frātrĭcīda, with the same meaning, a word that was formed with the root frātr‑ and the variant ‑cīd‑ of the morpheme ‑caed‑ of the verb caedĕre ‘to kill’ (cf. frātr‑ĭ‑cīd‑a, with the linking vowel ‑ĭ‑).

Spanish fratricidio means ‘the act of killing one’s brother’. Both translate as fratricide in English, for this word can refer to both the act or the person, just as the original Latin word fratrĭcīda did. In other words, Spanish derived the word fratricidio out of fraticida to refer to the act, leaving the word fratricida to refer to the person. In addition of being a noun, fratricida can also be an adjective, which translates into Eng. as fratricidal.

The pattern we just saw extends to other words that come from Latin words derived with the ‑cīd‑ morpheme, though in the other cases, the English word can only refer to the person, not the act. Thus, we have Sp. homicidio ‘homicide’ and homicida ‘n. murderer; adj. homicidal’ or suicidio ‘suicide’ and suicida ‘n. suicide victim; adj. suicidal’.

Words derived from Lat. soror

The Latin word for ‘sister’ was sŏror. Its accusative singular wordform was sŏrōrem and the regular stem sŏrōr‑. The number of modern reflexes in English and Spanish from this word is much smaller than the number words derived from the Latin word for ‘brother’. We see a patrimonial descendant in the French word for ‘sister’, namely sœur /ˈsœʀ/.

In Spanish, however, the Latin word for ‘sister’ ended up being fully replaced by the word hermana, from the phrase soror germana, or by changing the ending of masculine hermano ‘brother’ from ‑o to ‑a. This change, however, was not complete until sometime in the Old Spanish period and we find the patrimonial word seror occasionally in writing in Old Spanish.

Another reflex of Lat. soror in Spanish is the title sor, used for Catholic nuns next to their (first) names, e.g. Sor María ‘Sister María’. The male equivalent of this, as used with friars and monks, is fray in Spanish, short for fraile, e.g. Fray Francisco ‘Brother Francisco’. Corominas thinks that this sor is derived from Old Catalan sor, because of the form of the word sor and because the word sor survived as the word for ‘sister’ in Catalan well into the Middle Ages, only to be replaced in the end by the word germana, a cognate of Sp. hermana (sor is attested in Catalan as late as the 15th century).[3]

English has a single word that contains the root of Lat. soror, namely sorority. This noun is a learned borrowing and adaptation of Medieval Latin sorōritās ‘sisterhood’ (accusative case sorōritātem), the feminine equivalent of frāternitās ‘brotherhood’. English borrowed this word from Medieval Latin in the 16th century with the meaning ‘a society of women, body of women united for some purpose’. In Modern English, in the United States, sorority is used as a counterpart of fraternity at colleges and universities, starting in the 19th century. In other words, its meaning is ‘a chiefly social organization of women students at a college or university, usually designated by Greek letters’ (AHD). Such groups of female college students are associated with a sorority house. The Spanish translation of the term sorority would be hermandad de mujeres, for the original meaning, and something like club femenino de estudiantes for the modern one. Interestingly, the word soror is used among sorority members in the US, to refer colloquially to fellow members of one's sorority, as an alternative to the expression sorority sister.

If Spanish had borrowed Lat. sorōritās, it would have borrowed it as sororidad, replacing the ‑tās/‑tātem ending as ‑dad, as usual. Although this word does not appear in most Spanish dictionaries, it does appear in the Diccionario de americanismos of the Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española, ASALE (2010), which says that it is used in Puerto Rico and that it is a loanword (or calque) from English. Its definition is ‘an association of friendship and reciprocity among women who share an ideal and work to achieve a common goal’.[4] Of course, this is not the meaning of Eng. sorority, so although the word sorority may have served as the model for this loanword, its equivalent in English is actually sisterhood, a native English compound, equivalent in composition to sorority, but with different meaning and usage.

Note that Spanish could not have created a native word equivalent to Eng. sisterhood, since the words for brother and sister share the stem herman‑ and hermandad (herman-dad) was already taken for the male meaning, though at least in theory, it is gender neutral.

Finally, we should mention that Lat. soror is a cognate of the patrimonial English word sister. They both come from Proto-Indo-European *swésōr through patrimonial descent in their respective languages. Actually, Eng. sister may derive from a Scandinavian (Old Norse) systir cognate of Old English sweostor or swuster, in which case it would be a loanword (cf. Swedish syster, Danish søster, Norwegian søster or syster). At any rate, since English and Scandinavian are fellow Germanic languages, or cousins, they all descend from the same Proto-Germanic stem *swestēr‑ a descendant of PIE *swésōr.

Proto-Indo-European swésōr
Eng. sister
Lat. soror
Gk. ἔορ (éor)

Proto-Indo-European *swésōr survived in many other Indo-European languages besides the ones we have seen. We find it in the ancient languages Ancient Greek ἔορ (éor),[5] and Sanskrit स्वसृ (svásṛ). We also find descendants in modern languages such as Albanian vajzë (meaning ‘girl’), Armenian քույր (kʿuyr), Russian сестра́ (sestrá), and Farsi (Persian) خواهر (xâhar).

[1] The Germanic peoples’ names for themselves are often related to the words Deutch and Dutch, related to the Germanic word for people. Another name for the Germanic peoples in Latin was Teutonicus (cf. Eng. Teutonic ~ Sp. teutónico/a), especially after the 8th century, probably from a Germanic tribe’s name, the Teutons or Teutones. The cognates Eng. Gothic ~ Sp. gótico have also been used in the past for these people, though technically it is a more restricted term that refers to a subgroup of Germanic peoples, the Goths, an East Germanic people, with two main branches, the Visigoths (Western Goths) and the Ostrogoths (Eastern Goths). The name for Germany is Allemagne in French and Alemania in Spanish. Both of these names are derived from a particular confederation of Germanic tribes known as Allemani, Alemanni, or Alamanni located on the upper Rhine river, north of the Italian Alps and south of the original region where the Franks lived in the 5th century before they took over the northern half of what is today France (Roman Galia). Spanish borrowed the name Alemania from French. The word Alemanni has been said to come from a phrase meaning ‘all men’ in Germanic. Another theory is that it comes from from alahmannen ‘men of sanctuary’.

[2] It was much later that the French word fraternité became part of the official motto of France: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity). Although it has its origin in the French Revolution (1789-1799), it did not become the official motto until the end of the 19th century during the Third Republic. It is also the motto of Haiti, which around the same time became independent from France (1804) after fighting its own Haitian Revolution (1791-1804).

[3] Corominas also argues that patrimonial words for ‘brother’ and ‘sister’, as well as for ‘father’ and ‘mother’, in Catalan, French, and Occitan, do not seem to follow the normal pattern by which patrimonial nouns are derived from the accusative form of the Latin word. Words like Fr. sœur and OldCat. sor, as well as Cat. pare ‘father’ and mare ‘mother’, seem to have descended from the nominative case wordform of the relevant Latin words, not the accusative one, as was the norm.

[4] The original says: sororidad. (Del ingl. sorority). ‘f. PR. Agrupación que se forma por la amistad y reciprocidad entre mujeres que comparten el mismo ideal y trabajan por alcanzar un mismo objetivo.’

[5] The word for ‘sister’ in Modern Greek is αδελφή (adelfí), which descends from an alternative word for sister in Ancient Greek, namely δελφή (adelphḗ), cf. the word for ‘brother’ in Modern Greek mentioned earlier.

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