Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The numbers: 1

[This entry comes from a section of Chapter 20 ("One and uno: The Numbers") of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Sp. uno and Eng. one

What is traditionally considered to be the first number, not counting zero, is number one: Eng. one and Sp. uno/a. This is the only number that has masculine and feminine forms in Spanish: uno for the masculine and una for the feminine. Masculine uno gets shortened to un when followed by a noun, e.g. Tengo uno ‘I have one’ vs. Tengo un libro ‘I have one/a book’. (No such shortening happens with feminine una.)

As we just saw in the second example, this Spanish numeral can also act as an indefinite article, equivalent to English a(n). This is not at all unusual. For example, as we will see, in Old English, the ancestor of one and a(n) where one and the same word, just like they are in Spanish to this day. The two senses of uno are distinguished by stress. In both languages, numerals are stressed (Sp. palabras tónicas) and articles are unstressed (Sp. palabras átonas). So, if you hear Tengo un libro with stress on un, then it means ‘I have one book’ and if you hear Tengo un libro without stress on un, then it means ‘I have a book’. Indefinite articles function very much the same way in English and Spanish, except that in some contexts English uses one when Spanish does not, as when we describe occupations, as in Eng. I am a teacher, which translates into Spanish as Soy professor (if the noun professor is modified by an adjective, then Spanish too adds an indefinite article, as in Soy un buen profesor ‘I am a good teacher’.

In Latin, the numbers one, two and three were the only ones that declined, that is, that had different forms according to case (nominative, accusative, etc.) and gender (masculine, feminine, and neuter). In Spanish, the masculine-feminine and singular-plural (unos, unas ‘some, several’) inflections of the numeral uno are the only remnants of this type of Latin declension.

Spanish uno is a patrimonial word derived from accusative Lat. ūnŭm (nominative: ūnŭs). As we saw in Part I, Chapter 10, the final ‑m was always lost and the short ŭ changed to o. This numeral is close enough to its English counterpart one in the spelling, although not in its pronunciation ([ˈwʌn]), for one to suspect that the two may be cognates, which indeed they are. They both descent from Proto-Indo-European *ói-no-s ‘single, one, etc.’. That is, the two are patrimonial cognates (patrimonial words in both languages with a common source), not historical cognates through borrowing.

PIE *óinos ‘single, one’
Proto-Germanic *ainaz
Old Latin oinos
Old English ān
Latin ūnus
Eng. one
Sp. uno

English one comes from Old English ān. This ān is also the source of the English indefinite article an, shortened to a before a consonant, as in an apple or a pear. Just like Spanish uno can be a numeral (always stressed) or an indefinite article (always unstressed), the same thing was true of Old English ān. At one point in early Middle English, a long, stressed a vowel /ɑː/ changed its pronunciation to /ɔː/, and its spelling also changed from 〈a〉 to 〈o〉. This explains the difference in the vowel of an and one.[1]

Old English
Middle English
Modern English
〈ān〉 /ɑːn/
〈one〉 /ɔːn/
〈one〉 /wʌn/

It seems that Proto-Indo-European *óinos ‘single, one’ was not the original word for ‘one’ in the proto-language, but rather a pronominal or demonstrative word of some kind formed with the suffix ‑nós that formed adjectives from verb stems. It seems the root for the word for ‘one’ was the PIE root sem‑ ‘one, together’, including *sḗm ‎’one’, *sēm-i ‘half’, and *som-h-ós ‘same’. This root that can be found in many English words from different Germanic and Latin sources, such as some, same, sum, simple, single, assimilate, ensemble, hom(o)‑, syn‑, seem, and similar.[i]

Latin words derived from the numeral ūnus and their descendants

Latin had a number of words derived from the root ūn‑ of the numeral ūnus and quite a few of them have made it into Spanish, either patrimonially or through borrowing, and into English (through borrowing):


ūnīre (part.: ūnītus)
reūnīre (part.: reūnītus)
ūnĭtātem (nom.: ūnĭtas)
unit, unity
ūniōn- (nom.: ūniō)
ūnificāre (ūn‑i‑fic‑āre)

Lat. ūnīre

We should note that not all these cognates are best of friends and some are actually false friends. Sp. unir and unite, which come from Lat. ūnīre ‘to join together, unite’, have the same core meaning, namely ‘to make one’ (transitive) or ‘to become one’ (intransitive). However, sometimes transitive Sp. unir is better translated by to join (cf. Sp. juntar) or to combine (cf. Sp. combinar), and intransitive Sp. unirse is sometimes best translated by to join (together) or to merge.

Medieval Lat. reūnīre

Medieval Lat. reūnīre is derived from ūnīre by the addition of the prefix re‑, which meant ‘again’ in this case, and thus meant ‘to join (together) again’. Eng. reunite and Sp. reunir(se) are not equivalent, however. Eng. reunite /ˈɹi.jʊ.ˌnaɪ̯t/ means ‘to bring or come together again’ (AHD) and it translates into Spanish as volver a unir(se)/juntar(se), for Spanish transitive reunir translates best as to gather (together), as in Reunió a sus amigos ‘He gathered his friends together’ or Reunió todo el dinero ‘He gathered all the money’. Intransitive (reflexive) reunirse translates as (intransitive) to gather, get together, or meet, as in Me reuní (=junté) con mis amigos hoy ‘I got together with my friends today’. Going back to Eng. reunite, we find that the intransitive sense is typically expressed with the participle/adjective, as reunited, as in The family was reunited soon after the accident ‘La familia volvió a estar junta poco después del accidente’ or We are all reunited now ‘Estamos todos juntos de nuevo ahora’.

Lat. ūnĭtātem

The Spanish noun unidad has two distinct meanings, which translate into English by two different descendants of the Latin noun ūnĭtātem, that is two doublets of the Latin word. They all come from Lat. ūnĭtas, which meant ‘oneness, sameness, agreement’. Eng. unity, at first meaning ‘oneness, singleness’, first appeared around 1300 and it is a loanword from Old French unité, with much the same meaning. Its main meaning is ‘the state of being united’ (COED). The doublet of this word that translates the other sense of Sp. unidad is unit, a word derived from unity as a back-formation, on the basis of the word digit, in the mid-16th century (for back-formation, see Part I, §5.7.3). Its main meaning is ‘an individual thing or person regarded as single and complete but also able to form an individual component of a larger whole’ (COED).

Sp. unidad is a loanword from Latin ūnĭtas, first attested in the late 15th century. As with all loans of Latin words containing the suffix ‑tas, the ending was adapted to the patrimonial reflex of that suffix in Spanish, namely ‑dad, which descends from the accusative form of this suffix: ‑tātem. The changes we find in this suffix are the expected ones: (1) the two intervocalic t’s were voiced to d, (2) the final m characteristic of the accusative case was lost (very early on), and (3) the now final e was dropped when preceded by a dental consonant (cf. Part I, Chapter 10).

Eng. unique and Sp. único/a

Finally, from the list above, let us look at the pair Eng. unique /ju.ˈnik/ ~ Sp. único/a /ˈ English borrowed this word from French around the year 1600, who itself borrowed it from Lat. ūnĭcus (fem.: ūnica) more than a century earlier, around 1480. Much like its English descendant, Lat. ūnĭcus meant ‘only, sole, single’, ‘unique’, and ‘uncommon’. It is formed with the suffix ‑ĭcus (‑ĭ‑c‑us), which forms adjectives when added to a variety of words such as nouns, adjectives, verbs, and even numerals, as in this case.

Although dictionaries typically tell us that Eng. unique and Sp. único/a are equivalent, that is not always the case. These words have two major meanings. The senses of Eng. unique are (1) ‘not the same as anything or anyone else’, as in Everybody’s DNA is unique or He has a unique handwriting, and (2) ‘very special, unusual, or good’, as in He has a unique talent.

Sp. único also has two senses. The first one is ‘there is no other one’, which may seem very similar to the first sense of Eng. unique, but it is not exactly the same. This sense of único is closer to the sense of only in English, as in Soy el único superviviente ‘I am the only survivor’, Es hijo único ‘He’s an only child’ or Es el único hijo que tengo ‘He’s the only child/son I have’ (adverbial only translates as únicamente). Except in some set expressions such as hijo único/hija única ‘only child/son/daughter’ and talla única ‘single size’ (for articles of clothing), the adjective único with this sense typically precedes the noun. Although sometimes the ‘not the same’ sense of Eng. unique can be translated as único, due perhaps to semantic calquing, other ways are more common, such as sin par, sin igual, diferente, etc., as in El ADN de cada uno es diferente ‘Everybody’s DNA is unique’. Likewise, the ‘special’ or ‘exceptionally good’ sense of Eng. unique more often than not does not translate as único, but rather as extraordinario, fantástico, etc.

English has a third sense of the word unique, the ‘exclusive’ sense, always used in the expression to be unique to, as in This plant is unique to this area. This sense does not translate into Spanish with an expression containing único, but rather solo encontrarse en, ser exclusivo de, or darse exclusivamente en, among others. For example, the English sentence we just saw could be translated into Spanish as Esta planta solo se encuentra en esta zona.

Lat. ŭncĭa

Several units of measure (Sp. unidades de medida) are derived from the Latin word for one. As we saw earlier, the word unit in English and its cognate unidad in Spanish are themselves derived from Lat. ūnitātem (nom. ūnitās) ‘unity, oneness’, etc. Actually, as we saw, Eng. unit is a mid-16th century back-formation of the noun unity, on the model of the word digit. The original meaning of the word unit was ‘an individual thing or person regarded as single and complete but also able to form an individual component of a larger whole’ (COED). The sense ‘a standard quantity in terms of which other quantities may be expressed’ (COED) for the word unit came later, in the 18th century.

The word Eng. ounce /ˈaʊ̯ns/, which refers to a unit of weight, and the word Eng. inch, which refers to a unit of length, come from a Latin word derived from the Latin word ūnus, namely the word ŭncĭa, which meant ‘the twelfth part of any thing, a twelfth’. The word must be very old and so its exact composition of this compound is lost in time. We recognize the ŭn‑ part in this word, albeit with a short ŭ instead of a long one, but the meaning and source of the other part, the ‑cĭa part, is not known. (The Ancient Greek equivalent is the cognate οὐγγία (oungía), also attested as οὐγκία (ounkía) and  ὀγκία (onkía), so this  word is probably a very old compound word. It may even be related to the word ūnĭcus that we saw in the preceding section.

Eng. ounce is a 14th century loanword from Old French once or unce, which was a measure of weight, or time, in this language, first attested in the 12th century. It comes ultimately from Lat. ŭncĭa ‘one-twelfth’. An ounce is equivalent to one twelfth of a pound in the Troy system of weights (equal to 31.1034768 grams), which is still used for precious metals and is divided into 480 grains. The ounce is equivalent to one-sixteenth of a pound in the avoirdupois system (28.349523125 grams), which is the most common system of weight still used in the US today. It is divided into 437.5 grains.

The ounce and the pound were the units of weight all over Europe since Roman times. However, they were replaced in most of the world by the gram and the kilogram, which were units of mass (not weight) in the metric system. It was adopted by most countries of Europe in the 19th century and by most of the rest of the world in the 20th century. It is also the only system of measures used in the scientific world.[2]

The Spanish equivalent of Eng. ounce is onza /ˈon.θa/, a patrimonial word written onça and pronounced /ˈon.ʦ̪a/ in Old Spanish. The abbreviation for both Eng. ounce and Sp. onza is oz., probably taken from the Italian spelling for the word, onza (in recent times, z became the standard spelling for Mod.Sp. [θ] that derives from Old.Sp. [ʦ̪] or [ʣ̪], cf. Part I, Chapter 10). The word onza is archaic nowadays in Spanish, just like the system of measures that preceded de metric system is archaic. For many Modern Spanish speakers an onza is a square of a tablet of chocolate, for that is one of the senses of the word. The Spanish onza was equivalent to 28.7558 grams. It was divided into 16 adarmes, and for pharmaceutical purposes, into 8 dracmas (Eng. drachma). In either context, the Spanish onza could also be divided into 576 granos (Eng. grains).

Latin ŭncĭa was one twelfth (1/12) of a pound in terms of weight. The Latin word for pound, the Roman unit of weight, was lībra. The English word pound comes from Lat. lībra pondō ‘a pound by weight’, where pondō, ablative of pondus ‘weight’ meant ‘by weight’. To this day, the abbreviation for pound is lb. which was the abbreviation of the Latin word lībra.

The Latin word ŭncĭa not just a unit of weight. It was also used for other types of units.[ii] It was also used as a monetary unit and for units of time, space (distance), and area. It doesn’t seem that it was used as a unit of (liquid) volume, though in English, the term ounce came to be used a unit of liquid volume in the avoirdupois system, namely the fluid ounce, which referred at first to the volume occupied by one ounce of some liquid substance by weight (abbrev.: fl. oz.). The actual value of a fluid ounce has changed over time and is different in different countries. Thus, the British imperial system is different from the US system. A fluid ounce in the US is 1⁄16 of a US fluid pint, or 1⁄128 of a US liquid gallon, which is approximately equivalent to 29.6 milliliters (0.0296 of a liter). That is, there are 33.8140227 US fluid ounces in a liter. (An imperial UK gallon is equal to 4.54609 liters, so an imperial fluid ounce, which is equal to 1/20 of an imperial pint, is equal to 28.4130625 milliliters.)

In Roman times, ŭncĭa was the name for a bronze (later copper) coin with the monetary value of 1/12 a Roman coin called as (also known as assarius). Although that sense of the word as a monetary unit has not survived, the word pound (Sp. libra) is still used as a unit of currency in places such as the UK. As a unit of monetary value, the pound originated in the Frankish Empire, and it was brought to England to represent the value of a pound of silver (by weight). Other countries where the pound is currently the unit of currency are Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan, and Syria.

As a unit of time, the ounce was still used in the Middle Ages and, in Middle English, it was equivalent to approximately 1/12 of a moment or 7.5 seconds. The word moment, and its Spanish cognate momento, now mean ‘a very brief period of time’ (COED), but in Medieval times they referred to a unit of time equivalent to 1/40 of an hour, or 1.5 minutes. The moment was divided into 12 ounces of 7.5 seconds each.

As a unit of distance, the word ounce was used at times in English as a unit of distance equal to 1/12 yard or 3 inches. But Lat. ŭncĭa was borrowed into English much earlier than the word ounce was, in the period of Old English. It was ynce in Old English, a word that has turned into Modern Eng. inch /ˈɪnʧ/. It is equivalent to 2.54 centimeters. The equivalent of inch in Spanish is pulgada, a word derived from the noun pulgar ‘thumb’, since an inch is approximately the width of a man’s thumb.[iii] The patrimonial word pulgar comes from the Latin adjective pollicāris, derived from the noun pollex ‘thumb, big toe’ (acc. pollicem, root pollic‑) and the adjectival suffix ‑āl‑ (‑ār‑ when added to stems which contained an l). By the way, a Castilian inch (pulgada) was slightly shorter than an English inch: 2.322 centimeters as opposed to 2.54 centimeters.

[1] Later on, during the Great Vowel Shift that took place at the beginning of the Modern English period, the /ɔː/ was further raised to giving us diphthonguized /oʊ̯/ in Modern English (/ə̯ʊ/ in Std. British English) (cf. Part I, Chapter 12). From all this we gather that the pronunciation of Modern English one should have been /oʊ̯n/, homophonous with the word own, rather than /ˈwʌn/ (in some dialects of British English, it is pronounced [ˈwɒn]). The fact that the word one is not pronounced /oʊ̯n/ today is due to two changes that happened later. The first is the insertion of an initial [w] sound. This was due the influence of a sound change in some English dialects by which a [w] sound was inserted in all words that started with the /ɔː/ vowel. This change influenced a few words in Standard English in the 16th century, one being the main one. In the word only /ˈoʊ̯, which is nothing but one with the suffix ‑ly, the root (one) sounds they way the numeral one would have sounded like in Modern English if it hadn’t been because of the intereference of a dialectal pronunciation of the word. The second change is the shortening of the lon /ɔː/ vowel to /ɔ/, which was a sporadic change. Short /ɔ/ changed to /ʌ/ in Modern English, whereas long /ɔː/ changed to /oʊ̯/. Another related word that had a shortening was the word none /ˈnʌn/, which is a contraction of ne ‘not’ and one. If the vowel shortening hadn’t taken place, it would now be pronounced /ˈnoʊ̯ˈn/, homophonous with known.

[2] The metric system was originally developed in France in 1795 during the French Revolution. Perhaps because of that, the last countries to adopt the metric system were English-speaking countries. The only countries that have not yet adopted the metric system are the United States, Myanmar (Burma), and Liberia.

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