Thursday, September 14, 2017

Eng. American and Sp. americano

[This entry is an excerpt from Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

In a chapter that deals with the naming of people in the United States, we could not fail to include the cognates Eng. American ~ Sp. americano/a, which happen not to be the best of friends, though not exactly false friends either. These words, which are primarily adjectives but also nouns, are derived from the cognate nouns Eng. America ~ Sp. América, which is the name that came to be given to the so-called New World (the American continent) in the 16th century. This continent was named after Amerigo Vespucci, a Florentine explorer, financier, navigator, and cartographer.

Vespucci was the one who first showed that Columbus had not stumbled upon the fringes of Asia or the Indies, as it was then called, but rather had come upon a separate landmass, or a ‘new world’, new, that is, for those who came from the (for them) ‘old world’ of Europe. Using the term New World for these lands is probably as much a display of ethnocentrism as saying that Columbus discovered America, which was already quite populated when he arrived. Considering the damage that the Europeans’ arrival did to the indigenous inhabitants of this continent, continuing to call it the ‘New World’ and to say that it was discovered can be seen as adding insult to injury.

Figure 99: Amerigo Vespucci[1]

Amerigo Vespucci worked for the European maritime powers of the time. He participated in several Portuguese expeditions along the coast of South America between 1499 and 1502 and wrote accounts of those trips that became very influential in Europe. Then in 1508, he was made chief of navigation of Spain (Sp. piloto mayor de Indias), in charge of planning voyages to the newly discovered territories, known then as the Indies (Sp. las Indias).

In 1507, German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller produced a world map in his Cosmographiae Introductio that became very well known and influential, in which he named the lands of the Western Hemisphere America in honor of Amerigo Vespucci, whose Latinized name was Americus Vespucius. The first name Americus was made feminine to refer to a territory, much like names of countries and lands tend to end in ‑a and be feminine in Latin and the Romance languages. This resulted in the proper noun America for all of these newly discovered lands.

The Italian name Amerigo is Germanic in origin. It derives from the ancient Germanic name Emmerich, which was a compound of which the last part was Old High German rīhhi, which meant ‘power’ or ‘ruler’, from Proto-Germanic *rīkijaz, a derivative of *rīks ‘king, ruler’, a word that was found in many ancient Germanic given names. That root is also the source of the cognates Eng. rich ~ Sp. rico/a and it is a cognate of Lat. rex, the source of Sp. rey ‘king’ (and of tyrannosaurus rex). (Actually, this Germanic word seems to be a borrowing from Proto-Celtic *rīxs, which derives from Proto-Indo-European *h₃rḗǵs ‘ruler’.)

It is not clear what the first part of the compound was originally, however. It could have been ermen ‘all, complete, whole’, which would make this name a cognate of the name Ermenrich. It could also be amal ‘vigor, work, labor’, which would make it a cognate of the name Amalric. Or it could be heim ‘home’, which would make it a cognate of Heimirich, which meant something like ‘home ruler’ and which is the ancestor of Eng. Henry and Sp. Enrique (cf. Lat. Henricus). We find equivalents of this Italian name in other European languages, though none of them is very common. English has Emery, Amery, and Emory; French has Émeric, Portuguese and Spanish have Américo; Hungarian has Imre or Imrus; and Slovak has Imrich.

The name America caught on and it became commonplace in Europe to refer to the new lands as America (Sp. América) or sometimes the Americas (Sp. las Américas), since there were so many different lands discovered and conquered and occupied in this continent, at different times and by different countries. In Spanish, this term competed with the term (las) Indias (Eng. (the) Indies), which was no doubt more common, at least until the 20th century.

When the Spanish referred to America or anything American, they did so typically in the context of the lands controlled by the Spanish Crown and when the English referred to America or anything American, they did so in the context of the lands controlled by the English Crown (the British Crown after 1707), which were in North America. Thus, in the English-speaking world, the name America eventually came to refer primarily to the English colonies, before and after they became independent from Great Britain in 1776, after which time their official name came to be the United States of America. Likewise, inhabitants of this new country came to be known, in English, as Americans, in total disregard of the other sense of the words America and American, which referred to a whole continent and its people and which was never fully lost from the word, though it definitely became secondary.

In the Spanish-speaking world, however, America continued to be used to refer to a whole continent that went from the arctic tundra of Northern Canada to Cape Horn in Chile (Sp. Cabo de Hornos), although perhaps the more common name for the Spanish territories in the Americas, at least until the 20th century, was las Indias as we have seen. The English cognate of this word is Indies, a term which is now archaic. The term Indies was originally 
a name given to India and the adjacent regions and islands, and also to those lands of the Western Hemisphere discovered by Europeans in the 15th and 16th centuries, and originally supposed to be part of the former; with the progress of geographical knowledge the two were distinguished as East Indies and West Indies. (OED)
Nowadays, in English, the term Indies is somewhat different:
without qualification [it] means the East Indies; and West Indies is (in strict use) confined to the group of islands lying to the east of Central America; but, in translations from French, Spanish, or Portuguese, Indies often occurs in its 16th century sense. (OED)
Figure 100: North America in 1702 showing areas occupied by European settlements[2]

But going back to America, what we see here is an issue of specialization—some might call it (improper) appropriation—of a term in English that used to be for a continent to refer to a country in that continent. Actually, the country in question is only informally known as America, since United States is the more common name. Both of them are, of course, abbreviations for the official name, (the) United States of America.

What is not at all informal in English is the use of the derived word American, which is both an adjective and a noun, to refer to the people of that country and to anything that derives from that country. (Originally, American was an adjective, as in American food, which later came to be used as a noun, as in two Americans.) In English, American means primarily ‘from the United States’ and there is nothing informal about that use.

The problem with the narrowing of the meaning of the term America (in English) is not just one of utter disregard for all the other people of the hemisphere, though that may be a factor and that could very well be how many see it from the outside. After all, in the British Isles and in many parts of Europe, when someone spoke of America, they were primarily referring to the United States, as a place of emigration or as a source of novelty, for instance, so it is rather inevitable that America would come to stand for that country in many people’s minds and linguistic habits. That is just how language works.

The problem here is also in part linguistic, since it is rather difficult to derive an adjective from the country name The United States of America. When the country name is a single word, such as Italy, it is easy to derive an adjective to refer to things from that country, in this case Italian. We have many suffixes that can do that. But when the name of the country has several words, things are more complicated. It is not impossible, however. English could have created a term like Unitedstatian or United-Statian. The terms may seem odd and even funny, but that is because we are not used to them. Other languages have derived analogous terms to refer to things and people from the United States and those do not seem odd in those languages at all, such as Sp. estadounidense, which translates into English as American, that is ‘from the United States’. Actually, the word United-Statian has been coined before, it just never caught on. By the way, the French and many other languages follow English in this regard and the equivalent of American (Sp. estadounidense) in this language is américain /ʀi.ˈkɛ̃/, feminine américaine /ʀi.ˈkɛn/.

Leaders in the US were aware of the problems with the odd name they had chosen for the newborn country, which seemed like the job of a committee that could not find consensus on a better name. Many thought this name was unsatisfactory, in part because it had no proper adjectival form. Other names were even proposed for the country, such as United States of Columbia, Appalachia, and Freedonia or Fredonia, but none of them caught on.

To be fair, the terms America and American were not very commonly used to refer to the United States and its citizens until the late 19th century, in particular after the Civil War, when emphasis was put on the country’s unity. Until then, many Americans tended to identify more with their state rather than with the ‘federation of States’ and the term American was used less often and mostly by outsiders. Thus, the invention of the American nationality came much later than the creation of the country. Also, the choice of the term American for this nationality had a lot to do with the use that had been given to that term and its cognates in Europe (though not so much in Spain) by that time, for the United States was the main reference for people wanting to emigrate to America (the continent), for example. To go to America in most parts of Europe meant going to the United States. And if some invention came from America, chances were it came from the United States.

What do English dictionaries tell us about the meanings and uses of these terms? They all indicate their ambiguity, so that America is said to have two senses, one ‘the United States of America’ and the other ‘the American continent(s)’. Curiously, however, dictionaries differ as to what sense they give priority to. The American Heritage Dictionary gives as the main sense for America, ‘The United States’, and as for the second sense, which we are told is synonymous with the Americas, it is ‘the landmasses and islands of North America, Central America, and South America’. For Merriam Webster’s Collegiate, the sense ‘United States of America’ is the third one, giving priority to (1) ‘either continent (North America or South America) of the western hemisphere’ and (2) ‘the lands of the western hemisphere including North, Central, & South America & the West Indies’ (synonymous with the Americas).

The second sense of the MWC entry brings us to the question of how many Americas or American continents there are, understanding by the word continent either ‘any of the world's main continuous expanses of land’ (COED) or ‘a large mass of land surrounded by sea’ (DOCE). School children in the United States, and in the English-speaking world in general, are taught that there are seven continents, two of which are North America and South America, while separating Europe from Asia as well, despite the obvious contiguity of land in both cases and the lack of a sea separating them (especially the latter). There is another possible division of the Earth’s land masses into five continents, joining Europe with Asia (Eurasia) and North America with South America (America). In the Spanish-speaking world the norm is to consider North and South America to be a single continent. It is not illogical or unfair to suspect that there is a connection between not recognizing the unity of this landmass and the desire to appropriate the term America for part of that continent.[a]

Because the term America is often associated primarily with the United States, a new term is often used to refer to the whole American continent, namely Western Hemisphere. This is used only in certain contexts, mostly academic ones. This term can be translated literally into Spanish as Hemisferio Occidental, but that term is quite rare.

As for the noun American, dictionaries also tell us that it is also ambiguous. The AHD says it refers to either ‘a native or inhabitant of America’, a term that is ambiguous, and, secondly, to ‘a citizen of the United States’, in that order. Other dictionaries reverse the order of the senses (COED) and others only mention one sense, namely ‘someone from the US’ (DOCE).

The appropriation (in English) of the terms America and American for a small part of the American continent is bad enough in itself from the perspective of other peoples living in the continent, from Canadians, to Cubans and Argentineans. But what is even worse, from some people’s perspective, is the transferring or calquing of those senses of the words America and American to the cognates of these words in other languages, such as Spanish América and americano/a. People who are not under the spell of the rightfulness of US dominance over the hemisphere tend to take umbrage at the notion that words like Sp. América and americano/a would be used to refer to the United States and to things American, respectively. On the other hand, there is no doubt that many Americans (in the sense of natives of the American continent) do just that, at least informally, just like many Europeans do too, in their respective languages using the cognate equivalents of these words.

What do Spanish dictionaries tell us about the term América y americano/a? Well, you will not find América in a regular Spanish dictionary, such as the Academy’s Diccionario de la Lengua Española (DLE). The reason is that traditionally, proper nouns such as this one are not defined in such dictionaries, unlike in their English counterparts. For that, one has to go to an encyclopedic dictionary (Sp. diccionario enciclopédico), such as Larousse’s Vox. This particular dictionary tells us that the word América in Spanish refers solely to a continent composed of two parts, North America and South America. The United States is not mentioned.[b]

There are two dictionaries that do mention the word América and the perils associated with its use: the Academy’s Diccionario panhispánico de dudas and Academician Manuel Seco’s Diccionario de dudas y dificultades de la lengua española. The former tells us that ‘we must avoid identifying the name of the continent with the United States of America, an outrageous use found mostly in Spain’.[c] The Diccionario de dudas, on the other hand, relays a warning by Ricardo Alfaro in his Diccionario de anglicismos (1964), namely that we should be aware that in English, the word America is used to refer to the US and not to the New World and that they do the same with the word americano.[d] That is all. The assumption seems to be that is not what anybody does with the cognate Spanish term América.

As for americano/a, we are told in the various dictionaries that this is an adjective that can also be used as a noun and that it has various senses, the first one of which in all of them can be paraphrased as ‘from the American continent or related to it’. However, all dictionaries also mention (admit?) that informally or colloquially, the word is used as a synonym of estadounidense, that is, ‘from the United States of America’ (MM).[e]

Thus, what we find is that Spanish speakers do use the terms América and americano/a to refer to the United States and all things American (from the US), such as people and movies, as an alternative to the more standard term estadounidense. However, those are said to be informal or colloquial uses of the words, which are not expected in more formal or serious uses of the language.

The tolerance towards this use varies, however, even in informal or colloquial contexts. Some people object to this change in usage, calqued from the English cognates, and to the ambiguity of the terms. There is no doubt that there is a danger that with overuse, what is now a secondary, informal sense may eventually become the main sense of the word, displacing the original one. Many Spanish speakers probably do not feel already that by using the word América they are going to be understood as referring to the whole continent, and the same goes for the adjective-cum-noun americano/a. That is why it would seem that Spanish speakers are using these words less and less according to the supposedly primary, dictionary meanings, resorting instead to alternatives such as las Américas or to circumlocutions, such as el continente americano for América, and de las Américas or del continente americano for the adjective americano/a. A language will do what it has to do and language change is unstoppable. Usage precedes law and if usage of these words is what it is, their meanings will end up changing, regardless of what dictionaries or other authorities say.

[a] The cognate nouns Eng. continent /ˈkɒn.tɪ.nənt/ ~ Sp. continente, derive from Lat. continēntem ‘holding together, continuous’ (con‑tin‑ēnt‑em; nominative: continēns), present participle of continēre ‘to hold, contain, enclose, etc.’, a verb derived from tenēre ‘to hold’ (source of Sp. tener ‘to have’) by addition of the prefix con‑ ‘with, together’, and source of the cognates Eng. contain ~ Sp. contener. In this sense, the noun continent originally (17th century) referred to the contrast between the New World and the Old World, but the concept eventually evolved to refer to contiguous landmasses, with some exceptions, as we have seen. (Before its use for landmasses, Eng. continent had been used with other senses, which are now obsolete.) English and Spanish also have adjective Eng. incontinent ~ Sp. incontinente, which mean ‘lacking voluntary control over urination or defecation’ (COED). In England, the Continent is used to refer to continental Europe, of which they are not too sure they are part of.

As to the question of how many continents there are, there is no correct answer. The concept of continent is not a natural one, but a cultural one, based on usefulness and usage. There is no need to insist that one division of the world into large land masses is better than any other.

[b] The first sentence of the original entry says: “Continente integrado por dos extensas masas de tierra de forma triangular: América del Norte y América del Sur, unidas por el istmo de Panamá (parte integrante de lo que se denomina América Central) y el archipiélago de las Antillas’ (Diccionario Enciclopédico Vox 1. © 2009 Larousse Editorial, S.L.).

[c] The original says: ‘Debe evitarse la identificación del nombre de este continente con los Estados Unidos de América (→ Estados Unidos, 4), uso abusivo que se da sobre todo en España.’

[d] The original: “‘En las traducciones del inglés debe tenerse siempre presente que entre los escritores de esa lengua es corriente usar el nombre América para referirse a los Estados Unidos y no al nuevo mundo’ (Alfaro). Algo similar hay que decir respecto al adjetivo y nombre americano, empleado por norteamericano o estadounidense”.

[e] DEL: sense 4: ‘estadounidense’. MM: sense 2: ‘(informal) De los Estados Unidos de América’. Larousse: sense 3: ‘coloquial Estadounidense, de Estados Unidos’. VOX: sense 4: ‘[persona] Que es de Estados Unidos. NOTA su uso es más frecuente en España’.

[1] Source: Public Domain, (obtained: 2017.09.11)

[2] Source: By User:Magicpiano - own work; structure (but not depicted areas of control) derived from File:Nouvelle-France map-en.svg, GFDL, (obtained: 2017.09.13)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The names of the months, Part 4: The names of months 7-10

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 22, "The calendar and the names of the months", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

The last four months are also named after numbers, but the way these names were formed differs from the way the previous two months were named. As we saw, the fifth and sixth months have names that end in ‑īlis that originally were adjectives attached to the noun mēnsis ‘month’. However, the seventh through the tenth months have names that end in ‑ber in Latin, and they were also originally adjectives attached to the noun mēnsis. In English, the names of these last four months are identical to the Latin ones, since they are taken straight from Latin. In Spanish, they end in ‑bre, since the Spanish names for these months come from the accusative form of the Latin names, which ended in ‑brem. The derivation of the months’ names from the numerals in Latin would seem to involve the addition of a suffix ‑ber to the numeral:

Number (cardinal)
Month name (nominative)
(mēnsis) sĕptember
(mēnsis) octōber
(mēnsis) nŏvember
(mēnsis) dĕcember

But we do not know where this ‑ber comes from. There is a feminine form of the adjective sĕptember that ends in -bris, but the origin and meaning of this ending is uncertain. It has been hypothesized that this ‑bris could be a contraction of the word mēmbris, which could come from an earlier mēnsris, which contains the root mēns‑ ‘month’ (see above) and the ancient adjectival suffix ‑ris, but this is mere guesswork.

Month 7: sĕptĕmber (mēnsis)

As we just saw, the name of the seventh month was derived from the Latin numeral sĕptem ‘seven’, the ancestor of patrimonial Spanish siete ‘seven’. The same root is also found in the learned Spanish ordinal number sé(p)timo ‘seventh’, which comes from Lat. sĕptĭmus (sĕpt‑ĭm‑us), which is derived from Lat. sĕptem, though the exact nature of the derivation (the ending) is lost in time. Sp. sé(p)timo may have replaced an earlier patrimonial *siedmo, for there is an attested feminine siedma (1259) that meant ‘one seventh’, which is now obsolete. Latin sĕptem is also a cognate of patrimonial (native) English seven (cf. Chapter 20, §20.8).

In English, we find the Latin name of this month already in Old English, in various forms, often alongside the vernacular names for this month, which were Hāligmōnað lit. ‘holy month’ and Hærfestmōnað lit. ‘harvest month’ (from Hærfest ‘harvest’). Eventually, in the Middle English period, September in the classical Latin spelling, pronounced /sɛp.ˈtɛm.bər/ or /səp.ˈtɛm.bər/, came to be the only name for this month.

In Spanish, setiembre is the patrimonial version of Lat. sĕptĕmber, or actually of its accusative form sĕptĕmbrem. In Sp. setiembre, we notice the expected loss of syllable-final p, the change (diphthongization) of stressed short ĕ to ie, as well as the loss of the final m, which took place very early on (cf. Part I, Chapter 10). This is the earliest attested form of the word. Much later, however, the Academy attempted to restaure the lost p, proposing changing the word to septiembre. Nowadays, this is one of the few words that have two accepted forms, one with p and one without.
Most other languages inherited or have borrowed the Latin name for this month, such as for example, Catalan setembre, French septembre (earlier setembre), Portuguese setembro, Italian settembre, Dutch and Swedish september, German September (spelled with an initial capital S, like in English), Greek: Σεπτέμβριος (Septémvrios), Russian сентябрь (sentjabrʹ), Arabic سبتمبر (sibtimbir). Basque did not borrow the name of this month. In Basque, September is irail ‘month of ferns’, from ira ‘fern’ and hil ‘month’.

Month 8: octōber (mēnsis)

The name of the eighth Roman month was octōber, as we have seen. The name of the month is derived from the Latin numeral octō ‘eight’, the source of patrimonial Spanish ocho ‘eight’, which changed just as expected, with Lat. ‑ct‑ [-kt-] changing to Old Spanish ‑ch‑ [‑ʧ‑]. Lat. octō also contains the root of learned Sp. octavo ‘eighth’, which replaced patrimonial ochavo, a word that is still remembered as the name of an old copper coin that weighed 1/8 of an ounce. Latin octō is also a historical cognate of English eight, since they both descend from Proto-Indo-European *oḱtṓw (cf. Old English eahta, from Proto-Germanic *ahtōu; cf. Part II, Chapter 20, §20.9).

Lat. octōber has given us Eng. October and Sp. octubre. The English name for this month is identical to the Latin one, which shows that it is first and foremost a loanword from Classical Latin, not obtained through a patrimonial French version. In Modern French, the name for this month is octobre, which is obviously an adaptation of the Classical Latin word, taken from the accusative form octōbrem. Fr. octobre is first attested in 1213, but we know that before that there was a patrimonial version in Old French, namely the patrimonial word uitovre (1119). However, this word was replaced by one that looked more like the original (but not identical, for presumably allowances had to be made for the sound patterns of Old French). English too went eventually to the Latin original in this regard, coming to use only the nominative wordform, octōber. In Old English and Middle English texts, we find that October and its variants are used, sometimes alongside the vernacular name for this month Winterfylleð ‘winter month’ (OED), which eventually disappeared.

The name for this month in Modern Spanish is octubre, although the variant otubre (without the c) is also considered acceptable (by the Academy). Sp. octubre is a blend of the original patrimonial word, Old Spanish ochubre, and the accusative Classical Latin wordform octōbrem. The ‑ch‑ in ochubre is what we would have expected from a patrimonial word, as the equivalent of Latin ‑ct­‑. Just like Lat. octō gave us Sp. ocho, Lat. octōbrem gave us Old Sp. ochubre. What we have here is obviously one of the many examples of patrimonial words that were refashioned to look more like their Latin equivalent source words. As we have seen, it happened in French and it happened in Spanish as well.

The recent acceptance of otubre, without the c, by the Academy, is due to the fact that even after (re)introducing learned words with the consonant cluster ‑ct‑ into Spanish in modern times, the cluster, which is foreign to Spanish phonology, is typically reduced to ‑t‑ in normal speech. This cluster simplification is occasionally permitted by the Academy, in the formal, official version of learned words, as in the case of the names of the months se(p)tiembre and o(c)tubre, and a number of others, such as acento and aceptar, that in Latin have a ‑cc‑ cluster (cf. Eng. accent and accept).

We have explained the change from Lat. ‑ct‑  to Sp. ‑ch‑. What is much harder to explain in these words is the middle u that supposedly descends from long Latin long ō. But this Latin vowel never ever changed to u in Spanish. It always changed to o. The fact that there is a u in octubre (and ochubre) has been explained by the fact that in some dialects of Latin, namely Osco and Umbrian dialects, the word had a u instead of an ō, and many of the soldiers and other Romans who settled in Hispania were from those regions of the Italian peninsula.

The name of this month in most European languages also descends from Lat. octōber, with some degrees of sound and/or spelling changes. Thus, for instance, we have Catalan octobre, Portuguese outubro, Italian ottobre, Dutch and Swedish oktober, and German Oktober. The main name for this month in Basque is urril or urri ‘month of scarcity’, from the Basque adjective urri ‘scarce’.

Month 9: nŏvĕmber (mēnsis)

The name of this month in Latin, nŏvĕmber, was originally an adjective (feminine nŏvĕmbris, accusative nŏvĕmbrem) derived from the Latin numeral nŏvem ‘nine’ (see above). This adjective originally accompanied the noun mēnsis ‘month’ and thus the month’s name meant something like ‘ninth month’. Eventually, however, the name of the month came to be just nŏvĕmber, by ellipsis of the noun.

The Latin numeral nŏvem is the source of patrimonial Spanish nueve ‘nine’ (stressed Latin short ĕ always became the diphthong ie in Old Spanish, cf. Part I, Chapter 10). Those numerals are also cognates of English nine, since both derive from the same Proto-Indo-European source, variously reconstructed as *e-neu̯en, *neu̯n̥, *enu̯n̥ or *h₁néwn̥. The Spanish ordinal number and noveno ‘ninth’ is also quite recognizably related to the Latin number (because the o in this word was not stressed, it did not change to ue).

Lat nŏvĕmber has given us the cognates Eng. November and Sp. noviembre. Eng. November is a loanword from Latin and it starts appearing in early Old English writings, along with the traditional Anglo-Saxon name glōtmōnaþ, literally ‘blood-month’, so name because this was the month in which cattle were slaughtered and dedicated to the gods and, of course, stored for food for the winter. After the Norman conquest, the Latin name was used more and more and until the Anglo-Saxon name was fully replaced by it.

All seems to indicate that Sp. noviembre is a patrimonial word, derived from the accusative form nŏvĕmbrem, as mentioned above. The clue that it is a patrimonial word is that the Latin short stressed ĕ was changed to the diphthong ie (see above), a regular sound change in Old Spanish.

As with other month names, most European languages have received the same Latin name for this month by either borrowing it or, in the case of the Romance languages, by direct descent (patrimonially), e.g. Catalan, French, Italian and Swedish novembre, German November, Greek Νοέμβριος (Noémvrios) or Νοέμβρης (Noémvris), Portuguese novembro, and Russian ноябрь (nojabrʹ). The main Basque name for this month is not borrowed from Latin this time either, since it is azaro ‘time to cultivate/farm’, formed from hazi ‘seed’ and aro ‘time, period’. A variant of this name is hazila lit. ‘seed month’.

Month 10: dĕcĕmber (mēnsis)

This month’s name is dĕcĕmber in Latin, derived from an identical adjective in masculine form (genitive and feminine nominative: dĕcĕmbris; accusative: dĕcĕmbrem). It is derived from the Latin numeral dĕcem ‘ten’, ancestor of patrimonial Spanish diez ‘ten’ as well as a cognate of English ten, since both descend from Proto-Indo-European *déḱm̥t. We also recognize the root dĕc‑ in the learned Spanish ordinal number décimo/a ‘tenth’ (meaning either ‘number ten’ or ‘1/10’, as its English equivalent). This learned word comes from Lat. dĕcĭmus, which has attested early patrimonial forms diezmo and deceno. (The word diezmo still exists in Modern Spanish as an archaic noun with the meaning ‘tithe’, that is, ‘one tenth of annual produce or earnings, formerly taken as a tax for the support of the Church and clergy’, COED.)

From the Latin name for this month, we get Eng. December and Sp. diciembre. Eng. December came into the language as a loanword from Latin and from French. The spelling settled on the exact spelling of the word in Latin. (In Modern French it is décembre, pronounced [de.ˈsɑ̃bʀ], which is what is attested in this language from the beginning, but in Old French and Anglo-French it was also spelled december.) Eventually, little by little, this name for this month replaced the native, Anglo-Saxon (Old English) vernacular name Ġēolamōnaþ (Ȝēolamōnaþ in Old English spelling). This name was applied to the period of December and January, for Old English Gēola is ‘Yule’ in Modern English and it refers to the winter solstice period (around December 21). At a later time, Ǣrra-ġēolamōnaþ came to be used for December and Æfterra-ġēolamōnaþ as January.

The Spanish name for the month is diciembre, which shows a few differences with the Latin name, which tell us that the word is not merely a loan from written Latin. The change of Latin stressed short ĕ to ie is what we would expect from a patrimonial word. The ending ‑bre as opposed to ‑ber is also not surprising, given that patrimonial words derived from the accusative Latin wordform, not the nominative one, with loss of the final ‑m. The change of the first short ĕ to i, on the other hand, is much less common. Note that the month’s name is attested in Old Spanish writing as deziembre and diziembre. This tells us that the ĕ to i sound change came rather late, unlike the ĕ to ie one. This sporadic (non-regular) ĕ to i change is generally attributed to the influence of the yod ([i̯]) in the following syllable.

As we have seen for other month names, the Latin name has been adopted by most European, and even some non-European, languages in which the Julian Roman calendar was adopted, e.g. Catalan desembre, Portuguese dezembro, Italian dicembre (earlier deciembre), Dutch and Swedish december, German Dezember, Russian декабрь (dekabrʹ), Greek Δεκέμβριος (Dekémvrios) or Δεκέμβρης (Dekémvris), and Arabic دسمبر (disembir). The most common name for this month in Basque is abendu, from Lat. adventus lit. ‘arrival, coming’ and ‘Advent’, a word that in Christian theology refers primarily to the second coming of Christ, but also to ‘the first season of the Church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays’ (COED). Other names for this month in different Basque dialects are neguil ‘winter month’, lotazil ‘sleep seed month?’, and gabonil ‘good night (Christmas) month’, among others.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The names of the months, Part 3: The names of months 5 and 6

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 22, "The calendar and the names of the months", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Unlike the names of months 1-4 of the original ten-month Roman calendar, the names of months 5-10 had their names derived from numbers, all of which were indeclinable. The way the names were formed is different for months 5 and 6 than for months 7 through 10. We are going to look first at the names of months 5 and 6, which were both later renamed, unlike the months 7 through 10. The names of both of these months end in ‑tīlis, which shows that they are formed with the suffix ‑t‑, which had ceased to be productive by the Classical Latin period, which derived an ordinal number from a cardinal one, plus the derivational suffix ‑il‑ that formed adjectives. Adjectives formed with this suffix were third declension adjectives and thus they took the inflectional ending ‑is in the nominative case.[1]

Month 5: quīntīlis (mēnsis)

The original name of this month was a Latin word that also meant ‘fifth’: quīntīlis /kʷiːn.ˈtiː.lis/, rarely seen with the added noun mēnsis next to it. Originally, the word was quīnctīlis, with a c that was dropped over time as a way to simplify the resulting complex syllable coda (‑nc‑). Lat. quīntīlis was an adjective derived from the ordinal number quīntus /ˈkʷiːn.tus/ ‘fifth’ (stem: quīnt‑). The ordinal number was most likely formed with the early Latin suffix ‑t‑: quīnqu-e + ‑t‑ > quinqu‑t‑us > quīnc‑t‑us > quīntus. Lat. quīntus is the source of Sp. quinto /ˈ ‘fifth’, which was most likely a patrimonial word (cf. Part II, Chapter 20).[2] Thus Lat. quīnctīlis meant literally something like ‘the fifth (one)’.



In 45 BCE, the Romans made some major changes to their calendar (cf. §22.5 below). The new calendar is known as the Julian calendar, after Julius Caesar who, as we have seen, was at the time Pontifex Maximus and was in charge of the regulation of the calendar. One of the changes was to make the year have 365 days, with a leap year of 366 every four years. The change was made because until 46 BCE, the Roman solar calendar only had 354 days, resulting in a major lack of fit with the actual seasons. To solve such an imbalance, in earlier times, days were added to February every other year or a new month was occasionally added to the calendar (known as mensis intercalaris ‘intercalary month, leap month’, Sp. mes intercalar). The knowledge to come up with the 365-day number seems to have come from Egypt, even though Egypt did not become a Roman province until 30 BCE.

The month of quīntīlis was renamed shortly after these changes were made as iūlĭus /ˈjuː in honor of Julius Caesar (Lat. GAIVS IVLIVS CAESAR), who was born on that month. The ROman Senate made this name change in 44 BCE, right after the assassination of Julius Caesar that same year, at the urging of Mark Antony, one of the three members of the dictatorship that ruled over Rome after Caesar’s death (Lat. MARCVS ANTONIVS MARCI FILIVS MARCI NEPOS ‘Marcus Antonius, son of Marcus, grandson of Marcus’).

From this new name iūlĭus, we get our Eng. July and Sp. julio. Eng. July came partly from Latin word and partly through its Old French descendant, which was spelled in different ways at first in these two languages: juil, julie, juile, jule, julle. Eventually, Modern Standard French settled on juillet /ʒɥ̯i.ˈjɛ/ and Modern English is July /ʤu.ˈlaɪ̯/. Sp. junio, pronounced /ˈ̯o/ in Modern Spanish, is first attested in the late 12th century. Most other European languages and even non-European languages have also taken this name for this month: Portuguese julho, Italian luglio, Catalan juliol, Dutch and Swedish juli, German Juli, Greek Ιούλιος (Ioúlios), Russian июль (ijulʹ), and Arabic يوليو (yūliyō). Basque did not borrow the name for this month either, which in Basque is called uztail lit. ‘harvest month’, from uzta ‘grain, harvest’ and hil ‘month’.

Month 6: sextīlis (mēnsis)

The name of the sixth month is analogous to the name of the fifth month. It was also derived from an adjective, sextīlis, derived from an ordinal numeral sextus ‘sixth’ that meant ‘sixth’ (cf. Sp. sexto ‘sixth’), which was itself derived from the number sex ‘six’, from where comes Spanish seis ‘six’.



After the adoption of the Julian calendar (see above), this month was also renamed as augustus, after Caesar Augustus, Julius Caesar’s great-nephew, stepson, and heir, who was the founder of the Roman Empire and its first emperor and who ruled from 27 BCE to 14 CE (he was born GAIVS OCTAVIVS THVRINVS, and his full official empiral name was IMPERĀTOR CAESAR DĪVĪ FĪLIUS AUGUSTUS ‘Commander Caesar, Son of the Divine [Julius Caesar], the Venerable’). During his reign, the month known until then as sextilis was renamed augustus in his honor, in 8 BCE. (The reason that month was chosen to honor Augustus is that ‘several of the most significant events in his rise to power, culminating in the fall of Alexandria, had happened in that month’, OED.).[i]

Figure 113: Cesar Augustus[ii]

The word augustus was originally an appellation or naming given to the first emperor, an adjective that meant ‘majestic, august, venerable, worthy of honor’, typically used in religious contexts. It is derived from the verb augēre ‘to increase, enlarge, augment, nourish, strengthen’ and, derived from it ‘to magnify, to exalt, to extol, embellish, to praise’ (principal parts: present augĕo, present infinitive augēre perfect auxi, supine auctum). The word was probably related to the word augur, a seer, prophet or soothsayer in the Roman religion, and thus, probably, it originally meant something like ‘consecrated by the augurs’ or ‘with favorable auguries’ (cf. Chapter 43, §

From that name, we get our names for this month: Eng. August and Sp. agosto. The English version is attested in English in the 11th century, sometimes as a loanword from Latin and sometimes from French. Originally it is attested with different spellings: from fully Latinate august, to Anglo-Norman and Old French inspired augst, aoust, or aust. Eventually it replaced the Anglo-Saxon name for this month, Weodmonað ‘weed month’. The Spanish name agosto is obviously patrimonial, given the sound changes we observe, though one of them is not exactly what we would have expected. The change from short Latin ŭ to o is normal, but the Latin suffix au always changed to o in patrimonial words, not to a, and thus the initial a probably reflects an effort to make this word look more like the original.

Many other languages too have adopted this name for the month, such as Catalan agost, Portuguese and Italian agosto, Dutch augustus, German August, Swedish augusti, Basque abuztu, Greek: Αύγουστος (Ávgoustos), Russian: а́вгуст (ávgust), Turkish: ağustos, and Arabic أَغُسْطُسْ (ʾaḡusṭus).

English and Spanish have borrowed the Latin adjective augustus as Eng. august ~ Sp. augusto, meaning ‘inspiring respect and admiration’ (COED). Notice that Sp. augusto is borrowed from written Latin, whereas the name of the month, agosto, from the same source, is a patrimonial word that has undergone sound changes. This Eng. august, although written the same way as the name of the month, albeit with lower case, is also not pronounced the same way, since the stress is on the final syllable instead of the initial one: /ɔ.ˈɡʌst/ instead of /ˈɔ.ɡəst/. English borrowed the adjective august in the mid-17th century and Spanish borrowed augusto probably a century earlier.

Finally, we should mention that Latin had a name Augustīnus derived from the name Augustus. It was originally an adjective formed with the derivational suffix ‑īn‑ and meaning ‘of or pertaining to Augustus’.  In Medieval Latin, this name came a synonym of the adjective magnifĭcus ‘great, noble, eminent, august, etc.’ This, of course, was the name of famous Saint Augustine (Augustine of Hippo), also known as Saint Austin in English (Sp. San Agustín). This name is the source of English and Spanish first and last names. Austyn has been used as an English first name and Austin is also a not-uncommon last name (it was the last name of the ‘Father of Texas’ and the first secretary of state of the Republic of Texas, Stephen F. Austin). In Spanish, Agustín and its feminine form Agustina are common given names to this day.


[1] This suffix, which created adjectives, but sometimes also nouns, had two forms in Latin, one with short ĭ and the other with long ī: ‑ĭl‑ and ‑īl‑. A major difference, besides de vowel quality, is that if the vowel was long, that would be the stressed vowel of the word, whereas if it was short, the stress would fall on the preceding vowel. In early Latin the suffix was just ‑l‑ and that the ĭ was a linking vowel (cf. Part I, Chapter 8), but sometimes the ĭ became long ī in some contexts, such as when the preceding stem ended in ĭ in early Latin, i‑stems, such as cīvi-s and hosti-s. These are some Latin words containing this suffix and their English-Spanish cognates: (1) Lat. fossĭlis: Eng. fossil ~ Sp. fósil, (2) Lat. civīlis: Eng. civil ~ Sp. civil, (3) Lat. agilĭs: Eng. agile ~ Sp. ágil, (4) Lat. juvenīlis: Eng. juvenile ~ Sp. juvenil, (5) fertĭlis: Eng. fertile ~ fértil. Most of these Latinate words end in ‑ile in English, though some end in ‑il, as we have just seen, whereas in Spanish they always end in ‑il. As for the stressed syllable in these words, the English descendants do not always follow the Latin pattern, whereas the Spanish ones always do. The early tendency was that Eng. ‑ile from -īlis was pronounced /ˈaɪ̯l/ (with stress), and ‑il(e) from -ĭlis was pronounced [ɪl] (unstressed). Lately, the tendency has been to use /ˈaɪ̯l/, with some exceptions (OED).

[2] The Latin words for ‘five’ and ‘fifth’ were related, just like the analogous English words are. The word for ‘five’ was quīnque /ˈkʷiːn.kʷe/, from Proto-Indo-European *pénkʷe. Sp. cinco ‘five’ comes from the Vulgar Latin version of that word, namely *cīnque, by dissimilation of the initial qu (/kw/ to /k/). (The final ‑e changed to ‑o by analogy with other numbers than ended in a vowel, such as cuatro ‘four’ or ocho ‘eight’.)

[ii] Source: By Till Niermann - Own work, Public Domain, (obtained: 2017.09.05)

Words for mushrooms and other fungi, Part 17

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook  Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Span...