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)
sĕptem
(mēnsis) sĕptember
octō
(mēnsis) octōber
nŏvem
(mēnsis) nŏvember
dĕcem
(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.

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