Thursday, October 26, 2017

Seña/signo & sign: The root SIGN-, Part 2

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 26, "Seña/signo & sign: The root SIGN-", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Lat. sĭgnāre and its descendants

The Latin noun sĭgnum developed into a verb in Latin, namely the first conjugation, regular verb sĭgnāre, meaning ‘to mark’, ‘to seal, stamp’, as well as ‘to designate’. The English verb to sign [ˈsaɪ̯n] is a 14th century borrowing from Old French signer, which is a loanword from Lat. sĭgnāre. Spanish used to have a patrimonial verb señar, a cognate of English to sign, but it became archaic, if not obsolete, as we shall see.

The main sense of the English verb to sign is ‘to write one’s name on (something) for the purposes of identification or authorization’ (COED). This verb can be used with or without an explicit direct object, e.g., I signed vs. I signed the letter. This meaning is expressed in Spanish with the verb firmar, which is an early, 10th century loanword from Latin firmāre ‘to affirm’, related to the semi-learned adjective firme ‘firm, steady’.

The English verb to sign is also used with the meanings ‘to use sign language’ or ‘to make a sign or signs; to signal’ (AHD). The verb also has some minor transitive senses, such as ‘to hire or engage by obtaining a signature on a contract’, e.g. signed a new pitcher or sign up actors for a tour (AHD). In Table 170 below, you can see the Spanish translations of the different senses of the English verb to sign, according to the VOX English-Spanish dictionary.

sign [saɪn]
transitive verb
1 (letter, document, cheque, etc) firmar
  sign your name here, please firme aquí, por favor
  the two countries signed a treaty los dos países firmaron un tratado
2 (player, group) fichar (on/up, -)
  Spurs have signed a new player los Spurs han fichado un nuevo jugador
3 (gesture) hacer una seña/señal
  he signed me to shut up me hizo una señal para que me callara
 intransitive verb
1 (write name) firmar
2 (player, group) fichar (for/with, por)
  Laudrup signed for Real Madrid Laudrup fichó por el Real Madrid
3 AMERICAN ENGLISH (use sign language) comunicarse por señas, hablar por señas
Table 170: Entry for the verb sign in VOX English-Spanish Dictionary

The English verb to sign is also found in some very common phrasal verbs (cf. Part I, Chapter 4, §4.12.2). The following are some of the main ones, given here with English synonyms (in parentheses) and Spanish equivalents:

·      sign in (record arrival): registrarse (al entrar), anotarse, conectarse
·      sign out (depart): registrar la salida, registrarse al salir, desconectarse
·      sign on (enlist; start transmission): firmar; contratar, hacer firmar; abrir (una transmisión), alistarse; matricularse; etc.
·      sign off (conclude, stop transmission): despedirse, terminar la transmisión
·      sign up (enlist): reclutar, contratar; alistarse, matricularse, inscribirse, etc.
·      sign for (acknowledge receipt): firmar el recibo

As we said earlier, Spanish used to have a patrimonial verb señar derived from Lat. sĭgnāre, which now is pretty much obsolete. One major Spanish dictionary, María Moliner, but not the Academy’s DLE, mentions it, and it tells us that it is equivalent to hacer señas. As we shall see below, Spanish does have verbs derived from señar, such as the very common enseñar ‘to show; to teach’ and the less common reseñar ‘to review; to describe’. Just like many of the senses of Sp. seña were replaced by the derived noun señal, so many of the senses of Sp. señar, have been replaced by the derived verb señalar (see below).

Spanish has a learned version of Lat. sĭgnāre ‘to make a mark or sign’, namely signar, which is very fancy and quite rare. It is still used in the legal profession for the act of putting the notary’s seal on a document. In the catholic religion, a reflexive version of this verb, signarse, is used for making the sign of the cross on oneself. This use is rare in Modern Spanish, where the derived persignarse is much more common (see below).

Derived from the verb to sign we find the English noun signature, which came into English the 16th century from French signature, which borrowed it from Medieval Latin noun signātūra ‘sign’, which in Classical Latin meant ‘matrix of a seal’. This Latin noun was derived from the past-participle stem sĭgnāt‑ of the past participle sĭgnātus of the verb sĭgnāre (sĭgnātus: sĭgn‑āt‑us) with the derivational suffix ‑ūr‑ which was added to passive participle stems of verbs to derive nouns (cf. Part I, Chapter 8, §8.6.3). Past-participle roots typically ended in ‑t, and so words that ended in this t plus the Latin suffix ‑ūr‑ have given us many Latinate words in English ending in ‑ture in English (pronounced [ʧəɹ]), such as culture, mixture, adventure, structure, picture, and so on. Most of these nouns have Spanish cognates in ‑tura (the final ‑a was a Latin feminine nominative inflectional ending).[i]



to sign





The Spanish word for signature is the semi-learned noun firma (firm-a), derived by back-formation (zero derivation) from the verb firmar ‘to sign’ that we just mentioned. Spanish does have a cognate of Eng. signature, namely the rare, learned signatura, which is a false friend. It is a rare word, used primarily to refer to a mark or number in a document or a book used to facilitate its being located, something like a catalog number or a docket number.[1]

There is another learned, noun derived from the same Latin stem sĭgnāt‑ in English, namely the noun signatory, meaning ‘a signer’, ‘a party that has signed an agreement’ (COED). The word comes from the Latin adjective signātōrĭus ‘of/related to sealing/signing, used in sealing/signing’, used in the phrase anulus signātōrĭus ‘seal ring’ used to sign official letters in the old day, It was formed with the agentive derivational suffix ‑ōr‑ (morphemic analysis: sign‑ā‑t‑ōr‑ĭ‑us). English borrowed and adapted the word signatory in the mid-17th century, first as an adjective (now obsolete) and then as the noun we know today.

The most common way to express the meaning of signatory in Spanish is the noun/adjective firmante, derived from the verb firmar (see above). Spanish does have an equivalent fancy word signatario (with an a instead of an o before the r) to refer to the person who signs a formal document, though it is rare (more so than Eng. signatory).[2] It would seem that Sp. signatario came from French signataire, from an earlier signandaire. Note that signatary has been used in English as an alternative spelling of signatory, probably under the influence of French signataire as well. (Related to Sp. signatario are consignatario ‘trustee, mortgagee, consignee’ and resignatario, a rare religious word.)

The Spanish verb señalar is obviously derived from the noun señal that we saw in the preceding section. It looks like a cognate with the English verb to signal [ˈsɪɡ.nəl], but they both seem to have been derived independently from the cognate nouns Eng. signal ~ Sp. señal and they are not equivalent in their uses either. In other words, these two verbs are not very good friends, despite having similar basic meanings, for they are rarely translations of each other.

In the 19th century, English converted the noun signal to a verb (by conversion or zero-derivation). The verb to signal means ‘to make signals’, ‘to transmit a signal’, or to ‘instruct or indicate by means of a signal’ (COED). The intransitive version of the verb to signal (synonymous with to give out a sign) translates into Spanish primarily as hacer señas (or hacer una seña). For the transitive sense of the verb to signal used with automobiles, señalar may be used, though indicar is probably more common, e.g. He signaled he was turning left ‘Indicó que torcía a la izquierda’.

As for the intransitive use of this sense of the verb to signal, namely ‘to turn on the (turn) signal’, Spanish often uses poner el intermitente (lit ‘to turn on the blinkers’), among others, but it may also use the intransitive verb señalizar. However, señalizar means primarily to put up signs, as in señalizar una carretera ‘to put up signs on a road’. The verb señalizar was derived, in Spanish, out of the noun señal and the verb-forming suffix ‑izar, equivalent and cognate of Eng. ‑ize (cf. Part I, Chapter 5, § Sp. señalizar is a very recent verb, since it first appeared in the DLE in 1970.

As for the meaning of Sp. señalar, it doesn’t seem to ever translate as Eng. to signal, but rather as to indicate, to point out, to point at, and to show or to mark, as in La flecha señalaba la salida ‘The arrow pointed to the exit’, El reloj señalaba las ocho ‘The clock showed twelve’, La caida le señaló la cara ‘The fall left a mark on his face’ (= La caída le dejó la cara señalada).

[1] The DLE defines Sp. signatura as ‘señal de números y letras que se pone a un libro o a un documento para indicar su colocación dentro de una biblioteca o un archivo’.

[2] Note that the ending of the Spanish word is ‑ario, a descendant of Lat. ‑arius (just like Eng. ‑ary), whereas the ending of the English word is ‑ory, a descendant of Lat. ‑ōrius (just like Sp. ‑orio).

[i] The following 67 words are the most common words in ‑ture in English: acupuncture, admixture, adventure, agriculture, aperture, apiculture, aquaculture, architecture, capture, caricature, conjecture, creature, culture, curvature, denture, departure, expenditure, feature, fixture, fracture, furniture, future, gesture, horticulture, immature, indenture, infrastructure, investiture, juncture, lecture, legislature, literature, manufacture, mature, miniature, mixture, moisture, musculature, nature, nomenclature, nurture, overture, pasture, picture, posture, premature, puncture, rapture, restructure, rupture, scripture, sculpture, signature, stature, stricture, structure, suture, tablature, temperature, texture, tincture, torture, vasculature, venture, viniculture, viticulture, and vulture.

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