Thursday, November 30, 2017

Verbs of asking in English and Spanish, Part 3: Lat. petere

[This entry is an excerpt from, "Verbs of asking in English and Spanish," Chapter 24 of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Latin pĕtĕre


Let us look now at the last Latin verb that can translate as ‘to ask’, and the only one that has turned up with this meaning in Spanish, namely the third conjugation verb petĕre. Its regular root is pet‑ and its principal parts are pĕtō, pĕtĕre, pĕtīvī, pĕtītum. From this verb comes patrimonial Spanish pedir /peˈ.d̪ir/ ‘to ask for, request’. The t > d sound change is a sure sign that this is a patrimonial word for all intervocalic Latin t’s became d’s in Old Spanish (cf. Part I, Chapter 10).

As we have seen before, third conjugation Latin verbs had antepenultimate stress in the infinitive since the ‑ĕre ending had a short, unstressed ĕ vowel. Since this conjugation disappeared, ‑ĕre verbs joined either the second conjugation of ‑ēre verbs and became second conjugation Spanish verbs, as quaerĕre did (cf. querer), or else they joined fourth conjugation ‑īre verbs to become third conjugation Spanish verbs, as pĕtĕre did (cf. pedir). The final ‑e was lost before the r, as it always did, and the ‑t‑ changed to ‑d‑ intervocalically (between vowels), also as expected, thus resulting in Spanish pedir.

The meaning of pĕtĕre suffered some changes as this word became Spanish pedir. The original Latin pĕtĕre meant ‘to go to (a place)’ or ‘to aim at’. This is consistent with the meaning the Proto-Indo-European root *pet-, which meant ‘to rush; to fly’. A related meaning was added to this Latin word, namely ‘to seek, strive after’. Yet another related sense was added to this verb in due course, namely ‘to desire’. Finally, this word also came to mean ‘to ask for, beseech’. It is not hard to see the semantic links tying all these senses together: go somewhere > aim at > desire > seek > beseech. This latter meaning is the only one that has survived in Spanish.

Pedir is one of a small class of verbs with an e > i vocalic change in the stem for many of its forms. In other words, this word has two alternate roots (allomorphs): ped‑ and pid‑ (cf. Part I, Chapter 5, §5.4.3). In the present tense of pedir we see that the pid- root is used for all forms except two, the nosotros and vosotros forms (1pl, and 2pl), for which it uses ped- (cf. pido, pides, pide, pedimos, pedís, piden). For the past tense (preterit) pid- is used for the third person forms (pidió and pidieron), but ped‑ is used for the remaining verb forms (pe, pediste, etc.). Unlike the e > ie sound change (e ~ ie alternation) that is so common in Spanish and which is quite regular and predictable, e > i changes are not fully predictable and involve several factors (cf. Part I, Chapter 10, §10.3, change V7).

Although English does not have a verbal reflex (descendent form) of pĕtĕre, it does have a noun derived from that verb in Latin, namely petition /pə.ˈtɪ.ʃən/, meaning ‘a formal, typically written request’. It comes from Latin petītiōnem (accusative of petītiō), a noun derived from the passive participle stem petīt‑ and the noun-forming derivational suffix ‑ iōn‑ (pet+īt+iōn+em). This word came into English in the 14th century through French, where it was a learned word. The use of petition as a verb in English came later, in the 16th century, as a conversion (zero derivation) of the noun (a denominal verb) that the English language is so adept at (cf. Part I, Chapter 5, §5.7).

Spanish, of course, has a learned cognate of petition, namely the learned petición, /pe.t̪i.ˈθi̯on/, first attested in the early 15th century. Although Eng. petition and Sp. petición are cognates, their meanings are not always equivalent. In Spanish, petición means primarily ‘request’, not necessarily formal and not necessarily written. The connection of the noun petición with the verb pedir is obvious to a Spanish speaker, so any act of requesting or asking for something (pedir) in Spanish can be seen as a petición. The Spanish collocation a petición de, for example, translates as ‘at the request of’.

English petition can translate as petición sometimes, as in to sign a petition, which translates as firmar una petición, but not every Spanish petición is a petition in English. Most of the time, Sp. petición translates as request. And, in some cases, the best translation for Eng. petition is Sp. solicitud ‘request, application, application form, petition’, just like the verb to petition translates primarily as solicitar ‘to request, petition, apply for, etc.’, which is a false friend of Eng. solicit.

In the language of the law, however, a petition in English is a demanda in Spanish (see Section 24.5 below), so petition for divorce is demanda de divorcio, and the act of petitioning for divorce translates as presentar una demanda de divorcio. Before the introduction of the learned word (cultismo) petición, the patrimonial noun pedido, derived from the Latin passive participle petītus, was used instead. This word is still commonly used in the business world, where it means ‘order’ for goods. Thus to place an order is hacer un pedido in Spanish.

Both English and Spanish have cognate verbs that come from Latin verbs derived from petĕre by prefixation, such as Eng. repeat ~ Sp. repetir and Eng. compete ~ Sp. competir, as well as the associated nouns Eng. repetition ~ Sp. repetición and Eng. competition ~ Sp. competición. The meanings of the members of each pair are quite close friends. The Spanish words are obviously learned, not patrimonial, or the Latin ‑t‑ would have turned into a Spanish ‑d‑ along the way, as it did in pedir (cf. Part I, Chapter 10, §10.4.3). The e > i stem change of pedir, however is transferred to the two verbs competir and repetir, by analogy.

Lat. repĕtĕre

English repeat /ɹɪ.ˈpit/ came from Middle French repeter in the late 14th century. This verb goes back to Latin repetĕre, formed from re‑ ‘again’ + pĕtĕre (re‑+pet‑), which meant primarily something like ‘to go at it again’ (its principal parts are: repĕtō, repĕtĕre, repĕtīvī, repĕtītum).

This verb is often used in the sense of saying something again, not just doing something again. Additionally, the verb repeat has a secondary, derived sense, namely ‘to say something that another person has said’, as in repeat after me. This sense does not seem to be found in the original Latin verb and it probably developed later.

The verb repetir was borrowed into Spanish from Latin even later than in English, since it is first attested in the 17th century. Although these two cognates can be equivalent in many contexts, they are not exactly equivalent. Spanish repetir is sometimes best translated as rerun or do over and it has an idiomatic use as well which translates into English as have a second helping of or to have seconds of.

Derived nouns were also borrowed along with the verbs, namely the cognates Eng. repetition ~ Sp. repetición, formed with the noun-forming derivational suffix ‑iōn‑ that we have seen before. Their meanings are quite close but they aren’t always the best translations of each other. Sp. repetición is sometimes best translated as repeat (the noun) or rerun. The collocation or idiom repetición de la jugada translates as action replay.

Spanish also has a derived noun, repetidor, which in education describes a repeating student, a repeater, but in telecommunications is the word for relay or booster station.

Lat. compĕtĕre

English compete /kəm.ˈpit/ came also into the language from French, in the 17th century, and it goes back to Latin compĕtĕre, which meant primarily ‘to meet or come together’ or ‘to go at it together’. It is formed with the prefix com‑ ‘with’ + pĕtĕre. Its principal parts are compĕtō, compĕtĕre, compĕtīvī, compĕtītum.

Spanish competir, a learned borrowing, is quite a close cognate of English compete, for it means pretty much the same thing. Both languages also have cognates derived from the Latin action noun derived from the verb competĕre, namely competītiōnem (com‑+‑pet‑+‑īt‑+‑iōn‑). These derived nouns, Eng. competition and Sp. competición, are not as close semantically as the verbs are, however. In sports, Eng. competition /ˌkɒm.pə.ˈtɪ.ʃən/ can be synonymous with Sp. competición, but the more generic Spanish name for a competition is concurso or campeonato, which are often used where English would use the word competition. In literary circles, on the other hand, a competition is a certamen.

Eng. competition has another sense, namely rivalry’, as in price competition or competition between brothers, or as in the phrase the competition (competing brands) in business. This sense translates into Spanish not as competición but as competencia, another word derived from the same Latin root ‑pĕt‑, by means of the suffix ‑ent‑ia (cf. Part I, Chapter 8, §8.6.3). The word competencia, however, has two other major senses besides rivalry, one of which is the meaning this word’s English cognate competence has, namely ‘ability, proficiency, competence’, as in the phrase competencia lingüística ‘linguistic competence’. The other (third) sense of Sp. competencia is something like the main meaning of Eng. purview, namely ‘the scope of the influence or concerns of something’ (COED). An example of this latter sense can be found in the phrase No es de tu competencia, which can be translated as ‘It’s none of your business’.

Lat. impĕdīre (not related to pĕtĕre)

One might have thought that the pair of cognates Eng. impede ~ Sp. impedir are derived from petĕre, but that is not the case. In particular, the Spanish verb looks like it may be related to pedir since it even shares the e > i stem change. These two words derive from Lat. impedīre ‘to hinder, impede, obstruct’, lit. ‘to entangle the feet’ (impĕdĭo, impĕdīre, impĕdīvī, impĕdītum). This verb was formed from the nominal root ped‑ ‘foot’, which is unrelated to the Latin root pet‑ which we have been discussing (cf. Part II, Chapter 15). Think of impeding someone as tripping them, or blocking their feet in some way.

From the same root ped‑ ‘foot’ we get other cognate verbs and nouns as well. The pair Eng. expedite ‘acelerar, agilizar’ ~ Sp. expedir ‘to send, dispatch’ are cognates, but also false friends, since their meanings are not the same, as we can see. The derived nouns Eng. expedition ~ Sp. expedición, however, are true cognates, at least as far as the primary meanings of these two words is concerned. The pair Eng. expedient ~ Sp. expediente on the other hand are also false friends. Eng. expedient is /ɪk.ˈspi.dɪə̯nt/ an adjective that translates into Spanish as conveniente, oportuno and Sp. expediente is a noun that translates into English as dossier, record, etc.

Lat. expĕtĕre

Spanish has yet one other verb derived from petĕre, namely despedir, one that does not have an English cognate. This verb has several senses all related to the idea of departure or coming out. Transitive despedir has two major meanings. One is ‘to eject, shoot, send off, fire, emit’, as in despedir fuego ‘to shoot out fire’ or despedir un fuerte olor ‘to emit a strong smell’. The other transitive sense is to fire (from a job), as in El jefe despidió al empleado ‘The boss fired the employee’.

The most common use of this verb, however, is as a reflexive (intransitive) verb despedirse, in which case it means ‘to say goodbye’, as in Vinieron a despedirse ‘They came to say goodbye’ or Se fueron sin despedirse ‘They left without saying goodbye’. Spanish despedir is a patrimonial word that comes from Latin expĕtĕre, formed with the prefix ex‑ and the verb petĕre (principal parts: expĕtō, expĕtĕre, expĕtīvī, expĕtītum). The original form of this verb was espedir. The change of the Lat. x to Sp. s, is unremarkable, for the Latin consonant cluster [ks] always reduced to [s]. The initial d‑, however, was added at some point probably under the assumption that this verb contained the prefix des‑, which typically encodes inversion of meaning.

The meaning of Lat. expĕtĕre was something very similar to that of petĕre, namely ‘to long for, seek after, aspire to, desire’. The extreme change in meaning between Latin expetĕre and Spanish despedir as a simple explanation. In modern Spanish despedir(se) means ‘to say good bye’, but in old Spanish it actually meant ‘to ask for permission to leave’, cf. ask + out, hence the sense of departure.

There are two nouns derived from this verb. One of them is despido, which is a back-formation (and/or zero-derivation) of the verb despedir. Its meaning is related to one of the transitive senses of the verb despedir and means ‘dismissal, layoff, sacking, termination, firing’. The other one is despedida, which is related to the reflexive (intransitive) sense of the verb despedirse and means ‘farewell, goodbye, parting, leave-taking’.

Lat. appĕtĕre

The last verb derived from Lat. petĕre was formed with the prefix ad‑ ‘to’, which gave us Lat. appetĕre, a verb that meant ‘to strive after, long for, desire’. Its principal parts are appĕtō, appĕtĕre, appĕtīvī, appĕtītum. There are no reflexes of this verb itself in English or Spanish, but a Latin noun derived from the verb has made it into both languages. The noun was appĕtītus ‘strong desire’, derived from the passive participle of this verb. This noun is first attested in Old French apétit (Mod.Fr. appétit /ˈti/), from where it came into English through Anglo-Fr. appetit around 1300 as appetite ‘craving for food’ (in Modern English, it is pronounced /ˈæ.pə.taɪ̯t/). The Spanish cognate apetito is first attested in the 13th century and most likely comes from French as well.

Sp. apetito and Eng. appetite are close friends, but not all expressions in which one of them is used has an equivalent expression in the other language. Some do, such as Sp. abrir el apetito and Eng. to whet one’s appetite, and apetito carnal translates as sexual appetite (or sex drive). On the other hand, the Spanish common phrase tener apetito means ‘to be hungry’ and comer con apetito is something like ‘to eat with gusto’. Spanish also has a derived adjective apetitoso, which translates as appetizing when used to refer to the looks of food, and as tasty, delicious, mouth-watering, flavorful, etc., when it refers to its taste. It can also be used figuratively to talk about something that is inviting or tempting.

English developed a verb appetize from the noun appetite and the suffix ‑ize in the late 18th century (1782) with the meaning ‘to make hungry’. This verb is not very common nowadays, but two words derived from it certainly are, namely the noun appetizer, created by means of the agentive suffix ‑er, the and the adjective appetizing, formed with the suffix ‑ing. The latter translates into Spanish as apetitoso, as we have just seen. The noun appetizer translates variously as aperitivo (something you eat or drink before a meal; it translates as apéritif if it refers to a drink instead of food), entremés (Eng. hors d’oeuvre), tapa (in Spain), or botana (in Mexico; also ‘snack’).

Lat. appĕtĕre was converted into *appetĕscĕre in Vulgar Latin, a form of the verb with an inchoative suffix (cf. Part I, Chapter 8, § This verb would become Sp. apetecer, which is not attested until the late 16th century, but which is an extremely common verb in Modern Spanish since it translates as to feel like, to be in the mood for, to feel up to, or to feel like it. It is used like gustar in the sense that the ‘experiencer’ (the person in the mood in this case) is the indirect object of the verb, not the subject like in the English expressions, e.g. Me apetece ir ‘I feel like going’, Me apetece una cerveza ‘I feel like (having) a beer’.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Verbs of asking in English and Spanish, Part 2: Latin quaerĕre

[This entry is an excerpt from, "Verbs of asking in English and Spanish," Chapter 24 of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Latin quaerĕre


Another Latin verb that translates as ‘to ask’ is quaerĕre, with the root quaer‑ and principal parts quaerō, quaerĕre, quaesīvī, quaesītum. The infinitive was originally quaesĕre, a third conjugation verb whose source in Proto-Indo-European is not clear. (The sound change ‑s‑ to ‑r‑ between vowels is common in early Latin.) Notice that because it is a third conjugation verb, we expect the past participle to have an irregular stem, in this case quaesīt‑.

This verb quaerĕre became the ubiquitous Spanish verb querer, which means primarily ‘to want’, but in the right context it is the most common verb to express the meaning ‘to love’. From ‘want’ to ‘love’ presumably there is but one small step (cf. Part I, §[i] Actually, this was a polysemous verb already in Latin, with three major different senses, the connection between them not being too hard to see. The senses of quaerĕre were the following:

1)    to seek, strive for
2)    to ask, question, inquire
3)    to desire, require, miss/lack

English has a few words that come from the root of to Latin quaerĕre, in particular from the passive participle’s stem quaesīt‑ or, rather, its simplified form quaest‑. The most obvious one is the word question /ˈkwɛs.ʧən/, of course, which is both a noun and a verb (an archaic spelling of this word was quæstion). This word, which originally was a noun, is an early 13th century loanword from Old French noun question, which comes from Latin quaestiōnem (accusative form of the noun quaestiō: quaest‑+‑iōn‑; from an earlier quaesītiōnem).

The Latin noun quaestiōnem originally meant ‘an act of seeking’ but it also had some related meanings, such as ‘inquiry’, ‘question’, and ‘investigation’. The stem of this Latin noun was a somewhat changed form from the stem quaesīt‑ of the passive/past participle quaesītus (quaes‑+īt‑), of the verb quaerĕre. The word question replaced the native English word frain, fraign, with the same meaning, which came from Old English fræġn.

From the noun question, English developed the verb to question in the late 15th century. However, it is also possible that this coinage was influenced by the existing French verb questionner, which meant ‘to ask questions’, ‘to interrogate’ and, also, ‘to torture’. The noun questioner ‘someone who is asking a question’ was created, in English, from the verb to question by means of the agentive suffix ‑er. This noun can be translated into Spanish as interrogador or interpelante, though Spanish prefers to avoid this noun, preferring to use verbal expression, such as el que pregunta ‘the one who asks (a question)’.

Spanish has the cognate noun cuestión, but the primary meaning is somewhat different from the one question has in English, which is why it is considered a false friend. Spanish cuestión is a synonym of asunto and it has the meaning of ‘topic/matter to consider, think, and (perhaps) ask questions about’. English question can sometimes have this sense too as in, e.g., the question of Palestine, but in English the main sense has to do with requests for information. The major sense of the word question in English (‘request for information’) is covered in Spanish by the noun pregunta and the verb preguntar (see Section §24.4 below).

Just like English has a verb to question, a zero-derived verb from the noun question, Spanish also has a derived verb cuestionar. This is also somewhat of a false friend, however, for the main sense of this verb is one that is a secondary sense for English to question, namely to ‘express doubt about’ something (COED), as in the popular 1970’s phrase Question Authority. The dictionary defines the meaning of cuestionar as ‘poner en duda lo que parece aceptarse’ (to cast doubt on something that is commonly taken to be true) (VOX). Spanish probably prefers the expression poner en duda to cuestionar as the translation of this sense of Eng. question.

Another English word that ultimately goes back to the verb quaerĕre is quest (c. 1300). It comes from Old French queste ‘acquisition, search, hunt’, which ultimately comes from Latin quaesta ‘inquiry, search, etc.’, the feminine form of quaestus above. It was a noun derived from the shortened form of quaesīta, the feminine past participle of quaerĕre. The core meaning of this word is the one we saw in sense (1) above, namely ‘to seek, strive for’.

English inquest /ˈɪn.kwəst/ is obviously a prefixed form of quest, as we will see when we look at English and Spanish reflexes of prefixed forms of quaerĕre below. It was borrowed from Old French enqueste in the 13th century (Modern French enquête /ɑ̃.ˈkɛt/). It is mostly a legal term that means ‘a judicial inquiry to ascertain the facts relating to an incident’ (COED) (in Britain it has a couple of additional, related specialized meanings).

English quest translates into Spanish as búsqueda or busca, nouns derived from the verb buscar ‘to look for, search’. Inquest in Spanish is investigación judicial, but also sometimes encuesta judicial. Spanish encuesta is a historical cognate of Eng. inquest, actually also borrowed from Old French (cf. Mod.Fr. enquête). Spanish encuesta is hardly ever used with the meaning it has in English, however, thus making it a pretty false friend. The main meaning of the word encuesta nowadays is ‘poll, survey’. The same thing is true of the derived verb encuestar ‘to poll, survey’.

Lat. inquīrĕre

The false friends Eng. inquest and Sp. encuesta go back ultimately to a prefixed form of the verb from Lat. quaerĕre with the prefix in‑. From this same Latin verb with the same prefix we get the Latin inquīrĕre which is the source of the English verb to inquire /ɪn.ˈkwaɪ̯.əɹ/ (spelled enquire in British English), which means ‘to ask for information’ and ‘to investigate’ (COED). English got this verb from Anglo-French enquerre in the 13th century, which ultimately comes from Latin inquīrĕre, which has the root inquīr‑ and the principal parts inquīrō, inquīrĕre, inquīsīvī, inquīsītum. This verb is derived from in‑ ‘in, at, on; into’ + quaerĕre ‘seek, look for’ (the vowel change from ae > ī in the root is something that happened in early Latin, cf. Part I, Chapter 8, §8.3.3).

Spanish has the cognate verb inquirir, but this verb is a fancy cultismo (learned word), even more so than English inquire. The best translation of English inquire in Spanish is, no doubt, preguntar.

English also has the derived, and rather formal, noun inquiry, spelled enquiry in British English, and pronounced either /ˈɪn.kwə.ɹi/ or /ɪn.ˈkwaɪ̯.ɹi/ (only the latter in British English). An inquiry is a systematic search for information (answers) or an examination. There isn’t a Spanish cognate for this English noun. The best translations for inquiry in Spanish for the two senses mentioned are pregunta and investigación, and the English expression to make an inquiry would translate into Spanish as preguntar.

You may have noticed that the fourth principal form of the verb inquīrĕre is inquīsītum, and you may have recognized it as the source of the words Eng. inquisition ~ Sp. inquisición. Indeed, these words go back to Latin noun inquīsītiōnem (accusative of inquīsītiō), a noun derived from the passive participle stem inquīsīt‑ of this verb and the noun-forming derivational ending ‑iōn‑. It originally meant ‘act or process of inquiring’, but it came to have a much more limited meaning when it came to be used for ‘an ecclesiastical tribunal established c. 1232 [by the Christian Roman Catholic Church] for the suppression of heresy, notorious for its use of torture’ (COED).[ii]

Lat. adquīrĕre

Another pair of Spanish-English cognates that are related to Latin quaerĕre are Eng. acquire ~ Sp. adquirir. English acquire /ə.ˈkwaɪ̯.əɹ/ came from Old French aquerre in the 15th century. This French verb seems to be a patrimonial verb derived from Vulgar Latin *acquaerere, which comes ultimately from Lat. adquīrĕre ‘to acquire, get, obtain’, which was formed with the prefix ad ‘to’ + quaerĕre. The meanings of the two cognate verbs in English and Spanish are as close as they get. It is interesting, however, that English acquire comes from a French patrimonial word, whereas Spanish adquirir would seem to be a learned word, first attested in the early 15th century. On the other hand, adquirir is not a fully regular verb, as one expects a learned loanword to be. Thus, we find that the stem ‑i‑ vowel changes to ‑ie‑ whenever the stem ‑e‑ vowel of the verb querer does, e.g. adquiero ‘I acquire’. We may assume that his has to do with interference from the conjugation of the patrimonial verb querer, which is a stem-changing verb. (Note that the preterit of adquirir is regular, whereas the preterit of querer is not, e.g. adquirí ‘I acquired’, not *adquise.)

In addition to the cognate verbs acquire-adquirir, we have the derived cognate nouns Eng. acquisition ~ Sp. adquisición, also with equivalent meanings. They are all semi-fancy words, not typically used in colloquial speech, but quite common. Even a collocation such as an acquired taste, as in Martinis are an acquired taste, translates into Spanish as un gusto adquirido (actually, this is very likely a calque, cf. Part I, Chapter 4, §4.8). However, the two sets of words are not always equivalent, especially in collocations. Thus, the English collocation acquire a bad name is rendered into Spanish as recibir mala prensa, and acquire a taste for something is perhaps best translated as cogerle gusto a algo or tomarle gusto a algo. As we have said before, there are no perfect cognates, just like there are no perfect synonyms. On the other hand, there are usually no perfect false friends (totally imperfect cognates) either.

Lat. requīrĕre

Another verb derived from quaerĕre in Latin was requīrĕre, with the stem requīr‑ and the principal parts requīrō, requīrere, requīsīvī, requīsītum. This verb was formed with the prefix re‑ ‘repeatedly’ and it was polysemous since it meant ‘to ask for’, but also ‘need’, ‘desire’, and even ‘miss’. From this verb, come the cognates Eng. require ~ Sp. requerir.

English require is a 14th century loanword from patrimonial French requerre ‘to beg, ask’ or perhaps from the remodeled version of this word in French, namely requérir /ʀə.ke.ˈʀiʀ/. English require /ɹɪ.ə.ˈkwaɪ̯.əɹ/ originally meant something like the original Latin verb did, namely ‘to ask, inquire’.

The Spanish version requerir was probably also borrowed through French requérir. Both Eng. require and Sp. requerir share their two major meanings: ‘need, depend on’ and ‘demand, compel’. Spanish requerir is not always the best translation for English require, however, though it often is. Sometimes exigir or necesitar, synonyms of requerir, are better equivalent verbs. The idiomatic expression to be required to do something is best translated as estar obligado a hacer algo, in part because require is never used in the passive voice in Spanish.

There are a few cognate or semi-cognate words derived from this verb in both English and Spanish. One is the noun Eng. requirement ‘something that is required, a necessity; something obligatory, a prerequisite’, a 17th century creation from the verb require with the suffix ‑ment (in other words, it was not a Latin word). There is a Spanish cognate of this word, namely requerimiento, which is quite fancy and probably a loanword from English. Spanish prefers to use the noun requisito for this meaning, a cognate of Eng. requisite, which is rare in English, more rare than its derived synonym prerequisite. Both requisite and Sp. requisito are learned words borrowed from Lat. requīsītum ‘needed thing, asked for thing’, a neuter, nominalized form of the passive participle of requīrĕre, namely requīsītus. Both requirement and prerequisite are used in academia to refer to courses that one must take before taking a particular course. The preferred option in Spanish in this case is requisito (not the rare requerimiento or the non-existent *prerrequisito).

The English verb and noun request /ɹɪ.ˈkwɛst/ is etymologically related to the verb require. In this case, the noun came first and the verb was derived from the noun, in English. The noun request came in the 14th century, from French requeste, with the same meaning, from Vulgar Latin requīsīta, feminine passive participle of requīrĕre and meaning ‘thing requested’. The derived verb is first attested in the 16th century. There is no Spanish cognate for Eng. request. The verb request translates into Spanish as pedir or solicitar, but also rogar in some formal, legal situations. The noun request translates as petición or solicitud, nouns derived from the Spanish verbs we just mentioned.

There are other words that are related to this root that are worth mentioning. The first one comes from military vocabulary: Sp. requisar ‘to commandeer, to requisition’. The English semi-cognate noun (and derived verb) requisition, is a 15th century borrowing from French réquisition. It goes back to the Medieval Latin noun requisitionem, a noun derived from the stem requīsīt‑ of the passive participle (requīsītus) of the verb requīrĕre. In Spanish, the noun requisición is quite rare. Less rare perhaps is its synonym requisa, which seems to be a back-formation from the verb requisar or a 19th century adaptation of French réquisition.

Lat. exquīrĕre

Another derived verb from quaerĕre was exquīrĕre, which was formed with the prefix ex‑ ‘out of’ and which meant ‘to seek out, search for; inquire into’ (principal parts: exquīrō, exquīrere, exquīsīvī, exquīsītum). This verb has not survived in English or Spanish, but both languages have borrowed the adjective that comes from the passive participle of this verb by conversion, namely exquīsītus. The cognates that come from this word are the adjectives Eng. exquisite and Sp. exquisito.

Eng. exquisite /ɪk.ˈskwɪ.zət/ is a 15th century borrowing from Latin. Spanish borrowed the word from Latin around the same time. French borrowed this word too, in the late 14th century, and it is very likely that English and Spanish borrowed it through French, a situation that we have seen over and over. French eventually shortened the word to exquis, fem. exquise.

Eng. exquisite and Sp. exquisito are not exactly the best of friends for their meaning is not exactly the same. Sp. exquisito has the original sense, which it shares with English, namely ‘refined, select, delicate’. Additionally, a new sense has been developed for Sp. exquisito from the former meaning in the context of food, which is why this noun translates into English as ‘delicious, delectable, luscious’. Spanish has a derived noun from this adjective, namely exquisitez, which is equivalent to (and paronimous with) English exquisiteness (a noun derived in English from exquisite by adding the Germanic suffix ‑ness) in the first, general sense just mentioned. However, Sp. exquisitez is best translated as delicacy in the context of food.

Lat. conquīrĕre

Finally, the Latin verb quaerĕre was joined to the prefix con‑ ‘with’ to derive the verb conquīrĕre ‘to seek out, hunt, collect, procure by effort’ (principal parts: conquīrō, conquīrere, conquīsīvī, conquīsītus). This verb developed into the now obsolete, patrimonial Old Spanish verb conquerir as well as its Old French cognate conquerre, both meaning ‘to conquer, defeat, vanquish’, a meaning that must have been present already in Late Latin.

From Old French conquerre English got its verb to conquer /ˈkɒn.kəɹ/ in the 12th century (the modern French equivalent is conquérir). Spanish conquerir, however, stopped being used by the 16th century and was replaced by conquistar, a verb derived (in Spanish) from the noun derived from conquerir, namely conquista, a cognate of Eng. conquest /ˈkɒn.kwəst/, which is a borrowing from Old French conqueste (Modern French conquête).

The nouns conquest and conquista started off as adjectives in Latin. That is, they were adjectives derived from the feminine form of the passive participle of Lat. conquīrĕre, namely conquīsīta. From the verbs conquer and conquistar, agentive nouns have been developed, namely Eng. conqueror and Sp. conquistador, by means of the typical agentive suffixes, Eng. ‑or and Sp. ‑dor.


[i] The first R was originally an S in Latin, but Latin S between vowels often became rhotasized and changed to R.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Verbs of asking in English and Spanish, Part 1

[This entry is an excerpt from, "Verbs of asking in English and Spanish," Chapter 24 of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Source: Sheet music cover, 1917 (public domain)


The difference between the Spanish verbs pedir ‘to ask for a thing or action (a request)’ and preguntar ‘to ask for information (a question)’ takes a while for English-speaking learners of Spanish to master, since in English there is only one verb, to ask, that expresses both meanings. We can refer to these two meanings of ask as (1) the ‘request’ sense and (2) the ‘question’ sense, after two English synonyms for the two senses of the verb to ask. We can see sample sentences with this verb below and their Spanish equivalents:


He asked me what I wanted.

Me preguntó qué quería.
He asked me something.

Me preguntó algo.
He asked me for money.

Me pidió dinero.
He asked me to come.

Me pidió que viniera.
He asked for his son to come.

Pidió que viniera su hijo.
He asked me for the time.

Me pidió la hora.
He asked me the time

Me preguntó la hora.

The fact that the same verb to ask is used for these two senses doesn’t mean that there is possible ambiguity, for the two senses are used in different contexts. Thus, for instance, the request sense of ask is always followed by the preposition for followed by a noun, as in #3, #5, and #6 above, or by an infinitival clause, as in #4 above.

The ‘question’ sense of the verb ask, on the other hand, is typically followed by a noun or some embedded question starting with whether, if, what, when, etc., as in #1. Occasionally, it is followed by a noun, as in She asked the time, but that is just an idiomatic way of saying She asked what time it was. So it is not as if English speakers cannot tell the difference between the two types of actions or as if a sentence with ask could ever be ambiguous as to which of the two senses was meant. One could say that to ask is polysemous, if we compare it to the Spanish alternatives, but one could also say that to ask is vague as to what it is that is being requested: information or action.

Again, Spanish preguntar is used basically to request information and pedir is used to request (ask for) things or actions. A question, such as the yes-no question ¿Qué hora es? ‘What time is it?’ elicits information, so we would describe the action of asking this with preguntar and, thus, we could embed the question under that verb as in Preguntar qué hora es ‘To ask what time it is’. The derived (back-formed) noun pregunta is the equivalent of the English noun question. A request for money or a favor, on the other hand, that is, a request for something tangible or for some action, is always expressed with the verb pedir in Spanish, never preguntar. The related noun is petición ‘request’.


Indirectness: Questions as requests (and statements)

It is easy enough to understand the two types of asking and thus the two Spanish verbs. There are even two sentence types associated with the two types of asking. The prototypical sentence type associated with preguntar is the question, as in ¿Tienes cinco dólares? ‘Do you have five dollars?’, which is a yes-no question. The prototypical sentence type associated with pedir is the command, as in ¡Dame cinco dólares! ‘Give me five dollars!’

Still, the fact that English uses just one verb for the two of them is quite understandable as well. In both cases, you want something from someone and you use words to elicit it. Proof that there is a connection between the two types of asking is that we often use the ‘wrong’ sentence type to obtain what we want. This is most clearly see in indirect speech, in which we typically ask questions in order to request some action on the part of our interlocutor, rather than information.

Although the direct way to ask for action, that is, to get someone to do something, both English or Spanish use the command or imperative sentence type, as in Dame cinco dólares ‘Give me five dollars’, or Ven a la fiesta conmigo ‘Come to the party with me’, in practice that is not how we typically ask people to do things for us. Often we ask for action indirectly, through questions, as in ¿Me puedes prestar cinco dólares? ‘Can you lend me five dollars?’ or ¿Te gustaría venir a la fiesta conmigo? ‘Would you like to come to the party with me?’

Notice that, although in the last two examples of requests questions are used, these are not at all regular questions, in the sense that they are not requests for information, as questions supposedly are, but rather are requests for action. That is, they are indirect requests for action, for someone to do something. If you asked someone Can you lend me five dollars? and they answered Yes, I can (information), but left it at that and didn’t give you the money, they would be behaving rather uncooperatively. That is because the purpose of the question was not the literal one of getting information, as direct questions usually are, but to indirectly make a request.

Using questions to (indirectly) elicit behavior is a derived use of the question sentence type, not the primary one, which is to elicit information. When and how questions—which are primarily was to elicit information—can be used in order to elicit action, or to do things other than elicit information, is to some extent culture dependent and we should not expect this type of indirectness to be used exactly the same way across cultures and, thus, across languages, or even across subcultures that share a language.

Notice that we also often use questions, which are literally requests for information, to make indirect statements, not just indirect commands. Think about the following questions:

1)    Are you going to wear that to the party?
2)    Would you like to stop for a drink?
3)    When are you going to call your doctor about that back pain?

If we think about it, we have no trouble realizing that these are not simple requests for information, as the question format might suggest. It is quite obvious that question #1 should probably be interpreted as a statement (not a question) to the effect that I do not think that what you’re wearing is appropriate for the party. Question #2 should more likely than not be interpreted as an invitation to stop for a drink. Finally, a perceptive listener would probably understand question #3, as a statement to the effect that the addressee should be contacting his or her doctor (probably his) if they have not done so by now. In other words, indirectness allows us to, among other things, make statements, requests, and demands look like questions or, rather, to make statements in the form of questions. Such indirectness allows speakers not to seem too pushy and give the addressee a graceful way out of an uncomfortable situation. (Cf. Part I, Chapter 6, §6.8)

All of this makes one wonder whether there is any relationship between (1) conflating the senses of request and question in one word, the way English does with ask, and (2) the tendency to make requests by means of questions. Could it even have something to do with English speakers being more indirect than Spanish speakers? Although that is extremely unlikely, it is worth examining the differences in level of indirectness among cultures.

It is well known that some cultures are more indirect than others. Americans visiting Spain, for instance, often remark that Spaniards do not use questions to request things in situations where an American would, such as when talking to a waiter at a restaurant or when requesting things such as the salt at the table. It is, of course, very unlikely that there is any connection between using questions for requests and having a single word (ask) for both questions and requests. Still, the question is quite valid and it makes us think about what is going on here.

It is probably true that Spaniards are more direct than Americans, at least in some situations. Thus, it is often shocking to American that people in Spain typically ask for things in a restaurant or a café directly, using imperatives. There is no doubt that Spaniards, in certain situations, are more likely to give what sounds to outsiders as (rude) commands requesting action in situations where an English-speaking American would more likely use a question to make an indirect request. Thus, it is perfectly acceptable in Spain to tell your waiter Tráeme una cerveza ‘Bring me a beer’ (an imperative sentence), whereas an English speaker would most likely use a question, such as Can/could I have a beer? Actually, using the equivalent of Can you bring me a beer? in Spain, would probably sound rather odd to your waiter and some might even be offended by the ‘excessive politeness’.

The truth is that there is nothing intrinsically rude about the Spanish way of asking for things, as long as this is the socially accepted way of doing it. Using a direct ‘command’ form rather than an indirect question when speaking to a person whose job is bring you things doesn’t have to be offensive, unless it is said with the wrong tone of voice, of course, and sounding demanding. If you translate the words directly and do not pay attention to how the request is made and the context in which it’s made, it may seem rude to someone from a culture in which such situations call for conventionalized indirectness.

Actually, using indirectness in a culture where one is expected to be direct in a particular situation, could result in a misunderstanding too. Excessive politeness is a thing and it is associated with socially distancing you from the person you are asking something from, which can be seen as rude. Excessive politeness, when used with people you are close to, such as intimates, but also with people who are there to assist you, such as a waiter, could be seen as a sign of lack of trust and a sign of assuming a certain social distance. In such a culture, a simple Pásame la sal ‘Pass me the salt’ can be the expected way of making a request at a table from a friend or family member, and anything more indirect that that can be seen as a sign that lack of intimacy, and thus seem rude and offensive, even adding a simple por favor ‘please’ to the request.

Of course, none of this is likely to have anything to do with the fact that Spanish has two basic words, pedir and preguntar, whereas English speakers only have one, to ask. Also, it should be mentioned that not all cultures that use the Spanish language behave the same way as mainstream Spanish culture (from Spain) does. A Spaniard will probably seem rude in a situation like the one just described to a Colombian or Peruvian as well, not just to the average American. And, of course, all Spanish speakers use questions sometimes to request actions, not just information, even if Spaniards are less likely to do it in certain circumstances where it is not called for in the culture.

Actually, in informal situations such as the ones we have described, Spanish often uses a type of question to soften the edge of asking for things but which has the property of not sounding excessively polite, which, as we have seen, could seem offensive to Spaniards in some situations. We are referring to a type of question construction that sounds somewhat strange when translated into English because it doesn’t make literal sense.

For example, if you want to ask your waitress for a beer, there is a third form we can use besides the two that we have seen, which are the direct Tráeme una cerveza ‘Bring me a beer!’ and the excessively polite ¿Podrías traerme una cerveza? ‘Could you bring me a beer?’ Note that the latter question, which is likely to be used by an American visiting Spain, would probably sound rather strange to a native Spanish speaker from Spain. Note also that the former is acceptable in Spain, as long as it is not uttered with a demanding tone of voice.

The third way that we are referring to is one in which one would ‘ask’ the question ¿Me traes una cerveza? Notice that because it is a question, it is also an indirect way of asking. Literally, this question translates as ‘Do you bring me a beer?’ or ‘Are you bringing me a beer?’ These questions sound odd when translated directly into English, but they are probably the preferred construction to use in Spain in requests among people who are intimate or who do not want to seem to be aloof and distant. A Spaniard who wants to add an extra edge to this type of request, might add por favor ‘please’ to it, but that is not at all necessary since, again, it is something that makes it sound more formal and thus off-putting in most situations.

Interestingly, it is also possible to give an extra edge of politeness to the command form type of request that we saw earlier. That can be accomplished by adding something at the beginning that softens the request. The simplest such thing to add is the interjection ¡Oye!, ‘Hey!’, lit ‘Hear!’. If we put all these factors together, we could come up with a range of ways to ask for a beer at a café in order of politeness, from least polite to most polite:

¡Tráeme una cerveza! (or just ¡Una cerveza!)
¡Tráeme una cerveza, por favor! (or ¡Una cerveza, por favor!
Oye, tráeme una cerveza.
¿Me traes una cerveza?
¿Me traes una cerveza, por favor?
¿Podrías traerme una cerveza?
¿Podrías traerme una cerveza, por favor?
Table 168: Degrees of politeness in requests in Spain

The default, most neutral option in Spain would probably be the middle one, namely #4. Of course, one could add another layer of politeness to this sequence by changing the form of the verb to usted, another social-distancing mechanism, and thus a way to code politeness.

These options transfer pretty much to any type of situation in which we ask for things and request some type of action. At the dining room table, for example, the most common way of asking for the salt, would probably be ¿Me pasas la sal? lit. ‘Do you pass me the salt?’, though it would not be at all out of place to use a command such as Oye, pásame la sal. Likewise, the most common way of asking a friend (not a stranger) to lend you five dollars would probably be ¿Me prestas cinco dólares? lit. ‘Do you lend me five dollars?’ If you were asking a stranger, or at least someone you’re not close with and who might be willing to lend you the money, you would probably use a more polite indirect question, namely ¿Podría(s) prestarme cinco dólares (por favor)? Note that using the wrong type of request form may also constitute a faux pas or social blunder.

Also, just as Spaniards know how and when to use indirectness (questions) when asking for action, English speakers also know when it is OK to use directness (commands) to ask for things. English speakers are not always indirect, using questions, when trying to get people to do things for them. They too often use imperatives (command sentences) to get people to do things by means of direct requests, if the situation calls for it. There are even situations in which a question would be out of place in English in order to get someone to act. If you are asking someone who just came into your home to sit down, for instance, you would probably use the ‘command’ form Sit down (maybe followed by the softening word please, or at least with a friendly tone of voice), rather than a question such as Could you sit down? or Would you (like to) sit down? A gentle tone of voice in the imperative Sit down! can be enough to make it sound like a request, and not as a command.

Whatever the connection between requesting (making requests) and questioning (asking questions), it is indeed the case that English speakers have a hard time with the difference between the two Spanish verbs pedir and preguntar. It is a difference that is covered early on in elementary textbooks. English speakers tend to be confused by this pair of words, for they don’t see anything unusual about using the same word ask for actions that for a Spanish speaker seem to be obviously different, or different enough to use different words for them.

Actually, the reason why it seems so natural to English speakers to use the same word for what Spanish ‘thinks’ are two different things might also have something to do with the fact that asking a question can be seen as a special type of a request for action, namely a request for giving information. In other words, there is some obvious semantic overlap between requests for information and requests for action.

Take, for instance, a situation in which someone asks another for their opinion about something. This is asking for information, obviously, but it is also a request for action (giving one’s opinion). So in Spanish you can say Me pidió mi opinión ‘She asked me for my opinion’, with pedir, not with preguntar. This puts emphasis on the fact that it is a request. But one could also say Me preguntó mi opinión (same meaning) or Me preguntó qué opinaba ‘She asked me what I thought about it?’ with the verb preguntar, not with pedir. This emphasizes that it is a question. (Notice that you cannot say *Me pidió qué opinaba.)

An unusual case is the one regarding reports of asking for the time. With an embedded question in the sentence, there is no doubt that Spanish must use preguntar, as in Me preguntó qué hora era ‘He asked me what time it was’, which is a request for information. There is a common and idiomatic way to shorten such a sentence, which is by changing the embedded question to the noun phrase la hora ‘the time’. Thus, we often hear things such as Me preguntó la hora ‘He asked me for the time’. Less commonly one also hears, however, the equivalent sentence Me pidió la hora ‘He asked me for the time’, with emphasis on the request.

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...