Friday, November 10, 2017

The roots VERT- & VERS-, Part 1: Introduction

[This entry is an excerpt from, "Diversión & diversion: the roots VERT- & VERS-," Chapter 7 of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Lat. vĕrtĕre

The Latin verb vĕrtĕre meant ‘to turn (around)’ its root vert‑, along with the stem vers‑ of this verb’s passive participle, is at the core of many common Spanish and English words, and thus of many cognates. Among the words that come from this verb we have the cognates Eng. version ~ Sp. version, the English verbs avert and revert, and the Spanish verb divertirse, one of the possible translations for the English idiomatic expression to have fun. Also derived from these roots are the English preposition versus, which young English speakers have started to use as a verb, namely to verse, as well as the word for everything that exists, namely Eng. universe ~ Sp. universo ( ‘all matter and energy, including the earth, the galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space, regarded as a whole’ (AHD). Finally, derived to this last pair, there is another important pair of cognates for those of us in academia, namely the words Eng. university and Sp. universidad.

Figure 109: Most Colorful View of Universe Captured by Space Telescope[i]

The Latin verb vĕrtĕre is an irregular third conjugation verb. We can divide that infinitive form into the root, vĕrt‑ and the regular third conjugation infinitival ending ‑ĕre. The short ‑ĕ‑ was the thematic vowel of third conjugation verbs and the final ‑re was the regular infinitive ending. The thematic vowel of third conjugation verbs was short and thus, the stress on the word vĕrtĕre was on the first ĕ and this word was pronounced something like [ˈwɛɾ.tɛ.ɾɛ] (the Latin v was pronounced like a w before vowels, cf. Part I, §

The principal parts of this verb are present tense vĕrtō  ‘I turn’, present infinitive vĕrtĕre ‘to turn’, perfect active vĕrtī ‘I turned’, and passive participle vĕrsus ‘turned’ (cf. Part I, Chapter 8, § As you can see, the passive participle does not have a ­t before the inflection ‑us, but rather an s, for this verb form’s stem was vĕrs‑. The reason for this discrepancy is that when the passive participle derivational suffix ‑t‑ was added to a third conjugation verb whose root ended in ‑t, in early Latin the resulting ‑tt‑ morphed to ‑ss‑ or to ‑s‑, as in this case, a sound change that was consummated well before the Classical Latin period (cf. Chapter 8, §

Root and basic stem

Supine/passive-participle stem

As we shall see, from the stem was vĕrs‑ of the passive participle vĕrsus (feminine versa) many other words were derived, from adjectives to converted (zero-derived) nouns, to nouns derived by means of suffixes.

This verb’s most basic meaning was intransitive ‘to turn’, that is, ‘to move around an axis through itself’. Note that, unlike Lat. vĕrtĕre, the English verb turn can be either transitive or intransitive, e.g. I turned the lamp vs. The lamp turned. But this was a polysemous verb that had several derived meanings, including (intransitive) ‘change, alter, transform’, as well as a few others, including some transitive ones. (English turn can also have the ‘change’ sense in some contexts, as in the sentence She turned red.)

Besides vĕrtĕre, Latin had two other verbs that had meanings related to turning which became much more common to the expression of that meaning in the Romance languages. The first one was tornāre, which originally meant ‘to turn in a lathe, round off’, since it was derived from the noun tornus ‘a lathe, a turner’s wheel’, a loanword from Gk. τόρνος (tórnos) ‘carpenter's tool for drawing a circle; turning lathe’ (cf. Sp. torno ‘lathe’). Later, this verb acquired the simpler meaning ‘to turn’. Lat. tornāre is the source of Eng. turn and Sp. tornar. English borrowed the verb turn from Old French torner in Late Old English times (cf. Mod. Fr. tourner ‘to turn, revolve, go around, etc.’). The noun turn first appears in English around the year 1200 and it comes from the Old French noun torn or tour, from the Latin noun tornus (cf. Mod. Fr. tour ‘trip’, source of Eng. tour ~ Sp. tur, and Eng. tourism ~ Sp. turismo and Eng. tourist ~ Sp. turista). English has quite a few complex verbs derived from this verb, such as turn around ‘darse la vuelta’, turn back ‘volver, regresar’, turn down ‘rechazar’, turn in ‘entregar; acostarse’, turn off ‘apagar’, turn on ‘encender’, turn out ‘producir; resultar’, turn over ‘dar(se) la vuelta’, turn to ‘acudir/recurrir a’, and turn up ‘presentarse, aparecer, llegar’.  Sp. tornar is a patrimonial word descended from Lat. tornāre, but nowadays, it is a rather archaic verb and it just means ‘to return’ (reflexive tornarse means ‘to become’ in some contexts, but it is quite rare nowadays). Spanish also borrowed Fr. tourner as turnar(se) ‘to take turns’ and from it derived the noun  turno ‘turn’, in the early 17th century.

The other Latin ‘turning’ verb was transitive vŏlvĕre ‘to cause to revolve, turn around, etc.’, which is the source of intransitive Spanish volver ‘to return, go back’, which can also be conjugated reflexively as volverse with the same meaning but with an additional archaic or formal sense ‘to turn around’. The most common way to translate the English intransitive turn (around) into Spanish is girar, dar la/una vuelta, or dar vueltas, and the transitive turn as girar, hacer girar, dar la/una vuelta a or dar vueltas a. (The noun vuelta is derived from the irregular past participle of volver, namely vuelto, by conversion, and is polysemous, meaning ‘turn’, ‘lap’, ‘return’, and ‘curve’, among other things.)

Proto-Indo-European *wert

By comparing this Latin root and cognate roots in languages related to Latin, linguists have been able to reconstruct the ancestor of this root in Proto-Indo-European, the ancestor language of English, Spanish, and all other Indo-European languages (see Part I, Chapter 3). The original root in that reconstructed language is *wert‑, meaning ‘to turn’ and ‘to bend’. This basic meaning was very amenable to figurative, metaphorical extensions, and thus the reflexes of this root in Indo-European languages ended up having many disparate meanings, such as ‘rotate’, to ‘become’, to ‘pour’, to ‘happen’, and more.

This proto-root does not have many direct descendants in English, that is, true patrimonial words that have descended by oral transmission that contain that root, as opposed to words that were borrowed from Latin or from other Proto-Indo-European languages. One descendant of the proto-root *wert‑ in ancient Germanic, the ancestor of English, was werthan, consisting of the original root plus a suffix and meaning ‘to become, to happen, to come to be’. This word has not survived into Modern English.

Another descendant in ancient Germanic was *werthaz, meaning ‘towards, opposite’, which has as its direct patrimonial descendant the English word worth. This word in Old English was weorþ (þ = th), and it meant ‘significant, valuable, etc.’. To make sense of that meaning change from Proto-Germanic to English we have to realize that something standing opposite to something else can be seen as being equally important or worthy.

The English adverbial ending ‑ward(s), meaning ‘(turned) toward’, in words such as forward and towards, is also a descendant of the same Proto-Indo-European root *wert. Other words with this suffix are afterwards, backwards, eastwards, heavenwards, and inwards.

Finally, the English word weird also descends from the root *wert, from Proto-Germanic *wurthiz which resulted in the Old English noun wyrd ‘fate, chance, fortune, destiny’ (cf. the expression turn of events). In the Middle English period, this noun, now spelled wierd, was converted into the adjective that eventually would be spelled weird, meaning first ‘having the power to control fate’ in the 15th century. From this sense, the sense ‘uncanny, supernatural’ developed and, from it, in the early 19th century, the sense ‘odd-looking, uncanny’ and ‘odd, strange, disturbingly different’.

Spanish words derived from (un-prefixed) Lat. vert-

Spanish has a direct, patrimonial descendant of the Latin verb vĕrtĕre mentioned earlier, namely the verb verter (ie), which means ‘to pour’ or ‘to spill’ (a liquid). The verb can also be used in a figurative sense with the noun lágrimas ‘tears’, as in verter lágrimas, which translates as ‘to shed tears’. Spanish verter is a second conjugation verb, just like most Latin third conjugation verbs with the ‑ĕre infinitive ending became second conjugation ‑er Spanish verbs, along with second conjugation Latin verbs with ‑ēre verbs. However, many Spanish speakers hesitate between using verter or vertir, that is, about whether this is a second or a third conjugation verb. This is no doubt due to the influence of third conjugation ‑ir verbs derived from Latin vĕrtĕre such as divertir and convertir (see §8.2 below). Additionally, because the root vowel of Latin vĕrtĕre was a short ĕ, in Spanish, the root vowel of the verb alternates between ie and e in the present tense depending on whether it is stressed or not, e.g. vierto ‘I pour’ vs. vertemos ‘we pour’. In other words, it is an e > ie stem-changing verb (cf. Part I, §10.3).

There are a few additional words in Spanish related to the Latin verb vĕrtĕre, which developed in Spanish by addition of existing Latinate Spanish suffixes. One of them is the noun vertido, which means ‘dumping, discharge’ if it’s voluntary, and ‘spillage’ if it’s not (vert+id+o). This noun is derived from the identical past participle of the verb verter by conversion.

Another noun derived from the same root is the noun vertedero, the word for ‘garbage dump’ or ‘landfill’ (vert+e+d+er+o). It is not clear whether we should think of the suffix as ‑edero, ‑dero, or just ‑ero. The best analysis from a synchronic point of view is probably that it is ‑dero, which Spanish then attaches to the infinitival root plus the second conjugation thematic vowel: vert+e‑. On the other hand we find the dialectal equivalent form vertidero, with an ‑i‑, which would result from the past-participle stem vertid‑ of the past-participle vertido, plus the suffix ‑ero.[i]

Finally, the noun vertiente, meaning literally ‘slope’ and figuratively ‘angle’ or ‘point of view’. This noun is comes from the active participle of the verb vĕrtĕre, namely vertentem, meaning ‘turning’ (nom. vertēns). The noun is used in geography to refer to the slope of a mountain, e.g. la vertiente norte del Everest ‘the north slope/face of the Everest’, or of a mountain system through which a river may run, e.g. la vertiente del río Ebro ‘the down-sloping riverbed of the Ebro river’. In construction, vertiente is used to refer to the slope of a roof. This word is also often used figuratively to mean ‘point of view’, ‘angle’, or ‘aspect’, as in the phrase desde otra vertiente ‘from a different point of view’.

English and Spanish words derived from (un-prefixed) Lat. vers-

The passive participle of the Latin verb vĕrtĕre, namely vĕrsus (vĕrs+us, fem. vĕrsa), meaning ‘turned’, has left some unlikely descendants in both English and Spanish. The most direct one is found in the cognates Sp. verso ~ Eng. verse, which refer primarily to ‘writing arranged with a metrical rhythm, typically having a rhyme’ (COED), though it is also used for short sections of the Bible, for example. Already in Latin, the participle versus had been turned into a noun with the meaning of ‘a turn of the plough, a furrow’ and, figuratively, ‘a line of writing’.

In Medieval Latin, the very same versus started to be used as a preposition meaning ‘towards, against’, in order to indicate opposition. From this sense of Lat. versus, English borrowed its versus in the 15th century for use as a preposition, and it is common in sports and in the law, typically abbreviated vs, e.g. the Yankees versus the Red Sox. Recently, in English, this word has been reinterpreted by some as a verb, namely to verse, meaning ‘to go against’, used in sports, as in Last Sunday the Patriots versed the Seahawks.

Interestingly, Spanish didn’t borrow the word versus with this meaning from Latin and in legal and sports contexts, its meaning is expressed by the preposition contra. The sense ‘compared with’ of Eng. versus translates as frente a, en contraposición/oposición a. However, in recent decades, by influence of Eng. versus, the word has started to creep into some varieties of Spanish. The latest (23rd, 2014) version of the Academy’s dictionary (DLE) contains this word, an English loan, as does the latest version of the Academy’s grammar book (2009), though frente a and contra are given as preferable alternatives (the abbreviation is given as vs.).

A noun was also developed, in Latin, from the root vers‑ by addition of the noun forming suffix ‑iōn‑, resulting in the very common cognate nouns Eng. version and Sp. versión, from Latin versiōnem (nom. versiō), which meant something like ‘a turning, change’ but which in Medieval Latin was used with the sense of ‘translation’ (‘a translated version of an original in another language’). English first borrowed the word version from French version in the 16th century, with the sense of translation, e.g. the King James version of the Bible. Spanish adopted the word with the same meaning in the following century, most likely through French influence as well.

English version can have other meanings as well, such as for instance, ‘manipulation of a fetus in the uterus to bring it into a desirable position for delivery’ (AHD), something done when a fetus is feet-down instead of head-down inside the mother. This version is an ellipsis of the phrase external cephalic version or ECV (Sp. versión cefálica externa).

[i] There are 57 words that end in ‑edero in Spanish, cf. Only four of them are common words: heredero ‘heir’, from heredar ‘to inherit’; monedero ‘purse, money bag’, from moneda ‘coin’; adj. perecedero ‘perishable, from perecer ‘to perish’; and vertedero ‘dump’, from verter. Only two of these can be said to have endings in ‑edero, as oposed to ‑ero, namely the adjective perecedero and the noun vertedero, both from second conjugation verbs with participles in ‑ido. In the other two, the ending is ‑ero and the ‑ed‑ is part of the word’s stem. There are 56 words that end in ‑idero, cf. Only 7 are common words: asidero ‘handle’ from asir ‘to grab’; escupidero ‘thing to spit in’, from escupir ‘to spit’; escurridero ‘draining board’, from escurrir ‘to drain’; mentidero ‘a place where people gather to chat’, from mentir ‘to lie’; sumidero ‘drain, sewer’, from sumir ‘to sink, plunge’; and adj. venidero ‘future, coming’, from venir ‘to come’. All of these would seem to be derived from the participle stem in ‑id‑ and the suffix ‑er-o. Finally, there are 270 words in ‑dero, cf., 32 of which are common words, many of them (though not all) derived from ar verbs: agarradero, amarradero, apeadero, atascadero, atolladero, bacaladero, coladero, criadero, desfiladero, despeñadero, duradero, embarcadero, fregadero, fumadero, ganadero, invernadero, lavadero, llevadero, majadero, matadero, meadero, panadero, paradero, pescadero, quebradero, recadero, resbaladero, respiradero, salpicadero, tragadero, varadero, verdadero.

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