Thursday, November 16, 2017

The roots VERT- & VERS-, Part 5: Lat. sŭbvĕrt- and pervĕrt-

[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. sŭbvĕrt- and sŭbvĕrs-

The next pair of cognates that come from a verb derived from Lat. vĕrtĕre are Eng. subvert [səb.ˈvɜɹt] and Sp. subvertir [sub.beɾ.ˈt̪iɾ]. They are both rather fancy learned verbs meaning to ‘undermine the power and authority of (an established system or institution)’ (COED). They both come from Lat. subvĕrtĕre, formed with the prefix sub‑ ‘under’, so its literal meaning was transitive ‘to turn under’, but which was used with the meaning ‘to overturn, upset, overthrow’ and ‘to destroy or subvert’, a very similar meaning to the one the modern reflexes of this Latin word have.

The English verb subvert came into the language in the 14th century, and it may not have come directly from Latin, but through French, which borrowed subvertir from Latin earlier, since the word is attested already in the early 12th century. Spanish subvertir is not attested until the middle of the 15th century. Interestingly, at first this was a second conjugation verb, subverter, but since the beginning of the 18th century it has been a third conjugation verb, probably under the influence of French subvertir.

There are also cognate derived nouns that name ‘the act of subverting’, namely Eng. subversion and Sp. subversión. They come from the Lat. stem subvĕrsĭōn‑, formed from the passive participle stem subvĕrs‑ and the noun-forming suffix ‑ĭōn‑. This Latin noun meant ‘overthrow, overturn’, ‘ruin, destruction’, as well as, oddly enough, ‘pouring out (of wine)’. The English and Spanish versions did not adopt the latter sense, however.

There are also two agentive words derived from this verb, namely word that refer to an ‘individual who subverts’. Those words are subverter (sub+vert+er) in English and subversor in Spanish (sub+vers+or). The English word subverter has been derived in English out of the verb subvert plus the agentive suffix ‑er, whereas the Spanish word subversor is a calque of Lat. subversor ‘overturner, overthrower, subverter’, formed from the passive-participle stem subvers‑ and the agentive suffix ‑ōr‑ (nom. ‑or).

But Eng. subverter and Sp. subversor are extremely rare. The way to express the meaning ‘individual who subverts’ in English is subversive, a word that was presumably created in the mid-17th century, in English, from the same stem subvers‑ as subversion, and the Latinate suffix ‑ive, derived from the adjective-forming Latin suffix ‑īv‑. The adjective subversive means ‘seeking or intended to subvert an established system or institution’ (COED). English took to using this adjective as a noun in the late 19th century, so that a subversive is a ‘a subversive person’ (COED).

French also has an adjective subversif (fem. subversive), which is not attested until the late 18th century, which might make it seem like a loan from English. But Fr. subversif replaced an earlier subvertif (fem. subvertive) that was presumably created in French in the mid-15th century from the verb subvertir and the same Latinate suffix. Whoever created subvertif (with a t) in French did not take into account that if Latin had attached the suffix ‑īv‑ to this verb, it would have attached it to the passive participle stem subvers‑, not the present stem subvert‑, resulting in Latin (unattested) *subversīvus. It seems likely that French corrected this ‘error’ after English created the alternative subversive. Do note that the past participle of Fr. subvertir, just like that of Sp. subvertir, was regularized and so had a t, not an s at the end of the stem: Fr. subverti(e), Sp. subvertido/a. Sp. suversivo/a can also be used as a noun, just like Eng. subversive can, but dictionaries do not reflect this fact yet. It is not clear when Spanish acquired the adjective cum noun subversivo/a, but there is little doubt that it came through French, or perhaps English.

Lat. pervert- and pervers-

The next pair of cognate verbs are Eng. pervert [pəɹ.ˈvɜɹt] and Sp. pervertir [peɾ.βeɾ.ˈt̪iɾ]. English pervert has two major meanings (COED):
  • ‘alter from its original meaning or state to a corruption of what was first intended’
  • ‘lead away from what is right, natural, or acceptable’ (synonym: corrupt)

Dictionaries tell us that Spanish pervertir also has both of these meanings but they agree that the ‘corrupt’ sense is primary (synonym: corromper). Although the dictionaries say that Sp. pervertir can also mean ‘to disrupt or disturb the natural order of things’ (DLE), this sense is probably archaic nowadays and actually the ‘distort’ sense of Eng. pervert is probably best translated into Spanish as tergiversar ‘to twist, distort’ (see below) or distorsionar ‘to distort’.

These cognates are both learned borrowings from Latin pervĕrtĕre ‘to overthrow; to pervert, corrupt’, formed from our verb vĕrtĕre ‘to turn’, and the prefix per‑, derived from the preposition per ‘through’. The prefix per‑ typically adds the sense ‘thoroughly, completely, intensely’, but also ‘to destruction, to ill effect, detrimentally’, which seems to be the sense this prefix adds to the word pervĕrtĕre.

The English word was borrowed presumably from Latin in the 14th century and the Spanish one in the 15th. However, since French pervertir (earlier purvertir) is attested already in the early 12th century, it is likely that both English and Spanish got this Latin verb through French.

English also has a noun pervert [ˈpɜɹ.vəɹt], with stress on the first syllable rather than the second like in the homographous verb pervert. This noun refers to ‘someone whose sexual behavior is considered unnatural and unacceptable’ (DOCE). The noun pervert first appeared in writing in English in the 17th century, with the meaning of ‘someone who has been perverted’, and it acquired its current meaning of ‘sexual deviant’ in the 19th century. The way this meaning is expressed in Spanish is with the noun pervertido/a, converted from the past participle of pervertir, which thus was an adjective before it became a noun. The participle and adjective pervertido is equivalent to English perverted, derived from the verb pervert.

The past participle of Latin pervĕrtĕre was perversus (per+vers+us), which meant ‘overthrown’ and ‘perverted, corrupted’ and could be used as an adjective, as all passive participles. This word has given us the cognate adjectives Eng. perverse [pəɹ.ˈvɜɹs] and Sp. perverso/a. Both of these words can have the sense of ‘perverted’, but English perverse can also have the sense of ‘obstinately in the wrong’, which in Spanish translates better as terco, obstinado. English perverse came through French pervers in the mid-14th century. Spanish perverso/a is attested in the 15th century.

Additionally there are two pairs of nouns derived from this verb, both in Latin and in the modern languages that borrowed them from Latin. These first of these Latin nouns is perversĭtas (accusative: perversĭtātem), which meant ‘the quality of being perverse’ but also ‘the quality of being froward (stubborn, contrary, disobedient, obstinate) or untoward (unexpected, unusual, unwanted)’. It was derived with the noun-forming suffix ‑ĭtāt‑ attached to the passive participle stem pervers‑. This noun has been borrowed by English as perversity and by Spanish as perversidad. Eng. perversity was borrowed from learned French perversité in the early 16th century and it means primarily ‘a determination to behave in an unreasonable way, especially by doing the opposite of what is expected or wanted’ (MED), but it can also mean ‘the quality of being perverse’, usually in a sexual way. Spanish perversidad only has the second of these meanings, the sexual one. The ‘stubbornness’ sense of Eng. perversity translates best as terquedad, obstinación, or even desobediencia.

The other Latin noun derived from the verb pervĕrtĕre is perversĭo (accusative: perversĭōnem), also derived from the passive participle stem pervĕrs‑, this time with the noun-forming suffix ‑ĭōn‑. This word’s meaning was ‘a turning about, inversion; a wresting, perversion’ (L&S). English borrowed this noun as perversion [pəɹ.ˈvɜɹ.ʒən] in the late 14th century, originally with respect to religious beliefs. Today, perversion means ‘the act of perverting’ as well as ‘the state of being perverted’, as well as ‘a sexual practice or act considered abnormal or deviant’ (AHD).

Spanish perversión is only a partial friend of Eng. perversion, since the two words differ in pretty much the same way that  the words Eng. perverse and Sp. perverso differ. They both are equivalent in the sexual sense, however. On the other hand, Eng. perversion has a ‘distortion’ sense, often referring to the truth of something, that translates best into Spanish as distorsión, tergiversación, or deformación. Also, Spanish perversión has an ‘evilness’ sense that translates as evil or wickedness.

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