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.

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