Saturday, December 30, 2017

Verbs of Sitting, Part 2: Verbs of sitting in Latin and Spanish

[This entry is an excerpt from, "Verbs of Sitting and Related Words," a chapter in Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 2. Go to Part 1

Lat. sĕdēre

The verb meaning ‘to sit’ in Latin was sĕdēre, whose main meaning was the stative ‘to sit, be sitting’ (Sp. ‘estar sentado’), though seemingly not the active (change of state) meaning ‘to sit down’ (Sp. ‘sentarse’). This verb’s principal parts were the following:

present indicative
‘I sit’, ‘I am sitting (down)’, ‘I am seated’
present infinitive
‘to sit’, ‘to be sitting (down)’, ‘to be seated’
perfect active
‘I sat’, ‘I was sitting’, ‘I was seated’
passive participle
‘seated, having been seated’

The two crucial stems here are sĕd‑, as seen in the infinitive, for instance, and sĕss‑, from which other words are derived, including several Spanish-English cognates, such as Eng. session ~ Sp. sesión, as we shall see. In the root sed‑, we recognize the unchanged Proto-Indo-European basic root *sed‑. The derived supine/passive participle stem sess‑ is an irregular one, the result of adding the suffix passive suffix ‑t‑ to the basic root sed‑, a root ending in ‑d, without an intervening vowel. In other words, an original (unattested) *sed-t- changed to sess‑ (cf. Part I, Chapter 8, §

Lat. sīdĕre

In addition to this verb sĕdēre, Latin had an verb that referred to the action of sitting down, namely the third conjugation verb sīdĕre ‘to sit down’, which referred to the action of sitting down. These two verbs are obviously related. We have already mentioned the basic form *sed‑ of the Proto-Indo-European root, as well as the o-grade form *sod‑, from where Eng. set ultimately comes. In addition, there were three more variants of this root. One is the zero-grade variant, namely *sd‑ (it could also be *zd), which was found in reduplicated form and in compounds. A compound example was PIE *ni‑zd‑o‑ ‘nest’, formed with the root *ni‑ ‘down’. From this word come both Eng. nest and Sp. nido. The former comes from Proto-Germanic *nistaz and the latter comes from Lat. nīdus (from an earlier *nizdus).[1]

The reduplicated zero-grade form of this Proto-Indo-European root has been reconstructed *si‑sd‑ or *si‑zd‑. It is from this reduplicated form that the 3rd conjugation Latin verb sīdĕre is thought to have come. Its meaning was an active one, namely ‘to sit down, to seat oneself, to settle’, cf. Eng. sit down, Sp. sentarse. This verb’s principal parts were the following:

present indicative
‘I sit down’
present infinitive
‘to sit down’
perfect active
‘I sat (myself) down’

As we can see, this verb has no supine or passive participle form and thus no passive verb forms. Its direct source has been reconstructed as Proto-Italic *sizdō (present indicative), and its ultimate source has been reconstructed as Proto-Indo-European *sísdeti, a thematic i-reduplicated verbal root variant of the basic root *sed‑. The verb sīdĕre, as well as other verbs derived from this one by prefixation, such as cōnsīdĕre, are the way to express the action verb of sitting down in Latin.

Verbs of sitting in Spanish and other Romance languages

Forms of the Latin verb sĕdēre suffered several sound changes in Vulgar Latin and early Romance, such as the loss of the intervocalic ‑d‑, resulting in the infinitive verb form seer, for example. In part because of this, some of this verb’s forms became confused in some Romance languages with forms of the third conjugation Vulgar Latin verb ĕssĕre ‘to be’, which had come to replace the even more irregular Classical Latin esse (principal parts: sum, esse, fuī, futūrus). Proof of this confusion is the fact that some of the verbal forms of the Spanish verb ser ‘to be’ come not from equivalent forms of Lat. esse, but rather of the verb sĕdēre, including probably the infinitive form ser by loss of the intervocalic ‑d‑ (sĕdēre > seere > ser) and definitely the present subjunctive forms sea, seas, etc., which obviously comes from Lat. sedeam, sedeās, etc., present subjunctive of sedēre, not of esse. The confusion between the two verbs was probably aided, no doubt, because the verb sĕdēre ‘to be (sitting)’ had come to be used as a synonym of essere ‘to be’ in some contexts.

Probably because of this confusion sound and meaning confusion, alternatives to Lat. sĕdēre appared in some Romance languages. One option was to use a prefixed form of this verb, namely a verb that has been reconstructed as *assedēre, derived from sĕdēre by the addition of the prefix ad‑ ‘to, towards’ (ad+sĕdēre). Actually, this Vulgar Latin or early Romance verb was probably derived from the second-conjugation Latin verb assĭdēre, whose principal parts were assĭdĕō, assĭdēre, assēdī, assĕssum. This verb meant primarily ‘to sit by or near a person or thing’ and was derived from sĕdēre plus the prefix ad‑, with full assimilation of the final d of the prefix to the following s in the root (‑d‑+‑s‑ → ‑ss‑).

Note that the root morpheme of the first two principal parts of this derived verb was ‑sĭd‑, not ‑sĕd‑. The former was an allomorph of the latter and it should not be confused with the root sīd‑, with a long ī, of the third conjugation verb sīdĕre we just saw. Vowel mutation in Latin roots was common when prefixes were added (cf. Part I, Chapter 8, §8.3.3). Much later, the short ĭ was changed to e in the Romance languages, resulting in *assedere, a reconstructed, unattested form. (We will return to this prefixed verb derived from sĕdēre, along with many others, in the following section.)

One Romance language in which the verb meaning ‘to sit’  comes from Latin assĭdēre or *assedere is French. The verb ‘to sit’ in Modern French is asseoir [aswaʀ], which from Vulgar Latin *assedere, with the prefix ad‑, but not the present participle ending ‑ent‑. Actually, asseoir is a transitive verb, just like Sp. sentar is, and it is typically used conjugated reflexively, as s’asseoir ‘to sit down’, the equivalent of Sp. sentarse.

Not all Romance languages resorted to this derived verb for their verb meaning (stative) ‘to sit, be sitting/seated’ or (active) ‘to sit down’. In Catalan, the verb meaning ‘to sit down’ (action) and ‘be sitting’ (state) is (non-reflexive) seure (Sp. sentarse and estar sentado/a), which comes directly from Latin sĕdēre. In Italian, the cognate of this verb is sedere, from the same Latin source. This verb is also used for both the state ‘to sit, be sitting, be seated’ and for the action ‘to sit down’, although for the action, the reflexive form sedersi ‘to sit down’ is also used (cf. Sp. sentarse).

In Spanish and Portuguese, the two main Iberian Romance languages, the solution to the ambiguity of Lat. sĕdēre was to derive a new verb from Lat. sĕdēre. The derived Vulgar Latin or Romance verb for the meaning ‘to sit’ that these languages now have has been reconstructed as *sĕdĕntāre. This first conjugation verb was formed from the stem sĕdĕnt‑ (sĕd-ĕnt‑) of the present participle sĕdēns ‘seating, being seated’ of the verb sĕdēre (sĕd‑ēre). It is from this Vulgar Latin verb that comes the Spanish verb sentar (sent‑ar) by loss of intervocalic ‑d‑ and coalescence of the two short ĕ vowels, as well as the loss of the final ‑e vowel: Vulg. Lat. sĕdĕntāre > Sp. sentar. The verb sentar is a stem-changing verb in which the root’s e vowel changes to ie when stressed, a result of the Old Spanish sound change that affected the Latin short ĕ vowel (cf. Part I, Chapter 10, §10.3.2).

Lat. infinitive
Lat. present participle
V.Lat. derived verb
sĕdēre (sĕd‑ē‑re)
sĕdēns, sĕdĕnt‑ (sĕd-ĕnt‑)
assĭdēre (ad‑sĕd‑ē‑re)
assĭdēns, assĭdĕnt‑ (ad‑sĕd‑ĕnt‑)

In Modern Spanish, the verb sentar is first of all a transitive verb meaning ‘to seat’, equivalent to hacer sentarse, though that use is quite rare. In other words, sentar cannot be used for the action of sitting down the way Cat. seure and It. sedere can, though this was possible in Old Spanish. This transitive verb sentar can also have, less commonly, the meaning ‘to set, establish’, especially in several idiomatic expressions such as sentar las bases ‘to lay the foundations’, sentar cabeza ‘to settle down’, or sentar un precedente ‘to set a precedent’.

There is an intransitive use of sentar that is very common, however, always accompanied by an adverb such as bien ‘well’ or mal ‘badly’. The subject of this intransitive sentar are things that do good to or upset someone, such as foods, drinks, the climate, etc. Sentences with this sense of sentar always have an indirect object, thus making this a verb of the gustar type. The following are some sample sentences:
  • Me sentó mal la comida ‘The meal made me sick/feel bad’
  • Al niño le sentó bien la sopa ‘The soup made the child feel good/better’
  • La cerveza me sienta mal ‘Beer doesn’t agree (disagrees) with me’
  • Sus palabras le sentaron como un tiro ‘His words came down like a bombshell’
  • Les sentó mal que no fuéramos ‘They were upset because we didn’t go’
  • El (color) verde no te sienta bien ‘Green doesn’t look good on you’
Much more common than this transitive verb sentar ‘to seat’ is the intransitive reflexive variant sentarse ‘to sit down’. Both sentar and sentarse are verbs that denote actions, cf. English transitive seat and intransitive sit down, respectively. The stative sense of the English verb to sit (equivalent to be seated or be sitting) is expressed not with a verb in Spanish, but with the adjective sentado/a derived (converted) from the identical past participle of this verb, as in estar sentado ‘to be seated/sitting (down)’ (sent‑a‑d‑o). The ‘be located’ sense of Eng. sit translates as estar (situado/a), hallarse, among others, e.g. The house sits on top of a hill ‘la casa está (situada) en lo alto de una colina’. There are also idiomatic expressions with Eng. sit that do not translate into Spanish with the verb sentar(se), such as sit still ‘quedarse quieto’, sit tight ‘quedarse en un sitio’, or sit on a jury ‘ser miembro de un jurado’.

We should also note that the verb sentarse ‘to sit down’, which primarily refers to the action of sitting down, can also sometimes be used with a stative (non-active) sense of being sat down (i.e. sitting or being seated). Thus, for instance, the main meaning of the sentence Íñigo se sentó en esa silla is ‘Íñigo sat down on that chair’, but the sentence can also refer to the period of time that this person was sitting there, which would translate as ‘Íñigo sat (was sitting/seated) on that chair’. The same thing is true in the habitual present tense, so that Íñigo normalmente se sienta en esa silla means primarily ‘Íñigo usually sits down on that chair’, but it can also have the stative meaning ‘Íñigo usually sits (is seated) on that chair’. The ambiguity of the active and stative senses of Sp. sentarse are also found in Eng. sit, as we saw earlier and, no doubt, in Lat. sĕdēre, a fact that accounts of these words typically do not clearly specify.

The Spanish verb sentar has cognates in Galician and Portuguese and, curiously also in Friulian and Venetian, but not in other Romance languages. It is also interesting that patrimonial Sp. sentar is not attested until rather late, in the 15th century. That is because in Old Spanish, the patrimonial version of this verb, as attested in the Cid, for example, was assentar, not sentar. In other words, the patrimonial Spanish verb was derived not from a Vulgar Latin *sĕdĕntāre but from *assĕdĕntāre. In other words, the verb assentar was derived not from the present participle of sĕdēre but from the present participle of assĕdēre (see above) (ad‑sĕd‑ĕnt‑ā‑re). The prefixation, in addition to the suffixation, of this root would seem to have been ways to make up for the confusion between the Latin verbs sĕdēre and *essĕre (Classical Lat. esse). Although assentar is found in reflexive form early on, between the 12th and 14th centuries, as in assentarse a la mesa ‘to sit at the table’, this verb could also be used non-reflexively with the intransitive active meaning that require reflexive forms today.

It would seem that Old Spanish assentar(se) lost the initial a‑ vowel. (The ‑ss‑ was the way the sound [s] was spelled in Old Spanish between vowels, since one ‑s‑ alone between vowels was pronounced [z].) However, the verb asentar(se) was not totally replaced by the verb sentar(se). The verb asentar(se) still exists in Spanish. As a transitive verb it is rare, and it means ‘to set firmly, to fix, set, etc.’, as in the phrase asentar las bases ‘to lay the foundations’. But, as in the case of the verb sentar, Spanish asentar is mostly used intransitively as a reflexive, namely as asentarse, which means  ‘to settle’ or, when talking of birds, ‘to perch’. The noun derived from this verb is asentamiento, which means ‘settlement’ (a‑sent‑a‑mient‑o).

Lat. sēdāre

In addition to sĕdēre and sīdĕre, Latin also had a verb sēdāre, which meant ‘to bring to rest, lay’, ‘to settle, calm (down)’, etc. It a causative form of sĕdēre and it comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root or, actually, from a lengthened e-grade version of that root (see above). The verb sēdāre is the source of the cognates Eng. sedate ~ Sp. sedar, both of which fairly recent learned words, especially Sp. sedar, which didn’t appear in the DRAE until 1817. Their meaning is the same, namely ‘to administer a sedative to; calm or relieve by means of a sedative drug’ (AHD). As usual, the base form of this Latinate Spanish verb, sedar, is derived from the Latin infinitive form, sēdāre, and the base form of this Latinate English verb, sedate, is derived from the passive participle form, sēdātus.

The English verb sedate [sə.ˈdeɪ̯t] is first attested in the 17th century with the sense ‘to make calm’, not the current one. Actually, the original Eng. sedate eventually became archaic, if not obsolete, and the modern verb to sedate is thought to be a back-formation of the noun sedative [ˈsɛ.də.tɪv], a noun derived by ellipsis from the phrase sedative drug (for back formation and ellipsis, see Part I, Chapter 5, §5.9, §5.10.5). In other words, the noun sedative was derived from the identical adjective sedative meaning ‘promoting calm or inducing sleep’ (COED). This adjective is first attested in English in the early 15th century and it is a borrowing from Medieval Latin sedativus (sed‑at‑iv‑us), formed with the adjective forming Latin suffix ‑īv‑ added to the passive participle stem sēdāt‑ of the verb sēdāre. The English adjective sedative quite likely came into the language through French, where learned sédatif is attested already in the early 14th century. Spanish no doubt got both the adjective sedativo/a and the verb sedar through French and perhaps English as well.

The Latin verb sēdāre was a regular first conjugation verb whose principal parts were the following:

present indicative
‘I allay, settle, still, calm, assuage, appease’
present infinitive
‘to I allay, settle, still, calm, assuage, appease’
perfect active
‘I allayed, settled, stilled, calmed, assuaged, appeased’
passive participle
‘allayed, calmed, appeased’

In addition to the verb sedate, English also borrowed the Latin adjective sedate in the 17th century, with the same pronunciation, which means ‘serenely deliberate, composed, and dignified in character or manner’ (AHD). The adjective sedate translates into Spanish as sosegado/a, sereno/a, tranquilo/a. Of course, there are also past participles of these verbs, namely Eng. sedated ~ Sp. sedado/a, which can be used as adjectives as well, with the same meaning, ‘treated with sedatives’.

Both the adjective and the noun sedative translate into Spanish primarily as (masc.) sedante (calmante is another option for the noun), though sedativo is also a less common option for both.

Besides Medieval Latin sedativus, there were two other nouns in Classical Latin that were derived from the passive participle stem sēdāt‑ (sēd‑ā‑t‑), namely sēdātĭō and sēdātor. Lat. sēdātĭō was formed with the suffix ‑ĭōn‑ that created nouns of action or effect, and it meant ‘an allaying, assuaging, calming’. Lat. sēdātor was formed with the agent suffix ‑ōr‑ and it meant ‘an allayer, calmer, quieter’. The latter noun has not been borrowed into English or Spanish but the former has as Eng. sedation and Sp. sedación. The Spanish word is very rare but the English one is often found in the expression under sedation, which translates into Spanish with the adjective sedado/a (see above). Eng. sedation refers to ‘the administering of a sedative drug to produce a state of calm or sleep’ and, derived from it, ‘a state of calm or sleep produced by a sedative’ (COED).


Now we can see together the three Latin verbs derived from the same Proto-Indo-European root *sed‑ or one of its variants. In order of commonality, these are the three verbs, from the second, third, and first conjugation, respectively.

‘to sit, be sitting’,  ‘to remain’, ‘to settle’, ‘to encamp’
‘to sit down, to seat oneself’, ‘to settle’
‘to bring to rest, lay’, ‘to settle, calm (down)’, etc.

In the next section we will look at Latin words derived from these verbs and the English and Spanish cognates that they have resulted in. The derivates come for the most part from Lat. sĕdēre, the most common of all three verbs.

Go to Part 3

[1] It has been suggested that the cognates Eng. niche (pronounced [nɪʧ] or [niʃ]) ~ Sp. nicho also come ultimately from Lat. nīdus. According to a theory, these words come Vulgar Latin *nīdicāre or *nid(i)c(u)lare ‘to nest’, from Latin nīdus ‘nest’, though this theory has its problems.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Verbs of Sitting, Part 1: Verbs of sitting in English

[This entry is an excerpt from "Verbs of Sitting and Related Words," a chapter in Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 1

Figure 99: Buddha sitting in bhumisparsha-mudra posture[i]

Although they do not look much alike, the Spanish verb sentar and the English verb sit are indeed cognate, if not exactly cognates, since they both can be traced back to the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root *sed- ‘to sit, be seated’. In this chapter we will tell the story of words that have come into English and Spanish from this root, which as we will see had three variants in the original Proto-Indo-European language, and the many cognates in these languages that are derived from it. Cognates typically came through Latin, not as in the case of sentar and sit, which are patrimonial words in their respective languages.

The intransitive English verb sit [ˈsɪt] is a common Germanic one, with cognates in all other Germanic languages, such as Dutch zitten, German sitzen, and Swedish sitta. In Middle English, it was sitten and in Old English sittan. The Proto-Germanic word that these Garmanic verbs come from has been constructed as *sitjaną. It has cognates in other Indo-European languages, such as Irish suigh, Sanskrit सीदति (sīdati), and Russian сиде́ть (sidétʹ).

In Modern English, the verb sit is typically a stative one, equivalent to to be sitting (down). For the action of sitting, the phrasal verb sit down is typically used, although in some situations the adverbial down is not needed. For instance, in the command forms Sit!, which does indeed refer to the act of sitting down, the adverbial down can sometimes be omitted, such as when giving commands to dogs. (For more on English phrasal verbs, see Part I, Chapter 4, §4.12.3.)

Verb (complex)
Spanish equivalent
estar sentado/a
sit (down)
sit up[1]
active antonym
levantarse, incorporarse; enderezarse
be sitting
estar sentado/a
be seated
estar sentado/a

The verb sit is what’s called a strong verb whose past tense and past participle are both sat [ˈsæt]. (In Old English, the past tense of this verb is attested as set and sette, among others, and the past participle as geseten and seten, among others.)

English also has a transitive verb to seat, whose main meaning today is ‘to place on a seat or seats; to cause to sit down’ (OED). This verb developed in the 16th century out of the noun seat, whose primary meaning is ‘a thing made or used for sitting on, such as a chair or stool’ (COED), though it has a few other secondary senses (see below). The noun seat is a loanword from around the year 1200 from Old Norse sæti ‘seat, position’, from Proto-Germanic *sētiją. The verb seat that was derived from the noun seat at first meant ‘to be in a certain position’, but already in the early 1600’s it had acquired its modern transitive and causative meaning ‘to cause to be seated’. The past participle of the verb seat is seated, which has been converted into an adjective too, which is how this word is mostly used. It is equivalent to Sp. sentado/a, the past participle of Sp. sentar (see below), as in She was seated to his right (Sp. Estaba sentada a su izquierda).

The noun seat translates in different ways into Spanish since seat is a polysemous word, with senses such as ‘place to sit’ (Sp. asiento), ‘part of a chair’ (Sp. asiento as well), ‘part of trousers’ (Sp. parte del trasero, etc.), etc. The most common equivalent of the noun seat in Spanish is asiento, which translates its main meaning, a word that will be explored below. Other words may be used to translate the noun seat, however. A numbered seat in a stadium may be called localidad and in a theater butaca. In a legislature, a seat is known as escaño, and in a committee, it is a puesto or lugar, and on a bus or airplane it may translate as plaza. Also, a bicycle seat is a sillín in Spanish. When a seat refers to a headquarters, central office or venue, Spanish may use the word sede, which we will return to later as well, since it is derived from the same root (more on Sp. sede below).

Additionally, this word is found in many idiomatic expressions, such as to take a seat (Sp. tomar asiento), to take a back seat (Sp. tomar un papel secundario, mantenerse al margen) and in the driver’s seat (Sp. al control, llevar las riendas), and collocations, such as window seat (Sp. asiento de la ventana) and reserve a seat (Sp. reservar una plaza, etc.).

The noun seat that was borrowed from Old Norse was a cognate of Old English noun set, derived from the also patrimonial verb to set, and meaning ‘the act of setting’, as in sunset, but it could also mean ‘seat’, ‘a place where people remain’, etc. The verb set comes from Old English settan which meant ‘to cause to sit, put in some place’ among other things, much like Modern English set does. The verbs seat and set derive from transitive (causative) Proto-Germanic *(bi)satjan ‘to cause to sit, set’, which comes from a Proto-Indo-European root *sod‑, which was a variant of the root *sed‑ that we have already seen.[2]

Proto-Indo-European roots had variants in which the vowel could change to modify the meaning of the root. (For more on Proto-Indo-European, see Part I, Chapter 3; for more on what a root is, see Part I, Chapter 5.) This system is known as ablaut (cf. Part I, Chapter 8, §8.3.3). The English wordforms sing sang sung song are a remnant of a type of ablaut in English, a Germanic language. Proto-Indo-European roots could have different ablaut grades, depending on what the root’s vowel was, such as the following:


Investigators have been able to reconstruct some aspects of the Proto-Indo-European ablaut system. According to these reconstructions, we know that this PIE root had four different forms, each one of them has been found to have had different optional suffixes attached to them: (1) basic form sed‑; (2) an o-grade variant sod‑; (3) a zero-grade variant sd‑; and (4) a lengthened-grade form *sēd. From these different variants come a number of words in English and Spanish, from Eng. sit, nest, and soot, to Sp. sentar, asiento, and silla. In this chapter we will look at all of these words.

Finally, before moving on to look ‘verbs of sitting’ in English and Spanish, we should mention one other native word that contains this root and which has a similar meaning, namely the verb settle. This verb, which was setlen in Middle English, comes from Old English setlan meaning ‘to settle, seat, put to rest’, which is only attested once and which was derived from the Old English noun setl ‘seat, place of rest’, and thus we can see it was once a verb of sitting.[1] The noun setl is derived from the Proto-Indo-European stem *sedla‑, which contains the root *sed‑ ‘to sit’, from which also come Latin sella ‘seat, chair’, source of Sp. silla ‘chair’ (see below), and Old English sadol ‘saddle’, source of Mod. Eng. saddle.

The Old English verb setlan meant ‘to seat; to put in a seat or place of rest; also, to cause to sit down’ (OED), a meaning that is now obsolete. The OED gives 35 senses for this word, some containing subsenses, most of which are not obsolete.[2] However, the main meanings of these verb today are transitive ‘to put into order; arrange or fix definitely as desired’ and intransitive ‘to discontinue moving and come to rest in one place’ (AHD).

[1] Note that it seems that ‘in some uses, the verb [settle] became synonymous with the like-sounding Middle English saȝtle ‘to appease, reconcile’ (saughtel v.), association with which may perhaps have influenced the development of these uses’ (OED).
[2] Regarfding those 35 senses, the OED tells us that “In many of the senses explained below, the verb frequently appears with a colouring derived from senses of different origin, so that the position of many of the examples is open to dispute”.

[1] In some dialects of English, sit up can also have the meaning ‘refrain from going to bed until later than usual’ (COED). This would translate into Spanish as quedarse levantado or, if one sits up waiting for someone, esperar levantado. English also has a noun derived from the phrasal verb sit up, namely situp or sit-up, that means ‘a physical exercise designed to strengthen the abdominal muscles, in which a person sits up from a supine position without using the arms for leverage’ (COED). The noun dates from the mid-1950s in English. The Spanish equivalent is (ejercicio) abdominal (thus, to do situps translates as hacer abdominales in Spanish).

[2] The noun set meaning ‘collection of things’, equivalent to Sp. conjunto, is according to some an unrelated homonym. It is a mid-15th century loan from Old French sette ‘sequence’, a variant of secte ‘religious community’," from Medieval Latin secta ‘retinue’, from Latin secta ‘a faction’ or ‘a following’. According to others, English just borrowed this new sense, a semantic calque, for the existing English word set.

[i] Source: Buddha sitting in bhumisparsha-mudra posture (calling the earth to be his witness). Burma. White marble with traces of polychromy. Photograph by Rama.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Personal names, Part 4: Sp. Santiago, Diego, Jaime and Jacobo & Eng. James and Jacob

[This entry is an excerpt from the chapter "Personal Names" of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.] 

Sp. Santiago, Diego, Jaime and Jacobo & Eng. James and Jacob

The Spanish names Jaime, Santiago, Diego and Jacobo and the English names James and Jacob are all cognates since they have the same source. As you can imagine, some of these names have quite interesting stories. They all stem from the name of two of the apostles of Jesus, typically the most well-known of the two, known in English as James ‘the Greater’, or James son of Zebedee (not to be confused with James ‘the Less’, son of Alphaeus, or with James, brother of Jesus, also known as James the Just, who is sometimes confused with James ‘the Less’). In Spanish, James ‘the Greater’ is known as Santiago ‘el Mayor’ (or de Zebedeo), James ‘the Less’ as Santiago el Menor.

The name of all of these Jewish people in Hebrew was יַעֲקֹב (transliterated variously as Yaʿqob, Yaʿaqov, or Yaʿăqōḇ), a very common Hebrew name since it was the name of the Hebrew patriarch, known as Jacob in English and Jacobo in Spanish (he was son of the patriarch Isaac and his wife Rebecca). It is not clear what this Hebrew name means, for some argue it is derived from the root עקב (ʿqb) that means ‘to follow’ or ‘to supplant’ and others that it is derived from the word for עֲקֵב (ʿaqeb) meaning ‘heel’.

Thus, depending on what person we are talking about, in English, this Hebrew name turned into James (New Testament apostle) or Jacob (Old Testament patriarch). In Spanish, the two Biblical names were Santiago and Jacobo, respectively. The first one of these will require some explanation, as you can imagine, since it looks so different. Additionally, Spanish also has three more names derived from this Hebrew name: Diego, Yago, and Jaime. And English has the cognate Jake, which is derived from the name Jacob.

Hebrew יַעֲקֹב (Yaʿqob)
Greek άκωβος (Iákōbos)
Lat. Iacobus
V.Lat. Iacomus
Sp. Yago - Jacobo
Sp. Jaime
Eng. Jacob - Jake
Eng. James
Fr. Jacques
Fr. James

One of the reasons for the proliferation of versions of this name has to do with whether the name comes from Ecclesiastical (Church) Latin or from Vulgar Latin. Eng. Jacob and Sp. Jacobo are fairly learned versions of the Latin name Iacobus, which is a Latin adaptation of New Testament Greek Ἰάκωβος (Iákōbos). Remember that Latin initial Ĭ became consonantized before a vowel and eventually it came to be written with the letter 〈J〉 derived from the letter 〈I〉 (cf. Part I, Chapter 8, §, Chapter 10, §10.3.9). One major difference between the Latin word and the Spanish one has to do with stress. The Biblical Latin name was stressed on the first (antepenultimate) syllable, just like in the Hebrew original, even though the Greek name had a long penultimate vowel. Sp. Jacobo, on the other hand, has penultimate stress.

This Latin name, or the original Hebrew name, had a patrimonial descendant in Spanish (north-western Hispanian Romance), namely Iago or Yago, from an earlier Iaco. (Another version of this name is Yagüe.) This name maintains the original initial stress, shows loss of the final syllable, and voicing of the middle consonant ‑c‑, which changes to ‑g‑ (cf. Part I, Chapter 10, § The name Iago, also spelled Yago, is attested in Old Spanish. However, the name of the apostle, Iago, became inextricably tied to his appellation Sant ‘Saint’, an apocopated version of Santo (Modern Sp. San), resulting in Santiago (Sant+Iago; Ecclesiastical Latin Sanctus Iacobus). Thus, the blended Santiago came to be the new version of Iago. These two words were so fused that most Spanish speakers today do not even realize that the name Santiago contains the word Sant(o) in it and one even hears the redundant appellation San Santiago ‘Saint James’, though he is more often referred to, however, as el apostol Santiago ‘the apostle James’.

The name Iago or Yago pretty much disappeared from Spanish after the meshing of this name with the epithet or appellation Sant. This name’s is known today mostly as the name of a villainous character in Shakespeare’s play Othello. (It is also the name of the parrot in Disney’s film Aladdin.) He is the one who convinces Othello, a jealous Moor, that his wife Desdemona is cheating on him, which results in Othello killing her. When Othello discovers that she had been faithful, he kills himself. Shakespeare’s story is plagiarized from Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio’s story “Un Capitano Moro” in his book Gli Hecatommithi (1565). Iago’s character is not named in Cinthio’s story and it is not known where Shakespeare borrowed the name Iago from, but it is likely that it came from Spanish. However, Iago is the version of the name James in Welsh too, as well as in Galician and Portuguese.

The apostle James was very important in Western Christendom, especially in the Iberian peninsula. According to legend, the apostle James preached in Roman Hispania in the decade after 33 CE. There are different versions of the story, but in all of them the apostle ends up in the Galicia region in north-western Hispania. Another aspect of the legend has the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, appear to James in the city of Caesar Augusta (modern-day Zaragoza) in the year 40 upon a pillar, hence what’s known as the apparition of the Virgin of the Pillar or Our Lady of the Pillar (Sp. Virgen del Pilar or Nuestra Señora del Pilar) in this city, which is venerated to this day.

James eventually returned to Palestine and would be the first of the apostles of Jesus to be put to death, by king Herod Agrippa, in the year 44. After this, the legend says that his disciples brought his remains back to Galicia. A thousand years later, this legend was believed by many Christians in Hispania, even though there was no evidence for it, and a claim was made that the remains of the apostle James had been found sometime in the 9th century in what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.[1] Because of this, this city became one of the most important cities of pilgrimage of western Christendom in the Middle Ages, bringing people from all over Europe along the Way of Saint James (Sp. Camino de Santiago) to the basilica that was build, where legend says his bones are buried.

According to legend, St. James appeared at a mythical 9th century battle in which he helped Christians kill thousands of Moors. Henceforth, the saint was known as Santiago Matamoros ‘(Saint) James the Moor-slayer’ and he would become an inspiration for Christian fighters during the Reconquista, who attacked Muslims with the battle cry Santiago!

Figure 188: Statue of Santiago Matamoros ‘James the Moor-slayer’ and the Cordoba cathedral.[i]

Besides the name of the famous city in Galiza, Santiago de Compostela, Santiago also became the name of other cities in the Spanish-speaking world, such as Santiago del Estero in Argentina, capital of the province with the same name, Santiago del Chile, capital of the country. In Colombia we find Santiago de Cali, better known as Cali. In Cuba we have Santiago de Cuba, the name of the second largest city and the easternmost province. In Guatemala, the city of Antigua, the old Ciudad de Guatemala ‘Guatemala City’ was originally known as Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, a name by which it is still known.[2]

Going back to the different varieties of the saint’s name in English and Spanish, we move now to Eng. James and Sp. Jaime, which derive from a from a Vulgar or Late Latin version Iacomus of Latin Iacobus, which was an adaptation of the New Testament’s Greek version of the Hebrew name, Ἰάκωβος (Iákōbos). The version Iacomus seems to have been found mostly in the Occitan Romance language of southern France. It may actually have been Iacombus before that, with an intrusive m or else somehow the bilabial voiced b became mysteriously nasalized. This Iacomos became James in Old French, also found as Gemmes or Jaimes. The sound changes that took place here, though surprising, are quite well understood: the intervocalic ‑o‑ was first lost, resulting in Jacmo or Jacme and then the ‑c‑ was vocalized in implosive position. As for the final vowel, it was obviously a reduced vowel and its spelling changed to e.

English borrowed this Old French name as James [ˈʤeɪ̯mz] in the 13th century. From there it made it to Scotland, where the name was more popular than in England, with several Scottish kings bearing that name. When king James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of England in 1603, he became the first ruler of all of Britain, as James I, and the name grew quite popular in English too. The Modern French version of this name in French, Jacques [ʒak], which is a patrimonial word that comes from one of the original Latin versions of the name after the loss of intertonic ‑o‑ and the word’s final sounds.

The name Jaime [ˈxai̯.me] is now a Spanish name, but this name did not evolve in Spanish (Castilian Romance), but rather in Aragonese, from which it was borrowed by Spanish. The source of the name is obviously Occitan, however. Catalan, which is closely related to Occitan, has its own version of the name with a different vocalization. In Catalan, which is closely related to Occitan, the version of this name is Jaume [ˈʒau̯.mə], a very common name in this language. English also has a name Jaime, which is a variant of Jamie, which was originally a Lowland Scots diminutive of the name James. This name has also been used as a woman’s name in English since the late 19th century.

As we said, the Spanish name Diego is also related to Iago and Jacobo. It seems to have been derived from the name Santiago by an erroneous reanalysis of this word as being composed of San and Tiago (as opposed to Sant and Iago). From this Tiago, or perhaps from a variant Diago, comes the name Diego, also attested early on as Diago. The same name is still attested in Portuguese as Tiago.

In the Middle Ages, the name Diego was Latinized in documents as Didacus, under the assumption that that was the source of the name, which would have come from the Greek name Διδακμος (Didakmós) which meant ‘learned, erudite’. This, however, seems to be a mistaken etymology and it is more likely that Didacus was a Latinization of Diago. Once Diego began being used as a name, it was inevitable that sooner or later someone with that name would be canonized in the Catholic Christian religion and that is just what happened when Franciscan priest Fray Diego de San Nicolás, also known as Diego de Alcalá (c. 1400-1463), a missionary to the Canary Islands, became San Diego ‘Saint Diego’. From this saint’s name comes the name of the eighth-largest city in the United States in Southern California.

The name Diego was a very common one at one point and it gave rise to some very common patronimics in the kingdoms of Castile and Leon, which eventually became last names. These names are Díaz and Diez, formed with the name Diago or Diego and the patronymic suffix ‑ez (cf. Part I, Chapter 9, §9.6). Diego plus the suffix ‑ez should have resulted in Dieguez, but the loss of the intervocalic ‑g‑, a very common change in Old Spanish, resulted in these two variants of the name. The last name Díaz is one of the 14 most common ones in Spain and the 4th most common in Chile, for example.

As is often the case, from a masculine name such as this, feminine names have been derived through time. None seem to have been created from this name in Spanish or directly in English but from the French name Jacques mentioned above, in French a feminine form Jacqueline was created. This name was borrowed into English and besides Jaqueline, it has other variants, such as Jacklyn and Jaquelyn. The most common diminutive derived from these names is Jackie.

We should mention that other languages have adapted this name in their own peculiar ways. In Italian we find Giacomo, Iacopo, Jacopo, Giacobbe, and Lapo (diminutive of Jacopo). In Portuguese, Jacob, Jacó, Iago, Santiago, Tiago, Jaime, Jácomo, and Diogo. In German, Swedish and Norwegian, the main variants are Jacob and Jakob. In Arabic it is Yaʿqūb. In Modern Greek, we find Ιάκωβος (Iákovos) Ιακώβ (Iakóv), and Γιάγκος (Gyánkos). In Irish, it is Séamus, Séamas, or Shamus. Finally, in Russian we find Yakov and its diminutive Yasha.

[1] It is not clear where the name Compostela, the second part of the name of this city, comes from. Some have argued that it comes from the Latin phrase campus stellae ‘field of the star’, in reference to a start that according to legend led a certain Teodomiro who is said to have found the saint’s bones. Others think that the name has at its core the Latin passive participle composita of the verb componere, which would mean something like ‘fixed, repaired’,  in reference to the fact that the city was destroyed by the Moors (Almanzor) and had to be rebuild and fortified in the 11th century. Actually, the truth is that nobody knows the actual source of the name.

[2] The official name of the new Ciudad de Guatemala is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción. The country’s capital was moved to this new location, along with its popular name, after an earthquake partially destroyed the old Ciudad de Guatemala in 1773. Henceford the old Ciudad de Guatemala has been known as Antigua, short for Antigua Ciudad de Guatemala ‘the former Guatemala City’. The name Guatemala comes from the Nahuatl Word Quauhtemalan, which meant ‘place of many trees’, which is what the Aztecs called this region.

[i] Source: By Marshall Henrie - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,; accessed 2017.12.07.

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