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.]

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.

[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.

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