Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Spanish loanwords from English, Part 1: bar

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Part I of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

bar (pl. bares). The traditional name for drinking houses in Spanish used to be taberna, which is a cognate of Eng. tavern, a 13th century French loan, originally from Lat. taberna ‘shop, inn, tavern’. English borrowed the word bar from Old French barre in the 12th century with the meaning ‘a straight piece of wood, metal, or other rigid material, long in proportion to its thickness’ (OED). Such bars were typically used then to fasten doors and gates. This word came from Vulgar Latin was *barra ‘bar’ or ‘barrier’, a word of obscure pre-Roman origin shared by all the Romance languages except Romanian.

The equivalent of Eng. bar in Spanish for a long, usually rounded pole, not for the drinking place, is barra, a patrimonial word that comes from the same original Vulgar Latin term. Not many of the non-literal senses of Eng. bar correspond to Sp. barra, however. Thus, a gold bar is lingote de oro ‘gold bar’, a chocolate bar is a tableta de chocolate in Spanish and a soap bar is a pastilla de jabón. The Spanish word barra, on the other hand, is used for long loaves (baguettes) of bread in Spain, as in barra de pan, and for lipstick, as in barra the labios. The word barra is used in Spanish in the context of drinking establishments in Spanish, but only to refer to the counter where drinks are served. So ir a la barra means ‘go to the (bar) counter’, for instance.

In English, the word bar came to be used for taverns in the late 16th century, presumably because of the bar that typically runs along the counters in such establishments. A little bit earlier, in the mid-16th century, the word bar had also come to refer in England to the legal profession or the body of lawyers. The source of this term is also the railing or barrier that separated the part of the courtroom for the public and that for the trial participants, such as the lawyers. The cognate terms Eng. barrier and Sp. barrera come from Late Latin barrāria, derived from Lat. barra. The word barrister was developed around the same time and it is still used in Britain for ‘a person called to the bar and entitled to practice as an advocate, particularly in the higher courts’ (COED).

Then, in the late 19th century, Spanish (primarily in Spain) borrowed the English word bar (from British English) for drinking establishments where one typically drinks while standing up at the counter as opposed to sitting at a table. This word has become very common in Spain, where bars are extremely common, since there is one for about every 130 inhabitants. The word bar has pretty much replaced the word taberna in Spain, which is quite dated nowadays. (For a related term, see pub below.) Since r is one of the few consonants that are commonly found in Spanish at the end of words and all such words make their plural by adding ‑es, it is not surprising that this word too also forms its plural that way, resulting in bares ‘bars’.

The Spanish word bar is not used the same way in all Spanish-speaking countries, however. Whereas in Spain it is almost a family place where children are welcome, in places such as Guatemala this word has negative connotations, especially outside the capital, where a bar is a tavern where besides alcoholic beverages, one may also find prostitutes. Curiously, in Guatemala, a bar like those found in the US is known as a barra.[1]

Another sense that Eng. bar and Sp. barra share is the ‘sandbar’ sense. The sense seems to have derived from the analogy of the sand deposit typically in an estuary or river mouth to an obstacle to navigation. In English, the compound sandbar is typically used instead of the plain word bar and common Spanish alternatives to barra are banco de arena (cf. Eng. sandbank) and bajío ‘shallows, sandbank’, a word derived from bajo ‘low’.[2]

[1] The word barra show is used in Guatemalan Spanish is used as an equivalent of Eng. strip club.
The word cantina can also be used as equivalent of bar in many Spanish-American countries. In Guatemala, however, this word also has negative connotations since it is seen as a place where unsavory characters may gather. The Spanish word cantina is also used in some contexts in the Spanish-speaking world for eating places, such as in a factory, a university, or in the military, equivalent to Eng. cafeteria, mess hall, etc. This word seems to come from Italian, where it meant ‘wine cellar, vault’, but its final origin is not known, though it may ultimately come from Lat. canto ‘corner’ (cf. Sp. canto ‘edge; stone, pebble; corner’). It is a cognate of Eng. canteen, an early 18th century loanword from Fr. cantine, also borrowed from It. cantina.

[2] The opposite of bajío would be hondura, a noun derived from the adjective hondo ‘deep’, after which comes the name of the country Honduras.

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