Tuesday, March 27, 2018
The roots VERT- & VERS-, Part 8: Lat. divert- and transvert-
[This entry is an excerpt from, "Diversión & diversion: the roots VERT- vs. VERS-," Chapter 8 of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]
Another prefixed form of Latin vĕrtĕre is dīvĕrtĕre is formed from the prefix dī- or dis-, which means ‘aside, in different directions’. This verb had several meanings: ‘to separate’, ‘to divert or turn away’, ‘to digress’, ‘to oppose’, ‘to divorce’, and finally, ‘to visit, live, spend time’. The English and Spanish reflexes of this word are the cognates Eng. divert and Sp. divertir, which are for the most part false friends.
English divert [ˌdaɪ̯.ˈvɜɹt] came from Old French divertir in the 15th century and its main meaning is very close to its original meaning in of the source verb in Latin, ‘to turn aside’. Dictionaries give two major meanings for Modern English divert: (1) a more literal one, ‘cause to change course or make a different use of something’, as in They diverted the river or They diverted the money; (2) a more figurative one, ‘draw the attention of; distract or entertain’ (COED) or ‘to deliberately take someone’s attention from something by making them think about or notice other things’ (DOCE). To the extent that English speakers use this uncommon verb, sense (1) is primary.
In Spanish, on the other hand, something more like sense (2) has become the main sense of what is a very common verb, divertir ‘to amuse, entertain’, which is mostly used intransitively, as the reflexive divertirse ‘to enjoy oneself, to have a good time, to have fun’. Notice that English too can use reflexive expressions to express this meaning, cf. to enjoy oneself, to amuse oneself.
The past participle of Latin dīvĕrtĕre was dīvĕrsus (dī‑vĕrs‑us; fem. dīvĕrsa), which besides its literal meaning ‘turned different ways’, also was an adjective meaning ‘opposite’, ‘separate, apart’, ‘diverse, different’, and even ‘hostile’. From this participle cum adjective we get the cognate adjectives Eng. diverse [ˌdaɪ̯.ˈvɜɹs] and Sp. diverso/a [d̪i.ˈβeɾ.so]. English got it from Old French divers in the late 13th century. Actually, the meanings of these two words are not as similar as one might think. English diverse has two major senses: (1) ‘differing one from another’, as in Spain and France are very diverse countries (from each other), and (2) ‘made up of distinct characteristics, qualities, or elements’, as in Spain is very diverse country (AHD). Sense (2) can translate into Spanish as diverso/a, though variado (lit. ‘varied’) is probably a better equivalent. Sense (1) of Eng. diverse, on the other hand, cannot be translated with Spanish diverso/a, but with distinto or diferente, two synonymous Spanish words, both meaning ‘different’ (they are cognates of Eng. distinct and different, which are not synonymous).
Sp. diverso/a also has several meanings, depending on the context, none of which really translate primarily as diverse. First the ‘different’ or ‘not the same’ sense (synonym: diferente), which is rather formal and rare, as in Juan es diverso de sus amigos ‘Juan is different from his friends’ or Se trata de diverso asunto ‘It’s about a different matter’. The second and most common sense is the ‘dissimilar’ or ‘displaying/containing variety’ one (synonym: variado/a), as in Su obra es muy diversa ‘His works are very varied’ or Tiene un público muy diverso ‘His public is very diverse/varied’. Finally, in the plural, this word has the ‘several, many, wide range’ sense, as in Toca diversos instrumentos ‘She plays several/a wide range of instruments’, or problemas diversos ‘many different problems’.
Derived from the stem of the Latin passive participle dīvĕrsus by means of the nominal suffix ‑iōn‑ we have the cognate nouns Eng. diversion [daɪ̯.ˈvɜɹ.ʃən] and Sp. diversión [d̪i.βeɾ.ˈsi̯on], which are as different in meaning as are the verbs they are related to. English diversion, pronounced [də.ˈvɜɹ.ʒən] or [daɪ̯.ˈvɜɹ.ʃən], means primarily ‘the act of diverting’ and ‘a change in the direction or use of something, or the act of changing it’ (DOCE). In Britain, diversion can be used for ‘an alternative route for use by traffic when the usual road is temporarily closed’ (COED), equivalent to detour [ˈdi.tʊɹ] in American English and to desviación or desvío, in Spanish, two nouns derived from the verb desviar ‘to change course’, cognate with deviate, a false friend (cf. Part II, §18.4). When speaking of illegal diversion of funds, the best translation is malversación (another word containing the root vers‑).
Out of the noun diversion, English has created the adjective diversionary, which means ‘intended to take someone’s attention away from something’ (DOCE), and which is typically found in the collocation diversionary tactic ‘an action which draws attention away from something’. This adjective can be translated into Spanish with the prepositional phrases para distraer la atención, de distracción or de despiste, as in táctica de distracción/despiste ‘diversionary tactic’.
Another sense of Eng. diversion is ‘something intended to distract someone’s attention’ (COED). This sense translates into Spanish as distracción, from the verb distraer ‘to distract’. Finally, sense of Eng. diversion that is related to the ‘distraction’ sense but much less common, is the sense ‘a recreation or pastime’ (COED) or ‘an enjoyable activity that you do to stop yourself from becoming bored’ (DOCE). That is the sense that is closest to the main meaning of Spanish diversión, which translates best as fun, amusement, or entertainment, since Eng. diversion is rarely used this way. Those are exactly the meanings we would expect of this noun, given the meaning of the verb divertir(se) from which it is derived.
There was another word derived from the stem dīvĕrs‑ of the Latin passive participle dīvĕrsus, this one by means of the noun-forming suffix ‑tāt‑ (nominative ‑tas), which gave us Lat. dīversĭtātem (dī+vĕrs+ĭ+tāt+em, nominative dīversĭtas; the ‑ĭ‑ was a linking vowel). This word had two main meanings: ‘contrariety, contradiction, disagreement’ and ‘diversity, difference’. From this noun we get the cognate nouns Eng. diversity (divers+ity) and Sp. diversidad (divers+idad), whose meanings are taken from the second of the two senses of the Latin word. These cognates are good friends since they both refer either to ‘the fact of including many different types of people or things’ or to ‘a range of different people, things, or ideas’ (this latter sense being synonymous with variety) (DOCE).
Sp. diversidad is already found in writing in the late 13th century. Eng. diversity is first attested in the mid-14th century and it is a loanword from French diverseté or diversité, first attested in the 12th century. These words are very popular nowadays and they are often found in collocations such as Eng. cultural diversity ~ Sp. diversidad cultural, Eng. ethnic diversity ~ Sp. diversidad étnica, Eng. racial diversity ~ Sp. diversidad racial, Eng. linguistic diversity ~ Sp. diversidad lingüística, Eng. religious diversity ~ Sp. diversidad religiosa, Eng. genetic diversity ~ Sp. diversidad genética, as well as in the compounds Eng. biodiversity ~ Sp. biodiversidad.
As we saw in Table 158 above, there was one other verb derived from vĕrtĕre, namely trānsvĕrtĕre ‘to turn across’ and, from that, ‘to turn away, avert’, derived by means of the preposition/prefix trāns ‘across’. This verb was a post-Classical Latin creation, from the late antiquity period, between the 3rd and 6th centuries CE. This verb has no descendants in our English or Spanish, however. Actually, transvert is attested in English as a verb already in the late 14th century, but it is now obsolete.
The passive participle of this verb was trānsvĕrsus, meaning ‘turned across, lying across, from side to side; transverse; having been turned across’ (cf. Sp. oblicuo, transversal). This word has left its mark in our languages, especially in Spanish. English has a rare adjective transverse, that obviously descents from the participle trānsvĕrsus. It is pronounced [tɹænz.ˈvɜɹs] or [tɹæns.ˈvɜɹs] and it means ‘situated or extending across something’ (COED). This word is attested in English since the early 15th century. Actually, before transverse we find the derived adjective transversary (c. 1400), derived from the participle’s stem trānsvĕrs‑ and the Latinate adjectival suffix ‑ary. The equivalent adjective in Spanish is transversal, formed from the same stem trānsvĕrs‑ and the adjectival ending ‑al.
Also derived from Lat. trānsvĕrsus, Spanish has the patrimonial noun través, which used by itself is quite rare and translates as slant (inclination), crossbeam (piece of wood), or misfortune (equivalent to revés). The noun is extremely common, however, in the complex preposition a través de, meaning ‘through, via’ and ‘all across’, both literally and figuratively, e.g. Se enteró a través de un amigo ‘She heard about it through a friend’, El agua pasa a través de un filtro ‘The water passes through a filter’, and Pusieron barricadas a través de la calle ‘They erected barricades across the street’ (OCS). Other expressions with través are de través and al través, both meaning ‘crossways, sideways’.
Also patrimonially derived from Lat. trānsvĕrsus is the adjective travieso/a ‘mischievous, naughty’ and, more lightly, ‘playful’. Originally, this adjective meant just ‘laid across or sideways’, a meaning that the word may still have, at least according to the dictionary, though hardly anybody uses it that way. The current primary (or only) meaning was derived figuratively from the literal one. Derived from this adjective is the noun travesura ‘prank, mischief’, formed with the suffix ‑ur‑a. Two other nouns derived from través, in Spanish, are (1) travesía meaning ‘crossing’ and (by sea) ‘voyage’, which in Spain can also mean ‘alleyway’ or ‘side street’; and (2) travesaño means ‘rung of a ladder’, ‘crossbeam’, ‘crossbar’, or ‘crosspiece’. The idiomatic expression a campo traviesa translates as cross-country or across the fields, as in esquí a campo traviesa ‘cross-country skiing’.
It seems that Late Latin derived a verb from this adjective, namely trānsvĕrsāre (trānsvĕrsō, trānsvĕrsāre, trānsvĕrsavi, trānsvĕrsātus). This verb seems to be the ultimate source of Eng. traverse and Sp. atravesar. Latin transversāre first changed to *traversāre in Vulgar Latin, by simplification of a complex consonant cluster (nsv > v). This then became Old French traverser, from which English got the verb traverse the 14th century. The primary meaning of Eng. traverse is ‘travel or extend across or through’, such as more specifically ‘ski diagonally across (a slope), losing only a little height’ (COED). It also means ‘move back and forth or sideways’ and, in legal terminology, ‘deny (an allegation) in pleading’ (COED).
Like French, Spanish also received this verb patrimonially, and did some consonant cluster simplification of its own (rs > s). Additionally, it added a pleonastic initial a‑, though this verb is also attested as travessar in Old Spanish (cf. Part I, §126.96.36.199). The result is the Spanish verb atravesar ‘to cross, go across’, which unlike Eng. traverse is a common enough (not fancy) verb, a synonym of cruzar ‘to cross’, as in atravesar la calle ‘to cross (go across) the street’. As we can see Eng. traverse and Sp. atravesar are only partial friends.
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