Thursday, May 31, 2018

Eng. -age ~ Sp. -aje, Part 6: Lat. lingua and Eng. tongue (and cunnilingus)

[This entry comes from Chapter 18, "Eng. language and Sp. lenguaje: words ending in Eng. -age and Sp. -aje", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


Let us go back now to a most curious fact about the Latin word lingua, from which many of the words described in this section are derived, namely that the word lingua is a historical cognate of the English word tongue, since the two have the same Indo-European source. It does not seem likely, but the common ‑ngu‑ letters give it away. The two words look even less similar if we compare the sounds, only one of which is shared, namely the velar nasal [ŋ] (cf. Part I, Chapter 7).

Spelling
Pronunciation
tongue
[tʰʌŋ]
lingua
[ˈlɪŋ.ɡwa]

These two words present an excellent example of what historical linguistics and language reconstruction has achieved since the 18th century, when William Jones first suggested the genetic connection between Germanic and Latin languages (cf. Part I, Chapter 3).[i]

By using the tools of comparative reconstruction (see Part I, §3.8), linguists have ascertained what the ancestor of these two words must have looked like in Proto-Indo-European. We know that English tongue [tʰʌŋ] comes from Old English tunge, pronounced [ˈtʊn.ɡe], with [ʊ] as in foot and [ɡ] as in get, and a final vowel, which was probably a schwa [ə]. In modern German, a language related to English, the cognate of Eng. tongue is Zunge [ˈtsʊ.ŋə]. Linguists have reconstructed the source of these two words in Proto-Germanic as *tungǭ. And by comparing that root with others in related languages, such as Irish teanga, Latin lingua, Polish język, and Sanskrit जिह्वा ‎(jihvā́), they have concluded that they all came from a root that looked something like *dnghu- in Proto-Indo-European (or, in a more detailed reconstruction, *dn̥ǵʰwéh₂s).[ii] We say that we have identified the root and not the word, with all its endings, since inflectional endings were many for each word and they changed more often and less predictably than roots did.

One of the most striking differences that we find in the roots of the daughter languages above is the beginning t in English tongue, which corresponds to the Latin l in Lat. lingua. This is striking because this is not a regular correspondence. We do not find other cognates in which English (or Germanic) has t where Latin has l. The reconstruction of a d in that position in Proto-Indo-European is consistent with the Germanic t, since PIE d became t in Germanic and, typically, stayed d in Latin. Thus English ten, with a t, is a historical cognate of Latin decem (Spanish diez), with a d. The same thing is true for countless other words, for this is a regular correspondence, which goes by the name of Grimm’s Law (cf. Part I, §3.8). The l in the Latin word is a real oddity. It should have been a d, for PIE d stayed d in Latin. In other words, the Latin word should have been *dingua, not lingua. So, what is going on here?

It turns out that we have evidence that Old Latin, as well as related Italic languages of the first millennium BCE, had a d in this word. In other words, the Old Latin word for tongue was indeed dingua, not lingua. So why did Classical Latin have lingua? This d to l change is not a general, regular one, but rather a sporadic one, but one that is not unheard of either. The sounds d and l are similar enough phonetically for the change to be a ‘natural’ one: both are voiced alveolar consonants, that is, they are both made with the tongue in the same position (same point-of-articulation), with the tip of the tongue touching the ridge behind the top teeth, and they are both consonants made with the vocal chords vibrating (voiced sounds) (cf. Part I, Chapter 7). The main difference is that for the l the sides of the tongue are not touching the sides of the mouth, which allows for air to escape through the sides (we say that l is a lateral consonant).

Sporadic changes are changes that appear occasionally for no apparent reason, as opposed to regular changes that apply to a certain sound in a certain phonetic environment. It seems very likely that the sound change did not occur in Latin itself, where it would have been one of a kind, but in a related Italic language, namely the language of the Sabines, an Italic people who had a shared history with the Romans. Presumably Latin then borrowed the lingua pronunciation for this word (borrowing is unpredictable, unlike sound change).[iii] That is why this non-etymological l, which actually exists in a few Latin words, is known as Sabine L. The contrast Sp. olor ~ Eng. odor is another such case of a Latin l where there should be an etymological d (cf. Part II, §37.4). It has been suggested that the borrowing of lingua to replace dingua might have been motivated by the fact that the word for lick in Latin, namely lingĕre, also started with the sound l and had other similar sounds to dingua (namely ‑ing‑). Lat. lingĕre is cognate with English lick, from Proto-Germanic *likkōną, from the Proto-Indo-European root *leyǵʰ-.

The New Latin word cunnilingus [ˌkʌn.ɪ.ˈlɪŋ.ɡəs], the same in English and Spanish (though cunnilinguo is also attested in Spanish), refers to the ‘stimulation of the female genitals using the tongue or lips’ (COED). This word is a late 19th century creation (between 1985-90) from Latin parts, though it is not a well-formed one and who the creator was is not known.  It obviously contains the root ling‑, but it is not clear if it comes from Lat. lingua ‘tongue’ or from Lat. lingĕre  ‘to lick’ (principal parts: lingō, lingĕre, linxī, linctum). Most likely it was a play on both of these words. The first part of this word comes from Lat. cŭnnus that meant ‘cunt’ (vulgar word for ‘vulva’), but also ‘woman’ and ‘female pubic hair’, from where comes the patrimonial vulgar word for the female genitalia in Spanish, coño ‘cunt’. As for the source of Lat. cŭnnus, there are different theories, none of which has been proven.[1]



[1] There are many slang terms for cunnilingus in English, such as carpet munching, muff-diving, giving lip, lip service, and dining at the Y. Curiously, someone who performs cunnilingus has been referred to as a cunnilinguist. Other rare derived words are the adjective cunnilingual and the noun cunnilinguism the practice or habit of cunnilingus’ (WNTIU).

The analogous term for ‘stimulation of the male genitals using the tongue or lips’ is known in English as fellatio [fə.ˈleɪ̯.ʃɪ.o̯ʊ]. This is a New Latin term created in 1894 by Havelock Ellis, from the stem fellat‑ of the passive participle fellatus of the Latin verb fellēre ‘to suck’ and ‘to fellate’. The Spanish equivalent is felación, an adaptation of the same New Latin word. The main slang term for fellation in English is blowjob and in Spanish, slang terms include mamada from mamar ‘to suckle’ and chupada from chupar ‘to suck’.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Eng. -age ~ Sp. -aje, Part 5: Sp. lingüístico/a & lingüística vs. Eng. linguistic & linguistics

[This entry comes from Chapter 18, "Eng. language and Sp. lenguaje: words ending in Eng. -age and Sp. -aje", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


The adjectives associated with the nouns Eng. language and Sp. lengua and lenguaje are no other than the learned words Eng. linguistic and Sp. lingüístico/a, which mean either ‘of or pertaining to language or languages’ or ‘of or pertaining to the knowledge or study of languages’ (OED), as in linguistic diversity (Sp. diversidad lingüística), linguistic heritage (Sp. patrimonio lingüístico).[1] English, of course, has the option of using the noun language as a modifier in a noun-noun construction (compound noun) as an alternative to the use of this adjective, thus resulting in the synonymous phrases language diversity and language heritage (cf. Part I, Chapter 5, §5.8). Spanish can only turn a noun into a modifier by resorting to a prepositional phrase, with a linking preposition, typically de ‘of’, as in diversidad de lenguas and patrimonio de lenguas.

The source of Eng. linguistic and Sp. lingüístico/a is not a Classical Latin word, but rather the New Latin adjective linguisticus, derived from the noun linguista with the addition of the Latin adjectival suffix ‑ic‑ (lingu‑ist‑ic‑us). Latin did have an adjective derived from the noun lĭngua ‘language’, by means of the adjectival suffix ‑āl‑, namely linguālis, but the meaning of this adjective was ‘of or related to the tongue’, referring to the organ, not to the other sense of the noun lingua, namely ‘language’ (lingu‑āl‑is). Actually, both English and Spanish have borrowed the (rare) adjective lingual from Latin, with the meaning is ‘of or relating to the tongue’, and used mostly as a technical word, as in (in anatomy) lingual nerve (Sp. nervio lingual), i.e. the nerve of the tongue, and (in linguistics) lingual sounds (Sp. sonidos linguales), that is, sounds made with the tongue. The word lingual has been used in the past with the ‘of or relating to language’ sense, but that use is now archaic, if not obsolete. In other words, while looking for a Latinate adjective that meant ‘of or relating to language’, the English, Spanish, and French have all resorted to the newly formed adjective linguistic (Sp. lingüístico/a) derived from the New Latin word linguist (Sp. lingüista).

This adjective in question first appeared in French, as linguistique, in 1826, from the New Latin adjective linguisticus (fem. linguistica, neut. linguisticum). The French adjective linguistique [lɛ̃.ɡɥis.ˈtik] was derived from the noun linguiste [lɛ̃.ˈɡɥist], which is first attested in French about two hundred years earlier, around 1632, though this French noun was very rare until the adjective linguistique was created. The noun linguiste was created out of the noun lingua and the Latin agentive suffix ‑ist‑, of Greek origin. This noun was originally used in French with the meaning ‘someone who studied ancient languages’. It wasn’t until the 20th century that it came to mean ‘someone who studies modern languages scientifically’, though in the 19th century it was used sometimes as a synonym for philologist, someone who studies languages from a comparative and historical perspective.

It is not clear when and where the words Eng. linguist or Fr. linguiste started to be used. We find Eng. linguist already in use in English in the late 16th century, decades before it is attested in French. The early meanings linguist in English were: (1) ‘one who uses his tongue freely or knows how to talk; a master of language’ and (2) ‘one who is skilled in the use of languages; one who is master of other tongues besides his own’ (OED). To this day, the word linguist in English is used with the latter of the two original senses, as well as with the sense it acquired in more recent times, namely ‘someone who studies language and languages scientifically’, i.e. a practitioner of linguistics.

Although the noun linguist may have been created in English, the adjective linguistic on the other hand, is said to have had its origin in French, being derived from the noun linguiste, as we said earlier, by the year 1826. Actually, the word may have been modelled on the German word linguistisch that meant ‘of or relating to the academic study of language’ which is first attested in the previous century, in 1787. In the 20th century, Ger. linguistisch has also come to mean ‘of or relating to language’ in addition to ‘of or relating to linguistics’, like its cognate in the other European languages and as an alternative to the native sprachlich. The German adjective linguistisch was derived from the German word Linguistik, which was created in 1778 for the name of the study of language, which at the time meant the study of the history of language (historical linguistics). (Curiously, in modern-day German, the common term for ‘linguistics’ is not Linguistik but Sprachwissenschaft. The non-Latinate adjective synonym of the ‘of or relating to linguistics’ of Ger. linguistisch is, thus, sprachwissenschaftlich.)

The name for the academic discipline that studies language scientifically is linguistics in English. This word is typically said to have come about in French, as a noun identical to the adjective linguistique that we just mentioned above. The OED, for example, gives that as the source of the term. Originally, in the 19th century (after 1835 at least) it was used with the sense of comparative and historical linguistics. By a hundred years later, as the scientific discipline of language changed, linguistique came to be associated with this new science, whose main exponents were Whitney and Saussure. It would seem, however, that French calqued this word from the German Linguistik that we have mentioned is attested in the late 18th century, a Latinate word derived from Linguist by means of the suffix ‑ik, the German version of the Latin adjectival suffix ‑ic, used to name academic disciplines, such as Physik ‘physics’ or Mathematik ‘mathematics’.

The French term linguistique was calqued into English as linguistics [lɪŋ.ˈɡwɪ.stɪks] and into Spanish lingüística [liŋ.ˈɡu̯is.t̪i.ka]. Notice that the English noun linguistics looks formally like a plural, formed by analogy with the names of other academic disciplines in English that end in ‑ics, such as physics, mathematics, economics, athletics, physics, statistics, genetics, pediatrics, phonetics, robotics, politics, etc. These are, however, singular nouns, as the fact that they go with singular verb forms. Thus, we say, for example, Linguistics is a science, not *Linguistics are a science. However, originally these names did behave as plural nouns, not as singular ones as they do today, so in earlier times, one would say Physics are difficult, not Phisics is difficult.

The tradition of making the names of disciplines plural started in English in the 16th century as a revival of the Classical Greek custom of using the neuter plural of adjectives with the meaning ‘matters relevant to’ in matters related to academic fields of study. Names of disciplines that were common before the 16th century, however, remain in the singular, such as arithmetic and logic. However, mathematics has always been plural, and this is probably due to the fact that originally this field was not thought of as a single thing, but as ‘the collective name for geometry, arithmetic, and certain physical sciences (as astronomy and optics) involving geometrical reasoning’ (OED).

With the exception of matemáticas ‘mathematics’, the names of disciplines in Spanish are always singular, and feminine, just like in French, derived from the same adjectival suffix ‑ic‑, resulting in the ending ‑ic‑a. Thus, the Spanish equivalent of Eng. linguistics, is lingüística, identical to the feminine singular form of the adjective we just mentioned. Thus, Sp. lingüística works just like the names of other disciplines that end in ‑ica, such as (la) física ‘physics’ and (la) estadística ‘statistics’, and (la) genética, (la) robótica, (la) fonética, (la) política, etc., which are also singular and identical in form to the feminine form of the related adjectives.[2] For example, física, the name of the discipline, is homonymous with the feminine adjective física meaning ‘physical’ (the masculine singular form of this adjective is físico and the plural forms would be físicas and físicos, respectively. Note that to confuse things even further, besides being an adjective, físico can also be a noun, meaning ‘physicist’. As we said, an exception to this singular form of academic disciplines is (las) matemáticas, which is plural (it ends in ‑icas, not ‑ica). Note that unlike Eng. mathematics, Sp. matemáticas is a real plural, since we say, for example, Las matemáticas son difíciles, with a plural article, a plural verb form, and a plural adjective. In North America, the name mathematics is colloquially shortened to math, whereas in Great Britain, can also be reduced to maths, especially when referring to the subject studied at school (1911).


[1] The word heritage typically translates as Sp. patrimonio, especially if it is the heritage of a group or nation. The word herencia, a paronym of heritage, can also be used when speaking of the heritage of an individual. Note that the word herencia can also mean ‘inheritance’. Learned Sp. herencia comes from Lat. haerĕntĭa ‘things attached, things that cling’ or ‘belongings’, a noun derived from the regular stem haerĕnt of the present participle haerens ‘clinging, adhering’ of the verb haerēre (supine haesum) ‘to cling, adhere’. Eng. heritage comes from Old French heritage ‘inheritance’, derived by means of the suffix ‑age from heriter ‘inherit’, from Late Latin hereditare. Old Spanish had the cognate heredaje and it still has the verb heredar ‘to inherit’ derived from the same Late Latin verb. Eng. inherit comes from Old French enheriter ‘appoint as heir’, from Late Latin inhereditare ‘to appoint as heir’, a prefixed version of hereditare.

[2] Note that not all the recently created English words for discipline names that end in ‑ics have equivalent words in Spanish that end in ‑ica. For example, pediatrics (1884) translates as pediatría, a word with the same stem but with a different Greek suffix. Likewise, gymnastics (1650s) translates into Spanish as gimnasia. The noun athletics (1730), which is thought to have been modelled on the noun gymnastics, translates into Spanish as deportes, if it refers to active sports, a sense that is common in North America for this word, and as atletismo, if it refers to track and field, a sense common in British English. Another such word is acrobatics (1859), whichi translates as acrobacia.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Eng. -age ~ Sp. -aje, Part 4: Sp. idiosincrasia and Eng. idiosyncrasy

[This entry comes from Chapter 18, "Eng. language and Sp. lenguaje: words ending in Eng. -age and Sp. -aje", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


Finally, another relatively common (albeit rarer) pair of synonyms derived from the root idi‑ are Sp. idiosincrasia [i.ði̯o.sin.kɾa.si̯a] and Eng. idiosyncrasy [ˌɪ.ɾɪ.ə.ˈsɪŋ.kɹə.si] (the spelling idiosyncracy, with a c, is also often found but it is dispreferred since it is etymologically erroneous). Actually, the source word was a compound, since it was composed of two roots, as we shall see. Both of these words mean now ‘a mode of behavior or way of thought specific to an individual’ or, derived from that meaning, ‘a distinctive or peculiar characteristic of something’ (COED). Some synonyms of Eng. idiosyncrasy are peculiarity, mannerism, quirk, characteristic, quality, and eccentricity.

Both cognates are rare and fancy, though the Spanish word is probably less common. Therefore, Eng. idiosyncrasy is often better translated by the synonyms rareza and mania, when referring to a person’s weakness or eccentricity, and peculiaridad (cf. Eng. peculiarity) and particularidad, speaking of things.

English idiosyncrasy is first attested in the early 17th century and it was a loanword from Fr. idiosyncrasie, a learned word that French borrowed from Greek in the late 16th century. Spanish idiosincrasia did not appear in the DRAE until 1869, though it first appeared in another dictionary in 1787, a hundred years after it appeared in French and two hundred years after it appeared in French. Thus, there is little doubt that Spanish also obtained this word through French, just like English did. Although English borrowed the word from French, the French version of this word is also less common than the English one. Like Spanish, Modern French prefers alternatives such as manie and particularité, cognates of the Spanish words we just saw. The term idiosyncrasy has been used to some extent as a technical term in different academic disciplines, such as 19th century medicine, pharmacology, psychiatry, economics, and linguistics.[1]

The source of these words is Ancient Greek ἰδιοσυγκρασία ‎(idiosunkrasía) ‘one’s own (peculiar) temperament’, a word derived from ἴδιος ‎(ídios) ‘one’s own’ plus σύγκρᾱσις (súnkrasis) ‘mixture, temperament (mixture of personal traits)’, a word that was derived from the prefix σύν ‎(sún) ‘together’ (cf. Eng. syn‑ ~ Sp. sin‑), the noun κρᾶσις ‎(krâsis) ‘mixture, blending, etc.’, and the suffix ‑ῐ́ᾱ (‑íā) that formed feminine abstract nouns from the stems of adjectives (or, rarely, from the stems of verbs).[2]

The cognate adjectives for these two nouns are Sp. idiosincrásico/a and Eng. idiosyncratic [ˌɪ.ɾɪ.ə.sɪŋ.ˈkʰɹæ.ɾɪk] (cf. Fr. idiosyncrasique [i.djo.sɛ̃.kʀa.zik]). Notice that the English word has a t where Spanish (and French) has s. This is due, no doubt, to a mistaken etymology for this word, the same one that resulted in the alternate spelling idiosyncracy for the noun.[3] It seems that this adjective was formed in English first by adding the adjectival suffix ‑ic to the noun idiosyncrasy in the mid-18th century, though the variant idiosyncratical, with the double adjectival suffix ‑ic‑al, is attested in the mid-17th century already. This is because English often derived adjectives from Latin verbs by adding the two Latinate derivational suffixes that formed adjectives, namely ‑ic‑ and ‑āl‑, resulting in many English words ending in ‑ical, such as acoustical, analytical, and anatomical. Note that the equivalent Spanish words only contain the suffix ‑ic‑, plus the gender inflection: acústico/a, analítico/a, and anatómico/a. From English, the word idiosyncratic passed on to French and Spanish, though these two languages corrected the mistaken etymology and replaced the English t with an s.

Go to part 5



[1] In phonology, an idiosyncratic property of the sound system is one that contrasts with a systematic regularity.

[2] In Greek grammar, the word crasis was used for ‘the contraction of two adjacent vowels into one long vowel or diphthong, esp. at the end of one word and beginning of the next’ (SOED). In phonetics, Eng. crasis has been used more genereally to mean ‘a contraction of two adjacent vowels into one long vowel or diphthong, for example the reduction of words in ancient Greek from three syllables to two’ (Oxford).

[3] English words that end in ‑cy come from New Latin words that end in either ‑c‑ia or ‑t‑ia, as do Spanish words that end in ‑cia and ‑cía. When the adjectival suffix ‑ic‑ is added to an English word that ends in ‑cy that comes from Lat. ‑tia, such as democracy (from Medieval Latin democratia), then the t is restored’ (cf. Eng. democratic).

Eng. -age ~ Sp. -aje, Part 3: Sp. idiota ~ Eng. idiot

[This entry comes from Chapter 18, "Eng. language and Sp. lenguaje: words ending in Eng. -age and Sp. -aje", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


There are other cognates derived from the same Latin root δι‑ (ídi‑) of the adjective διος (ídios). Let us look at two of the most common ones, namely Sp. idiota ~ Eng. idiot and Eng. idiosyncrasy ~ Sp. idiosincrasia. The cognates Sp. idiota ~ Eng. idiot are learned words that are attested as early as the 13th century in both languages. We know that English got this word from French and Spanish probably did too since Fr. idiote is already attested in the preceding century. The ultimate source of these loanwords is Greek ἰδιώτης ‎(idiṓtēs) ‘layman, person not involved in public affairs’. Latin borrowed this word as ĭdĭōta with the same meaning of ‘ordinary person, layman’ but eventually by Late Latin times it came to have the meaning ‘uneducated or ignorant person’. The Greek word ἰδιώτης ‎(idiṓtēs, idi‑ṓt‑ēs) was derived from the adjective ἴδιος (ídios) ‘one’s own, private’ and the suffix ‑ώτ‑ης (‑ṓt‑ēs) that derived agent nouns (feminine ‑ώτ‑α, ‑ṓt‑a).

Both Sp. idiota and Eng. idiot were originally used with the original Greek meaning ‘non-expert, layman, ignorant (not knowing)’, though that meaning is now obsolete for both words. The current meaning of these words go from ‘lacking in intelligence or good sense’ to something stronger, a meaning that is already attested in English by the 15th century, in French in the mid-17th century. In Spanish, however, that sense did not appear in the DRAE for Sp. idiota until the 1869 edition of the dictionary.

In legal and psychiatric technical terminology, the word idiot has been used in the past with the meaning ‘a person so profoundly disabled in mental function or intellect as to be incapable of ordinary acts of reasoning or rational conduct; specially a person permanently so affected, as distinguished from one with a temporary severe mental illness’ (OED). This ‘mental illness’ sense of the word was common in the 19th and 20th centuries, but its roots go back a few centuries. The sense came to be found in this word’s French and Spanish cognates as well. It is not in current use, however, and thus, it is a historical sense. The mental illness referred to in this sense went by the name of idiocy (cf. Sp. idiocia, which was rare, or idiotez; Fr. idiotie). The AHD describes this sense of idiot as ‘a person of profound mental retardation having a mental age below three years and generally being unable to learn connected speech or guard against common dangers’ and warns us that ‘the term belongs to a classification system no longer in use and is now considered offensive’. Other technical terms that were likewise used in the past but are not in use today and are considered offensive are moron (Sp. retrasado/a mental), imbecile (Sp. imbécil), and cretin (Sp. cretino).[1]

Eng. idiot and Sp. idiota are nouns, as were the words that they come from. There was an adjective derived from this noun in the source words, namely Late Lat. ĭdĭōtĭcus, and Ancient Greek ἰδιωτικός (idiotikós) ‘private’. In Late Latin, this adjective came to mean ‘uneducated, ignorant, unskillful’ (L&S). English borrowed it in the early 18th century as idiotic, as in Stop asking idiotic questions, What she did was idiotic, or Her behavior was totally idiotic. This word’s synonym idiotical is already attested in the 1640s, almost a century earlier. Spanish did not borrow this adjective and so the English adjective idiotic is translated by using the noun idiota as an adjective, which is not very common, or by means of other related or synonymous words, as in Deja de hacer preguntas imbéciles ‘Stop asking idiotic questions’ (using the noun/adjective imbécil instead), and Lo que hizo fue una idiotez (or una imbecilidad) ‘What she did was idiotic’ (using the nouns idiotez ‘idiotic thing, etc.’ or imbecilidad 'stupid thing', a noun derived from the noun/adjective imbécil 'stupid, imbecile').

Go to part 4




[1] Henry H. Goddard, an American psychologist and eugenicist, proposed in the early 20th century a classification system for intellectual disability that was based on the Binet-Simon concept of mental age. Those with a mental age of less than three years were identified as idiots; those with a mental age of three to seven years were classified as imbeciles; and those with a mental age of seven to ten years were called morons.

Eng. -age ~ Sp. -aje, Part 2: Sp. lengua vs. Sp. idioma—and Eng. idiom

[This entry comes from Chapter 18, "Eng. language and Sp. lenguaje: words ending in Eng. -age and Sp. -aje", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


Sp. lengua vs. Sp. idiomaand Eng. idiom

As we saw in the preceding section, the word idioma in Spanish is synonymous with one of the meanings of the word lengua. However, as is typically the case with synonyms, the two are not typically used in all the same contexts or with exactly the same connotations. The word idioma is used in a context in which a particular language is contrasted with other languages, in particular in the context of ‘foreign languages’. Thus, for instance, in school one studies lengua española (or castellana) ‘Spanish language’, not idioma español (or castellano), but one studies idiomas extranjeros ‘foreign languages’ (not typically called lenguas extranjeras), sometimes in a escuela de idiomas ‘language school’ (not usually called escuela de lenguas).

The Spanish word idioma is a cognateand false friendof the English word idiom, which means ‘a phrase the meaning of which cannot be fully predicted from the meaning of the words that compose it’, e.g. (cf. Part I, Chapter 4, §4.12). These words come from the Late Latin third declension neuter noun ĭdĭōma. (The nominative and accusative case wordforms were the same, ĭdĭōma; the genitive was ĭdĭōmatis, and so the full regular stem from which other words were derived was ĭdĭōmat‑, see below). In Classical Latin, this word meant ‘style or peculiarity of language’, ‘special term or phrase used by an individual or group’ (OED). In Late Latin, however, around the 7th century, this word came to mean ‘language’ too, the meaning the word has in Spanish, and it later acquired other meanings in Medieval Latin as well.

This Latin word was a loanword from Greek ἰδίωμα ‎(idíōma) ‘peculiarity, specific property, unique feature, peculiarity of style, peculiar phraseology’. This noun was derived from the root ἰδῐ‑ ‎(idi‑) of the adjective ἴδιος (ídios) ‘one’s own, personal, private (not public), peculiar, separate, distinct’ plus the noun suffix‎ -μᾰ ‎(‑ma; genitive ‑μᾰτος, regular stem ‑μᾰτ‑ ‑mat‑), which was used to form neuter nouns from roots. (In between these two morphemes comes the linking vowel ‑o‑, cf. Part I, Chapter 8, §8.5.1.2.).[1]

English idiom [ˈɪ.ɾɪ.əm] may have been borrowed at different times from both Latin idioma and from French idiome. The word was borrowed into French from either Greek or Latin around 1534 with the meaning of ‘speech distinctive to a people or country’. A few decades later, the word appears in English with that same meaning. Eventually, however, in the 17th century, the English word idiom came to be used with one of the meanings the original word had in Ancient Greek, something like ‘peculiar phraseology’, which is similar to the meaning the word has today, namely ‘a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words’ (COED). Spanish idioma first appears in Cervantes’ Quixote in 1605, where it already had the sense of ‘a nation’s own language’, the main meaning it has today. Considering that French had borrowed the word almost a century earlier, there is little doubt that the word came into Spanish through French, not directly from Latin or Greek.

What we just saw explains how the cognates Eng. idiom ~ Sp. idioma (and Fr. idiome) came to have the different meanings they have today. In particular, the main meaning of Eng. idiom is related to one of the meanings the original Greek word had (‘peculiar phraseology’), whereas the main meaning of Sp. idioma (and Fr. idiome) is one that developed in Late Latin, namely (‘language peculiar to a people’).

The French and Spanish words have the same meaning (they are ‘true friends’), which is different from that of the English word idiom (they are ‘false friends’). The meaning ‘idiom’ is expressed in Spanish with a number of different expressions, such as modismo, giro (idiomático), expresión idiomática, and even idiotismo. The latter term is a rather technical and rare one, a loanword from Fr. idiotisme, which borrowed it from Lat. ĭdĭōtismus ‘the common or vulgar manner of speaking’ (L&S), a loanword from Greek ἰδιωτισμός (idiōtismós) that meant ‘way or fashion of a common person’ or, when referring to speech, ‘vulgar phrase’. English also has the word idiotism, which means ‘idiotic conduct or action’ or ‘idiocy’ (RHWU). The word is rare, however, and many dictionaries do not even carry it. The English word idiotism has been used before with the meaning ‘idiom’ too, like its French and Spanish cognates, but that sense is now obsolete. By the way, Sp. idiotismo has also been used in the past with the meaning ‘idiotic conduct or action’, but that meaning is expressed in Modern Spanish with the word idiotez ‘words or deeds proper of an idiot’ (DLE) since at least the time of Cervantes (who used it in 1613).

We should mention that Eng. idiom has other meanings besides the main one of expression ‘cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements’ (AHD). Some dictionaries even mention a meaning that is very similar to the one the French and Spanish cognates of this word have, cf. ‘the language proper or peculiar to a people or to a district, community, or class’ (WNTIU), which can refer to a language or a dialect, as in the working-class idiom (Sp. el lenguaje de la clase trabajadora) or the local idiom (Sp. el habla del lugar). As we can see, this sense of Eng. idiom does not translate into Spanish as idioma or lengua but rather as lenguaje or habla ‘speech’. Another meaning of Eng. idiom that most dictionaries mention is ‘the style of writing, music, art, etc. that is typical of a particular person, group, period or place’ (OALD), as in neo-Impressionist idiom or the idiom of Bach. (Actually, most dictionaries only mention music and art, not writing.) This sense is rather technical and not known to most English speakers and it translates into Spanish as lenguaje or estilo.

Before we leave the idiom ~ idioma cognates, we should mention that Greek had an adjective derived from it, which also made it into Latin and into the modern languages. The adjective was ĭdĭōmatĭcus in Latin and ἰδιωματικός (idiōmatikós) in Ancient Greek (ĭdĭ‑ō‑mat‑ĭc‑us). Remember that the regular root of this word, from which other words were derived, was  ĭdĭōmat‑ in Latin and ἰδιωματ‑ (idiōmat‑) in Greek. The derivational suffix here is Lat. ‑ic‑ or Greek ‑ικ‑ (‑ik‑), which derived adjectives from nouns. These suffixes were cognates, since they are both derived from Proto-Indo-European *-ik‑ or *‑iḱ‑, which was formed from the i-stem suffix *‑i‑ and the adjectival suffix *‑ko‑. From this word we get the cognates Eng. idiomatic [ˌɪ.ɾɪ.ə.ˈmæ.ɾɪk] ~ Sp. idiomático/a [i.ði̯o.ˈma.ti.ko] (and Fr. idiomatique). Both of these words are used in the equivalent phrases Eng. idiomatic expression ~ Sp. expresión idiomática, which basically mean ‘idiom’. English idiomatic is also used with the meaning ‘containing expressions that are natural to a native speaker of a language’, as in She speaks fluent and idiomatic English (OALD). This typically refers to language that contains idiomatic expressions, which are often lacking from the language of non-native speakers. This aspect of the meaning of the word is contained in the OED’s definition of this sense, which is ‘adhering to the manner of expression considered natural to or distinctive of a language; typically using idioms’. There is no simple way to translate this sense of the word idiomatic into Spanish and one must use expressions such as que no suena a extranjero ‘that does not sound like a foreigner’ or que contiene giros idiomáticos, for example, depending on the context. Most English-Spanish dictionaries, however, do not explain this use of the word idiomatic and insist that the equivalent of Eng. idiomatic is Sp. idiomático.

Go to part 3



[1] The adjective διος (ídios) (feminine ̓δ́, neuter ̓́δον) has been reconstructed as being derived from the word (hé) ‘him’, the accusative case of ο (hoû); (2) the connecting consonant ‑δ‑ (‑d‑); (3) the adjectival suffix ‑ι‑ (‑i‑); plus (4) the first-second declension adjectival inflections ‑ος (‑os), ‑ (‑a), ‑ον (‑on) (masculine, feminine, and neuter, respectively). The root (hé) goes back to the Proto-Indo-European root *s(w)e- ‘separate, apart’, related to the reflexive words Sp. se, su, and Eng. self.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Eng. -age ~ Sp. -aje, Part 1: Sp. lenguaje vs. Eng. language

[This entry comes from Chapter 18, "Eng. language and Sp. lenguaje: words ending in Eng. -age and Sp. -aje", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Sp. lengua & Sp. lenguaje vs. Eng. language


The English word language and the Spanish word lenguaje ‘language’ are obviously related. It is also obvious that Sp. lengua, meaning both ‘tongue’ (as in the muscle inside your mouth, so crucial for eating and speaking) and ‘language, tongue’, is related to them. The words language and lenguaje are cognates. However, they are not fully equivalent in meaning, as it is often thought.

In Spanish, the word lengua, not lenguaje, along with its synonym idioma, are the words used to refer to human languages such as Spanish or English. The word lenguaje has a somewhat different meanings. In other words, Eng. language and Sp. lenguaje are not equivalent words in some of their senses (meanings, uses), though they are synonymous in some other senses. In particular, we would not translate what is perhaps the most common sense of the English word language into Spanish as lenguaje though, on the other hand, Sp. lenguaje does typically translate into English as language. Thus, to ask How many languages do you speak? In Spanish we would say ¿Cuántas lenguas hablas? or, more likely, ¿Cuántos idiomas hablas?, but never ¿Cuántos lenguajes hablas?

Dictionaries differ somewhat as to how they divide, classify and express the different meanings and uses of the English word language, but basically what we find is that Sp. lenguaje translates most of the meanings and uses of the English word language, except for what is perhaps the most common one, the one that refers to specific systems of communication used by humans, such as English, French, or Spanish.

As we said, the Spanish words lengua and lenguaje are obviously related, and the latter is obviously derived from the former. The Spanish word lengua is a patrimonial word its literal, and original, meaning is ‘tongue’, that extremely flexible muscle we have inside our mouths, attached at the back. One dictionary defines the word tongue as ‘the fleshy, movable, muscular organ, attached in most vertebrates to the floor of the mouth, that is the principal organ of taste, an aid in chewing and swallowing, and, in humans, an important organ of speech’ (AHD).

Figure 121: Human tongue.[i]

It is not hard to see how the name for that part of our anatomy came to be used metaphorically as the name for the primarily oral system of signs we use to communicate, since this part of our anatomy is one of the most crucial tools we employ for producing speech (cf. Part I, Chapter 7). However, this does not mean that when Spanish speakers use the metaphorical sense of the word lengua, they make a mental connection with the organ, the word's literal meaning. In other words, the two senses of the word lengua would seem to be quite separated or detached from  each other. It is almost as if the two senses of lengua were homonyms today rather than two different senses of the same word, as they obviously were at one point (cf. Part I, Chapter 6).

As in the case of Sp. lengua, the primary meaning of the English word tongue is ‘the fleshy muscular organ in the mouth, used for tasting, licking, swallowing, and (in humans) articulating speech’ (COED). Additionally, just like Sp. lengua, Eng. tongue can be used refer to a human language, though this use of the word is rather old-fashioned or archaic in English nowadays, having been for the most part replaced by the word language, which is used to refer to human systems of communication such as English, Spanish, or Mandarin Chinese. Thus, the double meaning of Sp. lengua, ‘tongue’ and ‘language’, should not surprise English speakers since the English word tongue is also used with both of these meanings, though the use of the word tongue for ‘language’ is more limited nowadays.

Indeed, tongue was the original and native English word for ‘language’ for a long time in English, along with speech, before English borrowed the word language from French in the late 13th century, just like lengua ‘tongue’ was the main word for this meaning in Spanish. We still use Eng. tongue in a few phrases, such as speak in tongues (the technical term is glossolalia, cf. Sp. glosolalia, also known as don de lenguas), a practice of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity and some other religions, and in the collocations mother tongue (‘native language’, cf. Sp. lengua materna) and foreign tongue (Sp. lengua extranjera). There is no doubt, however, that there is an old-fashioned ring to these uses of the word.

The English word language and the Spanish words lengua and lenguaje trace their lineage back to the Latin word lĭnguam [ˈlɪŋ.ɡu̯ã] (nominative: lĭngua), which also meant the same things as Sp. lengua, namely ‘tongue’ (the organ in the mouth) and ‘language’ (the system of communication). Spanish lengua [ˈleŋ.ɡu̯a] is a direct patrimonial descendant of this word, with the Latin short ĭ changing to e and the accusative case’s final ‑m being dropped, both totally regular and expected sound changes (cf. Part I, Chapter 10).

English language [ˈlæŋ.ɡwɪʤ] comes from a Latin word derived from Latin lingua, namely *lĭnguātĭcum. This word was not used in classical Latin, however, but rather in late Vulgar Latin, as a replacement for the classical lingua for the sense of ‘human form of communication’, as opposed to the ‘muscular organ inside the mouth’. As we will see later on in the chapter, the suffix ‑ātĭcum was used in Late Latin to create nouns out of other words, typically nouns or verbs, with a meaning that was derived from the meaning of the original word. Thus, from Lat. lĭngua ‘tongue; language’, Late Latin speakers came up with the derived word lĭnguātĭcum, which in French would develop into the word lengatge by the year 1000. The Old French word is attested as langage by the year 1160, which is what the word still looks like in Modern French, pronounced [lɑ̃.ˈɡaʒ]. English borrowed this word from the Anglo-Norman dialect by the late 13th century, where it is attested as langage, language, langwage, laungage, and launguage. It seems that the insertion of the u after the g is due to influence from written Latin lingua.

The Spanish word lenguaje [len.ˈɡu̯a.xe] has the same Late Latin source, but it is not a patrimonial word in Spanish, unlike the word lengua. We know because the Latin suffix ‑ātĭcum did not change to ‑aje in Old Spanish, but to ‑azgo, as in Sp. noviazgo ‘engagement’, from Lat. noviātĭcum, as we will see later on. Actually, like many other words that end in ‑aje in Spanish, this word was borrowed from either Old Occitan lengatge or, else, from Catalan llenguatge, two closely related Romance varieties (cf. Part I, Chapter 3, §3.5). The rest of the words that end in ‑aje in Spanish came into the language from Standard French usually centuries later. Spanish lenguaje is first attested in 13th century Spanish writings. Both the Occitan and the Catalan words are cognates of the northern French word that English borrowed, for all of these words are derived from Late Latin linguaticum and are thus cognates.[1]

As we said earlier, Spanish lengua, like English tongue, has two main senses: (1) ‘the fleshy muscular organ in the mouth, used for tasting, licking, swallowing, and (in humans) articulating speech’ and (2) ‘a particular language’ (COED). The second sense of lengua is a synonym of the word idioma (see below), but not with the word lenguaje. That is because the word lenguaje in Modern Spanish can be used to refer to systems of communication, from animals to computers, as in the phrase el lenguaje de los perros ‘the language of dogs’ or lenguaje corporal ‘body language’, as well as to specific manners of using human languages, but not to specific human languages themselves. To express that meaning, Spanish uses the words lengua and idioma.[2]

Let us now take a closer look at the different meanings of the English word language which, as we have seen, is polysemous, that is, has different meanings and can be used to refer to a number of different albeit related things (cf. Part I, Chapter 6, §6.5). The following are the major senses of the English word language. Before each definition, a short paraphrase of the meaning is given.

A.  (language ability) ‘the capacity of humans to use a system of arbitrary symbols to communicate complex thoughts and feelings, typically orally’, e.g. there are many theories about the origins of language (Sp. lenguaje humano)[3]
B.  (specific language) ‘any such relatively stable system of communication by humans as used by a particular community of people’, e.g. the Spanish language (Spanish) (Sp. lengua, idioma)
C.  (language style) ‘a particular style of speaking or writing’ (OALD) or ‘a particular manner of expression’ (COED), e.g. strong language, poetic language, everyday language, the language of the legal profession, Shakespearean language, profane language; persuasive language (Sp. lenguaje)
D.  (system of communication) ‘a way of expressing ideas and feelings using movements, symbols and sound’ (OALD), e.g. the language of mime (Sp. lenguaje)
E.  (specialized vocabulary) ‘the special vocabulary and usages of a scientific, professional, or other group’ (COED), lawyer’s language, teenager’s language (Sp. lenguaje)
F.   (animal language) ‘the manner or means of communication between living creatures other than humans’: the language of dolphins (Sp. lenguaje)
G.  (computer language) ‘a system of symbols and rules that is used to operate a computer’, e.g. a programming language (e.g. Basic) (Sp. lenguaje)

As we can see, the Spanish word lenguaje is used for all of the senses of the English word language except for B, a sense for which the words lengua or idioma are used. That is, the word lenguaje can be used to refer to the human capacity for language, to animal systems of communication, to computer languages, as well as to refer to language styles and jargons. The following collocations in which the word lenguaje is used gives us an idea of the senses in which this word is used in Spanish:
  • lenguaje claro/corriente ‘plain language’
  • lenguaje sencillo ‘simple language’
  • lenguaje burocrático ‘bureaucratic language, bureaucratese’
  • lenguaje colloquial ‘colloquial language, slang’
  • lenguaje corporal ‘body language’
  • lenguaje culto ‘formal, learned language’
  • lenguaje de la calle ‘street talk, slang’
  • lenguaje de programación ‘programming language’
  • lenguaje de signos ‘sign language’
  • lenguaje formal ‘formal language’
  • lenguaje grosero ‘foul language’
  • lenguaje infantil ‘baby talk’
  • lenguaje ofensivo ‘offensive language’
  • lenguaje periodístico ‘newspaper language, journalese’
  • lenguaje sexista ‘sexist language’
  • lenguaje soez ‘foul/crude language’
  • lenguaje técnico ‘technical language, jargon’
  • lenguaje técnico informático ‘computerese’
  • lenguaje vulgar ‘vulgar/adult language’
  • trastorno del lenguaje ‘language disorder’
As you can see, the word lenguaje is used in Spanish when referring to specific types or uses of language, but to refer to specific human tongues, like Spanish or English, the word lengua or its synonym idioma is used instead (for the difference between these two words, see §18.1.3 below).

The Spanish word lenguaje is also used in a technical sense that is central to the field of modern linguistics. This is the very sense A that the word language has in English in the description in the preceding section, namely ‘the human capacity or faculty to communicate through human languages’. We can see an example of this use of the word lenguaje in the last of the expressions above, namely trastorno del lenguaje ‘language disorder’.

In English linguistics, we use the same word, language, for the faculty as for the many different possible instantiations of the faculty. In Spanish, on the other, we use the word lenguaje for the former and lengua for the latter. This distinction is most likely calqued from the distinction that is made in the French language, which also distinguishes between the words langue [ˈlɑ̃ɡ] and langage [lɑ̃.ˈɡaʒ]. As we saw, earlier, Eng. language comes from Old French langage, but the meanings of these two words is not the same today since French makes the same distinction between langue and langage that Spanish makes.

Go to part 2



[1] Other cognates of Eng. language in other Romance languages include: Portuguese linguagem, Italian linguaggio

[2] That is why, for instance, the Spanish movie La lengua de las mariposas could not be translated as The Butterflies’ Language, but rather only as The Butterflies’ Tongue. That is because the word lengua cannot refer in Spanish to animal means of communication, but only to specific human ones, or else to the organ inside the mouth.

[3] Two possible dictionary definitions of this sense are: (1) ‘the use by humans of a system of sounds and words to communicate’ (OALD), and (2) ‘communication of thoughts and feelings [by humans?] through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols’ (AHD)

Greek letters in the names of fraternities and honor societies

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 52, "The names of fraternities and honor societies", of Part II of the open-source textbook...