Eng. company & Sp. compañía
Eng. company and Sp. compañía are cognates and they are obviously related to the nouns Eng. companion and Sp. compañero, which are not exact cognates, but paronyms. Eng. company and Sp. compañía appear to derive from Late Latin *companĭa, though this word is not attested. This word would have been derived from the same stem compan‑ as companion, but with the derivational ending ‑ĭ‑a used in Classical Latin to form abstract nouns, typically but not exclusively, from adjective stems, words like absentia ‘absence’ (Sp. ausencia), audacia ‘audacity’ (Sp. audacia), and scientia ‘science’ (Sp. ciencia). This derivational suffix came primarily from Ancient Greek -ία (-ía) and -εια (-eia), though Latin ‑ĭ‑a was also the feminine form of ‑ĭ‑us, a derivational suffix that typically formed adjectives from nouns. This would indicate that the word originally meant something like ‘companionship’, a meaning that these words still have. Another possibility is that the ancestor of Eng. company and Sp. compañía was derived from the plural of companĭum, which was also companĭa (both in the nominative and the accusative).
One thing we know is that if the source of these words was Late Latin companĭa, the resulting word in Old Spanish would have been compaña, for that is how regular changes worked in patrimonial words. In other words, Lat. nĭ always became ñ in Old Spanish before a vowel (cf. Part I, Chapter 10, §10.4.6.4). And that is exactly what we find in Old Spanish. The word compaña is found in Old Spanish and it is used as late as in Cervantes’ El Quijote (1605, 1615) as an alternative to compañía, though compaña is now obsolete as a regular word, other than in some expressions in some dialects. The current word compañía is thus a semi-learned word (semicultismo), that is a refashioning of patrimonial (cultismo) compaña to make it look more like the original Latin word.
That the original word had the Latin ‑ia ending is obvious in the French version (cognate) of this word, which ends in ‑ie in the spelling, which is what happened to that Latin suffix in this language. The word is attested in Old French, in the 11th century, with various spellings, from cumpainie to compaignie. The word in Modern French is compagnie, pronounced [kɔ̃.pa.ˈɲi]. This French word was borrowed by English from Old French (Anglo-Norman), where it is attested with many different spellings, resulting in Modern English company [ˈkʰʌm.pə.ni].
Notice that the English reflex of the Latin ‑ia ending is traditionally spelled ‑y, as in infancy and pharmacy (cf. Sp. infancia and farmacia). As we said earlier, the ultimate origin of the noun-forming suffix ‑ia in Latin can be either Latin or Greek. It typically comes from either -i- or -ī- ‘formatives’ (part of a word), which would have been ‑ei‑ in Greek, plus the inflectional suffix -a. Latin ‑ia, with short ĭ, is equivalent of Ancient Greek -ία (‑ia). Latin ‑īa, with long ī, is equivalent of Greek -εια (‑eia). The Latin suffix ‑ia can also come from the feminine form of -ius, a singular or neuter plural noun or adjective ending.
In Spanish, the Latin suffix ‑ia (actually either ‑ia, or ‑īa) may turn up as either the two-syllable suffix ‑ía ([ˈi.a], with hiatus), as in the word librería ‘bookstore’, or else as the one-syllable suffix ‑ia ([i̯a], with diphthong), as in the wod farmacia ‘pharmacy’ in Spanish. The latter is mostly found in learned and New Latin words. (For more on these endings, see Part I, Chapter 8, §18.104.22.168.)
In English the result of the Latin suffix ‑ia is always ‑y, as in library and pharmacy, if it comes from French ‑ie, which is pronounced [i] in modern French, just like in English. Occasionally, this Latin suffix result in English words that end in ‑ia instead. These are learned words that come directly from Latin or that were created in New Latin from the Latin suffix. The Latin version ‑ia of the suffix—as opposed to the one found in words that came through French, namely ‑y—is found in words that come from New Latin words, such as names for diseases (Sp. & Eng. malaria, Sp. & Eng. anemia, Sp. neumonía ~ Eng. pneumonia, Sp. afasia ~ Eng. aphasia, Sp. & Eng. anorexia), botanical genera and zoological classes in New Latin scientific terminology (Sp. poinsetia ~ Eng. poinsettia, Eng. reptilia), collective names (Eng. regalia and memorabilia), and a few others (Sp. milicia ~ Eng. militia).
At some point, Spanish refashioned the word compaña, from Vulgar Latin compania, to look more like the original Latin word, which is why Spanish has the word compañía [kom.pa.ˈɲi.a], which has replaced the patrimonial compaña [kom.ˈpa.ɲa]. The semi-learned Sp. compañía is not that recent either. It is found already in the 13th century (Gonzalo de Berceo).
The Spanish word compañía and the English word company are very close friends, i.e. they are cognates that have very close meanings. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COED) gives us three major senses for the word company, all of which are found in the Spanish word compañía as well:
1. ‘A commercial business’, as in oil company or car company (synonym: firm) [cf. Sp. compañía petrolífera, compañía automovilística]
2. ‘The fact or condition of being with another or others’, as in She is excellent company or I am expecting company (synonym: companionship [kəm.ˈpʰæ.njən.ʃɪp], an abstract noun derived, in English, with the Germanic suffix ‑ship) [cf. Sp. Ella es excelente compañía, Vamos a tener compañía]
3. ‘A group of people gathered together’, from ‘a body of soldiers’ (in the army, a company is a group within a battalion composed of several platoons) [cf. Sp. compañía militar] to ‘a group of actors, singers, or dancers who perform together’, as in a theater company [cf. Sp. compañía de teatro]
We should note that in British English, since one has a synonym that is sometimes preferred, namely the word firm, which presumably is a loanword from German, which itself borrowed it from Italian, Spanish or Portuguese firma ‘signature’, a noun derived from the Latin verb firmāre ‘to confirm’ and, in Late Latin, ‘to ratify by one’s signature’ (cf. Eng. affirm ~ Sp. afirmar).
The following are some common English and Spanish collocations that exemplify the semantic equivalence of the two cognate words, Eng. company and Sp. compañía. Do note that the other terms of these expressions are not always cognates, though sometimes they are.
- en compañía de amigos: in the company of friends
- hacerle compañía a alguien: to keep somebody company
- compañía de seguros: insurance company
- en buena compañía: in good company
- malas compañías: bad company
- compañía de teatro: theater company
- compañía de teléfonos: (tele)phone company
- compañía eléctrica: power company
- compañía naviera: shipping company
- compañía privada: private company
- compañía (suministradora) de agua: water company (also: water authority or water board)
- compañía de fusileros: rifle company
- compañía area: airline
- compañía de baile: dance troupe
- Compañía de Jesús: Society of Jesus (the official names of the Jesuits)
- beber en compañía: to drink socially
- servicio de compañía: escort service
- sin compañía: unaccompanied
- to part company (with somebody): separarse (de alguien); diferir (de alguien)
- to expect company: esperar visita
- to have company: tener visita
- to be good company: ser sociable/agradable, etc.
- to be bad company: no ser sociable/agradable, etc.
- a public limited company (UK, plc; US: publicly traded company): sociedad anónima
- a trading company: una sociedad mercantil
- company law: derecho corporativo or derecho de sociedades
- company policy: política de la empresa
- company town: (there is no Spanish term; it can be described as ciudad que depende de la actividad económica de una sola empresa (OSD)