Friday, June 29, 2018

Sp. llamar / clamar & Eng. claim: the root CLAM, Part 2

[This entry comes from Chapter 15, "Llamar/clamar & claim: the root CLAM- and related words", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 2. Go to Part 1

Sp. llamar vs. Eng. to call

As usual, dictionaries differ as to how many meanings or senses they assign to the words llamar and call. According to Spanish dictionaries, llamar has between twelve and fourteen senses, some intransitive, some transitive, and some reflexive. The larger English dictionaries assign anywhere from 20 to 27 senses to call, though some of these are only idiomatic uses, in idiomatic phrases. As for bilingual Spanish-English dictionaries, the Oxford (OSD) has eleven senses for llamar, but the Vox has only six senses. To start our comparison of these two words, let us list the main senses of the verb to call:

Sense (paraphrase)
give a name (to name)
We called him Snoopy
use a name (to address)
We call him Snoop for short
describe (typically with offensive epithets)
She called me stupid
Call me tomorrow
I wouldn’t call that a car
shout/cry (to attract attention)
They were calling her name
summon (ask to come; with to, over, for)
She was calling for her mother
visit (rare in NAm Eng.)
The plumber called this morning
to make typical bird/animal cry
 The birds were calling
announce an event
They called a meeting/strike for tomorrow
make a choice in games
She called heads

Sp. llamar shares most and the main ones of these meanings, namely it shares the first seven of the eleven senses of Eng. call. In particular, it shares the main senses of the verb to call, such as the related ‘naming’ and ‘addressing’ senses, the ‘summoning’ sense, and the ‘telephone’ sense.
Both Eng. call and Sp. llamar can refer to the act of giving someone a name (the act of naming), as in the sentences Eng. They called him Johnny and Sp. Lo llamaron Juanito, and to the process of using a particular name for someone (the address sense), as in Eng. They call him Johnny and Sp. Lo llaman Juanito. The ‘naming’ sense is synonymous with to name in English, but there is no synonymous verb for this sense of llamar in Spanish, although there is a phrasal alternative, however, namely the expression poner de nombre, as in ¿Qué le van a poner de nombre al niño? ‘What are you going to call/name the child?’ The ‘naming’ sense of Eng. call was acquired in the mid-13th century and was perhaps a semantic borrowing from the equivalent French word.

By the way, the verb to name has a second sense, namely ‘to give someone a title’, as in They named her president. This sense is synonymous with appoint and it translates into Spanish with the verb nombrar, cf. La nombraron presidente, and in neither language can the relevant verb be substituted with llamar or to call. Note that Spanish nombrar cannot be used to translate the other sense of to name, namely ‘to give someone or something a name’. The other major sense of Sp. nombrar is ‘to mention’, as in No nombres su nombre delante mío ‘Don’t mention her name in my presence’ (synonym: mencionar). Sp. nombrar comes from Lat. nomĭnāre, which is derived from the Latin noun nōmen, the source of Sp. nombre ‘name’.[1] Thus, it is quite obvious that Eng. nominate is a cognate of Sp. nombrar. In addition, Spanish has a learned version of this verb, namely nominar ‘to nominate’.

Related to the ‘naming sense’, in both of its varieties, there is another use of the verbs call and llamar, namely the ‘negatively describe’ sense, which is common to both verbs. In both cases, the verb may be followed by either a noun or an adjective, e.g.

She called me a gorilla (noun)      
Me llamó gorila (noun)
She called me stupid (adj.)
Me llamó estúpido (adj.).
She called me an idiot (noun)
Me llamó idiota (noun or adj.)[2]

Note that when followed by a noun, a singular noun must be preceded by the indefinite article. This contrasts with Spanish, where no indefinite article may be used. (The definite article must be used in both languages when the noun phrase contains a superlative, though, as in She called him the smartest person in the room.)

Even when these two verbs share a sense, it doesn’t mean that the two verbs are used the same way. This is perhaps most clear with the ‘naming’ sense of the Spanish verb llamar, a verb that can be used reflexively, as llamarse, which has strictly the ‘naming’ sense and which is the most common way or to indicate what something or someone is called and for self-identification. Remember that in Spanish, conjugating a verb as reflexive can be used to turn an inherently transitive verb into an intransitive verb.

Spanish speakers use reflexive llamarse to identify anything that has a name (nombre), either a proper noun (nombre propio) or a common noun (nombre común).[3] Thus, it is most commonly used in introductions, e.g. Me llamo Jon, which is equivalent to My name is Jon in English. (In other words, in Spanish one uses the former where in English one would use the latter.) The literal (reflexive) meaning of Me llamo Jon is ‘I call myself Jon’. English-speaking learners of Spanish typically learn this usage on the first day of classes and invariably at first, they think that me llamo means ‘my name’. Many such learners continue to think this for years on end, which is why they typically insert a verb in the sentence and say things like Me llamo es Michael. In other words, the student often reinterprets the structure of the sentence as that of its English equivalent:

Correct analysis
Incorrect analysis

The making of this erroneous parsing early on can produce very long-lasting confusion on students. Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid the learning of this construction on the first day of classes, since introductions is the first topic that is ever broached in language classes.

It is possible in Spanish to use a construction that calques the English construction My name is X word-for-word, as in Mi nombre es X ‘lit. My name is X’. That, however, is not the way Spanish speakers typically introduce themselves. Among other things, it sounds more formal and impersonal. It is also how someone might introduce herself when speaking to a room full of people before making a speech, not how one would introduce oneself socially.

Another way to introduce oneself in both languages involves the use of the copula verb, as in Eng. I’m X and Sp. Soy X. This, however, is not as common a way to introduce yourself since this construction is most commonly used to identify someone, not to introduce them, as in Eng. I’m your teacher and Sp. Soy su profesor.

Note that, although literally the transitive use refers to self-appellation (‘to call oneself’), the reflexive verb llamarse is used for things that do not have the ability to call themselves anything, such as Mi perra se llama Neli ‘My dog’s name is Neli’. Moreover, this is not only used with proper nouns, but also with common nouns, as in Esto se llama tiza ‘This is called chalk’. Note that this use of llamarse is indeed translated by call in English. In other words, this reflexive construction can be equivalent to a passive construction in English (to be called). Curiously, Sp. llamar is never used in the passive voice. In other words, one cannot say the literal equivalent of What is she/it called?, which would be *¿Cómo es llamado? Rather, one must use the reflexive form ¿Cómo se llama? (also known as reflexive passive) or an active sentence with an indefinite subject ¿Cómo lo/la llaman? The equivalent of I am called Jon in Spanish would me Me llaman Jon, lit. ‘They call me Jon’, not Me llamo Jon.[4]

The ‘telephone’ or ‘to call on the phone’ sense of Eng. call is also shared by Sp. llamar. This is a sense that is only as old as the telephone, which was first patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. The OED shows it as sense 25 for the verb to call: ‘To contact or attempt to contact (a person, organization, building, etc.) by telephone; to connect with (a number) in this way; to phone. Also: to contact or attempt to contact (a person) by radio’ (OED). The first sample use of this verb with this sense in the OED is from 1879. The DLE gives this as the second sense for the verb llamar, of thirteen senses total.

There is an intransitive use of Sp. llamar, which does not always translate as to call. An example of such a use is Alguien llama (a la puerta), which means something like ‘Someone’s at the door’ (for more options, see below). The DLE defines this sense as ‘to make a sound at a door by knocking on it or activating a sound device so that someone opens it’.[5] Notice that the second type of action in this definition would indeed be translated into English as to call, but not the former. For that, English would use something like Someone’s at the door or Someone’s knocking/ringing at the door. This is an intransitive sense, so it cannot have a direct object. The door or the bell can be the object of a preposition, as in llamar a la puerta ‘to know on the door’ or llamar al timbre ‘to ring the bell’.

Both Eng. call and Sp. llamar have additional, more minor senses.  Thus, for instance, Eng. to call that means something like ‘to visit, to go see someone’, though this sense is somewhat archaic in North America. (For the noun call, this ‘visit’ sense is more common, as we shall see below.) This meaning does not translate as llamar ever. In addition, we find a number of idiomatic uses for each of these verbs, especially in the case of English, since the verb to call can be used idiomatically with direct objects or with adverbials, forming ‘phrasal verbs’ (cf. Part I, §4.12.2). The following are the main collocations and idioms formed with the verb to call, with their Spanish equivalents, some of which use llamar:

Idioms with to call
Spanish equivalent
to be called away
ausentarse por una llamada, etc.
to call a foul
[in soccer] pitar falta
to call a meeting
convocar una reunión
to call a strike
convocar una huelga
to call a truce
declarar una tregua
to call around
llamar a múltiples personas/sitios, etc.
to call attention to
hacer ver, etc.
to call back
devolver la llamada, volver a llamar
to call collect
llamar a cobro revertido/ (Chile, Méx.) por cobrar
to call for
requerir, exigir, ser necesario
to call forth
provocar, inspirar, dar lugar a, etc.
to call home
llamar a casa
to call in
retirar de circulación, etc.
to call in on somebody
ir a ver a alguien
to call in sick
llamar para excusarse por enfermedad
to call into play
entrar en juego, recurrir a, etc.
to call into question
poner en cuestión/duda/entredicho
to call it a day
dar el trabajo del día por terminado, etc.
to call it quits
dar por terminado, etc.
to call off
suspender, cancelar, desconvocar
to call on
pasar a visitar
to call oneself X
considerarse X
to call out
to call someone names
insultar a alguien, poner verde a alguien, etc.
to call someone’s bluff
aceptar un reto, dejar/poner en evidencia
to call something into question
poner algo en duda
to call something to mind
traer algo a la memoria
to call (the) roll
pasar lista
to call the shots
mandar, llevar la voz cantante, etc.
to call to mind
hacer recordar/pensar en
to call together
reunir, convocar, congregar
to call up
traer a la memoria, evocar, hacer llegar, etc.
to call upon
invitar, apelar a, etc.
to name-call

There are also a few collocations and idioms formed with the Spanish verb llamar, though there are fewer of them. These are some of the main ones, alongside their English equivalents:

Idioms with llamar
English equivalent
llamar a filas
to draft
llamar a la puerta
to knock at the door
llamar al pan pan y al vino vino
to call a spade a spade
llamar al timbre
to ring the bell
llamarle la atención a alguien
to admonish someone
llamar las cosas por su nombre
to call a spade a spade
no meterse donde no lo llaman
to mind one’s own business
llamar la atención
to grab attention
no llamar la atención
to keep a low profile, be inconspicuous

The derived nouns Sp. llamada and Eng. call

So far we have been discussing the verbs llamar and to call. Let us look now at the two nouns derived from these verbs, namely llamada and call, respectively. Spanish llamada ‘call’ is a noun referring to the action of calling. It is derived from the feminine of the past participle of the verb llamar, following a common pattern to derived nouns from verbs in Spanish.[6]

In general, these two nouns, Eng. call and Sp. llamada, are ‘close friends’, since they often translate each other, but there are times where one does not, so that for instance some of the senses of the noun call are not translated by llamada and vice versa. The following are the main senses of the noun call with their Spanish equivalent translations:

Sense of call

cry/shout of person
llamada, grito, Amér. llamado

cry of animal

cry of bird

cry of horn, bugle

alert, summons

llamamiento, llamada, llamado

on phone


demanda (e.g. calls on someone’s time)

decisión (cf. a hard call to make; in sports)

Note that in some parts of Spanish America, the masculine noun llamado, derived from the masculine form of the past participle of llamar, is used in some contexts instead of llamada as equivalent to the first sense of the noun call in English. Perhaps in all dialects, llamado, along with the derived noun llamamiento can be used for namely the ‘appeal’ sense of the noun call. Sp. llamamiento is derived from the verb by the addition of the noun suffix ‑miento, and it means ‘a call, an appeal, a convocation’. The suffix ‑miento derives nouns from verbs and is equivalent to Eng. ‑ment. Its allomorph ‑amiento is added to first conjugation verbs, as in lanzamiento ‘throwing, launching, etc.’, from lanzar ‘to throw, launch, etc.’ and adelantamiento ‘passing maneuver’ from adelantar ‘to pass (a vehicle), overtake, etc.’. (The allomorph ‑imiento is added to verbs of the other conjugations, as in movimiento ‘movement’ from mover ‘to move’.)

There are also a significant number of idiomatic expressions and collocations made with the noun call, which sometimes are rendered into Spanish with the noun llamada, but not always, as we can see below:

Idioms with the noun call
Spanish equivalent
the call of duty
la llamada del deber
to be on call
estar de guardia/servicio
call girl
prostituta, chica de compañía
battle call
llamada de combate
the call of duty
la obligación, del deber
a call of nature
ganas de orinar/defecar/etc.
answer a call of nature
hacer sus necesidades, etc.
bugle call
toque de clarín
call for nominations
convocatoria de presentación de candidaturas
call for papers
convocatoria de presentación de artículos/ponencias
to have close call
salvarse/librarse por los pelos/de milagro, etc.
distress call
llamada de socorro/auxilio
emergency call
llamada de emergencia
to have a close call
escapar/salvarse/librarse por los pelos/de milagro
house call
visita a domicilio
sales call
visita de representante
to pay a call on someone
hacer una visita a alguien
port of call
(puerto de) escala
roll call
pasar lista
to give somebody a call
llamar a alguien
incoming call
llamada telefónica entrante
to take a call
responder a una llamada (telefónica)
telephone call
llamada telefónica
to return a call
devolver una llamada
to give someone a call
hacerle una llamada a alguien
international call
conferencia, conferencia/llamada internacional
collect call
llamada a cobro revertido
crank call
llamada telefónica obscena/de broma
call center
servicio (telefónico) de atención al cliente

Go to Part 3

[1] Lat. nōmen is the same in the nominative and accusative. The genitive form is nōmĭnis, which reveals this word’s original or regular root: nōmĭn‑, which is the one from which the verb nomĭnāre is derived. Sp. nombre is most likely derived from a Vulgar Latin accusative wordform nomine, though not everybody agrees on this.

[2] Spanish idiota can be either a noun or an adjective, whereas Eng. idiot can only be a noun. Thus, in Spanish, one can say Eres idiota, where idiota is used as an adjective, or Eres un idiota, where idiota is used as a noun. With the copula verb ser, the noun may be preceded by the indefinite article un, though not when the name refers to a person's normal profession or occupation, e.g. Eres panadero 'You are a baker', unless the noun is qualified somehow, e.g. Eres un panadero excelente 'You're an excellent baker'.

[3] Spanish nombre can translate as name and as noun. Note that name and noun are cognate words. The former is a patrimonial English word and the latter a loanword from Anglo-French noun ‘name, noun’, which is derived from Lat. nomen. Note also that nombre is only used with the ‘noun’ meaning in phrases such as nombre propio and nombre común. In grammar terminology, the most common way to translate noun is as sustantivo. This noun comes from Late Latin substantīvus ‘self-existent, substantive, with substance’. The reason for calling these words nouns is that in the Latin grammatical tradition a noun was called nomen substantivum ‘self-existing name’, which translates into Spanish literally as nombre sustantivo. English derived the word noun from the first part of this phrase, whereas in the Spanish gramatical tradition, the word for noun, sustantivo, was taken from the second part.

[4] The classical passive sentence with the copula verb (Eng. be, Sp. ser) and the past participle of the verb (Eng. called, Sp. llamado/a) is much less common in Spanish than in English. This is related, no doubt, to the fact that Spanish can use reflexive construction as the functional equivalent of the English passive. Also, remember that the traditional passive voice in Spanish is very rarely used in speech, since it is restricted mostly to writing.

[5] The original definition in Spanish is ‘Hacer una señal sonora en una puerta, golpeándola o accionando un instrumento sonoro, para que alguien la abra’ (DLE).

[6] Other examples are entrada ‘entrance’, from the feminine form of the past participle of entrar ‘to enter’; salida ‘exit’, from salir ‘to go out, exit’; llegada ‘arrival’, from llegar ‘to arrive’; and comida ‘food, meal’, from comer ‘to eat’; cf. Part I, §

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