Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Family Relations, Part 1b: Main words for Mother and Father

[This entry comes from the second section of chapter 7, "Words for family relations", of Part II of the book Spanish-English Cognates.]

Adjectives and nouns derived from the Latin words for mother and father

The Classical Latin adjectives for the nouns māter and pāter were māternus and pāternus, meaning ‘of or relating to a mother’ and ‘of or relating to a father’, respectively (the feminine nominative forms were māterna and pāterna, respectively). The origin of the derivational suffix involved here is not clear. There are only a handful of Latin adjectives that contain this ‑rn‑(us/a) ending in addition to these two.[1]

The Latin adjectives māternus and pāternus have given us the Spanish learned words (cultismos) materno and paterno (fem. materna and paterna) and in amor materno ‘mother’s love’ or ‘motherly love’ and casa paterna ‘father’s house’. These two adjectives are partially equivalent to Eng. maternal and paternal, as we shall see below.

The adjectives māternus and pāternus were modified in Late Latin by the addition of the third declension adjectival suffix ‑āl‑(is), resulting in the words māternālis ‘of or relating to a mother’ and pāternālis ‘of or relating to a father’. These words were used as synonyms of classical Latin māternus and pāternus. These two adjectives containing the suffix ‑āl‑ were borrowed by both English and Spanish more than 500 years ago. In English, maternal [mə.ˈtʰɜɹ.nəl] is the main adjective for the noun mother and paternal [pə.ˈtʰɜɹ.nəl] for father. Each competes with the relevant noun as modifiers. Eng. maternal has the following three major meanings:

1.   ‘relating to a mother’, as in maternal mortality
2.   ‘associated with or typical of a mother’, as in maternal instinct, synonymous with motherly, as in maternal love
3.   ‘related through the mother's side of the family’, as in maternal grandmother.

Likewise, the English adjective paternal has the same three analogous meanings: ‘relating to the father’, ‘associated with or typical of a father’, and ‘related through the father’s side of the family’.

We cannot expect Spanish maternal and paternal to have all the same meanings as their English cognates if for no other reason that these two Spanish adjectives have to compete with the adjectives materno and paterno that we saw earlier, which have no English cognates. Also, remember that English has the native adjectives motherly and fatherly that compete with the Latinate pair of adjectives.

English adjectives
Spanish adjectives
maternal, motherly
materno/a, maternal
paternal, fatherly
paterno/a, paternal

In the case of Sp. maternal, we find that primarily has the sense (2) above of Eng. maternal, i.e. the ‘motherly’ sense or, in other words, it has to do with the expected attitude or feeling of a mother towards her child. The same thing is true of Spanish paternal, which means ‘typical of a father’ or ‘fatherlike’, as in una actitud paternal, un consejo paternal. The other senses of Eng. paternal and maternal are expressed by the adjective paterno/a and materno/a. Since the English adjectives fatherly and motherly and synonyms of sense (2) of Eng. paternal and maternal, we find that they also translate into Spanish as paternal and maternal, respectively.

From the Latin adjectives māternus and pāternus, abstract nouns were derived in Medieval Latin by means of the suffix ‑tāt‑ (nominative ‑tās, genitive: ‑tāt-is): māternitās and pāternitās (mātern‑i‑tās, pātern‑i‑tās). These words are the source of Eng. maternity and paternity and their Spanish cognates maternidad and paternidad. English borrowed these words through French, which borrowed them from Latin first.

Eng. paternity [pə.ˈtʰɜɹ.nə.ɾi] is first attested in 12th century in religious contexts with meanings that are now obsolete and it has come to be used today mostly in legal contexts with the meaning ‘the fact of being the father of a particular child, or the question of who the child’s father is’ (DOCE). This word’s Spanish cognate, paternidad, is first attested in the 15th century and it can have the same meaning at its English cognate. This word is used in both languages with the meaning just shown in phrases such as Eng. paternity suit and Sp. demanda de paternidad or litigio por paternidad; Eng. paternity test and Sp. prueba de paternidad; and Eng. paternity leave and Sp. baja por paternidad or permiso de paternidad.

Eng. maternity [mə.ˈtʰɜɹ.nə.ɾi] is a loanword from Middle Fr. maternité and it is first attested in 1475 (French had borrowed the word from Latin in the 12th century). This word could be the mother’s counterpart of Eng. paternity, but since who a child’s mother is is rarely in question, it does not really get used that way (though it can, by analogy with paternity). The word maternity can be used as a noun with the meaning ‘the state of being a mother’ (AHD), but the noun motherhood is much more common to express that meaning (see below). It can also be used as a noun with the sense of ‘the feelings or characteristics associated with being a mother’ (AHD), but motherliness is probably more commonly used to express this rare meaning. Actually, Eng. maternity is used primarily as a modifier in compounds with the meaning ‘relating to or effective during pregnancy, childbirth, or the first months of motherhood’ (AHD), as in maternity dress (Sp. vestido premamá, vestido de embarazada), maternity leave (Sp. baja/permiso por maternidad), or maternity hospital/ward (Sp. maternidad). Sp. maternidad can be used with some of the same senses as Eng. maternity, even being found in some equivalent made phrases, as we just saw, though not all.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Spanish paternidad and maternidad cannot be fully equivalent to their English cognates paternity and maternity, if for no other reason that in English there are other abstract nouns derived from the words father and mother that compete for related meanings with them, words such as fatherhood and fathership for the former, and motherhood and motherliness for the latter. Spanish, on the other hand, does not have any other nouns and, thus, Spanish maternidad and paternidad are the only options to translate several words in the English language.

English abstract nouns
Spanish abstract nouns
maternity, motherhood, motherliness
paternity, fatherhood, ?fatherliness, ?fathership


[1] The Latin adjectives with the ‑rn‑ ‘suffix’ were the following: aeternus ‘eternal’ (earlier: aeviternus, from aevum ‘eternity; period, etc.’), alternus ‘alternate, etc.’ (from alter ‘other’), dĭurnus ‘daily, of the day’ (from from diūs, old form of diēs ‘day’), frāternus ‘fraternal’ (from frater ‘brother’), hībernus ‘of the winter’ (earlier hiemernus, from hĭems or hiemps ‘winter’), hŏdĭernus ‘of the present’ (from hŏdĭē ‘today’), mŏdernus ‘modern’ (from mŏdo ‘right now’), and vĕternus ‘of great age, old, ancient’ (from adj. vĕtus, gen. vĕturis, ‘old, aged, ancient’).

Two feminine nouns also seem to contain this ‘suffix’: căverna ‘a hollow, cavity, cave, cavern’, seemingly related to the adjective căvus/a ‘hollow, excavated, concave’; and tăberna ‘a hut, shed, booth, stall, shop constructed of boards’, originally traberna, from trabs (gen. trabis) ‘timber, etc.’.

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