Friday, August 24, 2018

Family relations, Part 3b: Words for sons and daughters (children)

[This entry comes from Chapter 7, "Words for family relations", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Eng. child, Sp. niño and other words for offspring

As we saw earlier, unlike Latin, Old English kept the Proto-Indo-European words for ‘son’ and ‘daughter’, which is why these words are not cognates of the Spanish words with the same meaning. In addition, English also uses two other words to refer to someone’s offspring, namely child and kid. Both of these words can be equivalent to Spanish niño ‘boy, (male) child’, fem. niña ‘girl, (female) child’. In English, however, we often use child and kid, and their plural forms children and kids, to refer to someone’s offspring, in a way that its Spanish equivalents niño and niña typically are not. Thus, Eng. my children or my kids translates into Spanish primarily as mis hijos, rarely as mis niños. A teacher might use the phrase mis niños, for instance, but parents are much less likely to refer to their children that way.

The English word child is a patrimonial one. In Old English, ċild [ˈʧild] meant ‘fetus, infant, unborn or newly born person’. It ultimately comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *gelt‑ or *ǵelt‑ ‘womb’. That explains expressions such as to be with child ‘to be pregnant’. Also, in Old English the word for ‘womb’ was cildhama, lit. ‘child-home’.

The word kid, on the other hand, is a loanword from Old Norse. Originally it meant (and still means) ‘young of a goat’, but it became a slang word for ‘child’ in the late 16th century, and it was fully established with that meaning by the mid-19th century. The verb to kid, meaning ‘to tease playfully’, is derived from the noun kid, through the sense ‘to treat as a child, make a kid of’. It also dates from the mid-19th century.

By the way, the patrimonial Spanish word niño [ˈni.ɲo] seems to come from a Vulgar Latin word *nīnnus which was probably based on imitation of child language. There are a few words derived from this one. The main ones are niñera ‘nanny, nursemaid’ (there is no equivalent niñero, since this does not seem to have ever been a male occupation) and niñería ‘a trifle; childish behavior’.

In English, the phase El Niño refers to ‘a warming of the ocean surface off the western coast of South America that occurs every 4 to 12 years when upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water does not occur. It causes die-offs of plankton and fish and affects Pacific jet stream winds, altering storm tracks and creating unusual weather patterns in various parts of the world’ (AHD). This climatic phenomenon is called El Niño because it occurs around Christmas time, when Christians celebrate Christ’s birth. That is because, in Spanish, (el) Niño Jesús means ‘Baby Jesus’ or ‘Christ child’. This climatic condition has a counterpart that is called La Niña in English and Spanish, a term based on El Niño. It refers to the opposite climatic phenomenon, namely ‘a cooling of the ocean surface off the western coast of South America, occurring periodically every 4 to 12 years and affecting Pacific and other weather patterns’ (AHD).


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