Friday, August 24, 2018

Family relations, Part 4c: Word for brothers and sisters

[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.]

Words derived from Lat. soror

The Latin word for ‘sister’ was sŏror, sŏsor in Early Latin. Its accusative singular wordform was sŏrōrem and the regular stem was sŏrōr‑. There are a few modern reflexes from this word in English and Spanish, though fewer than the words derived from the Latin word for ‘brother’. We see a patrimonial descendant in the French word for ‘sister’, namely sœur [ˈsœʀ].

In Spanish, however, the Latin word for ‘sister’ ended up being fully replaced by the word hermana, a shortening of the Latin phrase sŏror germana ‘true/full sister’, just like the word for ‘brother’, hermano, came from the phrase frater germanus. This change, however, was not complete until sometime in the Old Spanish period and we find the patrimonial word seror for ‘sister’ occasionally in Old Spanish writings. The fact that hermana ‘sister’ was fully adopted well after hermano became the normal word for ‘brother’ suggests that the latter word may have influenced the former.

Another reflex of Lat. soror in Spanish is the title sor, used for Catholic nuns next to their (first) names, e.g. Sor María ‘Sister María’. The male equivalent of this, as used with friars and monks, is fray in Spanish, short for fraile, e.g. Fray Francisco ‘Brother Francisco’ (see above). Corominas thinks that this sor is derived from Old Catalan sor, a cognate of French soeur, because of the form of the word sor and because the word sor survived as the word for ‘sister’ in Catalan well into the Middle Ages, only to be replaced in the end by the word germana, a cognate of Sp. hermana (sor is attested in Catalan as late as the 15th century).[1]

English has a single word that contains the root of Lat. soror, namely sorority. This noun is a learned borrowing and adaptation of Medieval Latin sorōritās ‘sisterhood’ (accusative case sorōritātem), the feminine equivalent of frāternitās ‘brotherhood’ (see above). English borrowed this word from Medieval Latin in the 16th century with the meaning ‘a society of women, body of women united for some purpose’. Nowadays in the United States, sorority is used as a counterpart of fraternity at colleges and universities, starting in the 19th century. In other words, its meaning is ‘a chiefly social organization of women students at a college or university, usually designated by Greek letters’ (AHD). Such groups of female college students are associated with a sorority house. The Spanish translation of the term sorority would be hermandad de mujeres, for the original meaning of ‘sisterhood’, and something like club femenino de estudiantes for the modern one in the US. Interestingly, the word soror is used among sorority members in the US, to refer colloquially to fellow members of one's sorority, as an alternative to the expression sorority sister.

If Spanish had borrowed Lat. sorōritās, it would have borrowed it as sororidad, replacing the ‑tās/‑tātem ending as ‑dad, as usual. Although this word does not appear in most Spanish dictionaries, it does appear in the Diccionario de americanismos of the Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española, ASALE (2010), which says that it is used in Puerto Rico and that it is a loanword (or calque) from English sorority. Its definition is ‘an association of friendship and reciprocity among women who share an ideal and work to achieve a common goal’.[2] Of course, this is not the actual meaning of Eng. sorority, so although the word sorority may have served as the model for this loanword, its equivalent in English is actually sisterhood, a native English derived word, equivalent in composition to sorority, but with different meaning and usage.

Note that Spanish could not have created a native word equivalent to Eng. sisterhood, since the words for brother and sister share the stem herman‑ and hermandad (herman-dad) was already taken for the male meaning, though at least in theory, it is gender neutral.

Finally, we should mention that Lat. soror is a cognate of the patrimonial English word sister. They both come from Proto-Indo-European *swésōr through patrimonial descent in their respective languages. Actually, Eng. sister may derive from a Scandinavian (Old Norse) systir cognate of Old English sweostor or swuster, in which case it would be a loanword (cf. Swedish syster, Danish søster, Norwegian søster or syster). At any rate, since English and Scandinavian are Germanic languages, they all descend from the same Proto-Germanic stem *swestēr‑ a descendant of PIE *swésōr.

Proto-Indo-European swésōr
Eng. sister
Lat. soror
Gk. ἔορ (éor)

Proto-Indo-European *swésōr survived in many other Indo-European languages besides the ones we have seen. We find it in the ancient languages Ancient Greek ἔορ (éor),[3] and Sanskrit स्वसृ (svásṛ). We also find descendants in modern languages such as Armenian քույր (kʿuyr), Russian сестра́ (sestrá), and Farsi (Persian) خواهر (xâhar), as well as Albanian vajzë, which means ‘girl’.


[1] Corominas also argues that patrimonial words for ‘brother’ and ‘sister’, as well as for ‘father’ and ‘mother’, in Catalan, French, and Occitan, do not seem to follow the normal pattern by which patrimonial nouns are derived from the accusative form of the Latin word. Words like Fr. sœur and OldCat. sor, as well as Cat. pare ‘father’ and mare ‘mother’, seem to have descended from the nominative case wordform of the relevant Latin words, not the accusative one, as was the norm.

[2] The original says: sororidad. (Del ingl. sorority). ‘f. PR. Agrupación que se forma por la amistad y reciprocidad entre mujeres que comparten el mismo ideal y trabajan por alcanzar un mismo objetivo.’

[3] The word for ‘sister’ in Modern Greek is αδελφή (adelfí), which descends from an alternative word for sister in Ancient Greek, namely δελφή (adelphḗ), cf. the word for ‘brother’ in Modern Greek mentioned earlier.

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