Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Inspiration and perspiration, Part 3: The suffixes Eng. -(a)tion ~ Sp. -(a)ción (b)

[This entry comes from Chapter 10, "Inspiration and Perspiration", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

The suffixes Eng. -ation and Sp. -ación

Regarding the exact form of this suffix in English and Spanish words, we find that there are several variants. The most common one is the one that we saw in the words in Table 159, which is ‑ation in English and ‑ación in Spanish. English ‑ation is closer to the original Latin form, since it has a t where Spanish has a c. The reason that Spanish has a c and not a t, like Latin or English, is that in Old Spanish this t in the letter combination tio changed its pronunciation and came to be pronounced the same way that the Latin letter combination cio〉, namely [ˈʦ̪i.o] and an early spelling convention arose by which such a combination of sounds came to always be spelled cio, regardless of whether it was originally written cio or tio in Latin.

Early borrowings from these Latin words in Spanish and French came from the accusative form of the Latin word, namely the one that ended in ātĭōn‑em (see Table 159 above), but in both of these languages the final sounds, represented in the spelling by 〈em〉, were lost (became ‘silent’) and thus they were not written either. This explains the second difference between the spelling of the ending in Spanish and French on one hand and Latin on the other. English, of course, got its first ‑ation words from French in the Middle Ages, which is why the English spelling of this ending is ‑ation, like in French. Afterwards, English proceeded to borrow many more words that had this suffix directly from written Latin. You might have thought that Spanish words in ‑ación were passed on directly from Latin, since Spanish is derived from Latin, but that is not the case. Spanish words in ‑ación are by and large also borrowings (loanwords) from written Latin, as are perhaps most of Spanish words that come from that language (cf. Part I, Chapter 1).

The pronunciation of this ending, as opposed to its spelling, has diverged significantly from the original especially in English, although it is very consistent. English ‑ation is always pronounced [ˈeɪ̯.ʃən], with the first syllable always stressed, whereas Spanish ‑ación is pronounced [a.ˈθi̯on] (in most of Spain) or [a.ˈsi̯on] (elsewhere, in dialects with seseo, cf. Part I, §7.16, §10.5.3, §11.5.1), with the last syllable always stressed. (In Modern French, the suffix ‑ation is pronounced [ɑ.ˈsjɔ̃], also with final stress.)

The meaning of the suffix is quite predictable as well. Merriam-Webster defines this suffix as having two basic meanings: (a) ‘action or process’, as in flirtation ‘the action of flirting’, and (b) ‘something connected with an action or process’, as in discoloration ‘the process of losing color’. Notice how in both cases the relation of the noun to an underlying verb that the noun is derived from is obvious and transparent, because of the regular parallelism of form and meaning. (Both flirtation and discoloration are examples of words derived in English by means of the suffix ‑ation, not of words that come from actual Latin words.)


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