Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Inspiration and perspiration, Part 4: The suffixes Eng. -(a)tion ~ Sp. -(a)ción (c)

[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.]

Other forms of the suffix in English and Spanish

The Latin suffix that we have been discussing here was not really ‑ātĭōn‑, however. That is what it looked like in first conjugation verbs, verbs that had the infinitive ending ‑āre and thus the thematic vowel ‑ā‑. The actual Latin derivational suffix, which was perhaps the most common such suffix that turned verbs into nouns, was actually ‑ĭōn‑ in its regular form (cf. Part I, Chapter 8, §8.5.3). As we saw above, this suffix attached itself to the passive participle stem of a verb, not to its root morpheme. And the passive participle of regular Latin verbs was formed typically by the root morpheme followed by the thematic vowel, which was ā in the case of first conjugation verbs, and the passive participle morpheme ‑t‑, cf. Table 160 above. This explains the ‘suffix’ ‑atĭōn‑, which should really be parsed (subdivided) as ­‑ā‑t‑ĭōn‑.

But not all Latin verbs were first conjugation verbs, though they were the most numerous, just like ‑ar verbs are the most numerous in Spanish. Also, first conjugation verbs were mostly regular and follow the same pattern for the formation of the passive participle, by addition of the ‑t‑ morpheme, whereas Latin verbs from other conjugations were not always so regular, in particular verbs from the third conjugation, whose infinitive ending was ‑ĕre (normal first conjugation infinitives ended in ‑āre, second conjugation ones in ‑ēre, third conjugation ones in ‑ĕre, and fourth conjugation ones in ‑īre, cf. Part I, Chapter 8, §

Some Latin verbs, for instance, formed the passive participle without a thematic vowel, e.g. third conjugation infinitive dūcĕre ‘to lead’, whose passive participle was ductus ‘lead’, not *ducĭtus (ĭ was the thematic vowel for third conjugation verbs, e.g. bibĕre ‘to drink’, pass. part. bibĭtus. Also, when there was no thematic vowel and the root ended in a consonant, the resulting combination of that consonant and the ‑t‑ of the suffix changed to something else. Sometimes, for example, a ‑t‑t‑ combination changed to ‑s‑, as with the verb vertĕre ‘to turn’, whose passive participle was vers‑us, not *vert‑t‑us (cf. Part I, Chapter 8, §

All of this explains the existence of the following English-Spanish cognate nouns which do not end in ‑ation or ‑ación but rather in variants such as Eng. ‑tion ~ Sp. ‑ción, without the ‑a‑ and Eng. ‑sion and ‑sión, with an ‑s‑ instead of a ‑t‑ in the suffix. Below you can see a few such irregularly derived nouns. Next to each pair of cognate nouns, we see the original Latin noun, the passive participle whose stem it was derived from, and the infinitive of the verb. Note that all but the last one are third conjugation Latin verbs.


Latin noun

Lat. part.
Lat. infin.



‘to do, act’


‘to send’


‘to turn’


‘to conduct, direct’


‘to fall off/down’


‘to have, hold, posses’

The characteristic t of the regular Latin passive participle stem was not always lost in Spanish either. Where the Latin participle stem ended in …st‑, that sound combination was maintained in Spanish, since the Latin t did not change its pronunciation to [ʦ] in that context in Old Spanish, e.g. (note that both are third conjugation verbs and, thus, have passive participles with unpredictable form):


Latin noun

Lat. part.
Lat. infin.



‘to seek, ask, inquire’


‘to separate; to dissolve’

In a few words, a Latin irregular participle stem ended in the letter x, pronounded [ks]. The learned (loanword) Spanish descendants of these words are also written with the letter x, whereas English has regularized the spelling to ct, pronounced [ks], e.g.:


Latin noun

Lat. part.
Lat. infin.



‘to connect, link’


‘to turn back’

Note that the English nouns connection and reflection, used to be spelled connexion and reflexion in English too until the 18th century, when their spelling was changed to connection and reflection to make them more like the related verbs connect and reflect (cf. Sp. conectar and reflejar).[1]

Two other examples of Spanish-English cognates that descend from Latin nouns containing the suffix ‑ĭōn‑ and whose passive participle stem ended in ‑x‑ are Sp. anexión Eng. annexation and Sp. crucifixión ~ Eng. crucifixion (the ~ symbol indicates that the two words are cognates and the ≈ symbol indicates that they are semi-cognates, cf. Part I, Chapter 1).[2] The Latin words (actually stems) were annexĭōn‑ (ad‑nex‑ĭōn‑) and crucifixĭōn‑ (cruc‑ĭ‑fix‑ĭōn‑). Let us look at the first of these two pairs of words since their histories are instructive as to how English and Spanish acquired these words.

The Latin noun annexĭōn‑ meant ‘a tying or binding to, a connecting’ since it was derived from the stem  annex‑ of the passive participle annexus of the verb annectĕre ‘to tie or bind to, to connect’. Note that Eng. annexation, a 17th century borrowing from Medieval Latin, is not strictly-speaking a cognate of Sp. anexión, since they have slightly different sources, which is why we called them semi-cognates. Whereas Sp. anexión is a loanword from the Latin word annexĭōn‑ we just saw, derived from the third conjugation verb annectĕre, Eng. annexation is a loanword from the passive participle of the regularized, Medieval Latin version of this verb, namely first conjugation annexāre, which is the source of the cognate verbs Eng. annex ~ Sp. anexar, both meaning primarily ‘to append or attach, especially to a larger or more significant thing’ (AHD). (Note that Spanish has also derived a verb anexionar from the noun anexión; it is synonymous with anexar but used only for territories; see below.)[3]


[1] Eng. connect and Sp. conectar come from Lat. connectāre. Lat. connexĭōn- is derived from the stem connex‑ of connectāre’s irregular passive participle connexus (cf. also this verb’s frequentative version connexāre, since frequentatives are derived from the passive stem). Eng. reflect and Sp. reflectar are derived from Lat. reflectĕre. Lat. reflexĭōn‑ is derived from the stem reflex‑ of reflectĕre’s irregular past participle reflexus, which is also the source of Eng. reflex and Sp. reflejo.

[2] Speakers of seseante Spanish dialects sometimes misspell these words that have a x, by using ‑cc‑ instead of ‑x‑, which sounds the same to them before an i (or an e).

[3] The Latin passive participle annexus could also be used as a noun, meaning ‘a tying or binding to, a connection’. English borrowed this the noun annex and Spanish as the noun anexo (earlier anejo, which is still accepted by the Academy). These nouns have the meanings ‘a building joined to or associated with a main building’ and ‘an addition to a document’ (COED).

You may have noted that Spanish sometimes has a j where Latin (and English) have x in some of the cognate words we have seen and others, e.g. Sp. reflejo ~ Eng. reflex, Sp. anejo ~ Eng. annex, and Sp. crucifijo ~ Eng. crucifix. This is due to the fact that Latin x, pronounced [ks], changed its pronunciation to [ʃ] in Old Spanish, a sound that eventually came to be pronounced [x] (jota) in Modern Spanish, written with the letter j〉, for what was written with this letter in Old Spanish also came to have the same pronunciation (cf. Part I, Chapter 7, §7.17.5, and Chapter 10, § When Spanish has an 〈x〉 where Latin had an 〈x〉, it is either because it is a learned loanword (palabra patrimonial) or because the spelling was later ‘fixed’ (palabra semipatrimonial).

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