Friday, August 31, 2018

Inspiration and perspiration, Part 8: Some Latin verbs that had nouns with the suffix -ĭōn-

[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.]

Latin verbs that had nouns with the suffix -ĭōn-

In Figure 119 above we saw a number of English nouns in ‑ation along with the verbs that they were associated with. For the most part, the Latin ancestors of those nouns were derived from the Latin ancestors of those verbs, which explains the connection. In this section, we are going to look at the verbs on that list and at their relation to the nouns in question. First, we will look at the several verbs that share the same Latin root, namely spīr‑, which was primarily a verbal root with the meaning ‘to breathe’. After that, we will briefly look at the other verbs.

Lat. spīrāre and derived verbs: The root -spir-

Introduction: Lat. spīrāre

Among the words in ‑ation in the comic strip in Figure 119 above, there are three that contain the Latin root morpheme ‑spir‑, including the two in the title of this chapter and in the original Edison quote mentioned earlier, inspiration and perspiration (the third one is aspiration). This was, most basically, the root of the first conjugation Latin verb spīrāre (principal parts: spīrō, spīrāre, spīrāvī, spīrātum). This verb meant primarily ‘to breathe’ and ‘to blow’, though it had some figurative (metaphorical) senses as well, such as ‘to be alive’ or ‘to be inspired’.

Several additional Latin verbs were derived from the verb spīrāre by prefixation. With different prefixes this verb took diverse meanings, some literal and some figurative, and some of them have been passed on to us, as we can see in Table 162 below.


Literal and figurative meanings

‘to blow, to breathe, etc.’
‘to breathe in(to); inspire; excite; etc.’
‘to breathe out, exhale; to die’
‘to breathe (in and out repeatedly)’
‘to breathe upon; to seek, to attain’
‘to blow constantly’
(Med.Lat) ‘to breather through/across’
‘to breathe together; to be in harmony’
Table 162: Verbs derived from Lat. spīrāre and their descendants

The basic (un-prefixed) verb spīrāre has given us Sp. espirar, which is quite rare and is not a patrimonial verb, as one might have thought, but rather a learned one, a loanword from Classical (written) Latin. Sp. espirar which means primarily ‘to breathe out, exhale’, much like the original verb exspīrāre, which now only has figurative senses, as we shall see. English had a cognate for this verb, namely the verb spire, also with that literal meaning as well as some figurative ones, but it is fully obsolete today. Sp. espirar is also quite rare today and it is probably fair to say that it is archaic if not obsolete, though dictionaries do not say it is.

Some of the English-Spanish cognates that come from these Latin verbs are quite close to each other in meaning, i.e. they are what we call ‘good friends’, but others are not, as we will see, since they are what we call ‘false friends’ or ‘semi-false friends’ (cf. Part I, Chapter 1, §1.2). The similarities can be attributed for the most part to the fact that these loanwords typically came by means of French and haven’t changed their meaning much. We will also see that often the meanings that have survived in English and Spanish are the figurative ones of these verbs, not the literal ones.

Eng. spirit and Sp. espíritu

Before analyzing the verbs derived from Lat. spīrāre, let us look at another Latin word that contained the same root because it was derived from the verb, namely the noun spīrĭtus. Its main meaning was ‘breathing, breath, air’ but it also had a figurative metaphorical sense, namely ‘spirit, ghost’, and it is with that meaning that this Latin word has been passed on to English and Spanish, as spirit and espíritu, respectively (cf. also French esprit, Italian spirito, Portuguese espirito). This word has been part of the Christian vocabulary since it came to be used in the Latin Vulgate version of the New Testament of the Christian Bible to translate Ancient Greek πνεῦμα (pneuma) in the original version of the New Testament, which itself was a translation of Biblical Hebrew רוּחַ (rúach) ‘wind; breath; spirit’, cf. רוּחַ הַקֹּדֶשׁ (rūaḥ haqqōḏeš) ‘the Holy Spirit’ or ‘spirit of holiness’. As to what exactly the words Eng. spirit and Sp. espíritu means today, dictionaries give several definitions, starting with ‘the non-physical part of a person which is the seat of emotions and character’ (which may or may not survive the body); ‘the prevailing or typical quality or mood’, as in the nation's egalitarian spirit; ‘courage, energy, and determination’, and a few more (COED).

Although Eng. spirit and Sp. espíritu are ‘close friends’, i.e. have very similar primary meanings, the two are not fully equivalent. When Eng. spirit has the sense of ‘mood, feelings’, it translates best as moral or humor, as in He’s in good spirits ~ Sp. Está de buen humor; or That raised his spirit ~ Sp. Eso le subió la moral. Also, when Eng. spirit has the sense of ‘force, vigor’, it is best translated as energía or ánimo, for example, as in They played with great spirit ~ Sp. Jugaron con gran energía. When Eng. spirit is used as a synonym of ghost, the best Spanish equivalent is typically fantasma, not espíritu. Finally, Eng. spirit is also found in idiomatic expressions, such as That’s the spirit!, which can be translated by Spanish idiomatic expressions such as ¡Así me gusta!


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