Eng. improvise ~ Sp. improvisar
We came across the cognate nouns Eng. improvisation ~ Sp. improvisación in the introductory section of this chapter. We mentioned then that these two nouns do not have a Latin source for there was no such verb as *imprōvīsāre in Latin. We said then that the verb that these nouns come from was created not in Latin but in a modern European language from a cognate of the English verb improvise. Such a verb was derived in Italian from the Italian adjective improviso, which was borrowed from the Latin adjective imprōvīsus (fem. imprōvīsa), that meant ‘unforeseen, unexpected’. The Italian verb improvvisare was formed in the mid-16th century with the meaning ‘to compose and perform music, poetry, drama, etc., spontaneously or without preparation’ (OED). We also saw that the Latin adjective imprōvīsus had been derived from the adjective prōvīsus ‘foreseen’ by adding with the negative prefix in‑. The adjective prōvīsus itself was derived by conversion from the identical passive participle of the verb prōvĭdēre ‘to see in the distance, to foresee’.
< prōvīsus ‘foreseen’
< prōvĭdēre ‘to foresee’
> improvvisare ‘extemporize’
> improvvisazione ‘extemporization’
Eng. borrowed the verb improvise from Fr. improviser in the mid-17th century with the meaning ‘to compose and perform music, poetry, drama, etc., spontaneously or without preparation’ (OED). French borrowed this verb from Italian improvvisare, which as we saw was derived from the adjective improviso. By the 19th century, the verb was being used with the broader meaning of ‘produce or make (something) from whatever is available’ (COED). As for the derived English noun improvisation, the word is found already in the late 18th century. It is not clear if this noun was derived in English out of the verb and the suffix ‑ation, or whether it was borrowed. Its German cognate Improvisation is first attested around the same time (around 1790). The French and Italian versions are not attested until the 19th century, however (1807 and 1877, respectively). Sp. improvisar first appears in a Spanish dictionary in 1825 and in the Academy’s dictionary in 1837. As for the noun improvisación, it first appeared in the DRAE in 1843.
The Latin verb prōvĭdēre ‘to see in the distance, to foresee’, from which the words we are looking at ultimately come from, was derived by means of the prefix prō‑ ‘forward’ from the verb vĭdēre ‘to see’, the source of the patrimonial Sp. ver ‘to see’. This Latin verb’s principal parts were: present prōvĭdeō, present infinitive prōvĭdēre, perfect active prōvīdī, supine prōvīsum (which makes the passive participle prōvīsus, cf. Part I, Chapter 8, §184.108.40.206). This Latin verb has made it into both English and Spanish as provide and proveer, respectively. These two cognates are imperfect friends since they appear to have the same meaning but are used somewhat differently.
The main meaning of both verbs Eng. provide and Sp. proveer is actually shared by both, namely ‘to make available for use, furnish, supply’. This sense may be followed by two complements that express the thing provided and the recipient. In English, if the thing provided is the direct object, the recipient is marked with the preposition for, as in They provided jobs for everyone. On the other hand, if the recipient is the direct object, then the thing provided is coded with the preposition with, as in They provided everyone with jobs. In Spanish, proveer is used in the latter way, with the recipients coded as the indirect object and the thing provided following the preposition de (con is also occasionally used), as in Nos proveyeron de todo lo necesario ‘They supplied o furnished us with everything we needed’ (OSD), La misión del Estado es proveer a la satisfacción de intereses generales ‘The mission of the state is to provide for the satisfaction of the general interest’ (Panhispánico).
These verbs are occasionally used intransitively, without indicating what will be provided, and then they can be said to be equivalent. We find this equivalence in the well-known Christian expressions Eng. The Lord will provide and its Spanish equivalent Dios proveerá. However, Eng. provide and Sp. provide for the most part are used quite differently. To begin with, Eng. provide is more common than Sp. proveer, which means that in Spanish, alternatives to proveer are often preferred, such as abastecer, suministrar, proporcionar, facilitar, ofrecer, brindar, etc., depending on the context.
Furthermore, Eng. provide has additional senses, both transitive and intransitive, that do not translate into Spanish with the verb proveer. One of these meanings is ‘to make available; afford’ (AHD), as in a room that provides ample sunlight, cf. Sp. una habitación que ofrece abundante luz. Another transitive sense is ‘to set down as a stipulation’, as in The agreement provides deadlines for completion of the work, cf. Sp. El acuerdo proporciona/incluye plazos para la conclusion del trabajo.
The intransitive senses of Eng. provide are followed by a for prepositional phrase. The AHD gives three different senses of transitive provide: (1) ‘to take measures in preparation’ as in They provided for the common defense of the states, cf. Sp. Se hicieron cargo de la defensa de los estados; (2) ‘to supply means of subsistence’, as in She provides for her family by working in a hospital, cf. Sp. Mantiene a su familia trabajando en un hospital; and (3) ‘to make a stipulation or condition’, as in The Constitution provides for a bicameral legislature, cf. Sp. La Constitución estipula una legislatura bicameral. In the preceding sentences we see some of the alternative verbs that Spanish uses instead of proveer to translate the intransitive senses of Eng. provide.
English provide [pɹə.ˈvaɪ̯d] is an early 15th century loanword from written Latin. English had borrowed a descendant of Lat. prōvĭdēre through French, which still exists, namely purvey [pəɹ.ˈveɪ̯], which is now a rather formal verb that means ‘provide or supply (food, drink, or other goods) as one’s business’ (COED) (cf. Modern French pourvoir [puʀ.ˈvwaʀ], synonymous with fournir [fuʀ.ˈniʀ], related to Eng. furnish). Perhaps more common than the verb purvey is the derived noun purveyor [pəɹ.ˈveɪ̯.əɹ] ‘a person or business that sells or provides something’ (MWALD).
The Spanish verb proveer is an early, 13th century, loanword from Latin. It is conjugated like leer ‘to read’. The form of the verb is peculiar for it almost seems to be a patrimonial word, with a few obvious sound and spelling changes from the original Latin word, which must have come under the influence of the patrimonial verb ver ‘to see’, a verb which until around 1500 had an alternative spelling, namely veer. Sp. ver underwent several sound changes from the original Lat. vĭdēre, all of them regular. The ones that we are concerned with here are first that the Latin short ĭ changed to e, as expected, and second, that the intervocalic ‑d‑ was dropped (cf. Part I, Chapter 10). Only much later did the two ee’s collapse into one, which is why we find the spelling (and pronunciation) veer until so late. So, although this is a loanword, it was an early loan and the connection to the verb ver/veer was so close that this affected the pronunciation and the spelling of the word.
Another unusual thing about the verb proveer is its meaning, something it shares with its cognate Eng. provide. As we saw, its original meaning in Latin was ‘to foresee, to see ahead’, which is what we expect from the meaning of the prefix prō‑, not the meaning these words currently have. However, the meaning ‘to foresee’ came to be expressed in Spanish with the verb prever, which is conjugated like ver and formed with the prefix pre‑, from Lat. prae‑ ‘before’, since Sp. prever comes from Lat. praevĭdēre ‘to see first or beforehand, to foresee’ (L&S). In other words, the Latin ancestors of Sp. proveer and prever came to have very similar meanings and it is not too surprising that one of them changed its meaning. As we saw, the change in meaning also happened to Fr. pourvoir (originally spelled porveoir), a word that is attested a century earlier than the Spanish one and the source of Eng. purvey.
There are a few other curious things about Sp. proveer. For instance, it has a rare meaning ‘to fill (a job)’, as in proveer los puestos de secretario ‘to fill the vacant secretary positions’ (VOX). It can also be used in legal context with the meaning ‘to give an interim ruling on’, as in La denuncia aún está sin proveer por el juez ‘The complaint has not been ruled by the judge yet’ (VOX). Also, proveer is commonly conjugated reflexively, as in proveerse de, which can be translated as to get provisions, to equip oneself, or simply obtain, e.g. Nos proveemos en la tienda del pueblo ‘We get our provisions at the village store’ or Tenemos que proveernos de suficiente comida ‘We must get/obtain enough food’ (OSD).
Another interesting thing about proveer is that it has two past participles that are considered acceptable and current by the Academy, a regular one proveído/a (which is less common) and an irregular (original) provisto/a (speakers tend to prefer one or the other). (The irregular participle has the same irregular pattern as the past participle of the verb ver, which is visto. Either proveído or provisto can be used to form compound perfect tenses, such as he proveído/provisto ‘I have provided’ or as adjectives, e.g. la información proveída/provista ‘the provided information’. However, the irregular provisto/a is much more common in both cases, especially when used as an adjective. Curiously, unlike in the case of other verbs, where the regular version of the participle came after the irregular one, in this case the regular version proveído is older than the irregular one provisto. That would make sense in a loanword, which derived the participle regularly and only later, was this replaced by an irregular one formed by analogy with the patrimonial irregular participle of the related verb ver ‘to see’, namely visto ‘seen’. As for the source of Sp. visto, it is clearly not derived from the passive participle of the source verb vĭdēre, which was vīsus. It probably came from a Vulgar Latin modified version of it, namely *vīsĭtus, which is unattested.
Let us now look at an unusual thing about Eng. provide that makes it different from Sp. proveer, namely the fact that the participle provided in English is often used as a conjunction, in sentences such as I will come to see you provided you pay for the plane ticket. This provided translates into Spanish by any of a number of conditional conjunctions, such as siempre que, con tal que, or a condición de que. In some English dialects the variant providing may be used in the same way and with the same meaning.
This use of provided would seem to be a calque of the use of the Medieval Latin word proviso in legal documents written in Latin between the 13th and the 16th centuries in Britain. The legal clause started as proviso (quod) ‘provided (that)’. The Latin prōvīsō is a post-Classical word that was the ablative neuter wordform of prōvīsus, the passive participle of the verb prōvĭdēre, and thus it could be translated as ‘it being provided’.
This same Latin word prōvīsō has been borrowed into English as a noun, namely proviso [pɹə.ˈvaɪ̯.zoʊ̯]. Its meaning is ‘a clause in a document making a qualification, condition, or restriction’ (AHD). Note that although provisos are typically found in legal documents, the word can be used in somewhat formal or serious language for conditions that are felt to have the weight of legal conditions but without the need for them to be written down. Eng. proviso translates into Spanish simply as condición ‘condition’. The common English phrase with the proviso that translates into Spanish as con la condición de que or a condición de que.
As for the verbal version of this noun, Spanish has developed a verb from the noun provisión, namely aprovisionar, which includes an empty prefix a‑ (see §10.2.6 above). The verb is a rather recent creation, first appearing in a dictionary in 1917 and in the DRAE in 1927. It is not a common verb and Spanish prefers the synonymous verb abastecer ‘to supply’. Sp. aprovisionar is more common when speaking of provisioning ships or troops. Spanish also has a pronominal (reflexive) version of this verb, namely aprovisionarse (de), which translates as to stock up (on). It is equivalent to abastecerse (de).
Before we leave the Latin verb prōvĭdēre, let us mention one more word derived from it that has left descendants in English and Spanish. As we mentioned earlier, there was no Latin noun imprōvĭsātĭo, since there was no verb *imprōvĭsāre in Latin from which it could have been derived. But there was a noun derived by means of the ‑ĭōn‑ suffix and the passive participle stem prōvĭsus of the verb prōvĭdēre. The noun was prōvīsĭo (accusative wordform: prōvīsĭōnem). Its meanings were the literal meaning ‘a foreseeing, foreknowing’, as well as ‘foresight, providence’ and ‘forethought, precaution for a thing’ (L&S).
The cognate nouns Eng. provision ~ Sp. provisión are loanwords from Lat. prōvīsĭo. It seems that English provision [pɹə.ˈvɪʒ.ən] was borrowed by different authors at different times, starting in the early 14th century, some directly from Latin and some through French provision ‘precaution, care’, which is first attested in the mid-13th century. By the late 15th century, the word had acquired the meaning ‘thing being provided’ and by 1600 the meaning ‘supply of food’. The main meanings of Modern Eng. provision are (COED):
1. the action of providing or supplying
2. something supplied or provided
3. arrangements for future eventualities or requirements.
4. a condition or requirement in a legal document
5. (in the plural: provisions) supplies of food, drink, or equipment, especially for a journey
In the late 18th century, English derived the verb to provision by conversion out of the noun provision. This verb’s main meaning is ‘supply with provisions’.
Spanish provisión is attested in the mid-15th century and it first appeared in a dictionary in 1495 (Nebrija). Although presumably it came from Latin, chances are that it came through French, where as we saw it is attested two centuries earlier. The main meanings of this verb match the first two of its English cognate provision (see above), as well as the fifth one, since the plural provisiones can be used with the same sense as Eng. provisions. However, the ‘arrangement for future eventualities’ sense of Eng. provision never translates as provisión but rather as previsión, related to prever ‘to foresee’ (see above). The legal ‘stipulation’ sense (#4 above) translates as disposición rather than previsión. Also, when it comes to the shared senses (1, 2, and 5), often Spanish prefers to use other words instead. Thus, the generic ‘supply’ sense of Eng. provision is more often translated as suministro or abastecimiento. Even the plural provisions is more likely to be translated as víveres than as provisiones.
Finally, let us mention the cognate nouns Eng. providence ~ Sp. providencia, which are also ultimately derived from the verb prōvĭdēre. They come from the Latin noun prōvĭdentĭa ‘foresight, foreknowledge’, derived from the present participle prōvĭdens (regular stem: prōvĭdent‑) of the verb prōvĭdēre and the Latin (also Greek) ending ‑ĭ‑a which was used to form abstract nouns, usually from adjectives or present participle stems (pro‑vĭd‑ent‑ĭ‑a). These nouns can be defined as ‘a force which is believed by some people to control what happens in our lives and to protect us’ (DOCE) or ‘the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power’ (COED) and they have been a central part of Christian teaching, which refers often to divine providence (Sp. providencia divina). Providence is, of course, also the name of the capital of the state of Rhode Island, located on the Providence River.
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