Monday, March 18, 2019

Patrimony-matrimony, part 3: Sp. matrimonio - Eng. matrimony

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 19, "Patrimony and matrimony", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

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Sp. matrimonio ~ Eng. matrimony


The Latin word mātrĭmōnĭum has given us the cognates Eng. matrimony [ˈmæ.tʰɹɪ.ˌmoʊ̯.ni] ~ Sp. matrimonio [ma.tɾi.ˈmo.ni̯o]. The descendants, just like the original source-word, refer to the state or social institution of being married or, in other words, marriage or wedlock. Sp. matrimonio is a loanword from Latin, attested first in the 14th century. Eng. matrimony came from the Anglo-Norman version of Old French, variously spelled matermoine, matremoine, matrimoigne, matrimone, or matrimonie (OED), also a Latin loanword, first attested in English in the 14th century.  Curiously, the Old French source-word, attested in the 12th century, did not mean what these words mean today or what they meant in Latin, but was rather the analog of the descendant of patrimonium, namely ‘property inherited from one’s mother’ (OED).

As we mentioned earlier, Latin mātrĭmōnĭum is derived from the root mātr‑ of the word māter ‘mother’ (mātr‑ĭ‑mōn‑ĭ‑um, the first ‑ĭ‑ was a linking vowel). Thus, Lat. mātrĭmōnĭum is totally analogous to the source of Eng. patrimony, Lat. pātrĭmōnĭum, but its meaning is quite unexpectedly different. How could that be? How did a word with the root meaning ‘mother’ came to mean ‘marriage’? Our best guess as to how mātrĭmōnĭum came to mean ‘marriage’ is that it originally meant what its parts indicate, namely something like ‘motherhood’ (‘the state of being a mother’) and that there must have been an expression that described marriage as ‘the leading by a man of a woman into motherhood’. In other words, originally mātrĭmōnĭum meant ‘marriage’, but only for the woman in a patriarchal society. Eventually, however, the word came to signify ‘marriage’ for both spouses, losing the original connection to motherhood.

The cognates Eng. matrimony ~ Sp. matrimonio are close friends since their meanings are probably identical in the abstract. However, the two words are not used the same way, if for no other reason that English has another word that means ‘marriage’, namely marriage, a 12th century loanword from Old French (mariage in Old French and Middle English). This noun was derived in French from the verb marier ‘to marry’, which was also borrowed into English as (to) marry. The equivalent of this verb in Spanish is casarse, a verb derived from the noun casa ‘house, home’. (The verb casar thus originally meant something like ‘to set up a separate home (for the married couple)’.) And although there is a noun casamiento derived from this verb, it is rarely equivalent to English marriage, but rather typically refers to the act of marrying and is thus equivalent to Eng. wedding.

Spanish matrimonio sometimes translates into English as matrimony, but this is a very rare word in English, a fancy synonym of marriage, the most common translation of Sp. matrimonio, as in the set phrases unidos en matrimonio ‘united in marriage’, matrimonio civil ‘civil marriage’, matrimonio mixto ‘mixed marriage’, contraer matrimonio (a fancy way to say) ‘to get married’ (cf. casarse), matrimonio consensuado ‘common-law marriage’, matrimonio de conveniencia ‘marriage of convenience’, consumar el matrimonio ‘to consummate the marriage’, proponer matrimonio ‘to pop the question’, proposición/propuesta de matrimonio ‘marriage proposal’, and matrimonio gay ‘gay marriage’.

Sp. matrimonio can be used to refer to a married couple as well, a synonym of pareja (de casados), as in el matrimonio García ‘Mr. and Mrs. García’, as in Vamos a salir esta noche con otro matrimonio ‘we are going out tonight with another (married) couple’, or as in Son un matrimonio muy bien avenido ‘They get along well as a married couple’. Finally, on some countries of South America, the word matrimonio can be used as equivalent of boda ‘wedding’.

By the way, the English words marry [ˈmæ.ɹi] and marriage [ˈmæ.ɹɪʤ] are not related to the word matrimony. As we just saw, Eng. marriage comes from Old French mariage (pronounced [ma.ˈʀjaʒ] in Modern French), which is derived from the verb marier, which means ‘to marry’ and is the source of Eng. marry. French mariage seems to have been derived in French by means of the suffix ‑age that descends from the Late Latin suffix ‑aticum (cf. Part II, Chapter 18). (The age ending was often Latinized in medieval Latin writing as ‑agium and thus we find the word mariagium ‘dowry’ in 12th century Latin writings.) Spanish also borrowed or calqued this French word, as maridaje, as well as the verb maridar, but this happened rather late, in the 17th century, and these words did not really take hold, though they are still found in the dictionary with rather specialized meanings.

The French verb marier ‘to marry’ descends patrimonially from the Latin verb marītāre ‘to wed, marry, give in marriage’. (Note that marier was transitive, just like Sp. casar, and the meaning ‘to get married’ was rendered by the verb’s reflexive conjugation, infinitive: se marier, cf. Sp. casarse.) The Latin verb maritāre comes from marītus, which as an adjective meant ‘marital, matrimonial, conjugal’, but which as a noun meant ‘husband, married man’. It is, after all, derived from the noun mās meaning ‘male’ (cf. Eng. masculine, Sp. macho, etc.). The patrimonial descendant of marītus in Spanish is marido, also meaning ‘husband’.

Since marido ‘husband’ comes from a Latin word derived from the word for ‘male’, this explains why there is no word *marida in Spanish for ‘wife’. The word for ‘wife’ in Spanish is either esposa, a patrimonial word that comes from Lat. spōnsa ‘promised’ (cf. Eng. spouse, a French loan) or with the patrimonial word mujer. The word for ‘wife’ in Latin was uxor, which has not left a descendant in Spanish (or in English). It seems that in Vulgar Latin mŭlĭer (nominative) ‘woman’ came to be used both for ‘wife’ as well as for ‘woman’ (whether married or not) and that usage has been maintained in Spanish, so that the descendant of Lat. mŭlĭer in Spanish, namely mujer, means both ‘woman’ and ‘wife’. The original word for ‘woman’ in Latin was fēmina (accusative fēminam), from where Spanish gets the patrimonial word hembra ‘female’, which suffered several sound changes (cf. Part I, Chapter 10). Latin mŭlĭer is of obscure etymology, though some think it comes from the same root as mŏllis meaning ‘soft’.[1]

Finally, we should add that just like there was a derived adjective patrimonial for the noun patrimonio/patrimony, there is also a derived adjective matrimonial derived from the noun matrimonio/matrimony. These adjectives can be seen as containing the derivational suffix ‑al attached to the word’s stem, after removing the inflection ‑o in the case of Spanish. The two cognate adjectives are identical in the spelling, matrimonial, if not its pronunciation, cf. Eng. [ˌmætɹəˈmoʊ̯niə̯l] vs. Sp. [matɾimoˈni̯al]. These words are loanwords from classical Lat. mātrĭmōnĭālis ‘of or relating to marriage’ (mātr‑ĭ‑mōn‑ĭ‑āl‑is). Eng. matrimonial is first attested in the 15th century, as a loanword from French, which borrowed the word from Latin in the 14th century. Sp. matrimonial is also first attested in the 15th century and it is very likely that it also came through French.

The dictionary defines Eng. matrimonial as ‘of or relating to marriage, the married state, or married persons’ (MWC) but it is obvious that this is a rather fancy word and that it is much less common than Sp. matrimonial, a difference in usage that is analogous to the difference that exists between the nouns Eng. matrimony and Sp. matrimonio. That is because the Eng. matrimonial has several synonyms that are more common, such as first of all marital, another fancy words that also means ‘relating to marriage or the relations between husband and wife’ (COED) and that is found in just a few expressions, but also because the adjective married (derived from the past participle of the verb marry) and even the noun marriage can be used as alternatives as modifiers. Thus, Sp. problemas matrimoniales translates into English as marital problems, vida matrimonial as married life, and agencia matrimonial and acta matrimonial as marriage agency (or bureau) and marriage certificate. There are also other common collocations in Spanish with this adjective that translate by means of very different words in English, such as cama matrimonial ‘double bed’, and compromiso matrimonial ‘engagement’.



[1] The traditional formula for marrying a heterosexual couple in Spanish is Ahora los/os declaro marido y mujer ‘I now pronounce you husband and wife’. In some dialects of Spanish, women may to some extent refer to their husbands as mi hombre ‘my man’, but marido is the more common and standard term.


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