Monday, March 18, 2019

Patrimony-matrimony, part 4: the roots patr- and matr- (1): padrastro and madrastra

[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.]



Other Spanish words from the roots patr- and matr- and related words

There are several other words derived from Latin roots patr‑ and matr‑ in Spanish and a few in English as well. In this section we are going to look at the main ones. Some of these words are patrimonial in Spanish, in which case the root is padr‑ and madr‑, not patr‑ and matr‑, that is, they have a ‑d‑ instead of a ‑t‑. That is because in patrimonial Spanish words, a Latin t between two vowels or between a vowel and a liquid consonant (l or r) always changed to d (cf. Part I, Chapter 10, §10.4.3). In loanwords from Latin, on the other hand, what we call learned words or cultismos in Spanish, such a t didn’t change, since it bypassed the period in which such changes occurred in patrimonial words and such words came to be pronounced with a spelling pronunciation. That is why we said that the Spanish words patrimonio and patrimonial and matrimonio and matrimonial are obviously learned words, whereas padre and madre are patrimonial words.

Sp. padrastro and madrastra

The words padrastro and madrastra mean ‘stepfather’ and ‘stepmother’ respectively. The fact that they have a ‑d‑ in the root instead of a ‑t‑ indicate that they are probably patrimonial words. Either that or the words were derived in Spanish from the pre-existing words padre ‘father’ and madre ‘mother’, which we know is not the case. Let us look at the too words in turn.

Sp. padrastro comes from Lat. pătrastrum, accusative case wordform of Lat. pătraster. As we can see the ‑t‑ changed to ‑d‑ and the ‑ŭm inflection change to ‑o, just as expected by loss of the final ‑m and lowering of the vowel (cf. Part I, Chapter 10). This Latin word was derived from the root pătr‑ and the suffix ‑astr‑, which meant something like ‘incomplete resemblance’ and thus often added a pejorative meaning to words derived by means of this suffix (‘expressing contempt or disapproval’, COED) (cf. pătr‑astr‑um).

Interestingly, in Classical Latin, the word pătraster didn’t mean ‘stepfather’ but rather, ‘father-in-law’ and the word for ‘stepfather’ was vītrĭcus. However, in Vulgar Latin pătraster came to be used for ‘stepfather’. Historically, the word padrastro often underwent a dissimilation of the two r’s in many Spanish dialects, like the word orquesta did for example (cf. Lat. orchestra), resulting in padrasto, but that variant form never fully replaced padrastro, which is now the only accepted form in the standard language, though padrasto is still heard in some dialects of Spanish (cf. Part I, Chapter 10, §10.4.5). Note that until very recent times, stepfathers were not common since divorces were quite rare and, thus, the word padrastro (and stepfather in English) pretty much only applied in cases in which a man married a widow with children.

The Latin suffix ‑aster (‑astr‑ in regular wordforms) was not a common one in Latin. It seems it was borrowed from Ancient Greek where it was found in nouns derived from verbs ending in ‑άζειν (‑ázein) in the infinitive and later came to be used as a diminutive/pejorative suffix forming nouns and adjectives (see Part II, Chapter 6). This suffix is unrelated to the poetic Latin words astēr ‘star’ or astrum ‘star, constellation’, which are loanwords from Ancient Greek ἀστήρ (astḗr) ‘star’ and ἄστρον (ástron) ‘star, heavenly body (including the planets)’.[1]

The suffix ‑aster is also found in another Classical Latin word for family-relations, namely fīlĭaster ‘stepson’, derived from fīlĭus ‘son’ (source of Sp. hijo) by means of this suffix. Lat. fīlĭaster a synonym of prīvignus, another word for ‘stepson’. There was no word for ‘stepdaughter’ formed with this suffix, perhaps because the word for ‘daughter’ was  was fīlĭa, only differing from the word for ‘son’ in the inflection, and thus the resulting word would have also been fīlĭaster. The word for ‘stepdaughter’ was prīvigna, analogous to the other word that meant ‘stepson’, namely prīvignus. The word for ‘stepson’ in Spanish is hijastro ‘stepson’, which may descend directly from fīlĭaster, though it is not attested in early writings and thus may have been formed in Spanish by analogy with words like padrastro. Spanish has also developed a feminine form of this word, namely hijastra ‘stepdaughter’ by changing the masculine ‑o inflection to the feminine ‑a one.

This suffix is also found in the Spanish word madrastra ‘stepmother’, which is attested as early as the 13th century and which has cognates in all Iberian and Gallic Romance languages (cf. Portuguese madrasta, Occitan mairastra, Old French marastre, and Modern French marâtre). However, this word is not attested in Classical Latin and *matraster is thought to have developed in Vulgar Latin. To complete the set of words for step-relatives, Spanish has the words hermanastro and hermanastra for ‘stepbrother’ and ‘stepsister’, which are also used for ‘half-brother’ and ‘half-sister’, respectively (also medio hermano and medio hermana). These words too do not descend from Latin words, but were rather developed in Old Spanish from the words hermano ‘brother’ and hermana ‘sister’, by analog with words such as padrastro, which is a patrimonial word.

Actually, the words hermanastro and hermanastra could not descend from Latin because the words hermano and hermana do not descend from the Latin words for ‘brother’ and ‘sister’, which were frater and soror. These words descend from the Latin adjective germānus and germāna, masculine and feminine adjectives meaning ‘full, and they are shorternings of the phrases frater germānus ‘full brother’ and soror germāna ‘full sister’, phrases that came to be used to differentiate full brothers and sisters from half-brothers and half-sisters and stepbrothers and stepsisters (cf. Part II, Chapter 7, §7.4 and §7.7).

Going back to madrastra, we should mention that much like the word stepmother in English, this word has rather negative connotations associated with it, since it has been associated with mistreatment of and cruelty to children since the Middle Ages, as popular fairy tales show. Stepfathers too have gotten a bad rap as being more prone to child-abuse than biological fathers. Recent studies have confirmed this is true to some extent. For example, one study claimed that stepfathers were much more likely to beat their children to death than biological fathers were. Some have even claimed that having stepparents is the strongest risk factor for child abuse. This higher risk for stepchildren is known as the Cinderella effect and psychologists think it can be explained in evolutionary terms. Other studies have found that although the higher risk from stepparents exists, it is nowhere near as high as it some have claimed and that one should not generalize since there are other factors involved.

Finally, let us note that there were a handful of additional Latin words formed with the suffix ‑aster, but they have not survived in the modern Romance languages and with one exception they have not been borrowed either, though at least one new one has been created in New Latin and has been borrowed into English. These are the main Latin words with the suffix ‑aster. Note that some of them are adjectives, not nouns.
  • cānaster ‘half-gray, grizzled’, from cānus ‘white, hoary; old, aged’ (cf. Sp. cano/a ‘(culto) white; (rare) gray-haired, white-haired’ and canoso/a ‘gray-haired, white-haired’)
  • cătŭlaster or catlaster ‘a boy, lad, stripling’, from cătŭlus ‘whelp; young dog, puppy’
  • claudasteradj. little lame’, from claudus ‘lame’
  • fulvaster ‘adj. yellowish’, from fulvus ‘yellow’
  • lōtaster ‘wild lotus, of which javelins were made’, from lōtus or lōtos from Gk. λωτός ‘the African lotus, edible nettle-tree’ (there was another word lōtus that was the passive participle of lavāre ‘to wash’)
  • nŏvellaster ‘rather new’, from nŏvellus, diminutive of nŏvus ‘new’ (cf. Sp. nuevo)
  • ŏlĕaster ‘wild olivetree, oleaster’, from olea ‘olive tree’
  • părăsītaster ‘a mean, sorry parasite’, from părăsītus ‘guest; sponger, parasite’ (cf. Eng. parasite ~ Sp. parásito), a loanword from Ancient Greek παράσιτος (parásitos) ‘person who eats at the table of another’[2]
  • phĭlŏsŏphaster ‘a bad philosopher’, from philosophus ‘philosopher’; this Late Latin word was borrowed into English in the early 17th century and can be found in English dictionaries
  • pīnaster ‘a wild pine’, from pīnus ‘pine tree, etc.’ (English has borrowed this word for ‘a Mediterranean pine (Pinus pinaster) with paired needles and prickly cones’
  • poētaster ‘bad poet’, this word was created in New Latin around 1600 on the model of words like philosophaster (see above); English has also borrowed this word[3]
  • pŭĕraster ‘a stout lad’ and in Medieval Latin ‘preadolescent or adolescent boy'
  • rĕcalvaster (Late Latin) ‘that has a bald forehead, bald in front’, from re‑ +‎ calvus ‘bald’
  • surdaster ‘somewhat deaf, hard of hearing’, from surdus/a ‘deaf’ (cf. Sp. sordo/a)
Finally, we should mention that on this same model, a new word was developed in English, namely the word criticaster for ‘a petty or inferior critic (used in contempt)’ (OED). It first appeared in 1684.

[1] Ancient Greek ̓́στρον (ástron), typically used in the plural, was derived from στήρ (astḗr). The root of these Greek words is found in the English words astronomy and astrology, and their Spanish cognates astronomía and astrología, which are loanwords from Latin. The former come from Latin astronomia, itself a loanword from Ancient Greek στρονομία (astronomía), derived from στρονόμος (astronómos) ‘astronomer’. The latter come from Latin astrologia, which in Classical Latin was a synonym of astronomía and thus referred to the ‘study of celestial objects, astronomy, book on astronomy’. In post-classical Latin, astrologia came to have the meaning it has today, namely ‘the study of the movements and relative positions of celestial bodies interpreted as having an influence on human affairs and the natural world’ (COED).

The same root is also found in the words Eng. disaster ~ Sp. desastre, which ultimately come from Italian disastro ‘catastrophe, calamity, misfortune’, a word created at the end of the 13th century from the prefix dis‑ and the word for ‘star’. The Spanish and English words came through French loan from this word, désastre (1537). English disaster came into the language in the late 16th century. Spanish has derived two common adjectives from this noun: desastrado/a ‘untidy, slovenly, unkempt, scruffy’ and desastroso/a ‘appalling ; calamitous ; disastrous ; ruinous ; abysmal’.
Spanish and English have also borrowed the Greek word directly, Spanish as astro ‘heavenly body, (especially) a star’, in the late 16th century. Eng. aster ~ Sp. áster are used for ‘any of various plants of the genus Aster in the composite family, having radiate flower heads with white, pink, or violet rays and a usually yellow disk’ (AHD).

[2] Greek παράσιτος (parásitos) also came to mean ‘a person who lives at another's expense and repays him or her with flattery, a person who dines with a superior officer, a priest who is permitted meals at the public expense’ (OED). It is formed from the prefix παρα‑ (para‑) and the noun στος (sîtos) ‘grain, bread, food’. In the early 18th century this term started to be used in Western languages in the fields of Botany and Zoology.

[3] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate dictionary defines the English word poetaster simply as ‘an inferior poet’. Other dictionaries have more disparaging definitions, such as the American Heritage dictionary, which defines it as ‘a writer of insignificant, meretricious, or shoddy poetry’, and Webster's New Third International Unabridged Dictionary, which defines it as ‘a writer of worthless or inferior verses : a pretended poet’, and the Oxford English Dictionary, with ‘a petty or paltry poet; a writer of poor or trashy verse; a rimester’.

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