Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Patrimony-matrimony, part 5: the roots patr- and matr- (2): padrino and madrina

[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.]



Sp. padrino and madrina

The Spanish words padrino and madrina, which translate as godfather and godmother, have no cognates in English either. They do not derive from Classical Latin words but rather were created in western Vulgar Latin out of the words māter (accusative mātr‑em) and păter (accusative: pătr‑em) and the adjective-forming suffix ‑īn‑ that added the sense of ‘of or pertaining to’, indicating some kind of relationship, such as origin, but also others (variants of this suffix were ‑ān‑, ‑ēn‑, ‑iān‑, and ‑ūn‑). This together with the masculine ‑us and feminine ‑a inflections resulted in the words *pătrīnus and mātrīna (the latter attested in the 6th century), which meant ‘godfather’ and ‘godmother’ respectively, just like their descendants do today. (Corominas mentions that there is an attested patrinius in early Spanish glosses with the meaning ‘stepfather’.) Cognates of Sp. padrino in other Romance languages include French parrain, Italian padrino, Portuguese padrinho, Catalan padrí, and Occitan pairin. Cognates of Sp. madrina in other Romance languages include Italian madrina, Occitan mairina, Portuguese madrinha. Curiously, the Catalan word for ‘godmother’ is padrina, not madrina, an innovation only found in this Romance language.

The primary meaning of Sp. padrino is ‘godfather’, that is, ‘a man who sponsors a person at baptism’ (AHD), a concept found in the Catholic and other Christian traditions that comes from late Roman times. In Spanish, the word has expanded its meanings and can now also mean any man who ‘sponsors’, ‘introduces’, or assists another person in any of the other Catholic sacraments, such as confirmation, matrimony, or priestly ordination, though those uses are much less common and some, such as confirmation, is outdated. Thus, for example, it is the word used for (typically) the bride’s father giving his daughter away at a wedding. The term godfather in the religious sense in English is typically restricted to baptism, not to the other sacraments.

Wikipedia explains the role of godparent, which includes a godfather and a godmother, in the following way:
in many denominations of Christianity, is someone who bears witness to a child’s baptism and then aids in their catechesis, as well as their lifelong spiritual formation. In the past, in some countries, the role carried some legal obligations as well as religious responsibilities. In both religious and civil views, a godparent tends to be an individual chosen by the parents to take an interest in the child’s upbringing and personal development, to offer mentorship or claim legal guardianship of the child should anything happen to the parents.[i]
Among the Christian denominations that still follow the tradition of having godparents are the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion (Church of England), the Lutheran churches, the Methodist Church, and the Orthodox Church(es).

Interestingly, until the 5th century the godparents in baptism were the child’s parents, but by the 6th century they had been replaced by other individuals. The godparents were the ‘spiritual parents’ of the child and by the end of the 6th century we find that they were being referred to as co-parents, giving rise to the Latin terms compater ‘co-father’ and commater ‘co-mother’ that we will see in the next section. The sacrament of confirmation arose in the western Christian (Catholic) Church in the 8th century and a different set of godparents were to be chosen for that purpose, a tradition that is not as common today.

One Christian sacrament besides baptism in which the figures of the padrino and the madrina have not disappeared is the wedding (Sp. boda), where people are joined in ‘holy matrimony’ (Sp. santo matrimonio), which is another one of the Catholic sacraments. A padrino and a madrina are traditionally chosen in Catholic weddings and often the padrino is the father of the bride and the madrina the mother of the groom, though the roles can be filled by other relatives or close friends. These roles are somewhat analogous to the roles of best man and maid of honor in modern Anglo cultures, though in the latter, the roles are typically played by the groom and bride’s best friends of the same gender. The role of padrino at a wedding is also somewhat analogous to the role of father of the bride, who ‘gives away’ the bride. In some countries in the Spanish-speaking world that have weddings that are modelled more on the Anglo style, the term padrino is used for all the groomsmen or ushers and the term madrina is used for all of the bridesmaids, though another term for them is testigos ‘witnesses’.

Derived from the sacramental sense, a second sense of padrino is that of ‘man who introduces and accompanies another one who is receiving some honor or degree’ or who enters in ‘literary competitions, tournaments, duels, and other challenges’ (DLE). Although Spanish-English dictionaries typically give godfather as the single possible translation of Sp. padrino, the best translation for this sense of Sp. padrino is sponsor, not godfather.

Eng. godfather does have other senses besides the baptismal one. A second sense of Eng. godfather is, according to one dictionary, ‘one having a relation to someone or something analogous to that of a male sponsor to his godchild: such as a : one that founds, supports, or inspires’, as in the phrase the godfather of a whole generation of rebels (MWC), that is, ‘a man who is influential or pioneering in a movement or organization’ (COED). Sp. padrino is not used with this sense.

A third sense of Eng. godfather is ‘a head of an illegal organization, especially a leader of the American Mafia’ (COED). This sense was started as slang in the US and many connect it to the use of this word in the title of the 1972 Hollywood blockbuster film The Godfather, based on a 1968 novel by Mario Puzo. Mafia bosses (Sp. capo), such as the one in the New York crime family depicted in the film, Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando), were often asked to be the godfather of children by their parents in the hopes that that way they would be the beneficiaries of their largesse. Although the title of this film was translated into Spanish as El padrino, the word padrino is not used with this sense in Spanish and neither can its Italian cognate padrino.

As we saw, the woman’s analog of padrino is madrina ‘godmother’. In baptisms, and sometimes in other Christian sacraments, such as at Christian weddings, there is a madrina along a padrino, as we saw above. The term madrina is also used for a woman who accompanies another person who receives a degree or some other honor, much as in the case of a padrino. The term madrina is also used for a woman who helps or protects another person in their aims or designs. Hence the common figure found in fairy tales, el hada madrina ‘fairy godmother’. Another related role of the madrina, this one specific to godmothers and not godfathers, is that of being the one who launches a boat or ship, typically by smashing a bottle of champagne against its haul. (The verb for to launch a boat is botar un barco in Spanish.) Those are the main senses of the Spanish noun madrina.

The act of becoming someone’s padrino is called in Spanish apadrinar ‘to be a godfather for (someone)’, as in Apadriné a mi nieta en su bautizo ‘I was my niece’s godfather in her baptism’, or also ‘to sponsor (someone)’, as in El veterano director apadrinó al joven realizador en sus primeras películas ‘The veteran director sponsored the young producer in his early films’ (Vox). This verb is formed from the root with the prefix a‑ and the verbal suffix ‑ar (see the discussion on parasynthetic verbs in Part I, Section English too turned the noun godfather into a verb, to godfather, since at least the late 18th century, with the meaning ‘to act as godfather to’, but it is not a common word. Note, for instance, that we wouldn’t use this verb to translate Sp. apadrinar in the next to the last sentence.

And just like the noun padrino was turned into the verb apadrinar, so the noun madrina was turned into the verb amadrinar. In the context of baptism, this verbs means ‘to be the godmother to’, as in Amadrinó a su nieta ‘She was her granddaughter’s godmother’. In the context of a wedding, amadrinar refers to filling the role of madrina at a wedding as explained above, whose main function is to assist the bridegroom and accompany him to the church. Finally, amadrinar is used in the context of the launching of boats and is thus equivalent to Eng. launch or christen.[1]

The English terms godfather, godmother, and godparents go back to Old English and were created by prefixing god‑ to the words father, mother, and so on. That is because godparents were supposed to be involved in teaching Christian values (and doctrine) to their godchildren. Analogous forms with the same prefix are used in other Germanic languages, such as Dutch, Old Icelandic, and Swedish.[2] In some of the Germanic languages, however, these analogous (cognate) terms have become archaic or obsolete today.

Along with the terms we just saw formed with the prefix god‑, English also had the terms godson, goddaughter, and godchild. The Spanish equivalents of these terms are ahijado and ahijada. These nouns are look identical to the past participles of the verb ahijar derived from the root hij‑ of the words hijo ‘son’ and hija ‘daughter’. Sp. ahijar is first attested in the 11th century but it is archaic if not obsolete today, though it is still found in dictionaries and its meaning is ‘to adopt’ (cf. Modern Sp. adoptar). Sp. ahijar also has additional related dictionary meanings that are even less common today than the main one, such as ‘to procreate, have children’. This verb can be described as containing the root hij‑ (of hijo and hija), the same prefix a‑ that we saw in the verb apadrinar, and first conjugation verbal inflections.

Actually, the word ahijado/a descends from an adjective created in Late Latin, affiliātus/a ‘adopted as son/daughter’ derived from the verb affīlĭāre ‘to adopt (as son/daughter)’, which was derived from the root fīlĭ‑ of fīlĭus/a ‘son/daughter’ and the prefix ad‑ ‘to’. This verb was borrowed into Spanish in the 19th century from Latin (a cultismo) as afiliar, meaning ‘to make somebody a member of an organization’, which is most commonly conjugated reflexively, as afiliarse ‘to join or become a member of an organization’, as in becoming a card-carrying member of an organization, as in for example Yo nunca me afilié al Partido Comunista ‘I never (officially) joined the Communist Party’. The verb no doubt came through French, which borrowed it first, in the early 18th century, from Medieval Latin, cf. Fr. affilier, with the same meaning it has in Spanish. (Actually, French adopted this verb with the meaning ‘to adopt’ in the 15th century, but then reborrowed it again in the 18th century with the sense ‘to join an organization’.)

Along with this verb,  Spanish got the past participle afiliado/a of this verb, which can be used as an adjective, as in No estoy afiliado ‘I am not a member’, but also as a noun with the meaning ‘member (of a club or association)’, as in los afiliados al club ‘the (official) club members’. This word is a cognate—and false-friend—of the English noun affiliate [ə.ˈfɪ.lɪə̯t], which is a mid-18th century loan from Latin affiliātus. It means ‘a person, organization, or establishment associated with another as a subordinate, subsidiary, or member’ (AHD), as in the phrase a network affiliate, and its Spanish equivalent is the feminine noun filial, cf. Sp. una filial televisiva, director de filial ‘branch head’.[3]

English also borrowed the Latin verb affīlĭāre in the 18th century, though French no doubt. As usual, English borrowed this Latin verb by copying its passive participle verb form affiliātus and converting it into affiliate, spelled like the noun we just saw but pronounced slightly differently: [ə.ˈfɪ.li.eɪ̯t]. One dictionary says that this verb means ‘to officially attach or connect to an organization’ (COED), just like its French and Spanish cognates, though other dictionaries are perhaps more correct when they say that the attachment may be unofficial, as in the definition ‘to join or become connected with a larger group or organization’, as in She affiliated herself with the Impressionist school of painting (DOCE), which doesn’t mean that she was an official or card-carrying member of an organization. This means that these two cognates are not equivalent in use, although their dictionary meanings seem very similar. Besides afiliarse, other verbs that translate Eng. affiliate when the affiliation is not a formal one but more of a informal connection are adherirse, asociarse, and unirse (all followed by the preposition a).

Both of these verbs have participles that can be used as adjectives, namely Eng. afiliated and Sp. afiliado/a, as in Eng. to be affiliated to something ~ Sp. estar afiliado/a a algo. Note that the Spanish word is identical to the noun we saw above that was cognate with the English noun affiliate. These adjectives are are ‘close friends’ semantically but, again, they are not used the same way. When affiliated is used in the ‘being connected to/with’ sense, rather than the ‘formally attached as a member’ sense, Eng. affiliated translates most commonly into Spanish as asociado/a, not afiliado/a, which has more the sense of being a formal member of an organization, such as a card-carrying member.


[1] The verb christen [ˈkʰɹɪsən] today can be used with the meaning ‘to give something or someone a name’, as in His fans christened him the king of rock (DOCE) which in the case of ships at least involves a ceremonial dedication. This verb’s original meaning, which is still current, is ‘to officially give a child its name at a Christian religious ceremony’, as in She was christened Sarah (DOCE). After all, this verb comes from Old English cristnian ‘to baptize’ or, literally ‘to make Christian’, derived from Old English cristen ‘Christian’. In some dialects of English at least, the verb christen can be used informally with the meaning ‘to use something for the first time’, equivalent to inaugurar in Spanish, as in We haven’t christened the new garden chairs yet (DOCE).

[2] Old English also had a word godsibb, later godsib, derived from the Old English sibb, which could be an adjective meaning ‘Related by blood or descent; akin’ and a noun meaning ‘a kinsman or kinswoman’ (OED). The compound godsibb meant ‘godparent’. This word evolved into the modern word gossip. The story of the meaning change is quite interesting. First, by the 14th century, the noun came to be used to refer to ‘a familiar acquaintance, friend, chum. Formerly applied to both sexes… [and later only] to women’ (OED). Then by the 16th century the word was being used for ‘a person, mostly a woman, of light and trifling character, esp. one who delights in idle talk; a newsmonger, a tattler’ (OED). By the early 19th century the meaning had evolved to ‘the conversation of such a person; idle talk; trifling or groundless rumour; tittle-tattle’ (OED).

[3] A snonym of this noun filial is sucursal in some contexts. The word filial can also be used as an adjective in Spanish, in which case it means ‘of the son, filial’, as in amor filial ‘filial love’, ‘a child’s love’ or else, in the world of commerce, ‘subsidiary’, as in una empresa filial ‘a subsidiary company’.

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