This is Part 7. Go to Part 6.
Eng. sentient and related words
Not surprisingly, English and Spanish also have descendants of the present active participle of the Latin verb sĕntīre, which was sĕntiēns (accusative wordform: sĕntĭentem), a verbal adjective that meant ‘feeling’, ‘perceiving with the senses’, as well as ‘perceiving mentally’. The Latin present participle was formed with the present stem of the verb and the ending ‑ns in the nominative and ‑nt‑ in all the other cases, followed by the case inflection, e.g. ‑nt‑em in the accusative singular. (For fourth conjugation verbs, an ‑e‑ is inserted between the present stem sĕnt‑ĭ‑ and the ending.) Present participles were declined like third declension adjectives (cf. Part I, Chapter 8, §188.8.131.52.3).
In the 17th century, English borrowed this word as the adjective sentient with the meaning ‘able to perceive or feel things’ (COED), which is still its current meaning. The term is often used today in the context of animals other than humans as well as extraterrestrial living beings. A cognate of this word is not yet found in the DLE today but in recent years Spanish speakers have borrowed it through English. Interestingly, the Spanish adjective has two versions sentiente and sintiente, both meaning the same thing as their English cognate ‘that feels (= que siente), sentient’. Although neither word is to be found in the Academies’ DLE (2020), both variants are approved by the RAE’s Diccionario panhispánico de dudas as the equivalent of Eng. sentient (2005).[i] It must be said that the word makes a lot of sense to a Spanish speaker since it can be easily related to the verb sentir and to the adjectival ending ‑ente.
As for the two forms the adjective has adopted, note that the patrimonial Spanish verbal root SENT‑ has three allomorphs: sent‑, sient‑ and sint‑. The allomorph sient‑ is only found when the root is stressed, as in the first person singular present tense verb form siento (but not in the first-person plural form sentimos). This is due to a sound change that occurred in Old Spanish in which stressed short ĕ always changed to ie (cf. Part I, Chapter 10, §10.3.2). Since the root vowel in the Spanish adjective cognate of Eng. sentient is not stressed, we would not expect to find the form *sientiente. The variant sent‑ found in sentiente makes sense in a learned loanword from Latin, since the sound change from Latin short ĕ to Spanish ie only happened in patrimonial words, not in loanwords from Latin (note that this form is also closer to the English cognate sentient). The variant sint‑ on the other hand is found in patrimonial forms of the verb sentir in which the following syllable has a diphthong that starts with the semivowel [i̯], namely the verb forms sintió, sintieron and sintiendo. Thus, it makes sense to a Spanish speaker that in a word derived from sentir with the ending ‑iente, which has the semivowel [i̯], would use the allomorph sint‑ in the root, resulting in sintiente, the second alternative approved by the language authorities.
From the stem sentient‑ of the present participle sentiēns, Latin derived a noun sĕntĕntĭa, which must have come from an earlier *sĕntĭĕntĭa in Early Latin by loss of the first short ĭ. It was derived by means of the suffix ‑ĭ‑a that formed feminine abstract nouns from adjective or present participle stems (we can thus analyze the word’s morphemes as follows: sĕnt‑ĭ‑ĕ‑nt‑ĭ‑a). The meaning of the noun sĕntĕntĭa in Classical Latin was ‘a way of thinking, opinion, judgment, sentiment; a purpose, determination, decision, will, etc.’ (L&S). This noun has been borrowed by both English and Spanish as Eng. sentence and Sp. sentencia, two words that are share some of their meanings but not all.
English also has a noun sentience that means either ‘the quality or state of being sentient; consciousness’ or ‘feeling as distinguished from perception or thought’ (AHD). Note that this word looks superficially like a cognate of the word sentence. Actually, Eng. sentience was derived from the adjective sentient in English, in the early 19th century. Since there are many pairs of adjective-nouns in English that end in ‑ent ~ ‑ence, such as patient ~ patience, the noun sentience was created out of the adjective sentient by analogy with those nouns. Thus, we cannot say that Eng. sentence and sentience are cognates, strictly speaking, although they seem to have all of the same word parts, since the former is a loanword from Latin, where the word was formed, whereas the latter was formed in English from descendants of the same word parts that were borrowed from Latin.
Not surprisingly, Spanish has also borrowed this noun, sentience, from English, or calqued it, perhaps we should say, since Spanish also has many words that follow the pattern paciente – paciencia. Again, this word is not yet in the Academies’ dictionary, but it has been approved by related groups.[ii] As in the case of the adjectives, two forms of this word are considered correct and valid: sentiencia, with an e, and sintiencia, with an i.