This is Part 5. Go to Part 4.
Words for feelings and related words
Eng. feeling and feel
As we saw earlier, the term emotion is typically defined in dictionaries in terms of the term feeling. Thus, a dictionary may tell us that an emotion is simply ‘a strong feeling, such as joy, anger, or sadness’ (COED) or in dictionaries that give us more senses for this word, one of them is likely to equate emotions with feelings (cf. RHWU sense #2 above). So, let us take a look at the word feeling now and its Spanish equivalents.
Our word feeling [ˈfilɪŋ] is a noun, identical in form to the present participle of the verb to feel in a phrase like I am feeling sick. The verb feel from which the noun feeling is ultimately derived is a patrimonial one, attested in Old English as felan, whose original sense was ‘to perceive through the senses’, a sense (meaning) that is still central to this verb, though other senses have developed through the years, along with many idiomatic expressions, such as feel at home, feel like (doing) something, feel the need to do something, or feel free to do something.
The noun feeling is attested already in the early 13th century with the meaning ‘the capacity to experience the sense of touch or other bodily sensations (as of heat, cold, pain, motion, etc.)’ and, more generally, ‘physical sensation other than sight, hearing, taste, or smell’ (OED). By the middle of the 14th century, the word feeling was being used for ‘an affective state of consciousness, such as that resulting from emotions, sentiments, or desires’ (AHD), as in a feeling of excitement. By the the middle of the 15th century, it was being used to refer to what one feels about something or one’s opinion, ‘opinion based more on emotion than on reason; sentiment’ (AHD), as in That’s my feeling too (cf. Sp. Eso es lo que pienso yo también). Other senses came later, such as ‘capacity to experience the higher emotions; sensitivity; sensibility: [e.g.] a man of feeling’ and, in the plural, ‘susceptibility to emotional response; sensibilities: [e.g.] The child's feelings are easily hurt’ (AHD).
As we can see, the noun feeling is quite polysemous today, with dictionaries varying in the amount and types of senses they ascribe to the noun feeling. In addition, note that there is also an adjective feeling, as in the phrase a feeling heart, equivalent to a heart that feels. The AHD gives us eight senses, one of which has 3 subsenses and 3 of which have 2 subsenses. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary gives nine senses for this noun, summarized here, with examples:
1. something that you feel: guilty feelings
2. idea/belief/impression: the feeling of being followed
3. attitude/opinion: mixed feelings
4. emotions (as opposed to thoughts or ideas): to talk about one’s feelings
5. emotion (strong): to speak with feeling
6. understanding: a feeling for color
7. sympathy/love: I have feelings for her
8. physical sensation: I have lost feeling in my legs
9. atmosphere: to recreate the feeling of the original theatre
It is clear then that when we define the term emotion in terms of the term feeling, we should clarify that it is only some of the senses of the word feeling that are compatible with the word emotion, such as senses 4 and 5 in this list, not all of them.
Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary has even more senses for this word: 11 for the noun feeling and 3 for the adjective feeling, and Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English has 14 for the noun and 1 for the adjective. As usual, the most concise of all dictionaries is the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, which gives 4 senses (with 3 additional sub-senses) for the noun and 1 for the adjective. Curiously, the first sense and its two sub-senses are defined in terms of emotion:
1. an emotional state or reaction.
(feelings) emotional responses or tendencies to respond.
(feelings) emotional responses or tendencies to respond.
2. a belief or opinion.
3. the capacity to experience the sense of touch.
the sensation of touching or being touched.
the sensation of touching or being touched.
4. (feeling for) a sensitivity to or intuitive understanding of.
5. adjective showing emotion or sensitivity.
Here, it is sense 1 that is compatible with the main meaning of the word emotion, but none of the rest are.
Sp. sentir, sentimiento, and related words
As for the way to translate the noun feeling into Spanish, dictionaries also differ as to how they divide the senses. Out of the blue, we may think that sentimiento is the main Spanish word to translate Eng. feeling, but things are actually not that simple. The following is the division made in Harrap’s English-Spanish Dictionary with a paraphrase or synonym of each sense of the word feeling in English and the most common word to express it in Spanish.
1. (sensation) (of cold, pain) sensación
2. (ability to feel) sensibilidad
3. (emotion) sentimiento
4. (sensitivity) sensibilidad
5. (opinion) opinion
6. (intuition) impression (also sensación)
As we can see, only one of the senses of Eng. feeling translates as sentimiento according of this particular classification of senses.
Note that for every one of these senses, the Spanish ‘equivalent’ word is not always the best way to translate that sense of the word feeling. In other words, a translation of a phrase with a particular sense of the word feeling will not necessarily be translated by the equivalent word given. Thus, for instance, when the Harrap’s dictionary gives examples of a sense it doesn’t always use the given word in the Spanish example, showing us that there may be more appropriate translations. Thus, for the first sense of the word feeling, the ‘sensation’ one, an example given is A feeling of unease came over her, which is translated into Spanish as La invadió cierta inquietud, not an expression with the word sensación at all, such as sensación de inquietud, though that longer expression could have been used as well, though it sounds redundant. Also, for sense #3, Harrap’s translates the idiomatic expression I know the feeling! as ¡Sé cómo te sientes!, lit. ‘I know how you feel/are feeling’, using the verb sentir ‘to feel’ and not the derived noun sentimiento.
The Vox English-Spanish dictionary gives 8 senses and typical one-word translations for the noun feeling, as well as some alternative translations for English expressions containing this word. A paraphrase or synonym of the sense of the word feeling in question is given in parentheses.
1. (emotion) sentimiento, emoción, pasión: feeling of guilt ≈ sentimiento de culpabilidad; to speak with feeling ≈ hablar con pasión
2. (sensation) sensación: a feeling of nausea ≈ una sensación de náusea
3. (sense) sensibilidad: I’ve lost all feeling in my legs ≈ he perdido la sensibilidad en las piernas
4. (concern) compasión, ternura: You have no feeling! ≈ ¡Qué insensible eres!
5. (impression) impresión, sensación, presentimiento: I have the feeling that ... ≈ tengo la impresión de que ...
6. (artistic) sensibilidad, talento: to play with great feeling ≈ tocar con gran sensibilidad
7. (opinion) sentir, opinión, actitud, parecer: my own feeling is that ... ≈ en mi opinión ...
8. (atmosphere) ambiente
As we can see, two of the most common Spanish words to translate Eng. feeling are the nouns sensación and sentimiento. These two words are related to the Spanish verb sentir ‘to feel’, a patrimonial stem-changing (e>ie) verb whose main meaning is ‘to feel’. At least the Latin source-words of these two nouns were related to the source-word of the source-word of the verb sentir, namely the Latin verb sĕntīre, whose main meaning is ‘to discern by the senses; to feel, hear, see, etc.’ (L&S) (principal parts: sĕntiō, sĕntīre, sēnsī, sēnsus). The source of this Latin verb has been reconstructed as the Proto-Indo-European verbal root *sent‑, which also meant ‘to feel’, so little seems to have changed in more than 5,000 years. Sp. sentir if often used to translate Eng. feel, but note that sentir has developed a secondary sense besides ‘to feel’, namely ‘to regret, to be sorry’, as in Siento que no vinieras ‘I’m sorry you didn’t come’ and the common phrase Lo siento ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I regret it’. A synonym of this sense of sentir is lamentar. Spanish has also converted the verb sentir into a noun meaning something like ‘opinion, feeling’, as in the sentence Ese es mi sentir ‘that is my feeling, how I feel, my opinion’. Note that sentir is a transitive verb and to use it intransitively it must be conjugated reflexively, as in Me siento enfermo ‘I feel sick’. Reflexive sentirse is used primarily to express internal feelings and states, as opposed to those from the outside world.
English has an unlikely cognate of Sp. sentir, namely the verb to scent [ˈsɛnt] (originally spelled sent) that means ‘to perceive or identify by the sense of smell’. It was borrowed from Old French sentir in the late 14th century. The noun scent, which today is more common than the verb scent, was derived in English from the verb by conversion also in the late 14th century.
Let us go look first at the source-word of the cognates Sp. sentimiento ~ Eng. sentiment. English borrowed the noun sentiment [ˈsɛn.tɪ.mənt], at first spelled sentement, in the late 14th century from Old French, which itself borrowed it from Medieval Latin. English first borrowed this noun with the meaning ‘personal experience, one’s own feeling’ (OED), which is now obsolete. The original meanings and spelling of this Middle English word were replaced by the late 17th century, when it acquired the current meaning, no doubt through French, something like ‘a mental feeling’ or ‘a thought, view, or attitude, especially one based mainly on emotion instead of reason’, as in An anti-American sentiment swept through the country (AHD). It was quite a popular word in the middle of the 19th century with the meaning ‘a thought or reflection colored by or proceeding from emotion’ (OED), though the word has lost some popularity since then.
The source-word is Medieval Latin word sĕntīmĕntum, meaning ‘feeling’ as well as ‘opinion (derived from a feeling)’. This noun was formed with the root sĕnt‑ of the verb sĕntīre plus the suffix ‑mĕnt-um that formed nouns typically with the meaning ‘instrument, medium, or result’, as in the word monumentum, which literally meant ‘medium of remembrance’, derived from the verb monēre ‘to remind’ (cf. Eng. monument ~ Sp. monumento).
Sp. sentimiento is also obviously a loanword from Medieval Latin, but an early one. It is attested already in the middle of the 13th century. This noun is not a very good friend of its cognate Eng. sentiment, since it typically translates into English as feeling, with one of the senses of that English noun and not the others, as we have seen. Some examples of the word in use are found in the collocations sentimiento de culpa(bilidad) ‘guilt(y) feelings’, no tener sentimientos ‘to have no feelings’, declarar los sentimientos ‘to declare one’s feelings’, and herir los sentimientos ‘to hurt one’s feelings’. In some contexts, the word sentimiento has the sense ‘sad feelings’, in which case it may be translated as sorrow or grief . We find this sense in the idiomatic expression Le acompaño en el sentimiento, an idiomatic expression to express one’s sympathy on someone’s passing.
Derived from the cognate nouns Sp. sentimiento ~ Eng. sentiment are the cognate adjectives Sp. sentimental ~ Eng. sentimental. The word was first created in English by means of the adjectival suffix ‑al in the mid-18th century, much like we saw the adjective emotional was derived in English from the noun emotion. The original sense of the English word sentimental was something like ‘deriving from feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia’ from which the sense ‘having or arousing such feelings in an exaggerated and self-indulgent way’ derived. By 1769, the word had been borrowed by French and it was in the Academy’s DRAE by the middle of the next century, in 1843. Although Eng. sentimental and Sp. sentimental are close friends, the Spanish word has developed a sense that its English cognate does not have in expressions such as vida sentimental ‘love life’ and problemas sentimentales ‘problems in one’s love life’.
 Actually, the ancestor of the ending ‑ing was only used for creating nouns from verbs and not to form the present participle. In Old English it was ‑ing or -ung, from Proto-Germanic *‑ingō or *‑ungō (cognate to the rare Spanish suffix ‑engo, seemingly a loan from Gothic). The ending for forming the present participle was ‑ende in Old English, a cognate of Latin ‑ant‑/‑ent‑, but this suffix merged with the other one, cf. the Latin suffix ‑ant‑ found in many words that English has borrowed from French, such as important and president. Thus, we can say that there are two homonymous ‑ing suffixes in English, from different sources.