Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The words test and prueba, and related words, Part 12

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 12. Go to Part 11

Latin nouns derived from Lat. prŏbāre


There are several Latin nouns derived from the verb prŏbāre. Latin had different ways to derive nouns of different types (action, actor, etc.) from verbs. Some were derived by adding a suffix to the verbal root, in this case prŏb‑. Most nouns that came from verbs in Latin, however, were derived by adding suffixes to the verb’s perfect stem which also contained other suffixes, such as the vowel ā‑ associated with first conjugation verbs, and the passive suffix ‑t‑, which in this case resulted in the stem prŏb‑ā‑t(cf. Part I, Chapter 8, § Some deverbal nouns were derived from a form of the passive participle without the addition of any derivational suffixes, only inflectional ones. The nouns derived from that verb are those in Table 178 below. The stem is given in each case, next to the derivational suffix (if there is one) and the inflection of the wordform from which the English and Spanish nouns were taken.

Below we will look at the first four of these nouns: prŏbātum, prŏbĭtātem, prŏbātĭōnem, and prŏbātōrem. They are the ones that have descendants in English and/or Spanish. The last one, prŏbātōrĭa, has no reflexes in these two languages, but its origin will be discussed in the next section, which is about adjctives derived from the verb prŏbāre.

In addition to those five the nouns, there could have been other Latin nouns derived from this verb. One possible additional word would have been *prŏbātūra, formed with the Latin feminine suffix ‑ūr‑(a), which derived abstract nouns from adjectives, added to the passive stem. There is no evidence, however, that such a Latin word existed. Curiously, the word probatura is found in the Spanish dictionary, as a colloquial (and very rare) synonym of the word prueba. María Moliner’s dictionary even gives a sample sentence, cf. Me cansan tantas probaturas ‘I am tired of so many tests’. It would seem that this word was not borrowed from Latin but, rather, created in Spanish, probably for humoristic purposes, from the root prob‑ by analogy with real loanwords from Latin such as aventura and abreviatura by means of the Latinate suffix ‑dura/‑tura.

Eng. probate

Lat. prŏbātum was first of all the neuter form of the adjective prŏbātus, identical in form to the passive participle prŏbātus/a/um of the verb prŏbāre. The adjective meant something like ‘proved’ and the noun prŏbātum ‘thing (that has been) proved’. Spanish does not have a descendant (reflex) of this noun, either a patrimonial or a borrowed one, but English did borrow it from Latin in the early 15th century as probate [ˈpʰɹ̯.ˌbeɪ̯t] with the customary change of the inflection ending to ‑e adopted from French.

Among the first attested meanings of the English noun probate were ‘the act of proving something’, ‘the fact of being proved’, ‘proof, demonstration’, ‘evidence, testimony’ (OED).  By the middle of the 15th century, however, this word was being as a legal term with the meaning that has persisted until today, namely ‘the official proving of a will; the legal process involving this’ (OED). This noun translates into Spanish as legalización/autenti(fi)cación/validación de un testamento.

In noun-noun compounds, the noun probate can act as a modifier (‘adjective’), resulting in common phrases such as probate law (Sp. ley testamentaria or ley de sucesiones), probate judge (Sp. juez testamentario/a), and probate court (Sp. tribunal testamentario). In North America, the noun probate has been converted into a verb, to probate, meaning ‘[to] establish the validity of (a will)’ (COED), e.g. After her death, Merchants probated her will and subsequently petitioned for a final settlement of the estate (OED). This verb translates into Spanish as legalizar/autenticar un testamento.

Eng. probation ~ Sp. probación

The nouns Eng. probation ~ Sp. probación are cognates, since they descend from the same Latin word, but they are false friends since they do not share their meanings in other than a very remote way. They are both loanwords from Lat. prŏbātĭōnem, the accusative wordform of the noun that is prŏbātĭō in the nominative form (prŏb‑ā‑t+ĭōn‑em). Its meaning was ‘a trying, proving’ and ‘a trial, inspection, examination’ (L&S). It was formed with the suffix ‑ĭōn‑ that formed action nouns from verbs, and which attached itself to the verb’s passive participle stem, prŏb‑ā‑t‑ in his case.

Sp. probación is a very rare synonym of the nouns prueba ‘test’ or comprobación ‘verification, checking’ (see above). It is safe to say that most native speakers of Spanish have never encountered this word. The first sense according to the DLE is a synonym of prueba ‘test’, but the second is one used in religious orders, referring to a trial period lasting at least one year in which priest candidates must prove their ‘vocation and virtue’.[1] Sp. probación is found in the 1737 version of the Academy’s dictionary (DRAE), though it is attested in an early dictionary from 1505 (DIRAE).

Eng. probation, on the other hand, is a common word, one that has two related meanings. In legal matters, it refers to ‘the release of an offender from detention, subject to a period of good behavior under supervision’ and, in non-legal contexts, it refers to ‘the process of testing or observing the character or abilities of a person who is new to a role or job’ (COED). In North America, the word is also used in an academic context with the meaning ‘a limited period of time granted to a student in which to improve conduct or academic performance (failure to do so typically resulting in exclusion). Usually in on probation’ (OED). This word translates into Spanish as libertad condicional in the legal context and as período de prueba in the context of employment and the non-legal contexts. Eng. probation is attested as early as the early 15th century, with the sense ‘putting something to the test; trial, etc.’. Later the word acquired religious and other senses. The legal sense of the English word is from the late 19th century and it originated in the US.

Eng. probity ~ Sp. probidad

We have already come across these cognates in this chapter. They are formal and rare nouns that are loanwords from Lat. prŏbĭtātem (nominative: prŏbĭtas), and abstract noun derived from the verb prŏbāre. It was derived from the adjective prŏbus/a ‘good, proper, well-behaved, etc.’ and it meant ‘goodness, worth, uprightness, honesty, probity; modesty’ (L&S).

Sp. probidad is related to (and as formal as) the adjective probo/a ‘honest’ that we saw earlier. In English, probity cannot be related to an adjective, so it is even rarer and more of an orphan than its Spanish cognate. In theory, the two words are good friends (same meaning) but most Spanish-English dictionaries translate probidad not as probity but as honesty, integrity (Vox), since probity is such a rare word.

The OED tells us that probity came into the English language through writing by the hand of different authors and although some many have borrowed it from Latin, others took it from Middle French probité ‘strict honesty, integrity, rectitude, decency’, also a learned word in that language (a loanword from Latin). Eng. probity is first attested in the first half of the 15th century. The first citation of this word in the OED is from 1425 and the next one is from almost a century later, 1518. The French cognate probité is first attested in 1420 according to Le Grand Robert (LGR), so they both came about around the same time. Clearly anybody who used these words in written English or French at the time also knew Latin, which made the introduction of such Latin loanwords unproblematic for the reader. Eng. probity, however, is one of those loanwords that never really caught on in popular speech, though it also refused to become obsolete altogether, since it kept on being used occasionally by writers. It is safe to say, however, that most English speakers have never heard it or seen it used in their lives.

We do not know when Sp. probidad was first used in Spanish. We do know that it wasn’t in the first editions of the Academy’s dictionary (DRAE) in the 18th century and that it first appeared in that dictionary in 1803 (DIRAE). It is possible that it didn’t appear until then because it was so rare, but it could also be that it didn’t start being used until then because it was borrowed through French, simply adapting the French ending ‑ité from the Latin ‑ĭtātem, to what the ending always changed to in Spanish, namely ‑idad. The Academy’s dictionary of course says that the word is a loanword from Latin, not French.

Eng. probator ~ Sp. probador

Finally, Latin had a noun probātor (accusative wordform: probātōrem) that in classical Latin meant ‘examiner, approver’, but which in later Latin, also came to mean ‘person who accuses an accomplice’ (OED). This word was derived from the passive participle stem probāt‑ and the agent suffix ‑ōr‑ (the nominative singular form of this suffix was ‑or, not followed by any inflection).

The noun probātor is commonly found with the ‘accuser’ sense in Latin legal writings found in Britain in the mid-12th to mid-15th centuries and from there it was borrowed into English in the late 13th century as the noun probator (OED). Later on, Eng. probator also came to mean ‘one who appeals to a higher tribunal’ (OED). This word, however, is obsolete today and fully out of circulation (that is what the † next to the word in the OED entry indicates, cf. Part I, Chapter 4, §4.6.2).

Spanish also borrowed this word in the Middle Ages, as probador, but its meaning was different, although also related to the law, and perhaps closer to the original ‘examiner’ meaning, since it meant ‘defense lawyer’. Although the word was a loan from Latin, it changed the ending from ‑ator to ‑ador, which is a common suffix adaptation, for ‑ador is what Latin ‑ā‑t‑ōr‑ had become in patrimonial words, that is, in Latin words descended though the ages by word-of-mouth, not borrowed (cf. Part I, Chapter 1). Much like Eng. probator, Sp. probador became obsolete and this descendant of Lat. probātor is not found in Spanish anymore.

However, Spanish still has a word probador, but this word seems to have been formed in Spanish with the patrimonial suffix ‑ador that descends from the same Latin ending ‑ā‑tōr(em) attached to the root of the verb probar, and thus it would be incorrect to call it a cognate of Middle English probator. Modern Spanish probador means primarily ‘changing room, fitting room’ in modern Spanish and it is thus derived from the ‘try on’ sense of the verb probar and the ‑ador ending here has the (less common) sense of ‘place’, not of ‘agent, doer’, a sense also found in the word comedor ‘dining room’, for example. Conceivably, the word probador can also be used as an agent noun (and adjective) to describe a person or thing that does any of the things that the verb probar means, such as ‘taster’, ‘someone who tries things on’, etc.

Go to Part 13

[1] DLE: ‘En las órdenes regulares, examen y prueba que debe hacerse, al menos durante un año, de la vocación y virtud de los novicios antes de profesar.’

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