Saturday, April 4, 2020

The words test and prueba, and related words, Part 6

[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 6. Go to Part 5

Sp. prueba and Eng. proof and probe

Sp. prueba [ˈpɾu̯eβa]] is the noun associated to the verb probar. It is already attested in the 13th century (Berceo). The noun comes from the Late Latin first declension feminine noun prŏba, which at first meant ‘proof’ and later, in Late Latin, also ‘test, trial’ (genitive wordform: prŏbae, accusative wordform: prŏbam). These are all meanings that Sp. prueba, the descendant of Lat. prŏba, still has, since the most basic meaning of Sp. prueba is ‘the action and result of probar’ and probar means ‘to prove’ as well as ‘to test/try’ (DLE: ‘acción y efecto de probar’).

If the verb prŏbāre (prŏb‑ā‑re) was derived from the adjective prŏbus/a (prŏb‑us/a) in classical times, as we saw, the noun prŏba (prŏb‑a) seems to have been derived later on (in post-classical times) by back-formation from the Latin verb prŏbāre. In both cases, the derivation took place without the use of derivational affixes, just by changing the inflectional suffixes, a type of derivation known as conversion or zero-derivation (cf. Part I, Chapter 5).

Classical Latin
from adjective prŏbus (fem. prŏba)
verb prŏbāre
Post-classical Latin
from verb prŏbāre
noun prŏba

This noun prueba is attested in writing very early on in Spanish, since the end of the 12th century. It was at first spelled prueva, with the letter v, and in the 13th century we find it spelled prueba, with the letter b, as in the Latin etymon (source word). The reasons for the changes in the spelling were seen in the preceding section, and the fact that Sp. prueba has the diphthong ‑ue‑ was also explained by the fact that Latin short ‑ŏ‑ always changed to ‑ue‑ in Old Spanish when stressed, but only in patrimonial words, not in words that were borrowed from written Latin (cf. Part I, Chapter 1).

The word prueba is polysemous, just like the verb probar is, and it can be translated into English by different words depending on the sense. The following are the main senses for this word in Modern Spanish:
(1)  the ‘proof’ sense: just like the first sense of the verb probar was ‘to prove’, the first sense of the noun prueba is ‘proof’, as in No hay pruebas de que estuviera aquí ‘There is no proof that she was here’
(2)  the ‘evidence’ sense: this sense is very closely related to the previous one but it is used in legal contexts, where una prueba means ‘a piece of evidence’ and falta de pruebas means ‘lack of evidence’; in fact, if it weren’t for the fact that English uses two different words for each of these senses, from the perspective of Spanish, the two senses could be seen as one and the same
(3)  the ‘test’ sense: we saw this sense earlier in the chapter; in academic and many other contexts it translates as test, e.g. prueba de matemáticas ‘the math test’, prueba de aptitud ‘aptitude test’, prueba de alcoholemia ‘Breathalyzer test’, prueba de(l) embarazo ‘pregnancy test’, prueba de paternidad ‘paternity test’; in theater and cinema, however, prueba translates as audition (in cinema, also screen test)
(4)  the ‘event’ sense, used in sports, which translates as event or race, depending on the event, e.g. la prueba de los cien metros lisos ‘the hundred-meter race/event’, prueba de obstáculos ‘obstacle race’, prueba contrarreloj ‘timed race’
The noun prueba is also found in many common expressions, which are either collocations or idioms, depending on how transparent they are (cf. Part I, Chapter 6). The following are the most common ones:
·    hacer la prueba ‘to try, give it a shot’
·    periodo de prueba ‘probationary/trial period’
·    piloto de pruebas ‘test pilot’
·    vuelo de pruebas ‘test flight’
·    estar en (fase de) pruebas ‘to be on trial (a trial period)’
·    estar a prueba ‘to be on a trial period’
·    poner/someter a prueba ‘to put to the test’
·    a prueba de ‘-proof’, e.g. a prueba de agua ‘waterproof’, a prueba de balas ‘bulletproof’
·    sala de pruebas ‘fitting room’, ‘testing/trial room’
·    hacer pruebas ‘to do trial tests’
·    prueba de compra ‘proof of purchase’
·    prueba de laboratorio ‘lab test’

The Spanish noun prueba is cognate with two English nouns: proof and probe. Eng. proof [ˈpʰɹuf] is an early 13th century loanword from Old French preuve or prueve ‘proof, test, experience’ (Modern French preuve [ˈpʀœv]), which descended patrimonially from Late Latin prŏba, the source of Sp. prueba (see above). After the loss of the final vowel sound in the English word, the ‑v‑ [v], which was now word-final, was devoiced to ‑f [f], a very common sound change in many languages, resulting in a prove [ˈpʰɹuv] – proof [ˈpʰɹuf] sound alternation similar to the one seen in the pair believe ~ belief (cf. Part I, Chapter 7). Many other languages have descendants of this Latin noun. In the Romance languages, the word is patrimonial, that is, descended orally and uninterruptedly from Latin, e.g. Catalan prova, Italian prova (earlier pruova), and Portuguese prova. Other, non-Romance languages have borrowed this word as well, e.g. Dutch proef, English proof, German Probe, and Swedish prova.

In the 19th century, English developed the verb to proof from the noun proof by conversion. This verb has several meanings, such as ‘make waterproof’ (Sp. impermeabilizar), and, since the 1950’s, ‘proofread (a text)’ (i.e. short for proofread) (Sp. corregir pruebas de) (COED). A third, less common sense of the verb to proof is ‘make a proof of (a printed work, engraving, etc.)’ (COED).

Eng. probe [ˈpʰɹoʊ̯b] is first of all a noun that can mean either ‘a careful examination or investigation of something’ or ‘a thin, long instrument that is used especially for examining parts of the body’ (MWALD). It can also mean ‘space probe’, since probe can be short form for (a clipping of) the phrase space probe, ‘a device that is used to obtain information from outer space and send it back to Earth’ (MWALD).

The noun probe is an early 15th century loanword from Late Latin proba, the same word that gave us Sp. prueba and Eng. proof (through Old French). This time English borrowed the word not through French, but directly from (written) Latin. The original meanings of this English word were ‘an examination, test’, as well as ‘instrument for exploring wounds, etc.’. Both of these meanings are still current.

The three meanings of the English noun probe translates into Spanish, respectively, as investigación, sonda, and sonda espacial. The Spanish noun sonda is a loanword from Fr. sonde [ˈsɔ̃d] ‘sounding-line, sounding’, a 12th century loanword presumably from a Germanic language and related to the Proto-Germanic word *sundą ‘swimming’ and ‘strait, sound’, which is cognate with the English noun sound ‘a narrow stretch of water forming an inlet or connecting two larger bodies of water’ and perhaps also with the verb to sound meaning ‘ascertain (the depth of water in the sea, a lake, etc.) by means of a line or pole or using sound echoes’ (COED). The theory that these words are related to a Latin verb subundare that is only attested once in Latin and which contains the Latin morphemes sub ‘under’ and unda ‘wave’, but this theory has been discredited.

English also borrowed the word sonde [ˈsɒnd] from French in the mid-20th century, but with a narrower meaning: ‘an instrument probe that automatically transmits information about its surroundings underground, under water, in the atmosphere, etc.’ (OD).

English has turned the noun probe into a verb by conversion, i.e. without making any other changes to the word, such as adding affixes. The result is the verb to probe. This conversion happened in the mid-16th century. Originally, its meaning was ‘to pierce, penetrate, or examine with a probe, esp. something sharp, in order to test or explore’ but also ‘to search (a person’s body) closely for something concealed’ (OED). Dictionaries divide its meanings today as having a physical sense and one more figurative one. One dictionary defines them as ‘physically explore or examine’ and ‘enquire into closely’ (COED). Another one is more specific: ‘to ask questions in order to find out secret or hidden information about somebody/something’ and ‘to touch, examine or look for something, especially with a long thin instrument’ (OALD).

As for how to translate the verb to probe into Spanish, in a medical context, it translates as sondar. In other contexts, it can be translated as examinar, explorar or indagar, for the ‘examine’ sense of the verb, but also tantear or sondear for the ‘sound out’ sense regarding persons, motives, or reasons. The verbs sondar and sondear seem to have been derived from the noun sonda. In medicine, Sp. sondar means ‘to catheterize’ or ‘to sound, probe’; in mining, ‘to test drill a hole into’; in navigation, ‘to sound, plumb, take soundings of’; and in space exploration and meteorology, ‘to explore, probe’. Sp. sondear can be just an alternative form of sondar, but it is also used in recent times with the figurative senses of ‘to sound out, test’, as in the phrase sondear la opinión pública ‘to sound out public opinion’ and sondear el terreno ‘to spy out the land’, ‘see how the land lies’ (Collins).

Go to Part 7

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