Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir, Part 1

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

Introduction: Lat. dĭscŭtĕre

Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir are cognate verbs from our perspective, since they have the same etymon, that is, they both ultimately descend from the same word, the third conjugation ĭō-variant Latin verb whose present infinitive word-form was dĭscŭtĕre, the ancestor of  Sp. discutir, and whose passive participle word-form was dĭscŭssus, the ancestor of Eng. discuss. The two other principal parts of this Latin verb were present tense dĭscŭtĭō and perfect tense dĭscussī (both first person; cf. Part I, Chapter 8).

Present tense (1sg)

Present Infinitive

Perfect Active

Pass. Participle

dĭs-cŭt-ĭ-ō

dĭs-cŭt-ĕ-re

dĭs-cŭs-s-ī

dĭs-cŭs-s-us

In classical Latin, the main meaning of the verb dĭscŭtĕre was ‘to shake violently, to shake off, to dash to pieces, to disperse, scatter’ (OED). This verb was derived from another Latin verb, the third conjugation verb quătĕre, whose main meaning was ‘to shake, agitate’ (L&S), by the addition of the prefix dĭs‑ ‘asunder, into pieces, apart, in two, etc.’ (*dĭsquăt‑ĕre > dĭs‑cŭt‑ĕre; variants of the prefix dĭs‑ were ‑, dĭf‑, and dĭr‑). This third conjugation ĭō-variant verb’s principal parts were quătĭō, quătĕre, quăssus, with no perfect stem available.

Present tense (1sg)

Present Infinitive

Pass. Participle

quăt-ĭ-ō

quăt-ĕ-re

quăs-s-us

As we can see, the root quăt‑ of the verb quătĕre was changed to cŭt‑ in the derived verb. It was common for root vowels to change in words derived by prefixation early on in the history of the Latin language, before classical Latin times (cf. Part I, Chapter 8). There were other verbs derived from quătĕre by prefixation, as we shall see below.

dĭs

+

quăt-ĕre

  >  

dĭs-cŭt-ĕre

The irregular passive participle stem dĭscŭss‑ descends from an original *dĭs‑cŭt‑t‑ that contained the same stem dĭs‑cŭt‑ as the infinitive plus the participle suffix ‑t‑, without an intervening thematic vowel as in other conjugations. The sound change ‑t‑t‑ > ‑s‑s‑ is often found in third conjugation Latin verbs (cf. Part I, Chapter 8). The same change is found in the source verb quătĕre. A consequence of this fact for us today is that the cognates Eng. discuss ~ Sp. discutir don’t look as similar as the could have otherwise. The cognate nouns derived from these verbs, Eng. discussion ~ Sp. discusión, on the other hand, are much more obviously related, since they stem from the same word, the noun dĭscŭssĭōn-, derived from the Latin passive participle stem discŭss- (see below).

 

 

quăt-t-us

>

quăs-s-us

dĭs

+

quăt-t-us

>

dis-cŭs-s-us

As we saw, originally, in classical Latin, the Latin verb dĭscŭtĕre meant ‘to shake violently, to shake off’, ‘to strike into pieces, break up’, ‘to disperse, scatter, dissipate’, etc. However, in post-classical Latin, new senses developed for this Latin verb. The main one was ‘to examine, investigate’, attested as early as the late 2nd century, which can be seen as a figurative (metaphorical) extension of the literal meaning, namely something like ‘to separate (the facts) mentally’. This and related derived meanings prevail in descendants of this word in modern languages, such as Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir. In the 8th century, we find the Latin verb dĭscŭtĕre being used with the sense ‘to debate’, presumably with the goal of examining and investigating something. Descendants of this word in the Romance languages retain the agonistic, oppositional, or confrontational connotations of that ‘debate’ sense, whereas there is barely any sign of it in the English descendant verb discuss, as we shall see in the next section.

Go to PART 2

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