Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir, Part 3

[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 3. Go to Part 1

Eng. discussion ~ Sp. discusión

Spanish and English have several words that are closely related to the cognate verbs Eng. discuss ~ Sp. discutir, namely the ones below. As you can see, some are very common words, but others are less common or even rare.













In this section we will discuss the cognate nouns Eng. discussion ~ Sp. discusión in some detail and in the next one we will briefly look at the rest of these words.

The cognate nouns Sp. discusión ~ Eng. discussion, which were already mentioned in the preceding section, both descended from the Latin noun discŭssĭo (regular stem: discŭssĭōn‑), formed from the stem discŭss‑ of the passive participle discŭss‑us of the verb dĭscŭtĕre and the suffix ĭōn‑ used to derive action nouns from verbs in Latin. Because the cognate nouns Sp. discusión ~ Eng. discussion descend from the exact same Latin word-form, they look very similar, unlike the verbs we saw in the preceding section. As with all other Latin action nouns formed with the suffix ĭōn‑, the Spanish descendant or reflex ends in stressed ‑ión, pronounced [ˈi̯on] and the English one ends in an unstressed ‑ion, pronounced [ən]. Actually, all such words in English, regardless of whether the preceding consonant is ‑t‑ or ‑ss‑ (‑tion or ‑ssion), the ending is pronounced [ʃən] (but [ʒən] if only a single single ‑s‑ precedes the ‑ion ending (‑sion) , e.g. donation [dəneɪ̯ʃən], pension [pʰɛnʃən], mission [ˈmɪʃən], derision [dɪˈɹɪʒən]. The only other difference in the spelling is the double ‑ss‑ in the English word, inherited from Latin spelling (though ‑ss‑ was pronounced very differently in Latin). As we have seen elsewhere, when Spanish borrowed a word with a double (geminate) consonant, in most cases it reduced it to a single one.

Sp. discusión, pronounced [dis.ku.ˈsi̯on], is first attested in the late 16th century (DCEH) and it is obviously a loanword, not a patrimonial word. Eng. discussion, pronounced [dɪ.ˈskʌʃ.ən], was borrowed in the early 15th century and, as the OED tells us, it was borrowed from Latin but also French, for this language had borrowed this Latin word first, in the early 12th century. At the time writers introduced the word into English, most all educated people were familiar with Latin as well as French. There is little doubt that Spanish discusión was introduced into the language the same way that Eng. discussion was introduced into English, namely through a mixture of the influence of French and Latin. In both languages, this noun is a loanword, ultimately from Latin.

Let us look now at the meaning of these two words and whether they are equivalent (‘good friends’) or not (‘false friends’). English dictionaries give us two closely related senses for the noun discussion, such as the following two from the American Heritage Dictionary: (1) ‘consideration of a subject by a group; an earnest conversation’, and (2) ‘a formal discourse on a topic; an exposition’ (AHD). The former meaning involves an exchange between two or more people whereas the second one involves a speaker or writer addressing their audience in a monologue. These two senses parallel the two senses for the verb discuss that we saw in the previous section. In neither of these senses is there a requirement or a connotation that the parties involved in the conversation be arguing or otherwise presenting contrasting and contraposed ideas the way the Spanish cognate discusión does, though in some contexts such a confrontation is conceivable in situations described by the noun discussion, but that part of the meaning must be gleaned from the context, because it is not an integral part of the meaning of the noun discussion itself.

Most Spanish dictionaries define the noun discusión in terms of the verb discutir. Thus, for example, the DLE gives the following as the definition of discusión: ‘acción y efecto de discutir’ (DLE). Clave is an exeption to this. In this dictionary, the first sense of the word discusión is given as ‘conversation in which conflicting/opposite ideas are defended’.[1] This dictionary gives two other senses for the noun discusión, one that does not necessarily reflect an antagonic situation, and another one that clearly does: (2) ‘Conversation in which an issue is analized from different viewpoints in order to explain it or solve it’; (3) ‘An objection to an order given or to something someone says: Sus órdenes no admiten discusión ‘His orders cannot be challenged’.[2] Clearly, this definition of sense (2) for discusión is quite compatible with the meaning of the English noun discussion in theory. In practice, however, it is also undeniable that the ‘confrontational’ connotation of the other two senses lurks in the background of even this sense of the noun discusión and it is very hard to disassociate it from it. It is quite clear that a discusión can never be a friendly discussion.

English-Spanish dictionaries invariably give Sp. discusión as the main translation for the English noun discussion, something that is highly questionable, given the evidence shown so far. Collins gives discusión as the only possible translation, for instance. Many other dictionaries give discusión as the main ‘general’ translation for discussion, but mention a second option, namely debate ‘debate’, which is used to describe more formal situations, such as academic conferences or political forums in which arranged discussions take place. It is our contention that in manyperhaps mostcontexts, less ‘charged’ alternatives should be chosen as the translation of Eng. discussion instead of discusión, such as conversación, charla, plática, coloquio, diálogo, entrevista, tertulia, conferencia, discurso, intercambio (de ideas), deliberación, etc.

Note that in translations of English collocations that contain the noun discussion, words other than discusión are often used, such as Eng. discussion article = Sp. artículo de opinión; Eng. discussion forum = Sp. foro de debate; Eng. discussion paper = Sp. artículo de opinión, documento de debate; Eng. book discussion = Sp. tertulia literaria; Eng. panel discussion = Sp. grupo de debate, mesa de debate, mesa redonda (GU). It should be clear that we are not saying that discussion should never be translated as discusión, but this should only happen when the context makes it clear that the conversation is confrontational and oppositional in nature, as in the collocation Eng. heated discussion = Sp. discusión acalorada (GU), but that is not what is meant by perhaps most uses of the noun discussion in real life, including those that take place in most classrooms.

Spanish-English dictionaries give two translations (and thus, two senses) for the noun discusión: discussion and argument. But from the examples given in those dictionaries for those senses, it is clear that when they say that discusión means ‘discussion’, they do not mean a friendly discussion in which the participants in a conversation engage in a mere friendly chat about a topic, but rather one in which ideas are contrasted and put against each other, something that is not a necessary or even common component of the meaning of the English noun discussion, merely an optional one, one that is not part of perhaps the majority of situations described by the noun discussion. Thus, for instance, the first translation/sense for discusión in the Oxford Spanish-English dictionary is discussion, but the example given is Eso no admite discusión ‘That leaves no room for discussion’, which is a very antagonistic form of discussion. The sentence is equivalent to That cannot be contested or That cannot be questioned, sentences in which the idea of contrast of opposing ideas is quite obvious (OSD). All of this makes perfect sense, of course, for the difference between the nouns Eng. discussion ~ Sp. discusión is totally analogous to the one found in the verbs Eng. discuss ~ Sp. discutir that we discussed in the previous section.

Go to Part 4: Other words related to Eng. discuss ~ Sp. discutir

[1] The original says: ‘1 Conversación en la que se defienden opiniones contrarias: No merece la pena tener una discusión por esa tontería’ (Clave).

[2] The original says: ‘2 Conversación en la que se analiza un asunto desde distintos puntos de vista para explicarlo o solucionarlo. 3 Objeción que se pone a una orden o a lo que alguien dice: Sus órdenes no admiten discusión (Clave).

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