Saturday, October 31, 2020

Urgent emergencies, Part 2

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


Eng. emergency ~ Sp. emergencia

The source of the cognate nouns Eng. emergency ~ Sp. emergencia is the Late Latin noun ēmergentĭa, which was derived from the stem ēmergent‑ of the (third-declension) present participle ēmergēns ‘emerging, arising, etc.’ of the third conjugation verb ēmergĕre (accusative case: ēmergentem, regular stem: ēmergent‑). The verb ēmergĕre was mostly used reflexively or passively with the intransitive meaning ‘to come forth, come up, arise, emerge’ (L&S), though it could also used as a transitive verb meaning ‘to bring forth, bring to light, raise up’. This verb was derived from the verb mergĕre ‘dip (in), immerse; plunge into water; overwhelm, etc.’ by means of the variant ē‑ of the prefix ex‑ ‘out’. As we will see more closely in the next section, neither one of these verbs was transmitted patrimonially to Spanish but Spanish eventually borrowed ēmergĕre, as emerger, though it did not borrow Lat. mergĕre, whereas English borrowed both Latin verbs, as merge and emerge (more on these verbs in the next section).

The noun ēmergentĭa was derived from the mentioned stem ēmergent‑ by means of the suffix ‑ĭ‑a which typically made first declension abstract nouns, usually from adjectives or present participles, which were but adjectives derived from verbs. Another example of this, this one from Classical Latin, is the noun absentĭa ‘absence’ (cf. Sp. ausencia), derived the same way from the participle absēns/absentis ‘absent’, present participle of the verb abesse ‘to be away’ (< ab- 'away from' + esse 'to be')‎. We can see the ‑ĭ‑ as the actual suffix and the final ‑a was the nominative singular inflection, which changed for different case wordforms (cf. Part I, Chapters 5, 8). The ‑ent‑ part was the regular present participle suffix.[1] As we have often seen in this book, the resulting ending …tia of many Latin words has resulted in numerous English loanwords in ‑cy and ‑ce and Spanish loanwords in ‑cia and ‑cía, which are the possible reflexes in these languages of the Latin ending ‑tĭa. The ēmerg‑ stem itself contained the root merg‑ and the prefix ē‑, as we shall see. Thus, we can analyze the Latin word ēmergentĭa as follows:

ē‑merg‑entĭ‑a

Note that English and Spanish have also borrowed this verb’s present participle from Latin, cf. the cognates Eng. emergent ~ Sp. emergente. These adjectives are closely related semantically to verbs in each language, namely Eng. emerge ~ Sp. emerger, which we will discuss below. The main meaning of the adjectives today is ‘in the process of coming into being or prominence; emerging’ (COED), as in the expressions emergent spring shoots, an emergent political leader, and emergent nations (AHD). In Philosophy, these words are used to refer to properties, namely those ‘arising as an effect of complex causes and not analyzable simply as the sum of their effects’ (COED).

Actually, the Latin noun ēmergentĭa has been borrowed twice into English. It was borrowed as emergence [ɪ.ˈmɜɹ.ʤəns], presumably directly from Late Lat. ēmergentĭa (OED). The Latin ending in ‑t‑ĭa had traditionally changed to ‑ce in patrimonial French words derived from Latin present participles, words with the ending ‑ance and ‑ence in French, which descended from words ending in ‑antia and ‑entia in Latin. (This ending ‑ce is pronounced [s] in both Modern French, just like in English). This pattern for endings in patrimonial French words was extended to new Latin present participles that were borrowed into French, and the same ending was kept when the word was borrowed from French into English. Actually, the French word émergence is attested as early as 1498, so one might have thought that English could have borrowed this Latin word though French, as was often the case. However, in the early days, Fr. émergence did not have its current meaning for it was simply a legal term that meant something like ‘dependence’, and it did not start being used with something close to its current meaning until the early 18th century (TLFi). This is one of the reasons we think that English did not borrow this word through French but, rather, directly from written Latin, though matters could be more complicated.

The meaning of Eng. emergence has changed through the years, starting with ‘an unforeseen occurrence’, ‘pressing need, urgent want’, meanings that later went to the related word emergency (see below); and ‘the rising (of a submerged body) out of the water’ (OED). Today, the noun emergence is tied to the meaning of the verb emerge (see below) and it means primarily ‘the act or process of emerging’ (AHD).

English-Spanish dictionaries tell us that the main translation of Eng. emergence in modern Spanish is aparición, a noun derived from the verb aparecer ‘to appear, show up, come up’, especially when something comes out of hiding. Other possible translations found in dictionaries include surgimiento, derived from surgir ‘to come up’, and even revelación ‘revelation, disclosure’, related to the noun revelar ‘to reveal, disclose, etc.’, especially when speaking of facts or the truth. Most English-Spanish dictionaries do not give sample phrases or sentences for such translations of Eng. emergence. One that we have found is the following: his emergence on the international stage, which is translated as su aparición or irrupción en el ámbito internacional (Harraps). No English-Spanish dictionary seems to mention the English noun’s Spanish cognate emergencia as a possible translation for it, though if we look at the meaning of Sp. emergencia in Spanish dictionaries it would seem that one of its meanings is equivalent to that of Eng. emergence, as we will see below (the first sense of this word in the DLE is ‘acción y efecto de emerger’). We will return to this discrepancy below when we look at Sp. emergencia.

English borrowed Late Latin ēmergentĭa a second time as emergency, also in the first half of the 17th century. The ending ‑cy appears in Latinate English words as another possible reflex of the Latin endings ‑t‑ĭa and ‑c‑ĭa as well as Greek words ending in ‑κια (‑kia), ‑κεια (‑keia), ‑τια (‑tia), or ‑τεια (‑teia), occasionally also when this ending was attached to a present participle stem. This ending came into English from the Anglo-Norman dialect of Old French -cie, cf. pharmacy, legacy, policy, infancy, agency, etc. (cf. Sp. farmacia, infancia, agencia). An early meaning of Eng. emergency was ‘the rising of a submerged body above the surface of water’, equivalent to an early meanings of emergence, as we just saw, and ‘the arising, sudden or unexpected occurrence (of a state of things, an event, etc.)’ (OED). As we saw earlier, the current meaning of the word emergency is ‘a serious, unexpected, and potentially dangerous situation requiring immediate action’ (COED).

Spanish originally borrowed the noun emergencia, cognate of Eng. emergence and emergency, in the 17th century, with a meaning closer to the original, namely ‘an act of emerging, coming out’ or, in other words, the meaning of Eng. emergence, a meaning that Sp. emergencia still has, as in No debe asustarnos la emergencia de nuevas teorías ‘The emergence of new theories should not scare us’ (DUEAE). As we can see, contrary to what English-Spanish dictionaries tell us, Sp. emergencia can be translated by Eng. emergence, since one of the senses of Sp. emergencia is quite close to the meaning of Eng. emergence, though perhaps mostly when referring to the emerging of non-physical entities, such as theories, not so much physical entities. So, for example, we probably would never use the noun emergencia to speak of a submarine surfacing (?la emergencia del submarino), though the choice would not so far-fetched in the case of Eng. emergence, cf. the emergence of the submarine.

But Sp. emergencia has also come to have another meaning, namely the only meaning that Eng. emergency has today, something like ‘urgent matter’, as in Llámenme si surge alguna emergencia ‘call me if there is an emergency’. This second meaning has come about under the influence of Eng. emergency and it is thus a semantic calque (cf. Part I, Chapter 2), a calque that purists have disapproved of in the past, but one that is by now well established in the language. Corominas, for instance, calls this borrowed new sense of Sp. emergencia a ‘crude Anglicism’ (grosero anglicismo).[2]

Interestingly, French does not seem to have calqued the ‘urgent matter’ meaning of Eng. emergency into its own word émergence, which still means ‘emergence’ only, e.g. l’émergence du racisme ‘the emergence of racism’ (GDL) (= Sp. la emergencia del racismo). Crucially, the way to express the meaning ‘urgent matter’ in French is urgence [yrˈʒɑ̃s], the cognate of Eng. urgency and Sp. urgencia, as in Appelez-moi en cas d’urgence ‘Call me if there is an emergency’. We will return to this important fact in the final section of this chapter when we look at these words.

As we said earlier, English borrowed the word emergency in the middle of the 17th century with a variety of meanings, some of which are now (very) archaic or obsolete. One meaning of the noun emergency that is obsolete today is related to the meaning of the verb emerge, namely ‘the rising of a submerged body above the surface of water’ (OED). This meaning has been taken over by the cognate doublet emergence. The main meaning of the noun emergency that has survived is a special case of an earlier one. The OED defines this particular early meaning as ‘a juncture that arises or ‘turns up’; especially a state of things unexpectedly arising, and urgently demanding immediate action’ (OED). Thus, the main meaning of Eng. emergency today is what was once a special case of the original meaning, namely ‘a serious, unexpected, and potentially dangerous situation requiring immediate action’ (COED). When used as a modifier, this meaning can be defined as ‘arising from or used in an emergency’, as in an emergency exit (COED) (= Sp. salida de emergencia). As we have seen, Sp. emergencia is a possible translation of both Eng. emergence and of Eng. emergency. But we also saw that there is a reluctance to use emergencia today with the meaning ‘emergence’, a reluctance that dictionaries reflect. A major reason for this reluctance is likely that the ‘urgent matter’ sense has become primary for this Spanish word and that the original ‘emerging matter’ sense is becoming blocked by the newer one and may eventually become obsolete the way that sense became obsolete in Eng. emergency some time ago.

We have seen that one difference between the cognates Eng. emergency ~ Sp. emergencia is that the latter has two main meanings, equivalent to the meanings of the two English cognates (doublet) emergence and emergency, even though the second of these meanings seems to have become the primary, if not the only possible one, in recent times, due to the influence of its English cognate emergency. We also saw in the first section that Eng. emergency is used in North America in certain medical contexts, many of which translate into Spanish as emergencia, but not all and not equally in all dialects of Spanish. There are also uses of the word emergency in common English collocations or idiomatic expressions that do not always translate into Spanish as emergencia or at least not in all dialects of Spanish. In some cases, the Spanish equivalent word is urgencia, at least in some dialects, but in other cases, Spanish uses a totally different word to translate emergency in these expressions. In some cases, the difference is dialectal, such as when the Spanish dialect of Spain uses urgencias for an emergency room/ward. The following collocations, or mildly idiomatic expressions, are taken from various English-Spanish dictionaries. Some of these English expressions have alternative versions that contain the word emergencia, versions which in some varieties of Spanish may be quite well established, but which sound odd in other varieties.

  • emergency (room/ward) = (sala de) urgencias/emergencia(s)
  • emergency services = servicios de urgencia/emergencia/socorro[3]
  • in an emergency, in case of emergency = en una emergencia, en caso de emergencia
  • emergency landing = aterrizaje forzoso / ?aterrizaje de emergencia
  • emergency measures = medidas de urgencia/emergencia
  • emergency services = servicios de urgencia/emergencia/socorro
  • emergency stop = parada en seco / ?parada de emergencia
  • emergency brake (only US; UK = handbrake) = freno de mano
  • emergency supplies = provisiones/artículos para emergencias/imprevistos, etc.
  • emergency talks = ? negociaciones de emergencia
  • emergency exit = salida de emergencia
  • emergency blanket = manta de supervivencia / manta isotérmica
  • emergency phone number = teléfono de emergencias/urgencias
  • emergency fund = ?dinero para imprevistos/emergencias



[1] Actually, the wordform ēmergentĭa was also originally the nominative, plural, neuter form of the present participle ēmergēns (masc. and fem. ēmergentēs).

[2] DCEH: ‘emergencia [S. XVII, Aut.; está ganando terreno el grosero anglicismo consistente en darle el sentido de ‘alarma’, ‘caso urgente’, ‘caso de necesidad’]’

[3] The noun socorro means ‘help, aid, assistance’. It is derived from the verb socorrer ‘to help, assist, come to the aid of, go to the aid of’ (AEIV). This verb descends from Lat. succurrĕre ‘to help, aid’ (< sub‑ ‘under’ + currĕre ‘to run’), and it is a cognate of Eng. succur/succour, a rare verb that also means ‘give assistance or aid to’ (COED). Before the creation of modern hospitals with emergency rooms, the casa de socorro was where people were taken in medical emergencies. The equivalent term in the UK is first-aid post, something like free clinic in the US. The derived word socorrista means ‘lifeguard, first-aider’.

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Urgent emergencies, Part 4

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