Sunday, November 1, 2020

Urgent emergencies, 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.]

Lat. mergĕre and derived verbs

As we saw, the Late Latin noun emergentĭa, source of Eng. emergence/emergency and Sp. emergencia, contained the Latin root merg‑ of the third conjugation verb mergĕre (merg‑ĕre) that meant literally ‘dip (in), immerse, plunge into water’, but also had some figurative senses, such as ‘overwhelm’. English borrowed this verb as merge [ˈmɜɹʤ] through French in the 17th century. The noun merger [ˈɹʤəɹ] was derived from the verb (in English) in the 18th century. Spanish never borrowed this verb, however.

  • Verb: mergō, mergĕre, mersī, mersus
  • Meaning: ‘to dip, dip in, immerse; to plunge into water, to sink’, ‘to plunge into, sink, overwhelm, cover, bury, immerse, drown’ (L&S)
  • Descendants:
    • Eng. merge  ‘combine or be combined to form a single entity. lend or cause to blend gradually into something else. (usu. merge something in) Law absorb (a title or estate) in another’ (COED)
    • > Eng. merger ‘an act of merging two things, especially companies, into one. Law the merging of one estate or title in another’ (COED)

When English borrowed the verb merge in the 17th century, it had the original meaning it had in Latin, namely ‘to immerse, plunge’, which is now obsolete. Later it acquired the legal sense ‘to cause to be incorporated, absorbed, or amalgamated’ (OED) in the early 18th century, and eventually ended up with the modern sense merge has in English, which is ‘[to] combine or be combined to form a single entity’ (COED). In the legal context, this verb seems to have been introduced through the French legal verb merger, first attested in the early 15th century, but now obsolete.

Again, Spanish never borrowed this verb from Latin, nor did it acquire by patrimonial descent. The English verb merge translates in different ways in Spanish depending on what is merging, though the most common translations being unir(se) ‘to unite’, combinar(se) ‘to combine’, juntarse ‘to join’, confluir ‘to flow together’ (roads and rivers), fundirse ‘to fuse’ (colors), fusionarse ‘to fuse’ (entities, etc.), etc. Two common idiomatic expressions with this verb are to merge into the background (= Sp. perderse de vista), and to merge into the darkness (Sp. desaparecer en la oscuridad) (AESV).

As, we also saw earlier, the Late Latin noun emergentĭa is not derived from the verb mergĕre but from a verb derived from mergĕre, namely ēmergĕre, created by prefixing ē‑ ‘out’ (< ex‑ ‘out’).

  • Verb: ēmergō, ēmergĕre, ēmersī, ēmersus < ē‑/ex‑ ‘out’ + mergĕre
  • Meaning: ‘[trans.] to bring forth, bring to light, raise up’, ‘[intrans.] to come forth, come out, to rise up, emerge’, etc. (L&S)
  • Descendants:
    • Eng. emerge
    • Sp. emerger
  • Derived:
    • Late Latin ēmergentia < ex‑+merg‑+ent-+‑ĭa >
      • Eng. emergence, emergency
      • Sp. emergencia

Lat. ēmergĕre was borrowed into English as emerge [ɪˈmɜɹʤ] in the mid-16th century, either directly from Latin or through French émerger (OED). The current meanings of this intransitive verb are (1) ‘move out of something and become visible’ (COED), as in The flowers emerge in the spring and The sun emerged from behind the clouds (LDCE); and (2) when speaking of facts or issues, for example, ‘to come into existence or greater prominence’ (= become known) (COED), as in The truth emerged at the inquest (AHD).

Sp. emerger [e.meɾ.ˈxeɾ] is an even less common verb than Eng. emerge, and it is not always a good translation of its English cognate either. Sp. emerger is typically used to refer to things such as submarines that come out of the water, a meaning that translates into English as to surface. Sp. emerger is a very recent loanword, first appearing in the Academy’s dictionary (DRAE) in 1899 (DIRAE). (DCEH gives the verb as emergir, as in Portuguese, not as emerger, which must be a mistake.) The two senses of Eng. emerge can be translated into Spanish by different verbs. For sense (1), Eng. emerge can be translated as aparecer, salir, surgir, and rarely emerger. For sense (2), it can be translated as surgir, aparecer, revelarse, salir a la luz, and resultar.






+ merg-ĕre >



ex- ‘out’




in- ‘in’




dē- ‘of, from’


sub- ‘under’




Lat. ēmergĕre was not the only Latin verb derived from Lat. mergĕre by prefixation. There were three others, two of which have left a trail in modern English and Spanish in the way of reflexes in these languages either of the verbs themselves or of words derived from those verbs. The Latin verb derived from mergĕre without descendants is dēmergĕre, a verb that has a meaning that is very similar to that of transitive mergĕre.

  • Verb: dēmergō, dēmergĕre, dēmersī, dēmersus < dē‑ ‘of, from’ + mergĕre
  • Meaning: ‘to sink, submerge, to plunge into, to dip’, ‘to sink, depress, overwhelm’ (L&S)
  • Descendants: none

Another verb derived from mergĕre by prefixation is immergĕre, formed with the prefix in‑ ‘in’. English borrowed this verb in the early 15th century from the passive participle form of the Latin verb, immersus, resulting in Eng. immerse [ɪˈmɜɹs]. Note that this is the only one of the loans of mergĕre and its derivatives that English derived from the passive participle stem form of the root (mers‑) instead of the present tense form (merg‑). This verb is also a transitive verb, with some of the meanings of its parent verb mergĕre.

  • Verb: immergō, immergĕre, immersī, immersus < in‑ ‘in’ + mergĕre
  • Meaning: ‘to dip, plunge, sink, immerse, submerge’ (CTL)
  • Descendants:
    • Eng. immerse (= Sp. sumergir, etc.), immerge (archaic variant of immerse)
    • Spanish: ? inmergir(se)
  • Derived:
    • immersus ‘immersed’ (< in‑+mers‑+‑us) >
      • Sp. inmerso/a ‘submerged; immersed’ (cf. Eng. immersed < immerse)
    • immersĭō ‘immersion’ (< in‑+mers‑+‑ĭōn‑) >
      • Eng. immersion
      • Sp. inmersión

The main meaning of Eng. immerse is ‘dip or submerge in a liquid’ (COED), as in  Immerse your foot in ice-cold water to reduce the swelling (LDCE). In addition, Eng. immerse has a secondary figurative meaning when used reflexively: ‘(immerse oneself or be immersed) involve oneself deeply in an activity’ (COED), as in He left school at 16 and immersed himself in the Labour Party or She was far too immersed in her studies (LDCE).

Some rare Spanish dictionaries mention the verb inmergir(se) but most do not. Collins’ Spanish-English dictionary is one that does, saying that it means ‘to immerse’, and Tesauro Signum gives this verb as a synonym of sumergir(se) (see below). No major Spanish dictionary contains the verb inmergir, however. The main way Eng. immerse is translated into Spanish is as sumergir for the literal sense (see below) and enfrascarse and sumirse, among others, for the figurative sense, as in He immersed himself in his workSe metió de lleno or se sumergió en su trabajo (OSD). As we will see below, Sp. sumergir is another verb belonging to this family of Latinate verbs.

Although Spanish did not borrow the Latin verb immergĕre, it did borrow this verb’s Latin passive participle immersus/a/um, as the adjective inmerso/a ‘immersed, submerged’, which can be used with a literal sense, as in the phrase El submarino permaneció inmerso varias horas [= sumergido] ‘The submarine was submerged for several hours’ (WR), but which is typically used with a figurative sense, as in the phrase inmersa en sus tareas ‘absorbed in her work’ (OSD), and inmerso en la política ‘steeped in politics’ (GU). Eng. immersed, which can be used to translate this Spanish adjective, is of course a past participle and adjective derived from the verb immerse by means of the English suffix ‑ed. Thus, although Sp. inmerso/a and Eng. immersed are equivalent and cognate, they are not full cognates since they do not share the same exact origin.

As we can see in the summary about Lat. immergĕre above, there are cognate nouns that are ultimately related to this verb: Eng. immersion ~ Sp. inmersión. These words descend from the post-classical action noun immersĭō ‘a plunging into, immersion’ (accusative wordform: immersĭōnem; regular stem: immersĭōn‑), which was derived from the stem immers of the passive participle immersus of the verb immergĕre by means of the action noun forming suffix ‑ĭōn‑ (in‑mers‑ĭōn‑em).

Eng. immersion [ɪ.ˈməɹ.ʃən] was borrowed around the middle of the 15th century, and since French borrowed it in the 14th century, also as immersion, it is quite likely that English borrowed it through French. Eng. immersion means primarily ‘the action of immersing or the state of being immersed’ (COED). Some dictionaries split the meaning into a literal one, ‘the action of immersing something in liquid, or the state of being immersed’, as in his near-fatal immersion in the icy Atlantic Ocean, and a figurative one, ‘the fact of being completely involved in something you are doing’, as in my immersion in black music and culture (LDCE). There are also a couple of technical senses of the word immersion. One is in language learning, where it refers to ‘a method of teaching a foreign language by the exclusive use of that language’ (COED), as in immersion course, a use started by the Berlitz language school in 1965. According to the OED, this use is ‘chiefly North American’. The other technical sense is used in astronomy, where it means ‘the disappearance of a celestial body in the shadow of or behind another’ (COED). Finally, the term immersion has been used in English since the mid-17th century for ‘the administration of Christian baptism by the dipping or plunging of the whole person in water’, contrasting with the affusion or aspersion method of baptism (OED).

Spanish borrowed the equivalent and cognate noun inmersión [in.meɾ.ˈsi̯on] in the 19th century, quite likely through French. The two cognate nouns share the ‘immersion in a liquid’ sense, e.g. Los buceadores tienen oxígeno para dos horas de inmersión ‘Divers have oxygen for two hours under water’ (DUEAE). Sp. inmersión also has the two technical senses mentioned earlier for Eng. immersion, the astronomical one,[1] and the language acquisition one, typically in the phrase curso de immersion ‘immersion course’, which is most likely an expression calqued from the English one, e.g. Hizo un curso de inmersión en griego porque le atraía ese idioma ‘He took an immersion course in Greek because he was drawn to that language’ (Clave). and the astronomical sense. Sp. inmersión, however, does not have the figurative sense that Eng. immersion has. This sense translates into Spanish as absorción or enfrascamiento (cf. the adjectives absorto/a ‘engrossed, absorbed’ and enfrascado/a ‘absorbed’). Note that the related adjective inmerso/a does usually have the figurative sense in addition to the literal, liquid-related sense (see above). The expression immersion heater was created in British English in the early 20th century to refer to a ‘a usually electric unit that heats the liquid in which it is immersed’. It translates into Spanish as calentador (de agua) eléctrico.

The last Latin verb derived from mergĕre by prefixation is summergĕre, also sometimes attested as submergĕre, derived from mergĕre by means of the prefix sub‑ ‘under’ (a b before an m in Latin words typically changed to m, just like an n changed to m, as in immersĕre):

  • Verb: summergō, summergĕre, summersī, summersus / submergō, submergĕre, submersī, submersus < sub‑ ‘under’ + mergĕre
  • Meaning: ‘to sink, overwhelm, submerge, submerse’
  • Descendants:
    • Eng. submerge
      • > Eng. submergible or submersible: ‘adj. designed to operate while submerged; noun a small boat or craft that is submersible’ (COED)
    • Sp. sumergir(se)
      • > Sp. sumergibleadj. submergible/submersible, waterproof; noun submarine’
  • Derived:
    • summersĭō ‘sinking, drowning; submersion’ (< sub+mers+ĭōn‑) >
      • > Eng. submersion
      • > Sp. sumersión

English borrowed this Latin verb as submerge [səbˈmɜɹʤ] in the early 17th century. It presumably borrowed it through French, which borrowed seems to have borrowed it first from Latin, in the 14th century, though the OED says that Eng. submerge is ‘partly a borrowing from French’ and ‘partly a borrowing from Latin’. Note that this time, English did not borrow the Latin verb’s passive participle form, which would have been *submerse (cf. immerse), but as in the case of emerge, it used the present stem sub‑merg‑ found in the Latin verb’s infinitive wordform. This is another clue that the verb was borrowed through French and not from Latin, since English typically borrowed the passive participle form of Latin verbs.

Spanish sumergir(se) was borrowed in the late 17th century and although the Academy tells us that this verb comes from Latin, it is quite likely that it was borrowed through French as well. Note that when Spanish borrowed this third conjugation Latin verb (infinitive in ‑ĕre), it turned it into a third conjugation verb (infinitive in ‑ir), unlike with the verb emerger, which was turned into a second conjugation verb in ‑er (see above). Also, whereas English borrowed the version that had the original sub‑ prefix, Spanish obviously borrowed the more common version of the Latin verb that had two ‑mm‑ consonants, reducing them the double consonant to one, as it usually did in Latin loanwords (cf. Part I, Chapter 10). Modern French submerger [sybmɛrˈʒe] does not literally mean ‘submerge’ anymore but rather ‘to flood’ and figuratively, ‘to overcome, to overwhelm’. The main way to translate  the English verb submerge into Modern French is by means of the verbs immerger and plonger (related to Eng. immerse and plunge).

Eng. submerge has a literal transitive meaning, ‘cause to be under water’, as well as a literal intransitive one, ‘descend below the surface of water’ (COED). In literary language, this verb can also be used figuratively with the meaning ‘[to] completely cover or obscure’ (COED) or ‘to lose sight of, obscure, or cover up as if under a layer of water’ (WNTIUD), as in the sentence Alice submerged herself in work to try and forget about Tom (LDCE). Sp. sumergir is a close friend of Eng. submerge, semantically speaking. It can also be transitive or else intransitive, when used reflexively as sumergirse. Sp. sumergir can also be used figuratively, that that sense is probably even rarer and more literary in Spanish than in English, e.g. Se sumergió en la lectura de aquella novela de suspense ‘She submerged herself in the reading of that thriller’ (GDLEL).

As you can see above, adjectives have been derived in both English and Spanish from these verbs by means of the suffix ‑ble: Sp. sumergible and Eng. submergible, which is also attested as submersible. The variant submergible shows its clear connection to the verb submerge, to which the ‑ible suffix has been added. The variant submersible makes use of the Latin verb’s passive participle stem submers‑, with the same ending. Both cognates are used to refer to vehicles that can go under water, but the Spanish adjective can also be used for other objects that can go underwater (without being damaged), a sense that translates into English as waterproof, as in un reloj sumergible ‘a waterproof watch’. To refer to the waterproof quality of articles of clothing, the adjective impermeable is used instead, rather than sumergible, and for other waterproof objects, Spanish uses the phrase a prueba de agua, a clone of the English compound waterproof, as in un contenedor a prueba de agua ‘a waterproof container’. The adjective sumergible has also been turned into a noun in Spanish to refer to underwater vessels, e.g. los submarinos y los batiscafos son tipos de sumergibles ‘submarines and bathyscaphes are types of submersible vessels’ (DUEAEV), though the word is somewhat archaic today. The English adjective submersible, but not submergible, can also be used as a noun to refer to ‘a vessel capable of operating or remaining under water’ (AHD), just like Sp. sumergible, though this sense is probably rare nowadays.

Finally, we should mention that from the same root merg‑, Latin derived the name of a kind of a web-footed water-fowl (Sp. palmípedo/a) that plunges under water, a fowl known in English as diver or loon (L&S) or ‘a sea-bird, esp. a shearwater or gull’ (Cassell), also known as grebe, ‘a diving waterbird with a long neck, lobed toes, and a very short tail. [Family Podicipedidae: several species.] (COED). Spanish has borrowed this name for the same waterfowl, adapting is as mergo. A more traditional name for this verb in Spanish is somorgujo, first attested as somurgujón (1280), a patrimonial word derived from the same root merg‑, containing the prefix so‑ (< Lat. sub‑), and a suffix the nature of which is not clear (DCEH). Related to this noun for the bird, there is a derived verb somorgujar(se) ‘to dive underwater’, which is rare in Spanish today, having been mostly replaced by sumergir(se) (see above).

Go to Part 4

[1] DLE: ‘Entrada de un astro en el cono de sombra que proyecta otro’.

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