Sunday, December 20, 2020

Slaves and slavery, part 5: Eng. slavery and Sp. esclavitud

[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 5 of Slaves and Slavery: Go to Part 1

Eng. slavery and Sp. esclavitud

Just like the pair of verbs Eng. enslave and Sp. esclavizar that we just saw, the equivalent terms Eng. slavery and Sp. esclavitud are also not cognates, but since they do share the core root and the same meaning, we say that they are cognate. The term that we use in this book to refer to this type of relationship between words is paronym. Thus, we say that Eng. slavery and Sp. esclavitud are paronyms (cf. Part I, Chapter 1). Just like the verbs Eng. enslave and Sp. esclavizar, the nouns Eng. slavery and Sp. esclavitud were also derived in each of these languages independently in order to refer to the system of which slaves are part.

English created the word slavery from the stem slav‑ of the word slave and the suffix ‑ery in the middle of the 16th century. This is a Latinate suffix that appears in many words that English borrowed from French (where the suffix is spelled ‑erie) and thus came to be available for use in new English words by analogy, resulting in new English words. Most nouns in ‑ery denote places, such as bakery and fishery, some have a collective sense, as in machinery, and only rarely do they refer to a state or condition, as in the case of slavery. The French suffix ‑erie has two main Latin sources, the most common one being the Romanic ‑aria, which in Spanish resulted in the suffix ‑ería, as in tontería ‘dumb/silly thing’ (from tonto ‘dumb/silly’) or pescadería ‘fish shop’. There are very few English words in ‑ery that have a Spanish cognate in ‑ería, other than words both English and Spanish borrowed from French, such as Eng. battery ~ Sp. batería or Eng. artillery ~ Sp. artillería. There do not seem to be any Spanish cognates of English words in ‑ery that were developed in this language, such as slavery.

The noun slavery [ˈsleɪ̯v(ə)ɹi] can refer to ‘the state of being a slave’ or to ‘the practice or system of owning slaves’. Some dictionaries also mention figurative senses for this word. The Oxford American Dictionary for instance mentions two: ‘a condition compared to that of a slave in respect of exhausting labor or restricted freedom’, as in female domestic slavery, and ‘excessive dependence on or devotion to something’, as in slavery to tradition. The word slavery appears in a number of collocations:

  • to sell (or be sold) into slavery / as a slave ≡Sp. vender (or ser vendido/a) como esclavo/a
  • to end slavery ≡ Sp. poner fin a la esclavitud
  • to abolish slavery ≡ Sp. abolir la esclavitud
  • abolition of slavery ≡ Sp. abolición de la esclavitud

As we can see in many of the preceding translations of English phrases, the Spanish equivalent to Eng. slavery is esclavitud, a word first attested at the beginning of the 17th century (DCEH). From around the same time is this word’s now obsolete synonym esclavonía, a word derived from the word esclavón, a Spanish word for ‘Slav’ but also for ‘slave’ before the word esclavo was adopted to match neighboring languages (see above). The few Spanish dictionaries, such as the DLE, that still have the word esclavonía tell us that it was a synonym of esclavitud but that it is now obsolete. It was probably never a common word. Curiously, it seems that there is no French synonym of esclavonía, even though Spanish obtained its word esclavón from Fr. esclavon (see above).

The noun esclavitud was derived from the stem esclav‑ of the noun esclavo/a, and the suffix ‑(i)tud used to derive abstract nouns, e.g. aptitud ‘aptitude, ability’ < apto ‘suitable, capable’, negritud ‘blackness’ < negro ‘black’, amplitud ‘spaciousness, etc.’ < amplio ‘spacious’, and juventud ‘youth’ < joven ‘young’. Most of these nouns are loanwords from Latin nouns that had the suffix ‑(i)tūdo (accusative ‑(i)tūdin‑em), which explains why juventud has a ‑u‑ as in Latin rather than an ‑o‑ as the patrimonial joven, but a few of these  words were created in Spanish with the suffix ‑(i)tud by analogy, and our noun esclavitud is one of them (cf. Eng. ‑tude, cf. Part I, Chapters 5 and 8). The patrimonial cognate (doublet) of this suffix is the suffix ‑(i)dumbre, that descends from the accusative form ‑(i)tūdin‑em of the Latin suffix ‑(i)tūdo, as we will see below when we discuss the Spanish word servidumbre ‘servitude’.

The main meaning of esclavitud in all dictionaries is ‘the state or condition of slave’. The DLE also gives two figurative senses for esclavitud after that first, literal sense. Other dictionaries combine the figurative uses in one sense, such as Larousse. Some dictionaries, such as Vox and Clave give an additional sense to the word esclavitud that strangely enough other dictionaries such as DLE or Larousse do not mention. This is the sense that refers to the institution of slavery, not the condition of slave, e.g. ‘social and economic system based on the use of slaves as labor force’ (DUEAEV).[1]

In English, the word chattel is often added to the word slavery, cf. the phrase chattel slavery, in order to make it clear that it is the traditional type of bondage based on ownership that is meant and not other types of bondage that the word slavery has come to be used for. There is no equivalent term in Spanish for, in Spanish, esclavitud refers to chattel slavery by default, though the word can be used figuratively in extended senses as well, as we have seen.

The word chattel in English is a legal term that means most generally ‘an article of movable personal property’ and, secondarily, ‘a slave’ (AHD). It comes from Old French chatel or chetel, which comes from late Latin captāle, a direct descendant of Latin capitāle ‘principal, property, goods, etc.’ (cf. the learned words Eng. capital ~ Sp. capital). The word chattel obviously came from ‘Parisian’, not Norman French, as evidenced by the sound change from Lat. c‑ [k] to Fr. ch‑ [ʧ] that happened in this variety of Old French (and hence in Standard French) in the Middle Ages before the vowel 〈a〉. The northern, Norman variety of Old French from which most loanwords from French came into Middle English did not undergo this sound change and thus the cognate word in Old Northern French was catel (cf. Provençal captal or capdal, Sp. caudal). English also borrowed the Norman version of this word, as cattle, typically spelled catel in English until the 16th century. Eng. cattle originally referred to all types of ‘movable property or wealth’ (OED) but in 15th century, it acquired the sense ‘live stock’, that is, ‘a collective term for live animals held as property’, and eventually it came to refer primarily to ‘bovine animals’ (OED). Eventually the more general, earlier senses of the word became obsolete.

Some prefixes are often added to the noun slavery, in particular the adjectives antislavery (cf. Sp. antiesclavista), pro-slavery (cf. Sp. a favor de la esclavitud), and post-slavery (cf. Sp. posterior a la esclavitud/época esclavista). As we can see in the Spanish translations of these derived lexemes, Spanish has not added any affixes to the word esclavitud.

Before leaving these words, we should mention that they are sometimes Eng. slavery and Sp. esclavitud are used as synonyms of Eng. servitude and Sp. servidumbre, respectively. We will look at these two words below, when we look at the Latin word for ‘slave’, sĕrvus/a, and words derived from it. But before that, we are going to look at an unexpected word derived from a descendant of Lat. sclavus, namely Eng. ciao ~ Sp. chao/chau.

Go to Part 6



[1] The original: ‘2 Régimen social y económico basado en el uso de esclavos como mano de obra: en 1863 Abraham Lincoln abolió la esclavitud en los Estados Unidos.’

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