Monday, January 11, 2021

Slaves and slavery, part 15: Lat. sĕrvĭtĭum: Eng. service ~ Sp. servicio


[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 15 of Slaves and Slavery: Go to Part 1

Lat. sĕrvĭtĭum: Eng. service ~ Sp. servicio

There is a Latin word derived from the noun sĕrvus that has reflexes in English and Spanish that are extremely common words. The Latin word is sĕrvĭtĭum and its reflexes are the cognates Eng. service ~ Sp. servicio. Lat. sĕrvitĭum meant first of all ‘the condition of a slave, service, slavery, servitude’ and, by extension, ‘servitude or subjection of any kind’ (L&S). In other words, sĕrvĭtĭum was the equivalent of Eng. slavery and Sp. esclavitud, words that as we saw were derived in these languages, not descendants of Latin words. Lat. sĕrvĭtĭum was also a synonym of the words that meant ‘slavery’ in Latin, namely sĕrvĭtūs and sĕrvĭtūdo (see above). Finally, the Latin noun sĕrvitĭum could also mean ‘a body of servants, the class of slaves’ (L&S), so it could be used to refer to the servants of a household, the domestic help, a sense that Sp. servicio still has.

Lat. sĕrvitĭum was a second declension neuter noun derived from the root sĕrv‑ of the noun sĕrvus ‘slave’ by means of the suffix or ending ‑(ĭ)‑t‑ĭ‑(um). Note that the first ĭ is a linking vowel, not part of the suffix, and was used only used when the stem ended in a consonant, and the ‑um ending was the nominative singular inflection of second declension neuter nouns. This suffix was an extended variant form of the suffix ‑ĭ‑(um) that derived neuter second declension abstract nouns typically from verbs, such as ŏdĭum ‘hatred, etc.’ from ōdisse ‘to hate, etc.’ (cf. Sp. odio ‘hate’), collŏquĭum ‘talk, conversation, etc.’ from colloquī ‘to talk together’ (cf. Eng. colloquium ~ Sp. coloquio), and delīrĭum ‘derangement, madness, frenzy’ from dēlīrāre ‘to deviate from the straight track; to be deranged, crazy’ (cf. Eng. delirium ~ Sp. delirio).[1] An extended variant came about when speakers mis-parsed a word and assumed that a certain letter was part of the suffix, as opposed to being part of the stem.

The suffix ‑(ĭ)‑t‑ĭ‑(um) was not as common as its feminine counterpart ‑(ĭ)‑t‑ĭ‑(a) (an extended form of the suffix ĭ‑(a)) that derived first declension abstract nouns describing the condition of being something from adjectives (or occasionally other nouns), a suffix that has resulted in the patrimonial Spanish reflex ‑eza, as in dureza ‘hardness’ (cf. Lat. dūritĭa), and the learned Spanish reflex ‑icia, as in justicia ‘justice’ (cf. Lat. iūstitĭa).[2] Another variant of this suffix was ‑(ĭ)‑t‑ĭ‑(ēs) (accusative: ‑(ĭ)‑t‑ĭ‑(ēm)), which resulted in fifth declension feminine abstract nouns, a suffix whose patrimonial Spanish reflex is ‑ez, as in vejez ‘old age’ from viejo ‘old’.[3]

Descendants (reflexes) of Lat. sĕrvĭtĭum are ubiquitous and very common in all Romance languages, cf. Provençal servizi or servis, Spanish servicio, Portuguese serviço, Fr. service, and Italian servizio or servigio (OED). These words have also been very common words in these languages from the very beginning. The word was even borrowed by a neighboring language such as Basque quite early on, presumably from Latin, not from its Romance descendant, cf. Modern Basque zerbitzu [seɾˈbiʦu].[4]

Sp. servicio is attested very early on in the language. DCEH tells us it is found in the very first written records of the language, in the Glosas Emilianenses from around the year 950 (cf. Part I, Chapter 9), as well as in many subsequent early writings. It is quite likely that this was the main word that meant ‘servitude’ in the post-Latin period before of the creation of the word servidumbre. Nonetheless, there is something about the form of this Spanish word that does not make it look patrimonial (inherited), but rather borrowed. That is because the rare Latin ending ‑(ĭ)‑t‑ĭ‑(um) does not have a patrimonial reflex in Spanish and if it had been passed on, it would have been *‑ezo, resulting in *servezo, which is not attested in Old Spanish.

The ending ‑icio is obviously a learned adaptation of the Latin ending ĭtĭum, and the Spanish word servicio itself cannot be a fully patrimonial (inherited) word. (Note that in addition to being a reflex of Lat. ‑ĭtĭum , the ending ‑icio in Spanish words may also be a reflex of the rare Latin ending ‑īcĭus that formed adjectives, as in fictīcĭus, source of Sp. ficticio/a ~ Eng. fictitious.) All other Spanish words that end in ‑­icio seem to be loanwords that come from Latin words ending in ‑ĭtĭum in which the suffix is ‑ĭum and the ‑t‑ is part of the verbal stem, as in armisticio ‘armistice’ (< Lat. armistitĭum ‘truce’) and solsticio ‘solstice’ (< Lat. solstitĭum ‘summer solstice; summer; solstice’). There are a handful of Spanish words which seem to have been created in Spanish by means of the ending ‑icio, such as the word bullicio ‘racket, noise’, formed by adding ­‑icio to the stem of the verb bullir ‘to boil’ (from Lat. bŭllīre ‘to boil’ from Lat. bŭlla ‘bubble’). Such words are rare, however.

Because of all this, we can see that Sp. servicio is quite a special word, given that it is so old and its ending is so rare and unique. It is most likely a semi-learned word, namely one that was patrimonial (inherited) but was altered in its form (the ending ‑icio) to make it more Latin-like because of its association with the learned (educated) classes. The pronunciation of the original, patrimonial word is not known to us, given that the semi-learned ending ‑icio is found in even the earliest written attestations of this word. If there was such a patrimonial word, it would have been pronounced [seɾˈβeʣo] and written *servezo (cf. Basque zerbitzu).

English borrowed the word service, pronounced [ˈsɜɹ.vɪs] today, in the early 14th century. It was borrowed from Old French, where the word it was spelled variously as servise, service, servige, or serviche (cf. modern French service, pronounced [sɛʀ.ˈvis]). Eng. service has had a variety of meanings over time. Even today, dictionaries tell us that this is a polysemous word, one with many senses. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary gives us six senses for this noun, two of them with subsenses; the American Heritage Dictionary has fifteen senses, six of them with two subsenses; Merriam-Webster’s Advanced Learner’s Dictionary gives us thirteen senses, one of them with three subsenses; and the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary gives sixteen senses. To describe the senses of service, we will use the Advanced English-Spanish VOX dictionary senses with their Spanish equivalents, as shown in Table 2.

service noun

1 (attention to customer) servicio

      the service here is terribly slow el servicio aquí es muy lento
      is service included? ¿el servicio está incluido?

2 (organization, system, business) servicio

      there’s a good bus service hay un buen servicio de autobuses
      there’s a 24-hour service hay un servicio permanente, hay un servicio las 24 horas

3 (work, duty) servicio

      a life of public service una vida de servicio al pueblo
      he has twenty years’ service in the army lleva veinte años de servicio en el ejército
      he died on active service murió en acto de servicio
      she went into (domestic) service se puso a trabajar de criada

4 (use) servicio

      you’ll get excellent service from this model este modelo te dará un servicio excelente
      this machine is not in service esta máquina no funciona [idiomatic expression]

5 (maintenance of car, machine) revisión nombre femenino

6 RELIGION oficio, oficio religioso
      wedding service ceremonia de boda

7 (of dishes) vajilla; (for tea, coffee) juego

8 (tennis) saque nombre masculino, servicio

9 LAW entrega, citación nombre femenino, notificación nombre femenino

Table 2: Entry for service in Advanced English-Spanish VOX

As we can see, most of the senses of Eng. service translate into Spanish as servicio, though some do not, such as the sense of ‘religious service’, defined as ‘a ceremony of religious worship according to a prescribed form’ (COED), though if one looks at the senses for servicio in a Spanish dictionary, such as the academies’ DLE, we see that ‘religious worship’ (Sp. culto religioso) is supposedly one of the meanings of the word servicio, albeit not a common one. On the other hand, going against what Vox claims, it can be argued that the ‘(coffee/tea) set’ sense or Eng. service (#7) can indeed be translated as servicio, not just vajilla or juego. Actually, the Advanced Spanish-English VOX dictionary gives that as one of the senses of Sp. servicio, which curiously it proceeds to translate into English as set, not service (see below). Conversely, just like not all senses or uses of Eng. service translate into Spanish as servicio, there are some uses of Sp. servicio that do not translate into English as service. Thus, for example, servicio or servicios is a common way to refer to public restrooms in Spanish (see sense #6), e.g., El servicio de señoras está al fondo a la derecha ‘The ladies’ restroom is at the end to the right’, Por favor, ¿los servicios? ‘Excuse me, where is the restroom?’ (DUEAEV). 

servicio nombre masculino

1 (gen) service
2 (criados) servants plural; (asistente) domestic help
3 (juego, conjunto) set
            servicio de té tea set
4 (favor) service, favour (US favor)
5 DEPORTE service, serve
6 (Also servicios) (retrete) toilet, US rest room

Table 3: Entry for servicio in Advanced Español-Inglés VOX

Sp. servicio is attested very early on, in the Aemilian glosses written around the year 950 (Sp. glosas emilianenses, cf. Part I, Chapter 9). Its medieval pronunciation must have been something like [seɾ.ˈβi.ʦi̯o], with the letter c〉 representing the sound [ʦ] (cf. Part I, Chapter 10). It is spelled with ç in the Cid, though this letter was not needed to represent the sound [ʦ] before the letter i〉 in Old Spanish. As we said, this cannot be a fully patrimonial word and it is probably a semi-learned word (Sp. semicultismo), which when transmitted in writing, kept a form closer to the Latin one than would have been expected from word-of-mouth transmission. (The change in the spelling from ‑t‑ to ‑c‑ was standard in this context before the semivowel [i̯], for the two consonants had come to be pronounced identically in this phonetic environment.)

Spanish dictionaries also give a large number of senses for the word servicio, not just the six senses found in the Spanish-English dictionary above. The DLE, for instance, gives 19 senses for this word, many of which are rare, including the already mentioned religious sense and one that we will see below having to do with a medieval cattle tax. There is one sense that is not shared with Eng. service, but which is related to the ‘set’ sense, namely the ‘cutlery for one diner’ sense. The DLE and other dictionaries also give a large number of collocations or semi-idiomatic phrases that contain the word servicio, such as the following: entrar en servicio ‘to come into service’, estar al servicio de alguien ‘to be at someone’s disposal’, estar de servicio ‘to be on duty’, fuera de servicio ‘out of order’, hacer servicio ‘to be of use’, hacer un flaco servicio ‘to do more harm than good’, ir al servicio ‘go to the restroom’, poner en servicio ‘to put into operation’, prestar servicio ‘to serve’, servicio incluido ‘service charge included’, servicio a domicilio ‘home delivery’, servicio de urgencias ‘emergency service’, servicios informativos ‘broadcasting services’, servicio médico ‘medical care/assistance’, servicio militar ‘military service’, servicios mínimos ‘skeleton service(s)’, servicio secreto = servicio de inteligencia ‘secret service’.

Going back to Eng. service, we should note that there are a number of common compound nouns in which this noun is used as a modifier of another noun. These are the most common ones in use today with their Spanish equivalents: service area Sp. área de servicio; service charge (on a bill) (suplemento por) servicio, (in banking) comisión, (condo fees, in Britain) gastos de comunidad; service department ≈ Sp. servicio de atención al cliente; service economy Sp. economía de servicios; service elevator/lift Sp. montacargas; (Britain) service flat Sp. apartamento con servicios incluidos; service industry/sector Sp. sector (de) servicios; service provider Sp. proveedor de servicios (de Internet); service road Sp. vía de acceso; service station Sp. estación de servicio, gasolinera.

From the noun service, English derived a verb (to) service by conversion. This happened in the late 19th century. The verb (to) service has several meanings. The first one is ‘to do the work that is needed to keep (a machine or vehicle) in good condition’ (MWALD). This ‘maintenance’ sense of the verb service translates into Spanish as revisar or hacer una revisión de (for cars, Spain) or hacer(le) un servicio (for cars, America), or hacerle el mantenimiento a (for machines), e.g. I must get the car serviced Tengo que llevar el coche a revisión (Spain, Advanced English-Spanish VOX). But in many contexts, the ‘maintenance’ sense of service does translate into Spanish as servicio, mostly in calqued phrases, such as service area = área de servicio and service station = estación de servicio.

A second sense of the verb service is a technical one in finance, namely ‘to pay interest on (a loan or debt)’ (MWALD), usually in a collocation with the noun loan, as in The company was unable to service the loan. The ‘debt, loan’ sense of the verb service can be translated as pagar los intereses (de) (AESV).

A third sense of the English verb service is ‘to provide (someone) with something that is needed or wanted’, as in The bookstore primarily services people looking for out-of-print books. This sense can be translated into Spanish as atender, servir, dar servicio a, or proveer de servicios.

Some dictionaries mention a fourth sense for this derived English verb, namely ‘(of a male animal) mate with (a female animal)’ (COED). The ‘mate’ sense can be translated into Spanish euphemistically as cubrir, which literally means ‘to cover’ (Harrap’s). Other synonyms for this word are montar (cf. Eng. to mount), aparear ‘to mate’ (lit. ‘to pair off’), gallar (a una gallina), and cargar (in southern Spain) (C+S).

Note that Spanish too has at some point in its history created a verb serviciar out of the noun servicio. This is a historical word that modern-day speakers do not recognized. Its meaning was ‘to pay, collect or receive the servicio tribute/tax’. This refers to a special sense of the noun servicio, namely a yearly cattle tax. Also known as servicio y montazgo, this was a legal term used in medieval times, now a historical and thus obsolete term, though you would not know it by looking it up in any modern dictionary.[5]

English has a word derived from the noun service and Spanish one derived from the verb servir, both of which involve the Latinate suffix ‑ble. The English word is the adjective serviceable, which actually comes from Old French serviçable/servisable, from which it was borrowed in the 14th century. This French word is thought to come from medieval Latin serviciābĭlis (OED), but it could have been derived from Old French servise, a variant spelling of the word service. At any rate, this word never made it into Spanish, which thus does not have a cognate of the French and English words.

Eng. serviceable, pronounced [ˈsɜɹ.və.sə.bəl], has two senses today: (a) ‘in usable condition’, equivalent to Sp. útil, práctico, en buen uso, utilizable, servible; and (2) ‘durable, hard-wearing’, equivalent to Sp. práctico/a, duradero/a (AESV). Note that one of the possible translations of (one sense of) Eng. serviceable is Sp. servible ‘usable, serviceable’, a word derived from the stem serv  of the verb servir by means of the suffix ‑ible (serv+ible) (when this suffix is attached to stems of first conjugation verbs, the variant ‑able is used instead). This word is rare, however. Much more common is its antonym or opposite inservible ‘unusable, useless’. The opposite of Eng. serviceable is unserviceable, formed in English with the prefix un‑. This word translates into Spanish as inutilizable, inservible, or inútil.

There is yet one more word that was derived in English from the noun service, namely the antonymous noun disservice ‘a harmful action’ (COED). It was formed in the late 16th century by means of the Latinate prefix dis‑, a cognate of Sp. des‑, a suffix that English has used quite productively to produce antonyms of adjectives, nouns, and verbs, e.g. Eng. dissimilar, disinterest, disapprove, dishonesty, disconnect. Eng. disservice translates into Spanish primarily as perjuicio ‘damage, harm, loss’, a word that is a doublet (cognate) of Sp. prejuicio and, thus, a cognate of Eng. prejudice, since all of these words come from Lat. praeiūdicĭum, although their meanings differ quite a bit.[6] The English word is often used in the phrase to do somebody/something a disservice, which can be translated into Spanish as perjudicar a alguien/algo, using the verb perjudicar ‘to adversely affect, be bad for, be detrimental to’ (AEIV), related to the noun perjuicio.

Before leaving the word service, we should note that there is a second noun service in English, which is totally unrelated to the more common one. This noun is found in the phrase service tree that refers to ‘either of two European trees, Sorbus domestica [aka (true) service tree or sorb tree; Sp. serbal común, azarollo, sorbo, sorbeira, zurbal, la silba, jerbo, or jerbal], bearing a small, acid fruit that is edible when overripe, or Sorbus torminalis (wild service tree) [aka chequers or checker tree; Sp. sorbo silvestre], bearing a similar fruit’ (Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary). This word service is also found in the compound serviceberry (also known as Juneberry), formed in the late 18th century, which refers to ‘the fruit of any service tree’ as well as to ‘a North American shrub or small tree, Amelanchier canadensis’ and ‘any of various other plants of the genus Amelanchier’ (Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary). The current spelling of that second noun service has come about by influence of the first one. In Middle English, this word was spelled serves, which was the plural of serve, the name of the fruit of the service tree. This word comes ultimately from Old English syrfe, which was a loanword from Vulgar Latin *sorbea, ultimately from Latin sorbus ‘service tree’ (Lat. Sorbus domestica) and sorbum ‘fruit of the service tree’, cf. Sp. suerbo.

Go to Part 16



[1] This ending is also found in ‘deverbal compounds with the initial element denoting the object of the verb (nasturtium), other types of compounds (equilibrium; millennium), and derivatives of personal nouns, often denoting the associated status or office (collegium; consortium; magisterium); ‑ium also occurs in scientific coinages on a Latin model, as in names of metallic elements (barium; titanium) and as a Latinization of Gk ‑ion (pericardium)’ (Collins Dictionary).

[2] Some examples of the use of the ending ‑ĭt‑ĭ‑a are: dūrus ‘hard’ (cf. Sp. duro/a ‘hard’) → dūritia ‘hardness’ (cf. Sp. dureza ‘hardness’), trīstis ‘sad’ > trīstĭtĭa ‘sadness’ (cf. Sp. tristeza ‘sadness’), and laetus ‘happy’ → laetĭtĭa ‘happiness’. As you can see, the patrimonial Spanish descendant of this suffix is ‑eza (cf. Part I, Chapter 5).

[3] Latin nouns derived from this suffix include: avāritĭēs ‘avarice, greediness, etc.’, from avārus ‘greedy, avaricious’, cf. Sp. avaricia; blanditĭēs ‘flattery, compliment, etc.’ (alternative of blanditĭa); calvitĭēs ‘baldness’, from calvus ‘bald’, cf. Sp. calvicie ~ Eng. fancy calvities; dūritĭēs/dūritĭa ‘hardness’, from dūrus ‘hard’, cf. Sp. dureza; mollitĭēs/mollitĭa ‘pliability, softness’, from mollis ‘soft’, cf. Sp. obsol. mollez(a) ‘physical softness’, molicie ‘softness, comfort’; mundĭtĭēs/mundĭtĭa ‘cleanness, neatness, elegance’, from mundus ‘clean, neat, elegant’, cf. Sp. mundicia and inmundicia; plānitĭēs/plānitĭa ‘flatness; plain, plateau’, from plānus ‘flat’, cf. Sp. planicie; pueritĭēs/pueritĭa ‘boyhood, childhood’, from puer ‘boy, child’, cf. Sp. rare puericia.

[4] This idea is reinforced by the fact that this Latin word was borrowed by Basque quite early on, very likely from Latin, not from Romance, as its phonology reveals. The word is zerbitzu in modern Standard Basque and in many Basque dialects, it is written with the letter 〈z〉: zerbitzu (L LN), serbitzu (B G HN), zerbutxu (R), zerbǘtxü (Z) (cf. R. L. Trask, 2008, Etymological Dictionary of Basque). The letter 〈z〉 in Basque represents the laminal sound [s̻] (the sound of s in most dialects of English and Spanish, but not Castilian Spanish), and in words borrowed from Latin, Latin s corresponds to Basque z. In Basque, the letter s represents the apical sound [s̺], which is the sound of the letter s in Castilian Spanish, and thus Basque words borrowed from Spanish, have 〈s〉 (not 〈z〉) where Spanish has 〈s〉 (cf. Part I, Chapter 7).

[5] As explained in the Diccionario panhispánico del español jurídico, 2020:  servicio y montazgo. Tributo pagado por los ganados de la Mesta, dejando de ser estrictamente un derecho de paso, para convertirse en una contribución por los beneficios que dichos ganados obtenían. Inicialmente el montazgo era un derecho de paso de cualquier tipo de ganado que se pagaba a los municipios por los daños causados y el pasto consumido por los ganados en sus traslados, siendo considerado por algunos autores como una especie de multa por dichos daños, de lo que pasó a ser un derecho de paso. La denominación de servicio y montazgo parece derivar del servicio extraordinario concedido por los ganaderos castellanos a Alfonso X con motivo de la boda de su hijo mayor, Alfonso de la Cerda, con Blanca de Francia, como contrapartida al privilegio concedido por dicho rey a la Mesta; desde entonces, el gravamen se convirtió en ordinario, denominándose servicio y montazgo, como impuesto directo, al que se sumaban otros derechos de paso.’ Diccionario panhispánico del español jurídico, 2020, cf. https://dpej.rae.es/lema/servicio-y-montazgo (2021.01.11).

[6] The Latin word praeiūdicĭum means literally ‘prior judgement’, since it is formed with the prefix prae‑ ‘before’ and the noun iūdicĭum ‘judgement’ (cf. Sp. juicio ‘judgement; trial, lawsuit; reason, common sense’). More specifically, it meant ‘a previous judgment, a preliminary decision or examination (for the sake of investigating facts for subsequent proceedings)’ and, by extension, ‘a premature decision’ or ‘an example, precedent’ (Cassell). Eng. prejudice today means primarily ‘preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience’, which is equivalent to Sp. prejuicio. However, when English borrowed this word from French in the late 13th century it meant ‘harm, damage’, just like in Old French (and in its Spanish cognate perjuicio). Eng. prejudice has a second, legal sense that is ‘harm or injury that results or may result from some action or judgement’, cf. the legal phrase without prejudice that means ‘without detriment to any existing right or claim’ (COED). The second, ‘preconceived opinion’ sense developed in English in the late 14th century and it was seemingly calqued later by French, as préjugé, and Spanish, as prejuicio.


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Slaves and slavery, part 21: Eng. indenture

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