Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Slaves and slavery, part 17: Eng. bondage and Eng. villeinage ~ Sp. villanaje

[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 17 of Slaves and Slavery: Go to Part 1

Other English and Spanish words related to slavery

Eng. bondage

The word bondage [ˈbɒn.dɪʤ] is used in English as a synonym of both slavery and serfdom. The COED defines the first and main sense of this word as ‘the state of being a slave or feudal serf’ (COED). The word has had that meaning since the beginning of the 14th century when the word first appears on the record. Since the 1960s, however, the word has had a secondaryor for many speakers, primarymeaning related to sexual sado-masochism, namely ‘sexual activity that involves the tying up or restraining of one partner’ (COED). Indeed, some dictionaries give this meaning as the first one, such as Macmillan English Dictionary, whereas the original meaning is seen as secondary and marked as formal.

Figure 5: Bondage, Gag & Blindfold[i]

Some dictionaries mention an additional, figurative sense for this word, something like ‘a situation in which you are not free because someone or something controls your life’, as in Would he ever have enough money to be wholly free from the bondage of work? (Macmillan). This dictionary also marks this sense as formal, that is, one not used in everyday language. Other dictionaries present this sense as a subsense of the slavery sense used figuratively, such as Merriam-Webster’s Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (MWALD).

English-Spanish dictionaries give esclavitud and servidumbre as the only or main translations for the word bondage. Some dictionaries mention the word cautiverio as an additional possible equivalent, a synonym of cautividad, which is a cognate of Eng. captivity. Some English-Spanish dictionaries, such as Collins, tell us that the sexual sense of Eng. bondage translates into Spanish as… bondage, a loanword (not even adapted as bondaje). Interestingly, most English-Spanish dictionaries do not translate that sense of Eng. bondage at all. In other words, Eng. bondage has been borrowed by at least some Spanish speakers for this particular meaning. However, the word bondage is not found in the academies’ ‘official’ DLE or in any of the other major Spanish dictionaries yet.

The origin of the word bondage is actually quite interesting. It comes from either Anglo-Norman bondage or Anglo-Latin bondagium. (Anglo-Norman was the French language used by the Norman invaders in England after 1066 and Anglo-Latin was the Latin used in England around the same time.) The word bondage contains the French ending ‑age used to create nouns in this language (cf. Part II, Chapter XX). Although the French suffix ‑age descends from Late Latin ending ‑ātĭcum, some words containing this suffix that were created in French were sometimes transferred to Medieval Latin with the ending ‑gĭum, which was not properly a Latin suffix, but which contained the suffix ‑ĭum that we saw earlier in the chapter.) The root of bondage and bondagium was not Latinate like the suffix, though, but was rather the Middle English word bond ‘a serf, tenant farmer’, which was bond or bonde in Anglo-Norman, and bondus in Anglo-Latin. Middle English bond descends from Old English bonda ‘householder’, which is a loanword from Old Norse noun boandi ‘free-born farmer’, which itself descends by conversion from the present participle of the verb boa ‘dwell, prepare, inhabit’.[1]

Eng. villeinage ~ Sp. villanaje

The word bond in Middle English was equivalent to the descendants of the Latin word villānus in Romance languages, originally the word for a peasant, one who worked in a Roman villa, a farm or country-house complex (cf. Eng. villa ~ Sp. villa, with a very different meaning today).[2] Thus, it is not surprising that another word for bondage to refer to the status or the people without noble status in Anglo-Norman was vi(l)lenage, from Old French vi(l)lenage or vila(i)nage, a word equivalent in the Romance world to Provençal vilanatge, Spanish villanage (Modern Spanish villanaje), Portuguese villanagem, and medieval Latin villenagium, vil(l)anagium, or vileinagium (OED). Undoubtedly, the English word bondage was formed on the model of Anglo-Norman was vi(l)lenage, by substituting the first part or root of this word, namely villain, from Old French vilain, which originally meant ‘peasant, farmer’, by the equivalent Old English word bond.[3]

The word villeinage is found in the dictionary with the meaning ‘the tenure or status of a villein in the feudal system’ (COED). It can be pronounced [ˈvɪlənɪʤ] or [ˈvɪleɪ̯nɪʤ]. Most dictionaries mention that this is a historical word, namely one used to refer to institutions of the past, not current ones. As we saw, the Spanish cognate of this word is villanaje, which just like pretty much all Spanish words ending in ‑aje comes from French (cf. Part II, Chapter XX). According to DCEH, this word is not found earlier than the 17th century, though it is found in a document from the early 16th century (OSTA). At any rate, it seems to be a more recent loan than its English cognate. This word is found in modern Spanish dictionaries, though none of them mention that it is a historical word. Just like Eng. villeinage, Sp. villanaje means ‘people of non-noble status in some place’ or ‘the status of being a non-noble person’, the latter sense being akin to the sense of bondage in earlier times.

The cognate of Eng. villain is villano, both of which share a meaning in modern times, which is different from the meaning that both of these words had in medieval times. The word villano has a strong negative meaning today, just like its English cognate villain does, but that was not originally the case, as we just saw. In other words, the Spanish word villano and its English cognate villain do not mean ‘non-noble person’ or ‘peasant’ anymore, but rather ‘a wicked person or a person guilty of a crime’ (COED).

Go to Part 18

[1] The source word for this verb has been traced back to Proto-Indo-European *bhow‑, from the verbal root *bheue- that meant ‘to be, exist, dwell’, relatd to the verb to be. The meaning change from ‘free-born farmer’ to ‘serf’ has been said to have been influenced by the unrelated English word bond (related to the verb bind). Anglo-French bondage was equivalent to English bondehede (bondhead) or bondescipe (bondship) (OED).

[2] In English, the word villain, which was borrowed in the early 14th century, has never had good connotations. As the OED explains, ‘Originally, [a villain was] a low-born base-minded rustic; a man of ignoble ideas or instincts; in later use, an unprincipled or depraved scoundrel; a man naturally disposed to base or criminal actions, or deeply involved in the commission of disgraceful crimes’ (OED).

[3] The OED defines villain thus: ‘Originally [c. 1300], a low-born base-minded rustic; a man of ignoble ideas or instincts; in later use, an unprincipled or depraved scoundrel; a man naturally disposed to base or criminal actions, or deeply involved in the commission of disgraceful crimes’ (OED).

[i] Source:,_Gag_%26_Blindfold.JPG (2021.01.15)

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