Words travel through time and over hills and vales, mountains and canyons; crossing rivers and oceans around the world. Many of them in fact, such as those words we learn at the start of our lives: and their related ones in Spanish: the correlating words in Latin from 100 BCE: the Classical Attic Greek from 400 BCE: and the Sansckrit from 1,700/1,200 BCE: This evidences of how we, humans beings, are accustomed to borrow, re-create, recycle and transform the words, expressions and languages we use.
We have progressed from verbal personal exchanges to new mediums; through the written word, via the telephone to radio, TV and now the internet, social media sites and blogs, such as this.
In fact, for nearly 100 years we have been broadcasting our words and languages indiscriminately into space where they travel on electromagnetic waves and little do we think of the possible impact they may have.
Recently, when discussing the great similarities between words in different languages, one of my students asked: why do we need to know the origins of the language we speak?
It may help to understand how languages take root. Contextualized learning supports and anchors knowledge in our brains. Connections and patterns emerge this way, creating links, building a network of associated ideas and concepts. Words and phrases embed themselves, ensuring we not only learn quickly, but we also remember what we have learned. As our confidence grows our capacity to learn even more of a new language increases.
Long, long ago and not far away, our ancestors experienced the clash of two ways of thinking. This confrontation may have defined the way our history, and languages in particular, have evolved over thousands of years. This was prior to the Castilian dialect and its spread over America, much before the Latin legend of Romulus and Remus became common around the whole Mediterranean.
It was long before the Egyptian language emerged, before Stonehenge was built and long before people worshiped in the Temple Culture of Malta.
At some point during the Stone Age our Eurasian ancestors developed two different ways of living and thinking. One was agricultural and the other pastoral. One sedentary and the other nomadic. Marija Gimbutas, a Lithuanian archeologist, named these agricultural people living in southeastern Europe: Old Europe.
From the clash of these two ways of living, in time, the Indo European languages emerged, giving birth to, amongst others: Germanic and Italic dialects, from where English and Spanish originate.
Thousands of Spanish words share similar spellings and in many cases close or identical meanings in English. This is because they share the same origins: these words are known as “cognates”. In many other cases they may have been borrowed at a later date, when the languages have evolved individually. Below there are few examples:
1 – A number of English verbs ending in “vowel + consonant + e” can be converted into a similar verb in Spanish by changing the e ending to “ar”:
admirar / admire comparar / compare ignorar / ignore
2 – A large number of English verbs ending “ate” can be converted into Spanish by changing the ending “ate” to “ar”:
estimar / estimate participar / participate negociar/negociate
3 – Some English and Spanish nouns ending both in “al” are identical:
moral / moral animal / animal general / general
4 – Some English and Spanish nouns appear to be similar:
doctor / doctor director / director
5 – Some English and Spanish adjectives ending in “al” are identical:
natural / natural usual / usual local / local
6 – A number of English adjectives ending in “ous” can be converted into Spanish by changing the ending “ous” to “oso”:
generoso / generous ambicioso / ambitious gracioso / gracious
7 – Some English adverbs ending in “ly” can be converted into Spanish by changing the ending ‘ly” to “mente”:
naturalmente / naturally normalmente / normally
The few cognates provided above have similar meanings. There are many others that do not have the same meaning, as the meaning may have transformed as the languages evolved separately.
I recall a wise old woman sitting in her chair with a dozen or more grandchildren surrounded her on the floor during the winter nights. She used to repeat the stories that we all loved to hear: Your grandfather came from a small town in the south of Salamanca and I came from another even more tiny village from Cáceres, in Spain. There was a castle on the top of the hill and during the harvest of 1922 … Grandma knew how to fill the air with these stories keeping us quiet and entranced.
Years later when I was a teenager, grandma said to me over a dinner we shared together: To understand where you are going, you must know from where we come from. I believe she was right.
(This blog is a follow up to my previous article “Las palabras”, 19 May 14)