Latin frater vs. germanus

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by francisgranada, Sep 27, 2012.

  1. francisgranada Senior Member


    In the Ibero-Romance laguages, the word for brother derives from the Latin "germanus" (e.g. Sp. hermano) while in other Romance language from "frater" (e.g. It. fratello). Why this difference?

    What was the difference in the meaning/usage of these two words in (classical/medieval) Latin?

    Thanks :)
  2. Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    Frater could refer to a cousin or brother-in-law, whilst germanus was more specific meaning "having the same parents".
  3. Hamlet2508 Senior Member

  4. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    Hi. Thanks for bringing this up! This is a very interesting question that requires some pondering and research, but at first glance I would add "germana" and "soror" (sister) to the equation as they parallel closely "germanus" and "frater". I'm also wondering about the religious influence as well. "Fray" and "Sor" do exist in Spanish for a religious rendering of "brother/sister (of God)". Note that the Spanish royal academy specifically qualifies "hermano> germanus" as having the original Latin meaning of "hermano carnal = brother of flesh and blood".

    French does not distinguish this double meaning of "brother/sister" and both senses of the term are "frère/soeur" as in English. French has "germain(e)" as an adjective (born of same mother and father, applied to cousins - of the same family). So it probably evolved in meaning slowly over time to become more related to "family" rather than "sibling". English "germane = related to, natural to" could stem from that. Notice in the French etymology also refers a bit to that sense.

    The CNRTL
    Italian "fratello" and "sorella" seem to have added the diminutive "ello" to the original terms. For what reason? Someone knowing Italian more in depth should comment.
    Edit: Italian distinguishes religious/natural brother/sister like Spanish, but by removing the diminutive: Frate/Suor(a). In theory "germano" exists too: Dicesi del fratello o della sorella carnale, ossia che proviene dello stesso germe, cioè dai medesimi genitori,

    In general we just might have simultaneously a desire to distinguish two different senses of "brother/sister" combined with a slow drift of original meaning of both terms in Gallo-romance and Ibero-romance.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2012
  5. Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    English has the word "german" meaning "having the same parents or the same paternal or maternal grandparents", though it only appears in combinations: brother-german, cousin-german. I have never heard the former used, but the latter is used in probate documents in England and Wales.
  6. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    The diminutive in Romance languages has often to do with affectionate treatment of a person or an object and sometimes is used so often (instead of the neutral word without the suffix) that the diminutive suffix begins to be perceived as part of the stem, which is exactly what happened to words like soleil (soliculum) in French or the Latin auris (diminutives sg. auriculum, pl. auricula) in the Romance languages.
    Older Italian also uses frate and suora in their original, not religious meaning (libretto to Verdi's "La traviata", written in 1852: "Un padre ed una suora t'affretta a consolar" - note the proclitic pronoun which accompanies the imperative). Napolitan has preserved at least frate. is quite a good source if you are interested in the origin of a word in Italian and its cognates in other Romance languages, but you should consider that this source uses a language which was spoken & written before Manzoni's "I promessi sposi", so you cannot make conclusions on whether modern Italian still uses one word or another.
  7. sotos Senior Member

  8. sotos Senior Member

    Given the fusion of the meanings "brother" and "father" around the word "frater", would it be reasonable to assume that the "germano" is cognate to "germ", according to OED from the root gen- (to beget, to bear)?
  9. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    frater is IE *bhrāter-, Eng. “brother” etc etc.

    pater is IE *pHter-, English “father” etc. etc.

    Ergo: “frater” and “father” are not cognates.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 1, 2012
  10. sotos Senior Member

    I was wrong to characterize them as "cognates". I mean the two meanings seem to converge in the words fratria-fatria-patria, indicating an underlying relation. This relation can be explained with the scheme "a fratria/fatria has common ancestors, i.e. common fathers" or "inside patria/fatria we are all brothers". There are more relations based on very primitive cultural practices, e.g. the older brother is successor of the father etc. In mythology we have the paradigm of Zeus as Father God, who at the same time is brother to some of them .
    But the main point is the possible origin of germanus from germ<gen-.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 1, 2012
  11. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    Agree with Angelo di fuoco.

    Priests, wheter frati or preti, are called "padre" when addressing them.
    But nuns (suore) are called "sorella" when addressing them.
    But I heard that fratellus and sorellam were already widespread in the Italian Vulgar Latin.

    In Chinese there is also confusion between brothers, sisters and cousins.
    Cousins are considered "far brothers" and "far sisters".
  12. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    In many orders, that is a contradiction in terms. Fratres are never priests. Priests are always patres.
  13. francisgranada Senior Member

    Yes, you are right. But I'd say that even if we don't take in consideration the exact usage of these terms in various orders, the "psychological" (and hence also the "practical") difference between pater and frater is abslolutely clear in a religious context. They all may be "fratres" among them (being essentially even as human beings ...), but not everybody is "pater", because the role of "pater" requires some knowlegde, experiences, responsability etc ... (for consequence, typically also a certain age).

    But turning back to my original question, I have the feeling (or rather impression) that the world germanus was not so commonly (or "often") used in Latin. That's why I'm a bit surprised that it became one of the "most common" words in the Iberian peninsula, while in other Romance languages it practically does not exist (eventually only as "cultismo" or "parola dotta" ... ).
  14. Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    A possibility is that in the variety of the Vulgar Latin carried to the Iberian Peninsula the word germanus/a was preferred to frater/soror. There are any number of cases where words in different Romance languages come from different Latin words: cabeza v tête; pierna v jambe.
  15. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    But fratres are addressed by common people as "padre". While church men address among themselves and common people "fratelli".

    In Spanish and Portuguese cousin is "primo". That's very confusing for me... for me that means "first". While "first" is primero/primeiro.
  16. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    It's symbolic even in English catholic priests are called "father," because spiritually they lead the church members as a father would lead his children, and they call each other "brother" because with each other they're equals.
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2012
  17. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    It will be less confusing If you think that primo is a shortening of "*cugino primo" (first cousin).
  18. XiaoRoel

    XiaoRoel Senior Member

    Vigo (Galiza)
    galego, español
    Primo viene de (consobrinum) primum. En gallego se usa para los primos en primer grado curmán, femeninocurmá (cf. pt. primo coirmão).
    Hermano (esp.), irmán (gal.), irmão (pt.) vienen de (frater) germanus, 'hermano de padre y madre', donde germanus tiene su valor propio de 'auténtico'.
    Las lenguas hispánicas prefieren conservar la segunda parte del sintagma, mientras que francés o italiano prefieren conservar la primera parte del sintagma.
    Los femeninos, hermana, irmá, son secundarios y derivados de la forma masculina.
  19. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    ¡Gracias, XiaoRoel!
    Consobrinum literalmente seria "sobrinos da mesma persona", cierto?
    Y hay también consobrinos segundos, terceiros, etc.?

    Sólo no entendo que otros tipos de frater hay, apesar de frater germanus.

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