Use of "izquierda" not Latin "sinister" in Spanish

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by willarkin, Feb 19, 2013.

  1. willarkin Junior Member

    London
    UK English
    I have read a lot of quite conflicting explanations of when and exactly why the Spanish stopped using a word deriving from "sinister", the Latin word for the left, and instead decided to use a pre-Roman (Basque?) word, izquierda. Evidently it is because "sinister" had developed "evil" or "ill" connotations, but is there actually any evidence when this happened? Did Vulgar Latin speakers in what is now Spain ever use "sinister", or did the population refuse to take up the word because the superstitions already existed?

    I appreciate there may be no evidence either way but it does interest me - especially whether the word "sinister" was dropped because Christians thought it meant the Devil, or if it happened in pre-Christian times

    Thank you!!
     
  2. Quiviscumque

    Quiviscumque Moderator

    Ciudad del paraíso
    Spanish-Spain
    Sorry, don't put the blame on Christians. Words for "left" are tabooed and tabooed again. The same "sinister" is of uncertain origin. In any case "doit etre un euphemisme recent, comme gr. aristeros et euonimos" (Ernout-Meillet).

    Concerning "izquierdo", Corominas says:

    Probablemente procede de una lengua prerromana hispano-pirenaica, y es verosímil que el vocablo se extendiera desde una zona de lengua vasca en la época visigótica.
     
  3. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    Portuguese uses the same word, but spelled esquerda Catalan as well spelled esquerra. I don't know but I doubt it's because the Latin word was taboo, I think it's just an Iberian eccentricity.
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2013
  4. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    When "probably" is used to mean "possibly, but I have no evidence to back it up": that is when linguistics becomes dangerous.
     
  5. Quiviscumque

    Quiviscumque Moderator

    Ciudad del paraíso
    Spanish-Spain
    Less dangerous than financial engineering, anyway :)
    The only evidence is given by killerbee256: a word found in Basque, Portuguese, Castilian, Catalan, and nowhere else.
    Corominas is usually careful and marks clearly his guesses with "probably" and "likely"; there are more assertive linguists, I daresay.
     
  6. Quiviscumque

    Quiviscumque Moderator

    Ciudad del paraíso
    Spanish-Spain
    ...and in Gascon and Languedocien (that's what Corominas says), hence the reference to a "hispano-pirenaic" language.
     
  7. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    It being used in Gascon and Languedocien doesn't surprise me as Occitan and Catalan are essentially the same language also dialects of Basque were spoken in Gascony in Roman times.
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2013
  8. Cenzontle

    Cenzontle Senior Member

    English, U.S.
    Quiviscumque, thank you for defending Corominas, with...
    We should be grateful for, not frightened by, the honesty of "probably" (compared with the assertiveness of those other linguists,
    who sometimes jump in with both feet even when they are unsure).
    According to Mark Davies's Corpus del Español, the medieval siniestro/siniestra gives way to izquierdo/izquierda during the 16th century.
    Here are the percentages of siniestro/siniestra vs. izquierdo/izquierda for different periods:
    13th through 15th century: 96/4 (sin./izq.).
    16th century: 49/51.
    17th century: 33/67.
    18th century: 23/77
    Etc.
     
  9. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    My objection was that "probably" is an overstatement, not an understatement.
     
  10. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    This is writing of the upper class, yes? Makes me wonder how much longer it was used in lower class speech, before it entered into formal usage.
     
  11. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    Speaking of overstatements, your post #4 was a nice example… :rolleyes:

    Seriously, do you think that Corominas's hypothesis is improbable? Do you know of an alternative hypothesis that is more likely to be true than what Corominas suggests? Now would be a good time to present your evidence.
     
  12. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    The issue is whether Basque esker has a Basque etymology, or whether it is a borrowing from Ibero-Romance.
     
  13. Cenzontle

    Cenzontle Senior Member

    English, U.S.
    fdb, did you really mean "Ibero-Romance" (which would be a Latin-derived ancestor of Castilian, Portuguese, Galician and Catalan),
    or did you intend to refer to the Iberian language, a language of unknown affiliation thought to have been spoken in the Iberian Peninsula before the coming of the Roman Empire?
     
  14. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    I mean Ibero-Romance, of course.
     
  15. Cenzontle

    Cenzontle Senior Member

    English, U.S.
    But fdb, I don't think you want to say that "esker" comes from Latin. You don't want to say "Romance" here, for its source.
     
  16. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Are these occurrences of siniestro just with the meaning of left, or does the count include siniestro with other meanings like wicked, spooky, catastrophic?
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2013
  17. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    According to M. Löpelmann, Etymologisches Wörterbuch der baskischen Sprache (1968), Basque eskerr “left Hand“ is indeed the source of Spanish esquerro, izquierdo and other such Romance forms, but he suggests that the Basque word itself is of Romance/Latin origin: the first half from *bisk < *bis-oculus “squinting” (“schielend”), and the suffix –err = Basque erdi “half” < *merdi < merīdiē, so the basic meaning (Grundbedeutung) is “half squint-eyed” (“halb scheel”).
    [h=1][/h]
     
  18. Cenzontle

    Cenzontle Senior Member

    English, U.S.
    Thanks for clarifying that, fdb. It's quite a surprising scenario to me, but I'll try to remain open to it.
    I'm not qualified to discuss the processes in Basque phonology or the chronology,
    but the semantics seems to call for a leap of faith, from "half-squint" to "lefthand"—I guess they overlap in "anomalous".

    Meanwhile, to merquiades's question
    The latter: the percentages refer to all instances of the forms, regardless of meaning.
    And, as merquiades implies, siniestro does live on in Modern Spanish with those derived meanings.
    Let's recognize also that the figures for izquierda, in the more modern centuries, are boosted by the derived meaning of a wing in politics.
    By the way, we might as well finish the chronology from Mark Davies:
    19th century: 25/75 (sin./izq.)
    20th century: 8/92
     
  19. Quiviscumque

    Quiviscumque Moderator

    Ciudad del paraíso
    Spanish-Spain

Share This Page