female suffix -ess

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Angelo di fuoco

Senior Member
Russian & German (GER) bilingual
Whence does the suffix "-ess" with its relative forms (-esse, -essa, -isa etc.) stem? Is it Latin or rather borrowed from Ancient Greek (through Latin)?
 
  • CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=-essI would've thought it stemmed from the Latin -trix, -tricis ending.
    -trīce(m) has a long ī, which wouldn't normally change to e. So it has remained in French words like actrice, directrice (and besides, these are learned forms). English actress is a re-adaptation (-tor + -ess).

    Whence does the suffix "-ess" with its relative forms (-esse, -essa, -isa etc.) stem?
    Which language has -isa?
     

    artion

    Senior Member
    Greek
    I don't think is rare in ancient Gr.
    Βασίλισσα (queen) is connon (e.g. Bible, Kings 3, ch. 10,4 etc). There are also various names of cities in -issa probably the female of a non existing male form (Larissa, Amphissa, Edessa), since the cities (poleis) have usally female names. More common is the female suffix -ίς (e.g. θεράπων/θεραπαινίς, αλετρίς (the "mill-woman" in Odyssey). The same -is sometimes has the sense of diminutive female (korasion/korasis (girl)) or "the daughter of" (Νηρεύς-Νηρηίς).
     

    OBrasilo

    Senior Member
    Brazil, Brazilian Portuguese
    Here you go. I would've thought it stemmed from the Latin -trix, -tricis ending.
    It does not, see Italian. The regular form from -ix/-icis there is -ice, as in attrice (actress), imperatrice (empress).
    The -ess form is in words such as dottoressa (female doctor), and poetessa (female poet), and it has to stem from a different form. ;)
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    It does not, see Italian. The regular form from -ix/-icis there is -ice, as in attrice (actress), imperatrice (empress).
    The -ess form is in words such as dottoressa (female doctor), and poetessa (female poet), and it has to stem from a different form. ;)
    This is not a proof. One language can have many words or endings loaned from different languages, but with one common origin:

    latin: magister:
    > English master (Fr), mister (Fr?), maestro (It)
    > Polish magister, majster (Ger), mistrz (Ger), maestro (It)
    The same way Italian can have -trice directly from Latin and -essa from French.
     

    Angelo di fuoco

    Senior Member
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    This is not a proof. One language can have many words or endings loaned from different languages, but with one common origin:

    latin: magister:
    > English master (Fr), mister (Fr?), maestro (It)
    > Polish magister, majster (Ger), mistrz (Ger), maestro (It)
    The same way Italian can have -trice directly from Latin and -essa from French.
    The fact is that standard Italian and French, unlike Spanish and Portuguese in some rare cases, never lose "r" in consonant clusters. Standard Italian never ever does lose "r". The only position in which French does lose "r" is the infinitive ending in -er (Latin -are). So -esse in French must be a Grecism, not a corruption of "-trice", and, as for all I know, it is Italian that has to some degree influenced French morphologically due to Renaissance and having two Medici queens, not vice versa.
    The fact is also that the French -esse and Italian -essa rarely appear as female forms of the same words. Spontaneously I can think only of the titles princesse/principessa, duchesse/duchessa, comtesse/contessa, poétesse/poetessa and abbatesse/badessa.
    In Italian, also dottoressa, professoressa, studentessa, avvocatessa, leonessa, and sacerdotessa are the most common words I can think of.
    In French, it's déesse, prêtresse, maîtresse, abbatesse.
    The -esse ending in abstract nouns like "mollesse" and "délicatesse" stems from Latin "-itia" and its Italian counterpart is either -izia (delizia, giustizia) or -ezza (mollezza, delicatezza).
     
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    CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    Which language has -isa?
    Russian: aktrisa, direktrisa
    Nice. :D But those are loan words containing the other suffix, -trix, "reinforced" with the Russian feminine -a.

    The fact is that standard Italian and French, unlike Spanish and Portuguese in some rare cases, never lose "r" in consonant clusters.
    I think the idea was that only the -ice part of -trice was the source of -essa/-esse. So you don't have to lose the r, just ignore it (and the t).

    But this cannot be right, because there is just no way to get from Latin -ice to Italian -essa or to French -esse. As I already mentioned, the first vowel is wrong. So is the final vowel. And so is the consonant in the middle. :)
     

    OBrasilo

    Senior Member
    Brazil, Brazilian Portuguese
    OK, I think we solved the puzzle:
    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/-ess
    This says it comes from Late Latin -issa. I wouldn't exclude that deriving from Greek though.

    Edit: The same page does give an -issa as translation for it in Modern Greek, maybe we're on to something there.

    Edit #2: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/-ισσα#Greek
    And we're told it's the same suffix used in "basilissa" as well, which goes down to Ancient Greek if I read the above posts correctly. So I guess it's safe to assume -issa was imported from Greek to Late Latin, then it was inherited from Late Latin to the Vulgar Latin and the Romance languages, and from Old French to English. ;)
     

    CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    There was no puzzle, OBrasilo. :) The origin of this suffix is very well established and it was already explained in the link in the very first response by miguel89.
     
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