Romance languages - very different words for boy/girl

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by beja23, Jan 4, 2013.

  1. beja23 New Member

    English -UK
    The Romances languages share much in common but I have noticed that the words for boy/girl are very different and seem to bear no relation to each other.


    Can anybody help explain or refute this? My only guess is that the concept of youth (as opposed to going straight from child to man/woman) is later than the linguistic splits.
  2. jmx

    jmx Senior Member

    Spain / Spanish
    I don't understand well what you are asking. Are you comparing the words for both sexes, which in some languages, like English, do not share a common etymology? Or are you comparing the etymology between languages?

    If it's the second case, I can tell you that in Spanish alone there are several dozens of regional lexical variants for boy/girl.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2013
  3. Stoggler

    Stoggler Senior Member

    Sussex, GBR
    UK English
    German is not a Romance language
  4. infirmier_qc New Member

    Montréal, Canada
    I will only speak only for the case of French. While French is irrefutably a romance language, it underwent a great germanic (Frankish)influence that lasted for several centuries. Many French words have therefore a germanic origin. The number of core French words of germanic origin is disputed, ranging from 400 to 1700 depending on the scholar. Therefore, everyday words like "garçon" may look very foreign to speakers of other romance languages.

    In Old French, accusative form of gars « crass, ill-mannered man »,[1] from Old Lower Frankish *wrakkjo, « bannished, hobo » (cf. Middle Dutch recke), attested in Wracchio (ixe s.); related to the German form Recke (« warrier »), and to the English wretch .
    "Fille" is stricly latin in origin. From Old French, from Latin fīlia.
    There is also the word ''fils" which also comes from the latin.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2013
  5. rayloom

    rayloom Senior Member

    Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
    Arabic (Hijazi Arabic)
    1) English and German are not Romance languages.
    2) You would have to compare cognates. To make it more clear, if we take Latin filius, we get:
    French: fils/fille
    Spanish: hijo/hija (/f/ --> /h/ in Spanish)
    Italian: figlio/figlia
    Portoguese: filho/filha
    Romanian: fiu/fie
    For a fuller list, see the wiktionary entry.
  6. NorwegianNYC

    NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    I am not sure why English and German is mentioned. They are not Romance languages. On a side note - English 'boy' and 'girl' did not originally refer to sexes, 'Boy' meant servant and 'girl' meant child (of both sexes). German 'Junge' means "young one"
  7. JuanEscritor

    JuanEscritor Senior Member

    English - AmE
    These kind of changes are apparently common within the class of words that reference people on basis of age and/or sex.

    Wife used to mean 'woman'. And I have noticed a current change (perhaps just regional) in which kid replaces boy, and child is used for kid. Boy exists as a contrastive term and to refer to any young male (in the same way girl often refers to a young adult woman).

    I would imagine that similar changes take place in other languages and that this likely accounts for the shift in terms used in distinguishing young people on the basis of sex. I am absolutely certain that the difference has nothing to do with 'the concept of youth ... [being] later than the linguistic splits', since the concept of youth has always existed by virtue of the fact that everyone is a youth before they are an adult (so how can people not be conceptually aware of this stage of life for millions of years in just certain parts of the world where the Romance languages would later develop?).

    The (accidental?) inclusion of Germanic languages in the list should make it clear that these variations can be found within multiple language families and are not restricted to the Romance language.

  8. JuanEscritor

    JuanEscritor Senior Member

    English - AmE
    In which case the majority of the variety seems explicable as semantic shift.

  9. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I think it's more the case that youths (and children - the two concepts overlap) tend to be referred to by a variety of affectionate "nicknames", and adults are very creative in the metaphors they come up with to speak of youths, which increases the variation. I know that in Portuguese there is a wealth of more or less literal ways to say "boy" and "girl", apart from the official one you quoted - which by the way is very common in Brazil but slightly less so in Portugal.

Share This Page