Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Ink in the cloisters?

On Saturday I will be visiting my Alma Mater, and to celebrate I have found out what the Alma part means. I have hitherto assumed that it had something to do with the Spanish alma, which means 'soul'; and to call the scene of my studies in the early seventies my 'soul mother' seemed a bit excessive – fine though that time was.

But it doesn't mean 'soul' – which doesn't mean of course, that the Spanish alma has no connection with what it does mean, which is 'nourishing'. Perhaps the alma was so called in Spain because it was the part of the individual that was 'nourished by Divine Grace'. Hmm ... I may have more to say about this at some time in the future.

But nourishment will certainly be on the agenda on Saturday evening. Bread will be broken. And a 'companion' – as it happens – is someone who shares bread with you; and a 'company' is made up of companions (although the board of directors – hmmm.... 'board'... . probably prefer Rich Tea biscuits to plain bread). When Caesar's troops made their inroads into what is now France and Germany, they found a very useful Gothic word that combined 'with' and 'bread' to mean 'mucker'/''mess-mate': GA-HLAIBA (if you screw your eyes up you can just about see the word 'loaf' there. They took the Latin words CUM and PANE(M), and coined the new word COMPANIO. 'Where...' (I hear you ask) did the second N in 'companion' come from, and why 'PANE(M)' instead of PANIS?'

Attentive readers may remember the post that explained the second of these:
(I'm using the Vulgar Latin convention of giving what a classicist would  call 'the accusative case marker' in parentheses, as the nominative rarely had much influence on the Romance languages.) 
And the answer to the first is my reason for using 'rarely' in that explanation.

The last category [the  author has been discussing different signs of case endings that survived in Vulgar Latin] in Vulgar Latin declension comprising words of the third declension that remain imparisyllabic [! the number of syllables differed in various derived words], is fully attested only in Gaul.... These words designate human beings and the persistence of the original nominative is undoubtedly due to its frequent use as a vocative.... The group includes in particular a large number of words designating agents [and] words formed on  verbal stems, usually those of the first conjugation, e.g. IMPERATOR from IMPERARE...
See more here.
Elcock  – for it is he – goes on to list about twenty examples, with their Old French and Old Provençal derivatives: e.g. IMPERATOR/IMPERATOREM, O.F. empere(d)re/empere(d)or, O. Prov. emperaire/emperador.

Later, when non-Latinate words were adopted into the new vernacular, 'nominative/accusative' pairs were created, following the Vulgar Latin pattern: bers/baron, gars/garçon, copain/compagnon and a handful of others. More often than not, only the 'accusative-based' half has survived, if ever the putative nominative half existed. A porpoise is a 'pig-fish' (porc + pois); but it's poisson that means 'fish' in modern French.

Anyway, the prospect of revisiting my old stamping ground has brought to mind the late/great Joe Cremona, whom I have mentioned before; he is the source of many of my unattributable tit-bits – which I explain away as 'private conversation'; not that they necessarily arose in private conversations, but the 'Vulgar Latin and Romance Philology' option was not over-subscribed. So even when there was a full turn out at his lectures the number of people in the audience could have been counted on one hand.

My last post mentioned the r in Fr. encre and It inchiostro. The root is the Greek ένκαυστον, adopted into Late Latin in the form encaustum – stressed on the first syllable, and with no r; in fact the Old French enque still had no r. This dictionary definition of ink  gives some background. Why the changes?  I don't think anyone knows for sure; they certainly didn't at the time of the lecture in which Joe suggested the following possibility:

The context for this speculation was a quote from Crystal from which I was ellipting a mention of the association of learning with religion (which didn't seem to me to be essential to an understanding of the argument at the time). Writing with ink was something that was done – predominantly, at the time – in monasteries. If the ένκαυστον was something that was usually found in chiostro [='in cloister'] that would explain both the change of stress and the addition of the r. 'Se non è vero è ben trovato*


News from the word-face
Dotting and crossing of the appropriate letters is proceeding with as much dispatch as Zeno's Arrow, but with slightly more hope of reaching its goal: 15 April looks like being the red letter day.

Update 2103.04.06: @BobK99 proposes and God disposes! I'd've lasted until mid-evening, but not been very good company - while posing a health risk. So I'm sitting this one out. But I can report, having just printed out V2, that the EA-EU section is about twice as big as the AA-AU section. I have a pretty busy week ahead, but it's still looking good for 15 April.

* Meaning, roughly, 'If not true it should be'. Some day I must write a novel with a happy-go-lucky character called 'Ben Trovato'.

Update 2016.07.28.15:15 – Deleted out-of-date footer.

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