Reciting your prayers

The last post included the English words perfect and parfait. Those are dobletes/doublets, two words in a given language that can be traced back to the same source (in this case, Latin perfectum). The more contact a language has had with others, and the more it has borrowed from them, the greater the likelihood that it will end up with doublets. English and Spanish, both being world languages, each have hundreds of doublets.

Doublets can also form when a language turns not to its neighbors but to its own past. The starting point for a pair of Spanish doublets of that type is the Latin verb recitāre, which meant ‘to read aloud, to declaim.’ Through gradual changes in pronunciation during the centuries when Latin developed into the Romance languages, recitāre evolved to Spanish rezar, where the declaiming became limited to the repeating of prayers. As a result, Spanish rezar now means ‘to pray,’ and the noun rezo is both ‘the act of praying’ and ‘a prayer.’

In the Middle Ages, Spanish looked back to the more general Latin recitāre and borrowed it as the doublet recitar. English acquired recite from Old French reciter, which of course goes back to the same Latin original as Spanish recitar. Corresponding to recitar/recite we have two nouns, recitación/recitation and the shared recital.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Oct 06, 2014 @ 20:19:54

    And, as I learned at Fox Creek School on the Tallgrass Prairie, there also was the recitation bench, where students would sit or stand while answering their teacher’s questions, proving their memorization skills, or solving problems. Here’s a photo of that recitation bench. There still was one in the one-room school my great-aunt taught in. She began teaching around 1907, but I’m not sure how long the bench was around after that.


  2. kathryningrid
    Oct 07, 2014 @ 13:00:15

    And now I’m picturing Spanish twins in their Sunday best doublet and hose, declaiming their prayers.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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