Posted by: janecronin | November 19, 2017


I finished the last article by referring to the various connections between modern languages, and more specifically, with the idea that modern English is mainly derived from the Germanic and Latin language families.  Because of the particular history of the British Isles, our basic, everyday English speech is still dominated by words of Anglo-Saxon and Viking origin, whilst our more sophisticated, technical, formal or academic language is populated with words of Latin origin.  In fact we have many pairs of words which started off meaning the same thing, but which have diverged from each other over time.

A very good example of this are the words “to sing” and “to chant” in English.  I am of course supposed to be writing about Spanish, and the Spanish for “to sing” is “cantar”.  This is a completely standard, regular verb so there is not a lot to say about it grammatically.  It has derivations in the Spanish language such as “canción” (song) “cantante” (singer) “canto” (singing – i.e. the art of singing) and “cantautor” (singer-songwriter).  Going back to English, I think we can all agree that the related word “to chant” has a more esoteric or specialist meaning that the everyday word “to sing”.  Perhaps the strongest association is a religious one, we may think of Gregorian chant or perhaps someone chanting during meditation in an eastern religion like Buddhism.   The basic English word “to sing” is clearly of Germanic origin as “to sing” in German is, surprise, surprise, “singen”.

A connection you may not have noticed is that if we add the prefix “en” to “cantar” we get the verb “encantar” which means “delight”.  When we meet someone for the first time, the standard greeting is “encantado” (if you are a man) or “encantada” (if you are a woman) which comes from the longer expression “encantado de conocerle” (delighted to meet you).   The other word in English for “delight” is of course “to enchant” and if you have learnt any French you will probably remember the equivalent greeting “enchanté” (delighted or enchanted).

Another meaning of “encantar” in Spanish is to “enchant” in the sense of to “bewitch” or to “charm” as in “snake charmer”.  We also talk about a person who is “charming” in Spanish as “una persona encantadora” – a person who “charms” or even “bewitches” us.  The masculine form is “encantador” as in “es un hombre encantador”.  In modern speech this just means he’s a very nice chap, and not necessary a Spanish version of Rasputin.  However, it seems clear that the origin of the idea is “to enchant” using ones voice.

Another more mundane uses of “encantar” is the equivalent of “love” as in “I love ice cream”.  In Spanish we say “me encanta el helado” (literally “ice-cream delights me”).  “Me encanta el chocolate” (I love chocolate, chocolate delights me, or perhaps chocolate charms and bewitches me like a snake-charmer bewitches a snake).   I will leave you with that rich association of ideas, all derived from the simple word “cantar”.

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