Spanish words that acquired an a- at the beginning (unlike other Romance languages)

Maciamo

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One striking characteristic of Spanish language is the number of words that start with 'a'. Many among those are Arabic loan words (adobe, ajedrez, alcade, aldea, alquiler), including words that are an amalgamation of the Arabic preposition al (the) + the word itself (e.g. albahaca, alcázar, algodón, almohada) and in some cases with the 'l' of al dropped altogether (aceite, atún, azafrán, azúcar).

What I find interesting is that this tendency of adding an 'a' sound in front of words is not just found among Arabic loan words, but also took place among words of Latin origin. I have made a table with examples of such cases and comparing them with their equivalent in Italian, French and English, whenever a word with the same root existed.

SpanishItalianFrenchEnglish
aclararchiarireclarifierclarify
aconsejarconsigliareconseillercounsel
acribillarcribler
afortunadofortunatofortuné/chanceuxfortunate
alistarlisterlist, enlist
amenazarminacciaremenacermenace
apaciguarpacificarepacifierpacify
aplacarplacareplacate
apresurarempresserpress around
apuñalarpugnalarepoignarder
arrasarradereraserraze
arreglarregolarerégler
arrepentirsepentirsise repentirrepent
arriesgarrischiarerisquerrisk
arruinarrovinareruinerruin
atemperartemperaretempérertemperate
atormentartormentaretourmentertorment
atrincherarsetrincerarsise retrancherentrench oneself
azufresolfuro, zolfosouffresulphur


What is funny is that in rare cases the Spaniards actually dropped the initial 'a' when it existed elsewhere.

SpanishItalianFrenchEnglish
pertenerappartenereappartenir
socioassociato, socioassociéassociate
taller (from French)atelieratelier
 
The "A" of the words in the list have a different origin than the "A" of the words of Arabic origin. As you Maciamo has said, in the case of words of Arabic origin, it comes from the addition of the Arabic article "Al", abbreviated in "A". But in the other words, it comes from the Latin prefix "Ad", indicating proximity.
 
The "A" of the words in the list have a different origin than the "A" of the words of Arabic origin. As you Maciamo has said, in the case of words of Arabic origin, it comes from the addition of the Arabic article "Al", abbreviated in "A". But in the other words, it comes from the Latin prefix "Ad", indicating proximity.

That is what I said. But in either case the prefix a- is unnecessary. For Arabic words it is plainly wrong. Saying 'el algodón' is like saying "the the cotton". It's redundant. For Latin words, the a- is not found in Latin, Italian, French or English. (I didn't check for Portuguese and Catalan.)

Spanish also added an extra e- prefix to words from Latin starting with s + another consonnant.

SpanishFrenchEnglishItalianLatin (Greek)
escándaloscandalscandalscandaloscandalum
escaso-scarcescarso
escenascènescenescenascaena
escépticoseptiqueskepticalscettico(skeptikos)
escorpionscorpionscorpionscorpionescorpius
escrupulososcrupuleuxscrupulousscrupolososcrupulosus
esferasphèrespheresferasphaera
especialspécialspecialspecialespeciale
especulaciónspeculationspeculationspeculazionespeculatio
espontáneospontanéspontaneousspontaneospontaneus
esquizofreniaschizophrénieschizophreniaschizofrenia(schizophrenia)
estadiostadestadiumstadiostadium
estatuastatuestatuestatuastatua
esterilidadstérilitésterilitysterilitàsterilitas
estipularstipulerstipulatestipularestipulare
estrategiastratégiestrategystrategia(strategia)
estrictostrictstrictstrictus
estupidostupidestupidstupidostupidus

In other words medieval Castillans had a penchant for adding vowels in front of words. I wonder if this is an influence from Basque.
 
The starting "s" to "es" phenomenon still exists among Spanish-speakers today, as reflected in their tendency to pronounce newly-learned English "s-" words with "es-". I think it's becomes "es" is just easier for them to pronounce?

Also, sometimes there is overcorrection: "real estate" becomes "real state", :LOL:
 
Adding an e- in front of a Latin word starting with s- and some other consonant right after was a common innovation of much of Western Romance, particularly in Iberia (Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan) and Gaul (French, Occitan, etc.), but also Sardinian too. It isn't a phenomenon unique to Castillian, that's for sure. In the case of French, the old French forms began with es- but the s was dropped over time and now they are just e-. For example Lat. 'status' > Fr. 'été' and 'état' vs Sp. 'estado'. Sardinian uses is- instead of -es but its the same principle.
 
Nobody tells nonsense here!
the latin ad- yes indicates proximity and direction too.
The imploy of it is not limited to Iberia, as said, but this western trend to put a vowel before a couple of consonnats and also before a 'r' sound explains why this use of ad- became so pregnant in Iberia romances languages (Spanish at least, for Portuguese I hav'nt looked). Something close exists in Welsh, like the y- /ë/ central sound at the beginning of some words, which tends to fade among a lot of worlds in modern Welsh. ystrad (br. strad), ysmegu from English to smoke.
 
Sorry: ysmygu !!! (popul. smocio!), see also ysgrifennu ("sgwennu"): to write
 
those latin words with s-consonnant in French are late loanwords from Latin.
In Oil French their natural cognates are in e-consonnant from a between form in es-consonnant, like in Spanish and Portuguese. Walloon is apart.
 
Except for one or two, the words listed at the beginning of the thread also have 'a' or 'e' at the beginning, in Portuguese (and certainly in Galician). Portuguese and Galician have another alterations that draws as much attention as this one of 'a' and 'e' and that of the absence of 'f' in Spanish, it is the drop of intervocalic 'l' and 'n', which curiously:

"Of the languages spoken in the territory of the future Portugal... prior to Latin... we don't know to what extent the linguistic structures will have determined or influenced certain peculiar characteristics of the Portuguese language, such as, for example, the fall of the intervocalic l, remarkable in the local evolution of both Latin and Arabic."
Breve história de Portugal, A. H. Oliveira Marques, October 2019 (my translation)

Drop of the 'l'

English > Latin > Portuguese
leave > salire > sair
palace > palatiu > paço
hot > calente > quente
pain > dolore > dor
color > colore > cor
snake > colubra > cobra
will > voluntade > vontade
thread > filu > fio
candle> candela > candeia
people > populu > povo
danger > periculu > perigo
devil > diabolu > diabo
fog > nebula > névoa
alone > solo > só
sky > caelum > céu
bad > malum > mau
...
Drop of the 'n'

English > Latin > Portuguese
hand > manu > mão
wool > lana > lã
good > bonu > bom
deer > venatum > veado
cattle > ganatum > gado
put > ponere > por
bread > pane > pão
sand > arena > areia
moon > lunam > lua
full > pleno > cheio
come > venir > vir
West > ponente > poente
...

Evolution of intervocalic sonorants from latim to Spanish and portuguese
https://jpl.letras.ulisboa.pt/article/id/5647/
 
Apart some features surely linked to Basque, Gascon dialect of SW France has this peculiarity of the dropping of intervocalic -n- too.
 

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