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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » SH to J »

Eje and Axle

The Span­ish eje for “axle” comes from the Latin for the same, ax­is. The Eng­lish axle comes from the same com­mon an­ces­tor as the Latin ax­is, the pro­to-in­do-eu­ro­pean root *aks- al­so mean­ing the same.

The Span­ish eje is easy to un­der­stand if we re­mem­ber that most of the x/sh/ch sounds in Latin and the an­cient lan­guages be­came the throat-clear­ing ‑j- sound in Span­ish. Thus, the e‑j of eje maps to the a‑x of axle pret­ty clear­ly.

It’s in­ter­est­ing how such a sim­ple word has re­mained most­ly un­changed for tens of thou­sands of years. Per­haps, the axle is one of the most fun­da­men­tal dis­cov­er­ies in hu­man his­to­ry. It is, af­ter all, what led to the wheel, which led to… civ­i­liza­tion.

Ju­go and Suck

One of our fa­vorite pat­terns of sound change be­tween Eng­lish and Span­ish is the sh/j shift: un­der the in­flu­ence of ara­bic, many words that had a “s” or “sh” or “sy” or “ch” sound in Latin, start­ed to be pro­nounced with the throat-clear­ing sound and writ­ten with a “j”. See sherry/jerez and chess/ajedrez or syrup/jarabe, for ex­am­ple.

An­oth­er ex­am­ple of this pat­tern is the Span­ish word for “juice”, ju­go. It comes from the Latin suc­cus mean­ing, “juice” (par­tic­u­lar­ly sap, or juice from plants).

From this Latin root suc­cus we al­so get the Eng­lish… suck.

Yes, if it sucks — it is juicy! Lit­er­al­ly!

We can see the map­ping in the s‑c to j‑g map­ping. The “c” and “g” sounds are sim­i­lar and of­ten in­ter­changed.

In­ter­est­ing­ly, in Spain they do not say ju­go to mean “juice”; in­stead, they say… su­co. Su­co, fun­ni­ly enough, al­so comes from the same root of suc­cus. It is just the vari­a­tion that nev­er un­der­went the ara­bic “j” trans­for­ma­tion.

From the same root we al­so get the Eng­lish suc­cu­lent, al­though we do not get the su­per­fi­cial­ly sim­i­lar Eng­lish juice, which comes from the Latin ius, mean­ing, “sauce.”

Jarabe — Syrup

Syrup jarabe english spanish

The Span­ish for syrup, jarabe, comes from the same root as the Eng­lish: the Persian/Arabic sharab, which means “a drink, or wine”.

The dras­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent (at least su­per­fi­cial­ly) words are ex­plained by the sh- and re­lat­ed (such as, sy- ) sounds chang­ing to the Ara­bic-sound­ing j- sound in Span­ish — but not Eng­lish.

Thus, the j‑r-b of jarabe maps to the sy-r‑p of syrup.

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Jerez — Sher­ry

Sherry jerez spanish englishThe Latin sounds for “sh” — and sim­i­lar vari­a­tions, like “ch” and “ss” — be­came a “j” sound in Span­ish.

Thus, the Eng­lish sher­ry is near iden­ti­cal to the Span­ish jerez!

These sh/j sounds were of­ten spelt with a “x” in old Span­ish; and sher­ry it­self is named af­ter the town it first came from, Xeres, which is near Cor­do­va.

Aje­drez — Chess

Aje­drez (Span­ish for “chess”) sounds noth­ing like the Eng­lish chess, so they can’t be first cousins… right?

Wrong. The Span­ish “j” sound — pro­nounced with an Ara­bic-ish throat-clear­ing sound — was orig­i­nal­ly pro­nounced with a “sh” or “ch” sound. The ara­bic in­flu­ence changed the pro­nun­ci­a­tion to be clos­er to the ara­bic: see sher­ry/jerez, for ex­am­ple.

Aje­drez and Chess are an­oth­er ex­am­ple of this same in­ter­est­ing pat­tern. Try to imag­ine the “j” in aje­drez with a ch- sound and you al­most get chess.

Both, cu­ri­ous­ly, come from the same San­skrit word for the game: chat­u­ran­ga (so the Eng­lish ch- is thus pre­served clos­er to the orig­i­nal sound — Eng­lish did­n’t have the ara­bic in­flu­ence that Span­ish did). And these came to both lan­guages via the Per­sian, cha­trang. The traders and trav­el­ers, af­ter all, are the ones who change lan­guages.

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