Today’s weekly cognate is a very interesting one, somewhat related to a post I made a while ago.

On that post I went through the relation between the word «tree» and «true» in English and similar pairs in other languages. I really searched everywhere for words related to these but somehow I overlooked a rather interesting one: «treva».

The Catalan noun «Treva» (f), plural «Treves», is a cognate to the English words «true», as well as «tree».

This noun is a Catalan word pronounced [‘trɛβə], sometimes [‘trɛwə], which bears the meaning of a mutual agreement on a temporary interruption of an argument, fight or war. Basically what we would call a «truce» in English.

Now, while it may seem like the «treva» is a rather technical word, it actually isn’t. «Treva» is also used in other contexts with a slight different meaning. The following are some examples:

Sense treva

“Without truce”, means relentlessly or relentless.

Donar treva

“To give truce”, means to trust but also to interrupt something or to give a moment of peace.

Fer treves

To make truces“, means to interrupt war.

«Treva» entered the Catalan language through the Gothic word «trĭggwa», believed to be pronounced [‘tʰrɪwwa], with the meaning of pact, fidelity and faith.

The short vowel [ɪ] evolved into an [e] sound due to the lack of vowel length in Catalan, which itself turned later into an [ɛ] in some dialects.

The [a] sound in Gothic shifted to a schwa [ə] sound in the Catalan dialects with vowel reduction because of it being unstressed. It remained [a] in the dialects without vowel reduction.

Now the [ww] sound is an interesting one. The Catalan language does have the prevocalic sound [w] but the way this sound evolved from words derived from Gothic/Germanic origin is quite interesting.

Words of Germanic origin in the language with this sound have given, most of the times, the grapheme GU, which itslef has to different pronunciations.

GU + A/O is pronounced [(ɣ)w] while GU + I/E is pronounced [ɣ]. The latter occurs due to ortographic rules, which may have ended up affecting the phonetics of the language.

And not only that, but the first group has sometimes given [ɣ] as well in some words.

I might have to delve into this topic in a future post, since it is quite interesting.

Back to «treva», the word actually had two forms in Old Catalan, these being «tregua» or «treua» and «trega».

We can see in the word «trega» how the [w] has been absorbed by the approximant [ɣ]. This also happened in words like «guerra», pronounced [‘ɣɛrə], derived from the Germanic «werra», [‘wera].

But why and how did these evolve into «treva» while «werra» evolved into «guerra»?

While I could not find much about why or how this occured, I found out both versions «tregua» and «treva» where used interchangeably in some old texts. The latter just happened to prevail more until the standardisation of the language, where «treva» was finally established as the “right” way to pronounce the word.

My theory about how this came to be, though, has something to do with the vowel + [w] diphtong construction.

In words like «blau» [‘blaw], blue, or «meu» [mew], my, the [w] sound will shift into a [β] sound when the word is inflected and a vowel sound is added:

  • «Blau» [‘blaw], blue (m) – «blava» [‘blaβə], blue (f)
  • «Meu» [mew], my (sg, m) – «meva» [‘meβə], my (sg, f)

While this is the rule in Standard Catalan today, it is true many dialects, mainly in the areas without reduction vowels, still preserve the pronunciation of [w] in these inflections.

I am of the opinion here, that «treva» ended up being more predominant than «tregua» for the same reason «blava» did over «blaua».

So coming back to the etymological origin of «treva» and why it’s a cognate to the English words «true» and «tree»:

As already mentioned above, «treva» derives from the Gothic «trĭggwa», meaning a pact, faith or fidelity, believed to have come from the Proto-Germanic root «*treuwo-».

This one gave us words like the German «Treue» and «Trauen», loyalty and to trust, respectively. «Trĭggwa» was not the only Gothic word to derive from it, «trauan» comes from the same root and means to trust.

It also gave us the Old English «triewe» which meant faithful, trustworthy and honest, among others, which itslef gave us the words «true» and «trust» in today’s English.

Now if we go further back in time, we will see how these have their origins in the Photo-Indoeuropean root «*deru-», carrying the meanings solid, firm, steadfast.

This would give us the Proto-Germanic word «trewam», meaning tree, and this is where the word we use today «tree» derives from, making it a cognate to «treva».