Language evolution is sometimes ironic and leads to surprising outcomes. It is the case of the Latin verb ‘plicare’ which took on opposite meanings in Romanian (‘a pleca’ – to leave) and Spanish (‘llegar’ – to arrive). The explanation is quite simple and it is proof that the geographical area a people inhabits has a marked influence upon its culture and language.
As linguist Andreas Blank explains in an article about language change, the concept of ‘plicare’ (to fold) was associated in Romanian culture with the activity of folding tents before leaving. As mentioned in a previous post, Romanian culture is traditionally linked to nature and activities pertaining to the natural habitat. One such activity was shepherding, which entailed frequent relocating and temporary dwellings (tents). Thus, the co-occurrence of folding tents with the activity of leaving has led to a shift in the meaning of the verb ‘plicare/pleca’.
In Spain, a country with a very strong naval tradition, the activity of folding was associated with sailing. More precisely, whenever a ship arrived at its destination, its sails were folded by the crew. Following the same pattern as in Romanian, Spanish has adopted the verb ‘llegar’ with the meaning ‘arrival’.
Funny how language evolves, isn’t it?