Droit du Chili

From Ryan Tamares on Facebook on 12/19:

In this morning’s work queue:

(Ryan is Head of Collection Services at Stanford Law School, overseeing the cataloging, processing, and preservation of the Law Library’s collection, so things like this come to him for cataloguing)

Then a FB exchange:

Jackie Koerber Magagnosc: Not law of the food, rats

AZ > JKM: I too was hoping for an authority on the law governing hot peppers, or perhaps the law governing spicy meat stews, but it was not to be.

I added:

AZ: In a series of [monographs] with Droit du Congo, Droit du Colombie, Droit du Vietnam, Droit du l’Espagne, Droit du Portugal, Droit du Brésil, etc. [clearly country names] I don’t know why Chile is named Chili in French, but there it is.

So there’s the country name, (currently) Chile, pronounced as a homophone of the adjective chilly ‘cool, cold’ and the noun chili /čɪli/. Where a chili (alas, sometimes spelled chile) is a spicy pepper or the meat stew chili con carne — made according to different recipes in different places (I won’t open that can of beans here).

Then there’s the French noun droit, which has three major senses: ‘right, entitlement’ as in les droits de l’homme, the ‘rights of man’ ensured by French constitutions for over 200 years; ‘obligation’; and (the sense clearly at issue here) ‘law’. This is a monograph about law in Chile.

A note on the pronunciation of English Chile. Spanish Chile /čílè/ (with Spanish allophones of all four segments) could have been borrowed into English as /čílè/ (with English allophones of all four segments), to rhyme with freeway /fríwè/, with a mid final vowel, but instead appears as /čɪli/, with a high one. That could simply have been another manifestation of the Avoid Foreign principle governing the pronunciation of proper names taken into English, which manifests itself in  the local pronunciations of Colorado and Nevada with accented vowel /æ/ rather than /a/ — even though the /a/ versions are perfectly well-formed — because /a/ would “sound foreign”, specifically, sound more like Spanish.

But it turns out that that the final high vowel is etymological, and appeared in Spanish, French, and English. Apparently, the Chileans eventually altered their pronunciation and their spelling; French preserved the older pronunciation and spelling; while English preserved the pronunciation but changed the spelling to follow Chile’s.

From Wikipedia:

The Spanish conquistadors heard about this name [Chili or Chilli] from the Incas, and the few survivors of Diego de Almagro’s first Spanish expedition south from Peru in 1535–36 called themselves the “men of Chilli”. Ultimately, Almagro is credited with the universalization of the name Chile, after naming the Mapocho valley as such. The older spelling “Chili” was in use in English until the early 20th century before switching to “Chile”.

Note on Ryan Tamares. Ryan turns up in this blog fairly often in his professional capacity (described above), but also as a friend who sends me things he’s come across in his reading, and lots of pictures: of Stanford, his neighborhood, meals he’s eaten, places he’s traveled with his husband, and much more.

Like me, he was born in this country but has family roots elsewhere (for me, Switzerland; for Ryan, the Philippines). Like me (and many other linguists), his academic credentials (and those of many other librarians) are, most recently, in his current profession, but follow on an education in a quite different field: for me, a PhD in linguistics from MIT, but an AB in mathematics from Princeton; for Ryan, an MLIS in library & information science from San Jose State, but a BMus in music / music education from La Sierra Univ. and a Master of Music in bassoon performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Lives are complicated.

In any case, Ryan’s work queue is the source of many amazing images he sends on to FB, only a very few of which I can get to writing up here. But Droit du Chili was just irresistible. Serranos claim the right to burn!

6 Responses to “Droit du Chili”

  1. Mike McManus Says:

    Then there’s Chili, NY which is pronounced CHYE-lye, although it was supposedly named for Chile. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chili%2C_New_York?wprov=sfla1

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    I tried to determine whether there was any etymological connection between the pepper and the name of the country, but I was not successful (I admit to not trying very hard).

    Meanwhile, is one of those monographs really called “Droit du Espagne”? That would be bad French, it seems to me (surely it should be “Droit de l’Espagne).

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      On chile peppers and Chile: the pepper word is from Nahuatl (a language of southern Mexico and Central America) and has nothing to do with the South American country.

      On the title of the Law of Spain book, I copied it wrong from the Capitant site. Now corrected in the text.

  3. Stewart Kramer Says:

    Speaking of bassoons, my second-string BF (who studied harp at the SF Conservatory of Music, and later was learning guitar) tells the language-related story of an internet discussion site that banned certain offensive words, including “niggardly” and “renege” (often used as code-words in insults), but refused to ban “fag” because those 3 letters supposedly appear too often, in such popular words as wharfage, leafage, and fagotto (Italian for bassoon).

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