Take the following semantic groups in English:

The pattern is clear: given the noun for a discipline, you can add the suffix -al to form the adjective meaning "related to such discipline", or you can add the suffix -ian to form the noun meaning "someone whose profession is such discipline". Thus getting distinct words for each concept.

In Spanish, however, it seems to be more common to use the same word for several, if not all of those different meanings:

* Though the DLE still defines músico, a as «1. adj. Perteneciente o relativo a la música. Instrumento músico. Composición música

The list goes on: médico, técnica...

Question: has it always been like this? Did Spanish ever had a specific suffix for the above professions, equivalent to English -ian, and then it got lost? Why (or why not)?

  • I am pleased to see my own profession estadístico is rule conforming in both languages but I wonder whether the termination -ca or -cas is crucial here in Spanish (and -c or -cs in English). For instance there are many professions ending -logo in Spanish (and -logist in English).
    – mdewey
    Feb 9 '18 at 14:49

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The reason for the lack of differentiation in Spanish is that there was often a lack of differentiation in Latin, e.g.

  • mathēmaticus meaning both mathematical and mathematician
  • medicus meaning both medical and physician

In these words, the English suffixed versions are either semi-learned latinisms (e.g. mathematics +‎ -al), or adaptions of the French (e.g. mathématicien < mathématique + -ien). So, the question might be more meaningfully posed, why did French/English a̲d̲d̲ this differentiation in such words?

Of course, as you note, this lack of differentiation in Spanish/3-way differentiation in English is far from universal. Exceptions run in both directions in all sorts of flavours:

topic / person / adj

  • "...ic"
    • En anorexia, anorexic, anorexic
      Es anorexia, anoréxico, anoréxico
    • En electronics, electronic, [...]
      Es electrónico, electrónico, [...]


  • "...al"
    • En diagonal, cerebral, additional
      Es diagonal, cerebral, adicional
  • "...ic"
    • algebraic, acrobatic, biographic
      algebraico, acrobático, biográfico
  • "...ian"
    • microbian, Gregorian, Euclidean
      microbiano, gregoriano, euclidiano


  • "...ian"
    • citizen, Hawaiian, Italian
      ciudadano, hawaiano, italiano


  • provincial, parroquial, mundane
    provinciano, parroquiano, mundial (mundano)


 • https://es.wiktionary.org/wiki/Categoría:ES:Palabras_con_el_sufijo_-ano
 • https://es.wiktionary.org/wiki/Categoría:ES:Palabras_con_el_sufijo_-al
 • https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:Spanish_words_suffixed_with_-ico


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