I am aware that cementerio has nothing to do with cemento. It comes from Latin coemeterium which comes from Greek κοιμητήριον, koimeterion = sleeping place, bedroom, dormitory.

I have not found any plausible explanation for the occurrence of the n in the Spanish (and Catalan) spelling. Where does it come from? Is there a more general tendency in Spanish to insert n while adopting Latin words, or is cementerio the only instance?

http://etimologias.dechile.net/?cementerio (the entries authored by the mysterious "Helena" are usually trustable :) ) says (emphasis by me) that

... jamás en la Edad Media las tumbas se cementaban. La forma además alterna con cimenterio desde antiguo. La gente era enterrada directamente en la tierra y los nobles y reyes en pétreos sarcófagos. Nadie ha estudiado realmente a qué se debe esa forma con la nasal.

So the influence of cemento to the spelling and pronunciation of cementerio is not plausible. However, I know that sometimes just a sound similarity of words might influence an alteration of one of them so I am still open to this option.

  • 2
    This "n" is seen in some other romance languages e.g. Asturian cementeriu, Catalan cementiri, Occitan cementèri *, Picard *chimintière, Walloon cimintire, Ligurian çementeri (as well as Polish cmentarz). – jacobo May 3 at 18:40
  • @jacobo Thanks for the Polish cmentarz - I knew the word but I had never realized that it's a cognate with cemetery and cementerio :) – Honza Zidek May 3 at 20:07
  • Galician has no n as we use "cemiterio": academia.gal/dicionario/-/termo/busca/cemiterio but I don't know if it is a neologism adapted from spanish. We also use "camposanto". – Andión May 4 at 8:02

Spanish etymologist Corominas states that the origin of that middle -n- is due mostly to a prolongation of the nasalization produced by the previous -m-. He also states that the word could have been influenced by Latin caementum (Spanish 'cimiento', 'cemento') just by the similarity of how both words sound, but that cannot have been the only reason.

Note that you can find cimenterio, cimeterio and cemeterio in Spanish texts from the 15th to 17th centuries, maybe emphasizing the influence of cimiento. Quevedo used cimenterio in his works, while cimeterio and cemeterio were quite less used, but still used in the Diálogos familiares de la agricultura cristiana (1589) by Juan de Pineda as Corominas states.

As I have researched, that prolongation of the nasalization may not be something exclusive of the word cementerio. It also seems to appear in other words:

  • Remanso comes from Latin remansum, and this from remanēre. In this case, the added -n- already happened in Latin, but still it can be considered a prolongation of the nasalization of the previous -m-.
  • Ninguno comes from Latin nec unus (Spanish 'ni uno'). Again, the added -n- can be a prolongation of the nasalization of the initial n-. In fact, there was an intermediate form neguno (and therefore nenguno), according to Corominas. Note also that in this case, the added -n- could have also been influenced by the nin version of Spanish ni. But even so, nin itself can be considered as having a prolongation of the nasalization of the initial n- (or influenced by Latin non, but again...).

There are other cases of an extra -n- added to a word, but those are usually explained by contamination from other words, such as alondra, from Latin alaudŭla, probably influenced by golondrina (from Latin hirundo, -ĭnis). Both words refer to a kind of bird.

  • "Prolongation of nasalization" - like once the nose comes into action in the sound production, it does not want to give up so easy? :) Is there anything like this also in English? – Honza Zidek May 10 at 12:19
  • @HonzaZidek that could be a good question for the English Language & Usage site. :-) – Charlie May 10 at 12:35
  • Aquí tienes: english.stackexchange.com/q/566839/73094 :) – Honza Zidek May 10 at 13:06
  • Can you provide a link to Corominas' works, please? – The Dark Side May 10 at 15:26
  • @TheDarkSide unfortunately, Corominas' works are not in the public domain nor have been published for consulting on any web site. – Charlie May 10 at 15:32

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