I didn't study Latin, but I can recognize when a noun is singular or plural.

It's weird that date is used in the singular form data in Portuguese - a Neo-Latin language - while Dutch contains the form I'd say makes more sense, datum.

  • When I wrote that data is used in the plural form in Portuguese, I meant relative to Latin. In Portuguese data is actually the singular form, having feminine gender, so a data. The plural form is as datas. So actually having datum in Portuguese would be an exception in the language. Jun 17 '15 at 21:06
  • 1
    Russian also uses "data" for date.
    – Anixx
    Jun 18 '15 at 12:03

Italian, Spanish, Portuguese (etc.) data, and French date (whence English date) are all taken from Mediaeval Latin data, the plural of classical Latin datum, but reinterpreted in these languages as a singular noun. German and Dutch use the classical singular form datum.

All of these are bookish borrowings from Mediaeval or Classical Latin (so-called cultisms) and not organic descendants of the Latin words.

  • @ fdb A quick question. With the Romance languages, how do you know when it's a borrowed word from Classical Latin or an "organic descendant"? Could you please expand your answer and show what phonetic changes should have happened (but did not!) to Latin data to suggest a regular development?
    – Alex B.
    Jun 18 '15 at 17:19
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    @AlexB. In that case one would expect *dada in Spanish, Portugeuse and Italian.
    – fdb
    Jun 18 '15 at 18:29
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    Are you sure it would be dada in (standard) Italian as well? I don't think t turned into d there. In Spanish, dada is indeed the feminine past participle of dar.
    – dainichi
    Jun 22 '15 at 3:38
  • @dainichi. The treatment of intervocalic -t- in Italian is complicated. You have amata, but also strada (from Latin strata).
    – fdb
    Jun 22 '15 at 8:40
  • @fdb, ah, good point, thanks for making me aware. So, in this particular case, would it depend on whether it's still regarded as a participle or reanalyzed as a noun? Or does it depend on something else?
    – dainichi
    Jun 23 '15 at 1:03

There's probably no straight answer, why this happened in two languages. Here's just one hypothesis that may give a good start.

The etymology of "date" in English (and, likely, in other European languages) is:

The Roman convention of closing every article of correspondence by writing "given" and the day and month -- meaning perhaps "given to messenger" -- led to data becoming a term for "the time (and place) stated."
A Roman letter would include something along the lines of datum Romae pridie Kalendas Maias -- "given at Rome on the last day of April."

As we see, the assumed full sentence is something like:

"This message is given on [day, month, year, and place]."

"The message" is singular, hence, "datum".

It is easy to suppose that "this message" may at some languages/areas change its meaning slightly: "these statements are given…" or "these scripts are given…", both plural, hence, "data".

Since the difference is very slight, it can be supposed that singular/plural variants may cycle, even in the same areas.

  • 2
    The day before the Kalends of May (pridie Kal. Maias) is indeed the last day of April.
    – fdb
    Jun 18 '15 at 9:11

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