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False Cognates in Spanish and Different Languages


It doesn’t matter what language you are learning, there is a good likelihood you’ve got run right into a false cognate: a phrase that appears quite a bit like one you already know in your personal language however has a really totally different that means. Even languages that do not have a lot in widespread can have false cognates—and so they’re very easy to misuse, as a result of it might probably really feel like they need to simply imply one thing else!

If false cognates have ever left you feeling embarazada (oops, that is Spanish for “pregnant,” not “embarrassed”!), this submit is for you.

What are false cognates?

Generally you should utilize your personal language to your benefit and guess the meanings of latest phrases, however false cognates may cause (typically hilarious) misunderstandings! Listed below are the 2 sorts of cognates:

  • True cognates: Phrases in numerous languages which have related (or the identical!) pronunciations, meanings, and even spellings. These phrases may need been borrowed from one language to a different, or possibly the languages advanced from the identical language and that is why they share the phrase.
  • False cognates, or false buddies: Phrases in numerous languages which have related pronunciations and imply very totally different issues. Similar to true cognates, false cognates can exist as a result of they had been borrowed throughout languages or as a result of they got here from a typical ancestor phrase—or they may merely be a linguistic accident!

How do these phrases find yourself with totally different meanings?

For learners making an attempt to keep in mind that Spanish éxito means “success” (and never “exit”!), it may be puzzling how phrases can look and sound so related however imply such various things, particularly in languages which can be intently associated (like Romance languages). How does it occur that phrases could be deceptively related throughout languages?

1. Meanings change over time
Phrase meanings evolve slowly, somewhat at a time, and after many years (or centuries!) a phrase’s that means can appear completely unrelated to what it was previously. That is how issues work in only one language, so you may get twice the that means modifications in two languages! For instance, a thousand years in the past, the English phrase foolish and the German phrase selig each meant “glad,” however they started to imply “lucky, blessed”—and that is what the German phrase continues to imply as we speak. However the English phrase stored evolving, from “blessed” to “harmless” to “weak” to its fashionable that means! This has left English foolish and German selig as false cognates.

2. Sounds change over time, too
In simply the identical method that meanings shift over time, so does pronunciation! Like in a sport of Phone, a phrase’s pronunciation can slowly change. With regards to false cognates, which means phrases that started off as fairly totally different can step by step grow to be extra alike in pronunciation, even when they hold their totally different meanings. Within the curiosity of instructing functions solely, the English phrase fart is an efficient instance of this: It seems and sounds quite a bit like German fahrt, one of many verb conjugations for “drive,” however these phrases solely by accident sound alike, though English and German are associated! Another examples embrace English giggle and German lauf (run), and English cleaning soap and Spanish sopa (soup).

3. Generally, it is a coincidence
Given all of the languages on the earth, and the (comparatively) restricted variety of sounds or indicators we people could make, unintentional overlap in phrases is certain to occur. For instance, in English we use haha for laughter, however that exact same sequence of sounds is utilized in Japanese to imply “Mother” (はは)! There isn’t any motive for it in addition to that these are fairly widespread sounds repeated in a fairly widespread method. Statistically, it is certain to occur typically!

Examples of false cognates

  • English embarrassed and Spanish embarazada (pregnant). This can be probably the most well-known instance of false cognates, however here is the wild, true story: They arrive from related phrases. Each have origins in phrases that means to dam or stop (like a bodily “bar”!)—the English phrase was adopted from French embarrasser and advanced to imply “to throw into doubt” and later “to hinder,” and the Spanish that means modifications are much less clear, however could have been a kind of euphemism just like the phrase with baby in English.
  • Portuguese roxo (purple) and Spanish rojo (pink). These phrases come from one of many Latin phrases for a specific shade of pink, an particularly brilliant pink, and so they advanced in Portuguese and Spanish to imply one thing totally different from (however associated to!) “brilliant pink.”
  • English library and French librairie (bookstore). For a very long time, the ancestor of those phrases meant a spot for books, together with each bookshops and libraries, and whereas different languages (together with French) caught with the bookstore that means, English ended up utilizing solely the present that means!
  • English gymnasium and German Gymnasium (highschool). Way back, Greek gymnasiums included alternatives for giving each your physique and your mind a exercise. By the 1400s, German was utilizing the phrase only for training, and a century later English was utilizing it for train.
  • English sympathetic and Russian симпатичный (simpatichnyj, “a complete cutie pie”). The English phrase sympathy comes from Greek, and lots of languages in Europe have adopted the phrase with a that means like that of English (a shared feeling), however the Russian that means continued to evolve from there! You may also acknowledge simpático from Spanish and sympa(thique) from French, with meanings associated to niceness.
  • English courageous and Dutch braaf (goody two footwear, obedient). English obtained “courageous” from French, at some extent when it meant splendid, daring, or brave. It isn’t laborious to see how this might evolve into somebody who’s happy with how splendid they’re!
  • Dutch slim (good) and German schlimm (dangerous, worrisome). The previous Germanic phrase that these ones come from meant crooked or deviant, resulting in associated meanings of dangerous or cleverly sneaky. The Dutch and German meanings advanced from there!
  • Japanese 前年 (zennen, “final 12 months” or “the 12 months earlier than (some 12 months)”) and Chinese language 前年 (qiánnián, “the 12 months earlier than final 12 months”). Japanese and Chinese language have a protracted historical past of borrowing phrases from one another, and right here is an instance of gradual that means change. The that means in Japanese has grow to be both for final 12 months or for the 12 months earlier than no matter level or occasion we’re speaking about.
  • English mansion and Japanese マンション (manshon, “residences often constituted of concrete which can be larger than three flooring and really feel somewhat fancy”). When new, tall concrete residence buildings obtained widespread in Japan within the Nineteen Sixties, they got a flowery title to match, and that title has continued to evolve to imply one thing totally different from the English that means!

Maintain your eyes peeled!

False cognates are in all probability hiding within the language you’re studying! They may be stunning at first look, however there’s typically a narrative behind them. After you memorize their meanings, consider them as little home windows into the connection between your languages!

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