false cognate

Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search


English Wikipedia has an article on:


false cognate (plural false cognates)

  1. A word which is identical or similar in both form and meaning to another word, and therefore appears to also be cognate (etymologically related) to it, but which is in fact unrelated.
    • 2015, Donna Spangler, ‎John Alex Mazzante, Using Reading to Teach a World Language →ISBN, page 34:
      False cognates are words in different languages that are similar in form and meaning but have different roots. They appear to have a common linguistic origin (regardless of meaning) but actually do not. [...] The two terms, "false cognates" and "false friends," are sometimes used incorrectly or interchangeably by some teachers[. ... Learn to] recognize false cognates, which are pairs of words in different languages that are similar in form and meaning but have different roots.
  2. A word that appears identical or similar in form to another word, but is both unrelated in its meaning and of unrelated origin.
    • 2012, Pedro J. Chamizo-Domínguez, Semantics and Pragmatics of False Friends, →ISBN, page 3:
      Conversely, the Italian word cazzo [cock, penis] and the Spanish word cazo [ladle, small saucepan] would be false friends and false cognates inasmuch as their respective meanings are different; additionally, there is not any etymological [...] common root for both words. This makes the set of false friends wider than the set of false cognates, since all false cognates are false friends, but not all false friends are false cognates.
  3. (proscribed) A false friend, a word that appears to have the same meaning as a given word, but that does not (without regard to whether or not the two terms are cognate).
    • 2010, Gregory M. Shreve, ‎Erik Angelone, Translation and Cognition →ISBN, page 324:
      False cognates, on the other hand, are words in two languages that are identical or similar in form and may mislead the bilingual to think that they have the same or similar meaning, while their meaning is actually difference, e.g., become-bekommen in English-German, []

Usage notes[edit]

  • Examples of false cognates of the first kind:
    • Many completely unrelated languages use some variant of ma for "mother".
    • English dog and Mbabaram dog both mean the same but are false cognates, as there is no relationship between the two langauges.
    • English have (and the related German verb haben) and Latin habeō are false cognates — have is rather cognate to capiō.
    • English island and isle are false cognates. Island is derived from old English igland and isle is derived from Latin insula, via Old French.
    • Arabic اشترى‎ (ishtarā) and French acheter are false cognates. Both mean "purchase," though they do not share any etymological lineage.
    • English one and Kannada ಒಂದು (ondu) ("ondu") are false cognates. In fact, "one" is cognate through *óykos to Sanskrit एक (eka), also found in Kannada.
    • English shepherd (equivalent to sheep +‎ herd (herder)) is not cognate with 𒉺𒇻 ("sipad") (see Hittite transliteration).
    • French ma and Catalan ma are true cognates with each other, but false cognates with Lowland Scots ma; all mean "my", but the Scots word has a Germanic etymology, and the French and Catalan ones come from Latin.
  • Examples of false cognates of the second kind:
    • Spanish pie (foot) and English pie have no relation whatsoever, despite being homographs. Rather, it is cognate with foot despite its different pronunciation, with the same meaning.
    • Japanese はい (hai, yes) and Swedish haj (shark) have no relation whatsoever, despite being pronounced nearly identically.
    • English nigger/niggerly and niggard/niggardly. The former is a highly offensive racial slur of Latin origin, the latter an innocuous word believed to be of Scandinavian origin meaning miser/miserly.
  • Examples of false friends:
    • Spanish atender and English attend are indeed cognates (they have a shared root in the Latin attendere), but they are false friends (they have different meanings, as atender means "assist, look after"), thus, they are only false cognates in the proscribed third sense. Coincidentally, there is another pair of false friends with meanings vice versa: Spanish asistir and English assist mean "attend" and "assist," respectively.

See also[edit]