false cognate

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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.
    • 2011, Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, “Motherland”, in Y: The Last Man: The Deluxe Edition Book 5, page 36:
      I don't speak Chinese, but "Mama" is a false cognate, means the same thing in English, Swahili, Navajo--
  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 different, e.g., become-bekommen in English-German, []

Usage notes[edit]

  • Example of false cognates of the first kind:
    • English dog and Mbabaram dog both mean the same but are false cognates, as there is no relationship between the two languages.
  • Example of false cognates of the second kind:
    • Spanish pie (foot) and English pie have no relation whatsoever, despite being homographs. The Spanish word is cognate with foot despite its different pronunciation.
  • Example of false friends:
    • Spanish atender and English attend are indeed cognates (they have a shared root in Latin attendō), 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.

See also[edit]