diciembre 2019
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Deceptive cognates

Most misunderstandings  in real life stem from our own misconceptions / misrepresentations of language:  things we think/believe we know  (Do we?)

Cognates may be a trap, but not for you!

¤  Deceptive cognates:
Φ  Spanish/English deceptive cognates

As many books and websites for learners of Spanish quite rightly point out, it is easy to see the similarity between Spanish and English words if you train yourself to make certain orthographical conversions. Nouns which end in -ncia in Spanish will often have an equivalent which ends in -nce in English; adjectives which end in -oso in Spanish will often end in -ous in English; verbs which end in -ificar in Spanish will often end in -ify in English; and adverbs that end in -almente will often end in -ally in English.

This is certainly a useful starting point which will reassure and encourage any newcomer to either language. But unguarded application of these guidelines could lead to an awful lot of confusion. Similarities in appearance are not always reflected in similarities of meaning ⇐

It is an important characteristic of linguistic borrowing that once a word is ‘borrowed’ into a language, it becomes the possession of that language and its meanings can be changed to suit that language. For example, the cognate verb pair English record’ and Spanish «recordar». Both came ultimately from Latin ‘recordari’, the basic meaning of which was ‘to go over in one’s mind, to remember’. In Spanish the verb retained this basic meaning. The sense of ‘to put something down in writing or some other permanent form’ came into English from Latin via Old French. If you want to translate the verb ‘record’ into Spanish, you need to use «registrar», «grabar» or «inscribir», depending on the circumstances.

Sometimes there is a difference in nuance or intensity of meaning between a cognate word pair that can be easy to overlook. This can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings. Spanish «molestar» does not have any sexual connotation as the English verb molest’ now most often has and it rarely involves violence. It is usually best translated into English as to botherannoy, or be a nuisance. Conversely, the Spanish verb «violar» more often has sexual connotations than the English cognate violate’. Whereas English notorious’ means ‘famous for something bad’, Spanish «notorio» has no such negative connotation, and might be translated as ‘manifest’, ‘downright’, ‘blatant’, ‘glaring’.

With some cognates, the English word is narrower in meaning than the Spanish. While in English you have to be a mother or father to be a parent’, in Spanish any relative can be a «pariente». In English, only alcoholic drink can induce intoxication’, whereas in Spanish «intoxicación» means ‘poisoning’ in general, regardless of the substance that induces it. Spanish «propaganda« has a broader meaning than its English counterpart and can mean ‘advertising’ in general. English idiom’ describes a particular kind of expression or a particular style in language, art etc, but Spanish «idioma» means, quite simply, language. While in English a ‘reunion‘ is a meeting of people who haven’t seen each other for a while, Spanish «reunión» can be a meeting or gathering of any kind.

Spanglish – by Diane Nicholls [MED Magazine]

In modern times, we’ve also witnessed how a few cognates are losing their old Spanish nuances, and there is more convergence with English; these two words illustrate this trend: «compromiso» and «versátil».

As new words keep being borrowed from English in all languages at a very fast pace, it often happens that some just end up being used with a different meaning! (Remember ‘slip’ a.k.a. «gayumbos»?) Here’s a sample of such horrendous words: «heavy», «footing», «lifting», «mob», «freak», «basket», «parking», «ticket», «tuning», «zapping»… 


♣  Lists of ‘falsos amigos’ in both languages, with translations into English/Spanish:

 →[o1]← / →[o2]← / →[o3]←

•  Not all cognates are «falsos amigos».

Some of them are reliable friends; ↓ others are friends part of the time…


∇   English Vocabulary ↓ ‘ACTUALLY’


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