False Cognates 1
Are Cognates Always our Friends?
False Cognates 2 Are Cognates Always our Friends? I. COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS CAUSED BY
A French student of English as a foreign language might be tempted to answer quickly: "Why not!" A good example is the English word table and its French translation table; they have exactly the same spelling and the same Latin source tabula in both languages. Another one is the English word lamp and the French lampe; they have almost the same spelling and they have the same Latin origin, lampas. A second language learner of English may think that it is easy to learn and use these words for they are alike. If a pair of words in different languages looks alike, they are referred to as cognates and they are thought to automatically have the same meaning. To be called cognates, words from different languages have to have the same root ― the word cognate derives from the Latin word cognatus and means 'related in origin'. These French words are adapted to English orthographically and are believed to often retain their original French meanings. But, the spelling similarity of words between languages is not enough to assume that the words are related to each other, which can be both good news and bad. This is where some misunderstandings begin because false friends (FFs) confuse a learner of English as a foreign language. Although many studies are done to identify and classify FFs, there are just a few between English and French. Therefore, this research paper investigates the phenomenon of English-French FFs, shows that FFs cause problems in communicating and classifies traps. In addition, this study categorises FFs and explains useful concepts. Moreover, it demonstrates that previous research on the subject has mainly focussed on automatic identification of FFs.
False Cognates 3 Yet, even when the meanings are the same in the two languages, traps are still waiting for the student. Slight differences in spelling account for a significant portion of spelling errors made by students of English. In this research paper, addressed to translators, teachers, and students of English as a foreign language, many traps into which a student might fall are illustrated. For example, as shown in Frunza's thesis (2006, p. 6), French learners of English frequently spell comfortable with an "n" instead of an "m" and literature with two "t"'s because they falsely assume that since the words are cognates, they would have to have the same form. However, spelling or phonetic similarity of words in two languages is not enough to demonstrate that the words are related to each other; they might have the same root but, over time, their meanings would have developed independently and are now semantically different, as illustrated by the following examples, where one of them is given by Peritz (1992). The problem would occur when an English person would say: I will attend a lecture today, where in French attend means 'wait' and lecture means 'reading', respectively, the French native person may translate it by: I am waiting for reading today. As well, when a French person feels like having fresh fruits and ask: May I have some raisins?, he will probably be very disappointed when he receives dry raisins instead of fresh grapes because raisin in French means 'grapes' in English. Continuing with this idea, grape in English sounds and looks like grappe in French, but in this case it means 'cluster' or 'bunch'. No wonder that French students learning English misspell or misunderstand some words.
False Cognates 4 II. CLASSIFICATION
F A L S E F R IE N D S
In the majority of English-French cognates, words that have similar origins are derived from Greek or Latin. When some pairs of words, in two languages, are the same or similar either in speech or in writing, but have different meanings, they are called faux amis or FFs. Sometimes a French-looking word will...
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Chamizo-Domínguez, P. J. (2008). Semantics and pragmatics of false friends. New York, NY: Routledge.
Frunza, O. M. (2006, October). Automatic identification of cognates, false friends, and partial cognates. University of Ottawa, ON: Retrieved January 25, 2010, from
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False Cognates 20 Frunza, O. M., & Inkpen, D. (2007). A tool for detecting French-English cognates and false friends. University of Ottawa, ON: Retrieved January 25, 2010, from
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