A young lady was strolling through her neighborhood when she overheard a tourist couple speaking in a foreign language. As she innocently listened to their conversation, she noticed that the couple had used a certain word that caught her attention. She couldn’t explain it. It sounded familiar, yet different as if they had switched languages while pronouncing it. The word lingered in her mind, and she couldn’t shake off the feeling of curiosity and confusion.
As she walked home, she couldn’t stop wondering if the word meant the same thing in both languages. She tried asking her friends, but no one could provide a clear explanation. Frustrated, she decided to be proactive and conducted some research. To her surprise, she discovered that the word she had heard was not unique to just one language but had the same spelling, pronunciation, and meaning in many other countries. Furthermore, she found out that many more such words exist.
These words are known as cognates.
What are cognates?
Cognates are words with the same origin and similar meanings in different languages. Although, due to the possibility of a difference in meaning, cultural and historical context, or dialect, they are sometimes called “false cognates” or “false friends.”
The young lady was amazed at the discovery and felt a sense of fulfillment for satisfying her curiosity. Her encounter with the tourist couple had sparked a newfound interest in language, and she couldn’t wait to explore more of the world’s linguistic diversity. So she decided to find out more about cognates.
We will be looking at five very simple cognates.
Spelled and pronounced the same way in English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and some other languages. In English, it refers to a genre of music that originated in African American communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In French, it is regarded as the same genre of music, but it also has a more general meaning of something lively and energetic.
“Cafe” is spelled and pronounced the same way in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Dutch, and a few other languages. In French, it refers to a coffee shop or a small restaurant. In Spanish and Portuguese, it refers to a coffee shop or a small restaurant, but it also means a type of coffee.
“Hotel” is spelled and pronounced the same way in English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, and many other languages. In English, it refers to a commercial establishment that provides lodging, food, and other services to travelers. In German, it has the same meaning as in English, but it can also have a more general meaning of a place where people come together.
It also is spelled and pronounced the same way in English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and others, but as stated, it often bears slight differences per context. In English, it refers to the head cook or the person in charge of a kitchen in a restaurant. This is the same in French, except it can also have a more general meaning of a skilled or experienced professional.
Spelled and pronounced the same way in Japanese, English, and many other languages. Although it has the same spelling and pronunciation in many languages, the contextual meaning may differ. In Japanese, it refers to a traditional Japanese dish made of vinegar rice and raw fish, seafood, or vegetables. Whereas in English, it simply refers to the dish.
Cognates are formed from the same root word in different languages, hence the reason they have similar pronunciation and spelling. Cognates can be found in many languages, particularly in languages that have a common origin or have been influenced by each other, such as observed especially in English, Spanish, French, and Italian, words because they all have a Latin origin.
False cognates can indeed be confusing for language learners when a word has a different meaning than it does in their native language. However, they can make for interesting learning experiences as they are a good source of humor. Make sure you ask for help whenever you encounter these words.
As always, keep practicing and keep improving.