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False friends are words in two languages that look or sound similar, but differ significantly in meaning. An example is the English embarrassed and the Spanish embarazada (which means pregnant), or the word sensible, which means reasonable in English, but sensitive in French and Spanish.

The term originates from a book by French linguists describing the phenomenon, which was translated in 1928 and entitled, "false friend of a translator".

There is often a partial overlap in meanings, which creates additional complications.

As well as producing completely false friends, the use of loanwords often results in the use of a word in a restricted context, which may then develop new meanings not found in the original language. For example, angst means "fear" in a general sense (as well as "anxiety") in German, but when it was borrowed into English in the context of psychology, its meaning was restricted to a particular type of fear described as "a neurotic feeling of anxiety and depression".[1] Also, gymnasium meant both 'a place of education' and 'a place for exercise' in Latin, but its meaning was restricted to the former in German and to the latter in English, making the expressions into false friends in those languages as well as in Greek, where it started out as 'a place for naked exercise'.[2]

Contents

Definition and originEdit

False friends, or bilingual homophones[3] are words in two or more languages that look or sound similar, but differ significantly in meaning.[4][3]

The origin of the term is as a shortened version of the expression "false friend of a translator", the English translation of a French expression (French: faux amis du traducteur) introduced by linguists Maxime Kœssler and Jules Derocquigny in their 1928 book,[5] False Friends, or the Pitfalls of the English Vocabulary (Les Faux Amis ou les trahisons du vocabulaire anglais)[6] with a sequel, Autres Mots anglais perfides.

ImplicationsEdit

False friends can cause difficulty for people who might interpret a foreign text incorrectly. Students learning a foreign language, particularly one that is related to their native language, also have difficulty with false friends because students are likely to identify the words wrongly due to linguistic interference. For this reason, teachers sometimes compile lists of false friends as an aid for their students.

CausesEdit

From the etymological point of view, false friends can be created in several ways.

Shared etymologyEdit

If language A borrowed a word from language B, or both borrowed the word from a third language or inherited it from a common ancestor, and later the word shifted in meaning or acquired additional meanings in at least one of these languages, a native speaker of one language will face a false friend when learning the other. Sometimes, presumably both senses were present in the common ancestor language, but the cognate words got different restricted senses in Language A and Language B.[citation needed]

Actual, which in English is usually a synonym of real, has a different meaning in other European languages, in which it means 'current' or 'up-to-date', and has the logical derivative as a verb, meaning 'to make current' or 'to update'. Actualise (or 'actualize') in English means 'to make a reality of'.[7]

The word friend itself has cognates in the other Germanic languages; but the Scandinavian ones (like Swedish frände, Danish frænde) predominantly mean 'relative'. The original Proto-Germanic word meant simply 'someone whom one cares for' and could therefore refer to both a friend and a relative, but lost various degrees of the 'friend' sense in Scandinavian languages, while it mostly lost the sense of 'relative' in English. (The plural friends is still rarely used for "kinsfolk", as in the Scottish proverb Friends agree best at a distance, quoted in 1721.)

The Finnish and Estonian languages are closely related, which gives rise to false friends:[4]

Finnish Estonian English
etelä lõuna south
lounas edel south-west

[citation needed]

Or Finnish vaimo (wife), and Estonian vaimu (spirit; ghost); or Finnish huvittava (amusing) and Estonian huvitav (interesting).[3]

A high level of lexical similarity exists between German and Dutch,[8] but shifts in meaning of words with a shared etymolgy have in some instances resulted in 'bi-directional false friends':[9][10]

German Dutch English
See meer lake
Meer zee sea
German Dutch English
mögen houden van like, love
dürfen mogen be allowed to
wagen durven dare

The Italian word confetti (sugared almonds) has acquired a new meaning in English, French and Dutch; in Italian, the corresponding word is coriandoli.[11]

English and Spanish, both of which have borrowed from Greek and Latin, have multiple false friends.[citation needed]

English and Japanese also have diverse false friends, many of them being wasei-eigo and gairaigo words.[citation needed]

HomonymsEdit

In Swedish, the word rolig means 'fun': ett roligt skämt ("a funny joke"), while in the closely related languages Danish and Norwegian it means 'calm' (as in "he was calm despite all the commotion around him"). However, the Swedish original meaning of 'calm' is retained in some related words such as ro, 'calmness', and orolig, 'worrisome, anxious', literally 'un-calm'.[12] The danish and norwegian word 'semester' means term ( as in school term), but the swedish word 'semester' means holiday. The danish word 'frokost' means lunch, the norwegian word 'frokost' means breakfast.

Pseudo-anglicismsEdit

Pseudo-anglicisms are new words formed from English morphemes independently from an analogous English construct and with a different intended meaning.[13]

Japanese is replete with pseudo-anglicisms, known as wasei-eigo ("Japan-made English").[citation needed]

Semantic changeEdit

In bilingual situations, false friends often result in a semantic change—a real new meaning that is then commonly used in a language. For example, the Portuguese humoroso ('capricious') changed its referent in American Portuguese to 'humorous', owing to the English surface-cognate humorous.[citation needed]

Corn was originally the dominant type of grain in a region (indeed corn and grain are themselves cognates from the same Indo-European root). It came to mean usually cereals in general in the British Isles in the nineteenth century, as in the Corn laws, but maize in North America, and now often just maize also in the British Isles.[citation needed]

The American Italian fattoria lost its original meaning 'farm' in favor of 'factory' owing to the phonetically similar surface-cognate English factory (cf. Standard Italian fabbrica 'factory'). Instead of the original fattoria, the phonetic adaptation American Italian farma became the new signifier for 'farm' (Weinreich 1963: 49; see "one-to-one correlation between signifiers and referents").

This phenomenon is analyzed by Ghil'ad Zuckermann as "(incestuous) phono-semantic matching".[14]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "German Loan Words in English". About.com. Retrieved 2014-04-28. 
  2. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". etymolyonline.com. Retrieved 2014-04-28. 
  3. ^ a b c Korpela, Jukka K. (12 August 2014). Introduction to Finnish. Helsinki: Suomen E-painos Oy. p. 35. ISBN 978-952-6613-26-0. Retrieved 10 May 2018. 
  4. ^ a b Knospe, Sebastian; Onysko, Alexander; Goth, Maik (26 September 2016). Crossing Languages to Play with Words: Multidisciplinary Perspectives. Berlin: De Gruyter. p. 116. ISBN 978-3-11-046560-0. OCLC 954201320. Retrieved 10 May 2018. 
  5. ^ books.google.com
  6. ^ archive.org
  7. ^ Mollin, Sandra (2006), Euro-English: assessing variety status 
  8. ^ "German and Dutch: similar or different?". Language Tsar. 2016-11-17. Retrieved 2018-02-15. 
  9. ^ "valse vrienden – Falsche Freunde". uitmuntend.de (in Dutch and German). Retrieved 2018-02-15. 
  10. ^ "dürfen / müssen / sollen / mögen". nubeterduits.nl (in Dutch). Retrieved 2018-02-15. 
  11. ^ "Confetto in Enciclopedia Treccani". Treccani.it. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  12. ^ "Orolig". Svenska Akademiens Ordbok [The Swedish Academy's Dictionary] (in Swedish). 19. Lund: Swedish Academy. 1950. p. spalt O 1337. Retrieved 8 May 2017. [fsv. oroliker; jfr dan. o. nor. urolig, nor. dial. uroleg, nyisl. órólegur (jfr isl. úróliga, adv.), mlt. unrouwelik, (ä.) t. unruhlich; av O- 1 o. ROLIG, lugn, delvis möjl. avledn. av ORO] 
  13. ^ Onysko, Alexander (2007). Anglicisms in German: Borrowing, Lexical Productivity, and Written Codeswitching. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter. pp. 52–55. ISBN 978-3-11-019946-8. 
  14. ^ Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2003). Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, (Palgrave Studies in Language History and Language Change, Series editor: Charles Jones). p. 102. ISBN 1-4039-1723-X. 

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