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Diagram showing relationships between etymologically-related words

In "linguistics, cognates are "words that have a common "etymological origin.[1] In "etymology, the cognate category excludes doublets and "loanwords. The word cognate derives from the Latin noun cognatus, which means "blood relative".[2]



Cognates do not need to have the same meaning, which "may have changed as the languages developed separately. For example "English starve and "Dutch sterven or "German sterben ("to die") all derive from the same "Proto-Germanic root, *sterbaną ("die"). "English dish and "German Tisch ("table"), with their flat surfaces, both come from "Latin discus, but their later meanings are different. Discus is from "Greek δίσκος (from the verb δικεῖν "to throw"). A later and separate English reflex of discus, probably through "medieval Latin desca, is desk (see "OED s.v. desk).

Cognates also do not need to have similar forms: English father, "French père, and Armenian հայր (hayr) all descend directly from "Proto-Indo-European *ph₂tḗr.

Across languages[edit]

Examples of cognates in "Indo-European languages are the words night ("English), nuit ("French), noche ("Spanish), Nacht ("German), nacht ("Dutch), nag ("Afrikaans), nicht ("Scots), natt ("Swedish, "Norwegian), nat ("Danish), nátt ("Faroese), nótt ("Icelandic), noc ("Czech, "Slovak, "Polish), ночь, noch ("Russian), ноќ, noć ("Macedonian), нощ, nosht ("Bulgarian), ніч, nich ("Ukrainian), ноч, noch/noč ("Belarusian), noč ("Slovene), noć ("Bosnian, "Serbian, "Croatian), νύξ, nyx ("Ancient Greek, νύχτα/nychta in "Modern Greek), nox/nocte ("Latin), nakt- ("Sanskrit), natë ("Albanian), nos ("Welsh), nueche ("Asturian), noite ("Portuguese and "Galician), notte ("Italian), nit ("Catalan), nuèch/nuèit ("Occitan), noapte ("Romanian), nakts ("Latvian), naktis ("Lithuanian) and Naach ("Colognian), all meaning "night" and being derived from the Proto-Indo-European *nókʷts "night".

Another Indo-European example is star ("English), str- ("Sanskrit), tara ("Hindustani and "Bengali), tora ("Assamese), astre/étoile ("French), ἀστήρ (astēr) ("Greek or ἀστέρι/ἄστρο, asteri/astro in "Modern Greek), astro/stella ("Italian), aster ("Latin) stea ("Romanian and "Venetian), stairno ("Gothic), astl ("Armenian), Stern ("German), ster (Dutch and "Afrikaans), Schtähn ("Colognian), starn (Scots), stjerne ("Norwegian and Danish), stjarna ("Icelandic), stjärna ("Swedish), stjørna ("Faroese), setāre ("Persian), stoorei ("Pashto), seren ("Welsh), steren ("Cornish), estel ("Catalan), estela ("Occitan) estrella and astro "Spanish, estrella "Asturian and "Leonese, estrela and astro ("Portuguese and "Galician) and estêre or stêrk ("Kurdish), from the Proto-Indo-European *h₂stḗr "star".

The "Arabic سلام salām, the "Hebrew שלוםshalom, the "Assyrian Neo-Aramaic shlama and the "Amharic selam ("peace") are also cognates, derived from the "Proto-Semitic *šalām- "peace".

Cognates may often be less easily recognised than the above examples, and authorities sometimes differ in their interpretations of the evidence. The English word milk is clearly a cognate of German Milch, Dutch melk, Russian молоко (moloko) and ("Bosnian, "Serbian, Slovenian mleko "Croatian) also Montenegrin mlijeko.[3] On the other hand, French lait, Catalan llet, Italian latte, Romanian lapte, "Spanish leche and leite ("Portuguese and "Galician) (all meaning "milk") are less-obvious cognates of "Ancient Greek γάλακτος gálaktos (genitive singular of γάλα gála, "milk"), a relationship that is more evidently seen through the intermediate Latin lac "milk" as well as the English word lactic and other terms borrowed from Latin. All of them come from Proto-Indo-European h₂melǵ- "milk".

Some cognates are semantic opposites. For instance, while the Hebrew word חוצפה"chutzpah means "impudence," its "Classical Arabic cognate حصافة ḥaṣāfah means "sound judgment."[4] English black and Polish biały, meaning "white, are cognates with opposite meanings, both deriving from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰleg- "to burn or shine".

Within the same language[edit]

Cognates within a single language, or "doublets, may have meanings that are slightly or even totally different. For example, English ward and guard (<PIE *wer-, "to perceive, watch out for") are cognates, as are shirt (garment on top) and skirt (garment on bottom) (<PIE *sker-, "to cut"). In some cases, including this one, one cognate ("skirt") has an ultimate source in another language related to English,[5] but the other one ("shirt") is native.[6] That happened with many loanwords, such as skirt in this example, which was borrowed from "Old Norse during the "Danelaw.

Sometimes both doublets come from other languages, often the same one but at different times. For example, the word chief (meaning the leader of any group) comes from the "Middle French chef ("head"), and its modern pronunciation preserves the Middle French consonant sound; the word chef (the leader of the cooks) was borrowed from the same source centuries later, but by then, the consonant had changed to a "sh" sound in French. Such word sets can also be called "etymological twins, and they may come in groups of higher numbers, as with, for example, the words wain (native), waggon/wagon (Dutch), and vehicle (Latin) in English.

A word may also "enter another language, develop a new form or meaning there, and be re-borrowed into the original language; that is called "reborrowing. For example, the Greek word κίνημα (kinima, "movement") became French cinéma (compare American English movie) and then later returned to Greece as σινεμά (sinema, "the art of film", "movie theater"). In Greece, κίνημα (kinima, "movement") and σινεμά (sinema, "filmmaking, cinema") are now doublets.[7]

Less-obvious English-language doublets are grammar and glamour.

False cognates[edit]

"False cognates are words that people commonly believe are related (have a common origin), but that linguistic examination reveals are unrelated. For example, on the basis of superficial similarities, the Latin verb habēre and German haben, both meaning 'to have', appear to be cognates. However, because of the way words in the two languages evolved from "Proto-Indo-European (PIE) roots, they cannot be cognate (see for example "Grimm's law). German haben, like English have, comes from PIE *kh₂pyé- 'to grasp', and its real cognate in Latin is capere, 'to seize, grasp, capture'. Latin habēre, on the other hand, is from PIE *gʰabʰ, 'to give, to receive', and hence cognate with English give and German geben.[8]

Likewise, English much and Spanish mucho look similar and have a similar meaning but are not cognates, as they evolved from different roots: much from Proto-Germanic *mikilaz < PIE *meǵ- and mucho from Latin multum < PIE *mel-.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Crystal, David, ed. (2011). "cognate". A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics (6th ed.). "Blackwell Publishing. p. 104. "ISBN "978-1-4443-5675-5. "OCLC 899159900. Retrieved 16 March 2016. 
  2. ^ "cognate", "The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed.: "Latin cognātus: co-, co- + gnātus, born, past participle of nāscī, to be born." Other definitions of the English word include "[r]elated by blood; having a common ancestor" and "[r]elated or analogous in nature, character, or function".
  3. ^ Compare also Greek ἀμέλγω amelgō "to milk".
  4. ^ "Wehr, Hans (1994) [1979]. J. Milton Cowan, ed. "Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. "Urbana, "Illinois: Spoken Language Services, Inc. "ISBN "0-87950-003-4. 
  5. ^ Harper, Douglas. "skirt (n.)". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2017-06-16. early 14c., "lower part of a woman's dress," from Old Norse skyrta "shirt, a kind of kirtle" 
  6. ^ Harper, Douglas. "shirt (n.)". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2017-06-16. Old English scyrte "skirt, tunic," from Proto-Germanic *skurtjon "a short garment" 
  7. ^ In fact, σινεμά stands beside a Greek "neologism based on the original form of the same root, κινηματογράφος (kinimatoγráfos), with the same two meanings as cinéma/σινεμά. (The film or movie itself is the unrelated ταινία (tainia).)
  8. ^ "Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben
  9. ^ Ringe, Don. "A quick introduction to language change" (PDF). Univ. of Pennsylvania: Linguistics 001 (Fall 2011). ¶ 29. pp. 11–12. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-20. Retrieved 15 June 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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