False cognates are pairs of words that seem to be "cognates because of similar sounds and meaning, but have different etymologies; they can be within the same "language or from different languages. For example, the English word dog and the "Mbabaram word dog have exactly the same meaning, "but by complete coincidence. This is different from "false friends, which are similar-sounding words with different meanings, but which may in fact be etymologically related. (For example: Spanish dependiente looks like dependent, but means employee as well.)
The term "false cognate" is sometimes misused to refer to "false friends, but the two phenomena are distinct. False friends occur when two words in different languages or dialects look similar, but have different meanings. While some false friends are also false cognates, many are genuine cognates (see "False friends § Causes). For example, English pretend and French prétendre are false friends, but not false cognates, as they have the same origin.
The basic kinship terms "mama and papa (together with the wider class of Lallnamen) comprise a special case of false cognates. The striking cross-linguistical similarities between these terms are thought to result from the nature of "language acquisition. According to Jakobson (1962), these words are the first word-like sounds made by "babbling babies; and parents tend to associate the first sound babies make with themselves and to employ them subsequently as part of their "baby-talk lexicon. Thus, there is no need to ascribe the similarities to common ancestry. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that these terms are built up from speech sounds that are easy to produce ("nasals like ["m] or ["n], typically for "mother" words, or "plosives like ["p], ["b], ["t], ["d], typically for "father" words, along with the low "vowel ["a]). However, variants occur; for example, in "Old Japanese, the word for "mother" was papa, and in "Slavic languages, baba is a common nickname for "grandmother", as in "Baba Yaga and babushka. In Georgian, the usual pattern (nasal for "mother", plosive for "father") is inverted: the word for "father" is mama, and the word for "mother" is deda.