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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.[1] 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.)

Even though false cognates lack a common root, there may still be an indirect connection between them (for example by "phono-semantic matching or "folk etymology).



The term "false cognate" is sometimes misused to refer to "false friends, but the two phenomena are distinct.[1][2] 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).[2] For example, English pretend and French prétendre are false friends, but not false cognates, as they have the same origin.[3]

"Mama and papa" type[edit]

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.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Inherited from Old English -as, see "Middle English#Nouns and "Old English grammar#Nouns
  2. ^ from Latin focus
  3. ^ from *fu(w)er-, from Proto-Germanic *fōr ~ *fun-, see Kroonen, Guus (2013), Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic, Leiden: Brill
  4. ^ Hungarian fiú is from Proto-Uralic *pojka, while Romanian fiu is from Latin filius.


  1. ^ a b Moss (1992), p. ?.
  2. ^ a b Chamizo-Domínguez (2008), p. 166.
  3. ^ "Harper, Douglas. "Pretend". The Online Etymological Dictionary. Retrieved 2015-09-14. 
  4. ^ Harper, Douglas. "ache". Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper. Retrieved 29 August 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Lyle Campbell, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction, 3rd edition, p. 350
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Campbell, Lyle; Mixco, Mauricio J. (2007). A Glossary of Historical Linguistics. Edinburgh University Press. p. 29. "ISBN "978 0 7486 2378 5. 
  7. ^ "Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition.
  8. ^ Martin, Samuel E. (1966). "Lexical Evidence Relating Korean to Japanese". Language. 42 (2): 187. "doi:10.2307/411687. 
  9. ^ Taggart, Caroline (5 November 2015). "New Words for Old: Recycling Our Language for the Modern World". Michael O'Mara Books – via Google Books. 
  10. ^ "Lyle Campbell, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction, 3rd edition, p. 355
  11. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary
  12. ^ "LIV s. v. *sleh₂gʷ-, *lembʰ-
  13. ^ de la Fuente, José Andrés Alonso (2010). "Urban legends: Turkish kayık 'boat' and "Eskimo" Qayaq 'Kayak'" (PDF). Studia Linguistica Universitatis Iagellonicae Cracoviensis. Retrieved 2015-03-06. 

Further reading[edit]

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