Faux amis, false cognates

 

 

Although English belongs to the Germanic family of Indo-European languages, and French to the Romance family, basically Latin dating from the Roman conquest of Europe and the Middle East, the English language was dramatically influenced by the French language.

« False friends, or the treacherous pitfalls of the English vocabulary », « Les faux amis ou les trahisons du vocabulaire anglais » was first published by Maxime Kœssler and Jules Derocquigny in Paris in 1928. False friends are words which in French and English look alike and have a partial or completely different meaning and lead to incorrect assumption.

For instance, the very polite French would say " je ne veux pas abuser de vous " does not translate into "I do not want to rape you"  but "I do not want to take advantage of you or of your time", which is slightly different unless you meet the person in a hotel room at Sofitel in New York... And if you say that you are "embarassend" in English, you may be embarassed, confused, or uncomfortable but not "pregnant"... Unless again you were at the Sofitel and you foolishly did use "preservative" but no  "condom"...

Although English belongs to the Germanic family of Indo-European languages, and French to the Romance family, basically Latin dating from the Roman conquest of Europe and the Middle East, the English language was dramatically influenced by the French.

The culture clash takes us back again to the Norman Conquest in 1066 when William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy invaded England and imposed French as the language of the ruling class. For some 300 years, French remained the language of the English parliament until 1363, as the Oxford states it :

« After the English defeat at the hands of the French in the Hundred Years War, the English language underwent a major revival based on patriotism coupled with francophobia. Nevertheless, the influence of French continued through the cultural and intellectual cross-fertilization of the Renaissance and then later due to the fact that French was the official language of international diplomacy from 1714 until the First World War. »

So while the French have been complaining about the English language imperialism and are so desperate to invent new French words which almost nobody uses such as « baladeur » for « walkman » or more recently « courriel » to say « email », the Britons have incorporated our French words into their daily vocabulary without complaining. Some words remained almost the same such as "Intelligence"," instinct", "absent", "accident", some varied a little, « adventure » ( aventure), « address » ( adresse), they are « vrais amis », true cognates, whereas other words, « les faux amis », or « false cognates » which looks alike may be confusing in three different ways.

*Words with common roots, whose meaning changed over the centuries, like « actually » which does not mean « actuellement » ( in the present) in French but « en fait, vraiment, en réalité »

*Words with no common root, but look alike through pure accident, such as the French « pain » (bread), which has nothing to do with pain nor suffering.

*Words with a common root and one or more meanings in common but whose meanings also diverge: (porc, in French meaning the animal itself, its meat ) whereas in English you will use two different names porc for the meat and pig for the animal.


 

More to come...

 

 

 

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