Academic journal article Suvremena Lingvistika

Diachronic Investigations of False Friends/ Dijakronijska Istrazivanja Lcaznih Parova

Academic journal article Suvremena Lingvistika

Diachronic Investigations of False Friends/ Dijakronijska Istrazivanja Lcaznih Parova

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Although the topic of false friends has been exploited for almost a century (Koessler and Derocquigny 1928, Ivir 1968, Nilsen 1977, Chamizo Dominguez and Nerlich 2002) (2), ever since Koessler and Derocquigny gave them this name back in 1928, there is still new light that can be thrown on this topic, especially with the help of concepts from cognitive linguistics. However, it must be noted that Koessler and Derocquigny only came up with the metaphorical term faux arms, which gained wide currency until this day, whereas the phenomenon of such linguistic interference has long been studied, with some works dating back to the 17th century. As for other terms that have been used for this linguistic phenomenon, there are false equivalents, false cognates, false pairs, deceptive words, treacherous twins and belles infideles to name but a few.

From a synchronic point of view, the linguistic phenomenon of false friends is usually defined as a situation in which two words are the same or similar either in speech or in writing in two languages but their meaning is different. This gives rise to problems in language learning and translating. They are known to cause difficulty for students learning a foreign language because students are likely to misidentify the words due to language interference (Breitkreuz 1973). In this paper I will not touch upon the question why certain false friends create problems to language learners and translators, but focus on the question of how false friends came about.

Chamizo Dominguez (2007) classifies false friends into two groups: chance false friends and semantic false friends. The latter group is further subdivided into full semantic false friends and partial semantic false friends. Full semantic false friends are two words sharing the same etymological origin but with no overlap in meaning, whereas partial semantic false friends have at least one meaning in common, e. g. English battery and Croatian baterija, where apart from the shared meaning denoting 'a device that produces electricity', the English word can mean 'a large number of things of a similar type' and the Croatian word can mean 'flashlight' or 'torch'.

Chance false friends are always full false friends and can be illustrated with the following examples:

(1) Italian burro ('butter') and Spanish burro ('donkey') are false cognates, i. e. false friends whose etymologies have nothing in common.

(2) The French noun coin ('corner') and the English noun coin look exactly the same in writing because of a fortuitous diachronic process.

This overlap in sharing the same signifier can be examined cross.linguistically in some words. For example, the French noun van ('sieve; horse trailer') and the English noun van share the same spelling, but they mean completely different things. This word also exists in other languages with somewhat different pronunciations but still with exactly the same spelling, as for instance the Dutch preposition van ('of), the Spanish verb form van ('they go', third person plural simple present tense of the verb ir), the Croatian adverb van ('outward', 'outside') or the Swedish adjective van ('practiced', 'experienced', 'trained'). We may consider the example of the word van a six.fold false friend, and I am certain that the list of languages that contain this word does not stop here. We may look upon these examples as homonymy across two or more different languages.

(3) French: Le paysan secouait le ble dans un van. (The peasant was shaking the wheat in a sieve.)

(4) English: We wanted to come here by van.

(5) Dutch: Dit is het huis van mijn ouders. (This is the house of my parents.)

(6) Spanish: ?Adonde creen ustedes que van? (Where do you think you are going?)

(7) Croatian: Danas idemo svi van. (Today we are all going out).

(8) Swedish: Han ar gammal och van. (He is old and skilful)

However, the other group is quite different. …

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