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Cognates in linguistics are words that have a common etymological origin.

An example of cognates within the same language would be English shirt and skirt, the former from Old English scyrte, the latter loaned from Old Norse skyrta, both from the same Common Germanic *skurtjōn-. Words with this type of relationship within a single language are called doublets. Further cognates of the same word in other Germanic languages would include German Schürze and Dutch schort "apron".

The word cognate derives from Latin cognatus "blood relative".[1]

Contents

Characteristics of cognate words

Cognates need not have the same meaning: dish (English) and Tisch ("table", German) and desco ("table", medieval Italian), or starve (English) and sterben ("die", German), or head (English) and chef ("chief, head", French), serve as examples as to how cognate terms may diverge in meaning as languages develop separately, eventually becoming false friends.

Cognates across languages

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

Another Indo-European example is star (English), str- (Sanskrit), Sitara/Tara(Urdu)/(Hindi), astre or étoile (French), αστήρ (astēr) (Greek or αστέρι/άστρο in Modern Greek), stella (Latin, Italian), stea (Romanian and Venetian), stairno (Gothic), astl (Armenian), Stern (German), ster (Dutch and Afrikaans), starn (Scots), stjerne (Norwegian and Danish), stjarna (Icelandic), stjärna (Swedish), stjørna (Faroese), setare (Persian), stoorei (Pashto), seren (Welsh), steren (Cornish), estel (Catalan), estrella or astro (Spanish) and Leonese, estrela (Portuguese and Galician) and estêre or stêrk (Kurdish), from the PIE *h₂stḗr, "star".

The Hebrew shalom, the Arabic salaam and the Amharic selam ("peace") are also cognates, derived from Proto-Semitic *šalām-.

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 and Croatian mlijeko. On the other hand, French lait and Spanish leche (both meaning "milk") are less obviously cognates of Ancient Greek γάλακτος (genitive singular of γάλα, "milk") , a relationship more evidently seen through the intermediate Latin lac "milk", as well as the English word lactic and other terms borrowed from Latin.

Cognates within the same language

Cognates can exist within the same language. For example, English ward and guard (<PIE *wer-, "to perceive, watch out for") are cognates, as are shirt and skirt (<PIE *sker-, "to cut"). In some cases, such as "shirt" and "skirt", one of the cognate pairs has an ultimate source in another language related to English, while the other one is native, as happened with many loanwords from Old Norse borrowed when the Vikings conquered part of England. Sometimes, both cognates come from other languages, often the same one but at different times. For example, the word chief comes from the Middle French chef, and its modern pronunciation preserves the Middle French consonant sound. The word chef was borrowed from the same source centuries later, by which time the consonant had changed to a "sh"-sound in French. Such words are said to be etymological twins.

False cognates

False cognates are words that are commonly thought to be related (have a common origin) whereas linguistic examination reveals they are unrelated. Thus, for example, on the basis of superficial similarities one might suppose that the Latin verb habere and German haben, both meaning 'to have', were cognates. However, an understanding of the way words in the two languages evolve from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) roots shows that they cannot be cognate (see for example Grimm's law). German haben (like English have) in fact comes from PIE *kap, 'to grasp', and its real cognate in Latin is capere, 'to seize, grasp, capture'. Latin habere, on the other hand, is from PIE *gʰabʰ, 'to give, to receive', and hence cognate with English give and German geben.

The similarity of words between languages is not enough to demonstrate that the words are related to each other, in much the same way that facial resemblance does not imply a close genetic relationship between people. Over the course of hundreds and thousands of years, words may change their sound completely. Thus, for example, English five and Sanskrit pança are cognates, while English over and Hebrew ′avar are not, and neither are English dog and Mbabaram dog.

Contrast this with false friends, which frequently are cognate.

References

  1. ^ from co (with) +gnatus, natus, past participle of nasci "to be born". Cassell's Latin Dictionary. The English word can also have a range of meaning "related by blood, having a common ancestor, or related by an analogous nature, character, or function". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition s.v. cognate.

See also

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