Sunday, May 6, 2012

Cultural differences: false cognates

Spanish and English have very similar words, similar sentence structures, and share the same alphabet, more or less.  And personally, I think that's why it's easier for English speakers to pick up Spanish, in contrast to Swahili. (In fact, a long standing joke among Americans is that if you add a -o or -a to an English word, you get a Spanish word. Obviously, not true.)

For instance, if I wrote, Ángela estudia economía en Boston. With some intellectual will-power, you could probably deduct that that sentence means "Angela studies economics in Boston," or at least something to that effect.

Likewise, you could probably guess, universidad means university, concentración means concentration, fútbol means football.

BUT! There are so many false cognates as well! AKA because the Spanish word looks similar to an English word, you assume it means the same thing as it does in English, but it actually means something completely different in Spanish.

Shall we look at some examples?

- Librería: looks like "library," no? Well, it actually means "bookstore."
- Actualmente: looks like "actually," but it actually (har har) means "currently." "Actually" would be better expressed as "en realidad."
- Colegio: Not "college." Refers to "high school."
- Culto: Not a "cult." Means "a church service."
- Red: Doesn't refer to the color red. In Spanish it means "network" or "web." So when they talk about the internet, sometimes they use this word.

So those are pretty standard, but here's two that I find hilarious.

- Embarazada: Does NOT mean embarrassed. It means pregnant!! Haha I know tons of people who have made this mistake.
- Constipado: LOL Funny story. My host mom was really sick at one point this semester, and she was telling me all her symptoms when she says, "Estoy muy constipada." And I think, "Woah lady, I know we've gotten close, but I rather not know about such bodily functions."  Then I realize she's talking about her nose!  Constipado is equivalent to congested, NOT constipated.

Yay for language barriers!

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