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Diachronic investigations of false friends/ Dijakronijska istrazivanja lcaznih parova.

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. For instance, the French pronoun personne ('nobody') and the English noun person are etymologically related, so they are not false cognates, but are false friends.

(9) French: Personne ne le sait mieux que vous. (Nobody knows it better than you.)

(10) English: Do you think you are a good person?

An example of a threefold full semantic false friend in the Germanic languages would be the English noun gift, the German noun Gift ('poison') and the Scandinavian adjective gift ('married'). Although there is an etymological relationship between the 'gifts' in the Germanic languages, it is not likely that the speakers of those languages would feel any conceptual link. The Scandinavian word is derived from the verb to give (Scandinavian gi), as being married in some languages is expressed through the metaphor of being given to one another or having given a pledge, cf. Croatian udana ('married', feminine adjective or past passive participle) from the verb dati ('give'). The German Gift came to mean 'poison' as a euphemism (i. e. metonymy) in a similar fashion like the English and French word poison sprang from the Latin word potio, meaning 'drink'.

(11) English: This was a gift from my parents.

(12) German: Das ist wie Gift fur ihn. (That is like poison for him.)

(13) Norwegian: De er lykkelig gift. (They are happily married.)

Another example is fastidious in English and its cognates in the Romance languages, fastidioso in Spanish, fastidios in Catalan, fastidieux in French and fastidioso in Italian. According to Oxford English Dictionary (henceforth OED), this adjective means 'very attentive to and concerned about accuracy and detail', with its origin from late Middle English: from Latin fastidiosus, from fastidium 'loathing'. The word in Latin originally meant 'disagreeable', and later 'disgusted'. Current senses date from the 17th century. In the Romance languages, on the other hand, it basically means 'annoying, tiresome, irritating, boring' and even 'upset'.

(14) English: Dear colleague, your speech has been extremely fastidious.

(15) Spanish: Espero que mi discurso no les sea fastidioso. (I hope that my speech is not boring to you.)

To illustrate what a mousetrap for communication false friends can be, Chamizo Dominguez (1999: 115) opens one of his numerous papers on the topic with an anecdote about a diplomatic incident that happened during the course of a plenary session of the Society of Nations Assembly. After a long and exhaustive discourse of another delegate, the English representative, wishing to show his approval of his colleague's words, described his speech as 'fastidious'. This remark caused a diplomatic incident as the other delegate thought that his English colleague had meant that his speech had been tiresome and boring. He was quick to say that his speech had not been 'fastidious' at all, but he had spoken clearly and accurately about the subject that they were dealing within the meeting. We can presume that the interlocutor of the English delegate was a person whose mother tongue was one of Latin origin and that was the reason why he was caught in the trap of the false friend fastidious/fastidioso.

The list of semantic false friends is also an endless one, so the following few pairs of examples will suffice in illustrating the combinations of the European languages prone to exhibit false friends situations:

(16) English: He says he was molested as a child.

(17) Spanish: Por favor, no me molestes. (Please do not disturb me.)

(18) English: He's an advocate of equal pay for men and women.

(19) Croatian: Na sudu gaje branio advocat. (In court he was defended by a lawyer.)

(20) English: There is not a single cloud in the sky.

(21) Norwegian: Det er ikke en sky pa himmelen. (There is not a single cloud in the sky.)

(22) German: Winkel is der innere Teil zweier sich schneidenden Linien. (An angle is the inner part of two crossing lines.)

(23) Dutch: Ik ga naar de winkel om wat eten to kopen. (I can going to the shop to buy something to eat.)

The focus of this paper will be semantic false friends--internationalisms in English contrasted with their cognates in other European languages. These semantic false friends have the same etymological origin (Latin in this paper), but have developed different meanings in English. The question that I am going to discuss in this article will be how these different meanings developed or what caused the discrepancy of meaning of words that gave rise to false friends. In other words, I am going to investigate how false friends were created. The answer to these questions we should best look for in the cognitive view of diachronic semantics.

False friends have traditionally been expounded by contrastive analysis, particularly for pedagogic purposes because language students easily confuse words that look similar to those found in their mother tongues. As false friends are essentially a result of a semantic change, theoretical frameworks in contemporary linguistics might offer a new insight into this old problem. In traditional linguistics, semantic change (as well as semantics) was not so much in focus as it is in cognitive linguistics. Traditionally, semantic change was regarded as a haphazard process by which the meaning of a word can go in any direction. Certain patterns of change have been noted and categorized, but they were not predictable and were not felt as a system. As a consequence, false fi.iends have been treated in a similar fashion. They have usually been approached by cataloguing them. Individual cases have been described as anecdotes that can be rather entertaining to read, but eluding scientific analysis and explanation. Recent work in cognitive linguistics, headed by Elizabeth Traugott, has pointed to predictabilities and regularities in semantic change, which enables not merely cataloguing the phenomena, but also finding constraints that govern them.

2. Methodology

2.1 Polysemy and semantic change

The examples of semantic false friends can be considered to be a cross.linguistic equivalent to polysemy, one of the core areas of study in cognitive linguistics. Taylor (1995: 99) defines polysemy as "the association of two or more related senses with a single linguistic form". The multiple meanings of a polysemous word are related to one another by means of a variety of cognitive mechanisms such as metaphor, metonymy and generalization. Therefore, we can claim that the meanings of that polysemous word are motivated.

Geeraerts (1997: 6) explains polysemy in a nutshell as "the synchronic reflection of diachronic.semantic change", while Traugott and Dasher (2002: 12) insist that "very few, if any, words in ordinary language have only one interpretation", and that "polysemy is central to a theory of semantics and semantic change" (Traugott and Dasher 2002: 16). Polysemy is a prerequisite condition for semantic change, as is well explained in the following extract by Sweetser (1990: 9):
   "Synchronic polysemy and historical change of meaning really supply
   the same data in many ways. No historical shift of meaning can take
   place without an intervening stage of polysemy. If a word once
   meant A and now means B, we can be fairly certain that speakers did
   not just wake up and switch meanings on June 14, 1066. Rather,
   there was a stage when the word meant both A and B, and the earlier
   meaning of A eventually was lost. But if an intervening stage of
   polysemy was involved, then all the historical data, as evidence of
   past polysemy relations, is an interesting source of information
   about the reflection of cognitive structure in language."

In other words, according to cognitive semantics, several meanings of a word co.exist over several decades or hundreds of years, but their relationship to each other in terms of saliency may change. This will be clearly seen in all the examples of this investigation and will be shown by a schematic representation in this article.

Changes in categorization may occur, first, within the category or radial network (3) or in the interaction of categories. Within the network, the items may be rearranged so that what used to be more prototypical (4) is less so, or vice versa. An example taken from Dirven and Verspoor (1998: 216) illustrates the evolution of the words dog and hound:

(24) Change within a radial network



In the 14th century, the basic term in English is still hound (compare German Hund or Dutch hond). In Middle English, a dog is just another subtype, as is poodle, but probably a very frequent one, as represented by the subspecies mastiff. This 'dog' type of 'hound' was so frequently encountered that it became the prototype of the category "hound".

When we speak of changes within a polysemic structure, Raffaelli (2000: 125.141) shows on the example of the Croatian adjective trudan ('pregnant') how polysemic structures function in a diachronic perspective. In the past (and still in some Croatian dialects), this adjective was highly polysemous, including the meanings 'tired', 'hard', 'suffering' and 'sad'. It used to be conceptually linked to the noun trud 'effort', but as this link was fading, so the meaning of this adjective was changing. Changes between the members of lexical categories reflect the changes between conceptual categories, so the most salient meaning in the past ('tired') has been pushed to the margins of this lexical category and a new most salient meaning has emerged ('pregnant').

2.2 Metaphor

According to cognitive linguistics, metaphor is not only pervasive in everyday speech, but is also grounded in our experience and thinking, and is subject to general and systematic principles (Lakoff and Johnson 1980: 3). Metaphor is typically defined as understanding or experiencing one entity or domain in terms of another. Metaphorical language is the manifestation of conceptual knowledge and conceptual structure organized by a cross.domain mapping, i. e. a systematic set of correspondences between two domains. For example, the domain of vision is metaphorically linked with the domain of knowledge. This in turn gives us the conceptual metaphor KNOWING IS SEEING, which has been recognized as pervasive in the Indo.European family of languages, as the examples of Latin borrowings from spec. and vid. roots illustrate (Sweetser 1990: 34): inspect, survey, view, suspect, revise, supervise, interview, observe and so on. Sweetser (1990: 19) considers metaphor as "the major structuring force in semantic change".

2.3 Metonymy

In the past ten years of research in cognitive linguistics, scholars have come to realize that metonymy is a cognitive phenomenon that could be even more fundamental and more common than metaphor (Panther and Radden 1999: 1). Radden and Kovecses (1999: 21) define metonymy as follows:

"Metonymy is a cognitive process in which one conceptual entity, the vehicle, provides mental access to another conceptual entity, the target, within the same idealized cognitive model."

Just as metaphor was essentially a mapping across two distinct domains, metonymy is mapping within one and the same domain. Metonymy is based on contiguity relations such as part.whole (synecdoche), cause.effect, content.container. An example of metonymy as a cognitive principle triggering semantic change in English is the word cheek meaning 'fleshy side of the face below the eye'. It is etymologically derived from Old English ceace, meaning 'jaw, jawbone'. After the introduction of the Old French word joue 'cheek' for jaw, the meaning of the English word shifted via metonymy to cheek. Both words come from the same domain, body parts (or facial parts, to be more precise).

2.4 Other mechanisms

As for other mechanisms of semantic change, traditional classification would first list specialization or narrowing and generalization or widening. For example, Modern English queen 'king's wife, female monarch' is a false friend with the Scandinavian word kvinna, which means 'woman', just as in Old English the word cwen did. The development of the Modern English sense of the word is a case of specialization, in which one special woman has been singled out. The process opposite to specialization is generalization (5), with one of the most frequently quoted examples probably being the French verb arriver, originally meaning 'to reach the river's shore, to come to the bank', but now it means 'to reach any destination'. The river, or via metonymy its shore, has come to mean a destination in general, through a metonymization or metaphorization .. arguments could be made for both.

Furthermore, there are processes called degeneration or pejoration (pejorization), elevation or amelioration (meliorization), hyperbole and taboo replacement (euphemism) and avoidance of obscenity (Hock 1991: 301.305 and McMahon 1994: 178.185) (6). A good example of pejoration is the English adjective silly, which in Old English (saelig) meant 'blessed, blissful' and then changed into 'happy, innocent' in Middle English (sely). The metonymic shift can be accounted for by saying the most positive thing about a stupid person: he is blessed by Jesus.

An example of a word that has undergone amelioration is knight, meaning 'mounted warrior serving a king', or 'lesser nobility', which developed from the Old English cniht 'boy, servant' > 'military servant'. Saying 'bathroom' or 'WC' to avoid using the word 'toilet' is an example of taboo replacement. Shift in meaning due to exaggeration by overstatement is hyperbole and can be exemplified by words such as terribly, horribly and awfully standing for 'very'.

From the point of view of some cognitive semanticists (7), all these types of semantic change are subsumed under metonymy. They can be looked upon as subtypes of metonymization, as the shifts in meaning work according to the principle of contiguity or objective associations, which are fundamental characteristics of the cognitive operation of metonymy.

2.5 The method

The abovementioned concepts from cognitive linguistics have been briefly outlined because they will serve as an explanatory tool for shedding new light on the topic of false friends. I start from the hypothesis that interpreting false friends according to these principles of semantic change will clarify what led to the phenomenon of such lexical and semantic cross.linguistic relations as we find in false friends. This was not possible in traditional semantics, as it regarded semantic change as unpredictable and irregular.

3. The Investigation

The focus of my research will be semantic false friends between English and other European languages. I will compare the meaning of ten English words with their cognates in other languages. Most of the examples are related to a Latin etymon, and are frequently dealt with in the vast linguistic literature on false friends. To keep the comparison consistent, three languages have been selected, each representing one of the major branches of the Indo.European languages: German for the Germanic group, Spanish for the Romance group and Croatian for the Slavic group.

If we take a look at internationalisms of Latin origin and how the modern European languages adopted them into their respective vocabularies, we will quickly notice that there are a number of words that look similar but whose meanings simply do not overlap. Everyone who studies English as a foreign language wonders at some point why the meanings of English words such as actually and eventually do not correspond to their cognates in other European languages. Why is English the odd one out? Just as the English are the only ones in Europe who drive on the other side of the road, and the only ones who do not use the metric system, this bizarre phenomenon could be seen as yet another idiosyncrasy that marks their language and culture. If the comparisons with driving on the left and a disparate measurement system seemed too far.fetched, with hardly any contribution to academic advancement, then we could look for patterns that show such peculiarities within the English language itself. Which other language in Europe had so many sound changes such as the Great Vowel Shift that resulted in almost every word being pronounced differently from its spelling and more often than not--in an unpredictable manner? Which other language in Europe has a spelling system in which you basically need to learn how to spell almost every single word?

Let us now analyze some words whose meanings in English differ from their European cognates.

3.1 eventually, adv. [vs. German eventuell, Spanish eventualmente and Croatian eventualno 'perhaps, possibly']

In order to exemplify this word in actual usage and how a translator can be a false friend victim, Chamizo Dominguez and Nerlich (2002: 1839) quote the contents description on a packet of a brand of Spanish gazpacho, which is given in English, German and Spanish.

(25) English: Ingredients: tomato, cucumber, pepper, onion, water, olive oil, wine winegar, salt, garlic, and eventually [finally] lemon.

(26) German: Zutaten: Tomaten, Gurken, Paprika, Zwiebeln, Wasser, Olivenol, Weinessig, Salz, Knoblauch, eventuell [perhaps] Zitrone.

(27) Spanish: Ingredientes: tomate, pepino, pimiento, cebolla, agua, aceite de oliva virgen, vinagre de vino, sal, ajo y eventualmente [perhaps] zumo de limon

As we can see, the contents are indeed different, depending on the language which you read it in. The mistake was, of course, made in English, because the translator thought that eventualmente means the same as eventually in English.

The English adjective eventual and its derived adverb eventually were borrowed from French, where they still mean 'possibly' today, just as in other European languages, which either inherited it from Latin or borrowed it (if they are not Romance). In other words, the semantic shift took place in English after the word was borrowed. Let us take a look at the entry eventually in the OED:

eventually, adv.

1. In the event of something happening. (28) 1830 Some eventually possible inconvenience.

2. In order to provide against a contingency; in conditional terms. Obs. (29) 1749 So many of my letters have miscarried that I am forced to repeat the same thing over and over again eventually.

(30) 1752 I am sensible that they can only be met with by great accident at family sales and auctions, so I only mention the affair to you eventually.

(31) 1785 Not conditionally and eventually, but positively and authoritatively.

3. In result (as opposed to intention). Obs. (32) 1660 I think that Hermione has but intentionally, not eventually disobliged you.

(33) 1706 King James was not deposed by those, otherwise than eventually: these were the Causes of all this.

(34) 1729 Other vices eventually do mischief this alone aims at it as an end

4. In the event, in the end, finally, ultimately. (35) 1680 If one that shall eventually be shut out, may do all this, what shal become of the generality of Religious men that never do so much?

(36) 1797 Seneca endeavoured to employ every day of his life as if it eventually might be his last.

(37) 1843 Absentees will doubtless eventually disappear from Ireland.

(38) 1879 This line eventually became the brightest line of the whole spectrum.

The meaning under "1" is nowadays obsolete, but it was a prototypical one in the past, just as it remained in the modern European languages. This is confirmed by the fact that it is listed as first in the entry. The OED groups the senses in chronological order according to the quotation evidence, or as the editors say "the senses with the earliest quotations appear first, and the senses which have developed more recently appear further down the entry". However, the first attested occurrence of the meaning that we have today is from 1680 (see example 35), listed as third, whereas the one that has been abandoned, listed as first, has the first attested usage from the year 1830, as can be seen in the example 28. Even though there was a lack of evidence (i. e. attested usages) that the meaning under "1" was the first to come in chronological order, the lexicographers decided to put it in the first position. They assumed that the word in English was first used in that sense, although they could not prove it. They relied on common sense and perhaps evidence from other languages, and not the order of first attested usages when they were processing the entry 'eventually'.

Dictionaries of current English give only one explanation for this adverb, which corresponds to the OED's last sense. That is the third sense, but it could arguably be the fourth one because the first meaning is divided into two subsenses. In other words, we have four senses, three of which are obsolete. They are all derived from the adjective eventual, which is derived from the noun event, whose origin is late 16th century and comes from Latin eventus, from the verb evenire 'result, happen', from e. (variant of ex.) 'out of + venire 'come'. Thus we have a highly abstract adverb which travelled a long derivational journey. The word started in a spatial sense, and then developed a temporal sense (conceptual metaphor TIME IS SPACE (8)). Once the temporal sense has been established, malfing the temporal sense prototypical, the meanings are reset. The temporal polysemy frequently gives rise to conditional inferencing (cf. Traugott and Dasher's example of the history of 'as long as' 2002: 39 (9)). The change in meaning occurred when the adjective eventual was formed from the noun and the way its meaning was related to an event or events. Eventually (3) and eventually (4) developed a temporal sense via metaphor (CONDITIONAL IS TEMPORAL), and then through another metonymy (PART FOR WHOLE) further reduced to one part--its end. In other languages the meaning of the adverb is related to the noun 'event' in a conditional manner, meaning 'if it ever comes to the event', which actually corresponds to the English eventually (1).

The following figure is an attempt to give a schematic representation of the semantic change resulting in false friends. The centuries given are only rough approximations for the adverb eventually. Based on the years of first attested usages in the OED, we could only hypothesize when the words were actually being used in those meanings, so the centuries of the stages are rather tentative.


The numbers in the small circles represent the different meanings of eventually as listed in the OED. The big circle represents a polysemic structure of the lexeme eventually in a given period. The prototypical or most salient meaning is always in the centre of the big circle. In the course of the development of the English language different meanings of the lexeme eventually are transposed, so a prototypical meaning in the initial stage becomes peripheral and can even be lost, whereas a meaning that initially did not even exist, later on becomes prototypical. The continental languages in the second row show that the polysemic structure has remained very stable. In the last stage we see number 4 entering the circle, which points to a possible situation in the future: maybe due to the influence of English as a global language, the meaning that hitherto did not exist in the continental languages (and which is primary in English) will some day be borrowed into German, Spanish or Croatian.

The principle of three stages of change in the saliency of meaning could also apply to other examples of false friends in this paper, but the number of meanings would be different from case to case, as well as the periods during which these changes were taking place.

3.2 actually, adv. [vs. German aktuell, Spanish actualmente and Croatian aktualno 'currently']

In the fourth chapter of her seminal book Regularity in Semantic Change, Traugott explores the development of adverbials with discourse marker function in English. One such adverbial is actually (2002: 169.173).

The adjective actual was borrowed in the early fourteenth century from French in the senses 'active' and 'real'. Actually was coined in English as an adverb of manner in the fifteenth century. Let us take a look at the OED entry under actually.

actually, adv.

1. In a way that is characterized by doing, with deeds; practically, actively. Obs. (39) 1587 Now, this vnderstanding is actualle [? read--alie] euerlasting, (that is in deede) and euerlastingly actuall, (that is doing).

(40) 1651 Christ shall come to judge the world, and actually to governe his owne people.

(41) 1660 Those who offend actually, are most grievously punished.

2. Actively, energetically. Obs. (42) 1470 Then on foot they drew their swords, and did full actually.

3. In act or fact; as opposed to possibly, potentially, theoretically, ideally; really, in reality. (43) 1587 This minde hath being and continuance actually and of it selfe, and euen when it is seperated from the body.

(44) 1608 He was here actually a Senator.

(45) 1775 Every substance that actually is, by actually being that thing, actuall is not any other. A piece of brass, for example, actually is not an oak.

(46) 1782 I would have every man write as he actually feels.

(47) 1868 She sat with a fixed look, seeing nothing that was actually present.

4. As a present fact, at present, for the time being. (48) 1663 Workmen, actually employed in every work.

(49) 1699 The Turks have actually evacuated Camineec.

(50) 1832 The impeachment of the earl of Middlesex, actually lord treasurer of England.

(51) 1832 The party actually in power.

5. As a matter of fact, in truth, truly; indeed; even. Not said of the objective reality of the thing asserted, but as to the truthfulness of the assertion and its correspondence with the thing, hence added to vouch for statements which seem surprising, incredible, or exaggerated: 'He has actually sent the letter after all.'

(52) 1762 I had some dispositions to be a scholar and had actually learned my letters.

(53) 1849 And this principle will be actually found, I believe, to guide the old workmen.

(54) 1863 This woman actually imagines that there will be no slaves in heaven.

(55) 1878 I actually found the door standing open.

The five meanings listed in the OED could arguably be reduced to three distinct meanings:

[actually.sub.1]--'actively' (OED meanings 1 and 2) [actually.sub.2]--'in fact' (OED meanings 3 and 5) [actually.sub.3]--'currently' (OED meaning 4)

Both actually 2 and actually 3 developed in the Early Modern English period, whereas [actually.sub.1] appears in the Late Middle English period. [Actually.sub.1] has become obsolete, and [actually.sub.2] has become the prototypical meaning in Modern English. [Actually.sub.3] still appears sporadically, but most native speakers of English are not aware of this meaning. [Actually.sub.3] is the meaning found in the cognate adverbs of the continental languages, which is how we get the false friends situation.

If we take [actually.sub.1] as the primary sense out which the other meanings were extended, it is not difficult to spot a metonymic shift ACTIVITY FOR RESULT from [actually.sub.1] to [actually.sub.2] and ACTIVITY FOR TIME in the case of [actually.sub.3] developing from [actually.sub.1].

The following examples of words printed in bold, along with their explanations, are also selected entries from the OED, printed in a different font, shortened and organized to suit the purposes of this paper.

3.3 etiquette, n. [vs. German Etikett, Spanish etiqueta and Croatian etiketa 'label']

[a. Fr. etiquette (: -- OF. estiquette). The primary sense in Fr. is represented by Eng. ticket (an adoption either of the word or the synonymous etiquet: -- estiquet): in OF. the word chiefly denotes a soldier's billet. The transition from the sense 'ticket, label' to that of 'prescribed routine' presents no intrinsic difficulty, but its actual history in Fr. is not very clear; the other mod. Romanic langs. have adapted the word from Fr. in the secondary sense; It. etichetta, Sp. etiqueta ('a book of ceremonies hid in the king's palace', Del Pino Sp. Diet. 1763).]

1. a. The prescribed ceremonial of a court; the formalities required by usage in diplomatic intercourse.

b. The order of procedure established by custom in the army or navy (esp. with reference to promotion), in parliament, etc.

c. The conventional rules of personal behaviour observed in the intercourse of polite society; the ceremonial observances prescribed by such rules.

d. The unwritten code of honour by which members of certain professions (esp. the medical and legal) are prohibited from doing certain things deemed likely to injure the interests of their brethren, or to lower the dignity of the profession.


(56) 1750 Without hesitation kiss his [the Pope's] slipper or whatever else the etiquette of that court requires.

(57) 1792 Over head and ears engaged in ceremony and etiquette.

(58) 1865 They keep perfect time in this species of court etiquette.


(59) 1818 It was to him that, in etiquette, the command of the expedition belonged.

(60) 1848 A proceeding, conducted with such minute attention to prescriptive etiquette.


(61) 1768 The Letter, I was not altogether sure of my etiquette, whether I ought to have wrote or no.


(62) 1868 The etiquette of certain professional functions prescribes that a service should be divided.

2. A rule of etiquette; an observance prescribed by etiquette. Chiefly pl. Obs.

(63) 1771 This diplomatic lord has spent his life in the study and practise of etiquettes.

3. In the primary Fr. sense: A label. rare.

(64) 1867 German matches with the remarkable lines, 'If you want a light, I'll shine so bright,' printed on the etiquette.

The entry under etiquette is more than explanatory. There were two senses of the word etiquette:

[etiquette.sub.1] -- 'label', 'ticket' (of which it is a clipping) [etiquette.sub.2] -- 'prescribed routine', 'unwritten code of honour' or 'rules of behaviour'

The OED lists the abstract meaning of etiquette first, not only because it is first attested in that sense, but also because it is prototypical. However, the etymological information given in the OED entry explains which sense appeared first, so we should consider [etiquette.sub.2] as an abstract meaning that developed from a concrete one. This is one way of justifying the semantic change - the metaphor ABSTRACT IS CONCRETE.

However, I would argue that there is metonymy at play here too. Those rules were written on a piece of paper, such as a ticket, and then that paper has come to stand for the rules themselves (OBJECT FOR FUNCTION). As a result, the saliency of this word's meanings has changed positions in English. The primary meaning in English is tonnes manieres, the formal rules for polite behaviour in society, and dictionaries as a rule do not list the meaning of 'label' anymore. In other European languages both meanings exist, but the most salient meaning is the concrete one, that of the label. Therefore, dictionaries usually list it as first, but always list the other meaning too. This means that it still exists as part of the semantic structure, although native speakers need not be aware of it.

3.4 fabric, n. [vs. German Fabrik, Spanish fabrica and Bosnian fabrika 'facto']

[a. Fr. fabrique (= Pr. fabriga, It. fabbrica, Sp. fabrica), ad. L. fabrica, f. faber worker in metal, stone, wood, etc. See forge n.]

I. A product of skilled workmanship.

1. An edifice, a building.

(65) 1483 He had neuer studye in newe fabrykes ne buyldynges.

(66) 1538 Gibbes the last Prior spent a great summe of Mony on that Fabrike.

(67) 1666 The august fabriq of Christ Church.

(68) 1664 Men inspired to erect the Fabrick of the Church.

(69) 1788 Force of genius sufficient to shake the Aristotelian fabric.

2. A contrivance; an engine or appliance. Obs.

(70) 1596 When here that fabrique utterly did faile.

3. Any body formed by the conjunction of dissimilar parts' (J.); a frame, structure.

(71) 1633 Lord, dost thou some new fabrick mold Which favour winnes leaving th' old Unto their Sinnes?

4. A manufactured material; now only a 'textile fabric', a woven stuff.

(72) 1753 We are every day making new fabrics.

(73) 1791 Working up its [silkworm's] productions into a variety of elegant fabrics.

(74) 1837 The woollen fabric manufactured in these establishments.

(75) 1883 The people in Nagasaki are fast going back to their old practice of spinning this class of fabric for themselves.

111.8. A building erected for purposes of manufacture; a place where work is carried on; a factory, manufactory. rare.

(76) 1656 Fabric, a shop or work-house wherein any thing is framed.

(77) 1777 The Marquis has established a fabrick of woollen cloth.

(78) 1844 The first fabric of liqueurs which had any extensive renown was that of Montpellier.

Once again we see that 'fabric' in the meaning of 'factory' does exist in English, though its usage is rare, as 'factory' has taken over. Through the metonymy PRODUCER FOR THE THING PRODUCED, 'fabric' has come to mean the product produced in factories, which has further been reduced (specialized) to a certain kind of product, namely textile. Fabric in the sense of 'factory' must have been abandoned because of being a synonym with factory. As other senses of fabric were emerging, the word factory ousted the sense of 'factory' from the word fabric. It would be interesting to investigate when and how factory took over the meaning of 'factory', but that might take us off the topic.

It is also worth pointing out here that the examples 65.68 clearly show that it is impossible to perform a good search of the historical corpora of the English language because of all the inconsistencies in spelling. This word is spelled differently each time, and we would not obtain accurate results of the number of tokens if we entered fabric in the search engine.

To sum up, the highly polysemous lexeme fabric has lost the meaning 'factory', and through metonymy developed a new one ('textile'), thus creating a false friend with the German Fabrik or Spanish fabrica.

3.5 billion, n. [vs. German Billion, Spanish billon and Croatian bilijun 'trillion'] 1. orig. and still commonly in Great Britain: A million millions. (= U. S. trillion.)

(79) 1690 A billion, or the square of a million.

2. In U. S., and increasingly in Britain: A thousand millions.

(80) 1864 in Webster s. v. Numeration.

The OED points to a rather confusing situation in the English language. Is a billion a thousand millions or a million millions? To make matters worse, there was another word in circulation, milliard, which is today used by most other European languages to denote a thousand millions, but apparently it has become obsolete in English. However, the confusion remains, if a French/Spanish/German billion is trillion in English, how much is the English trillion? Is everything each time shifted by a thousand?

If you look up the entry 'milliard' in the OED, you will find the following. milliard

[a. F. milliard, f. mille thousand.] A thousand millions.

(81) 1793 I may state their extra resources, from the regal and ecclesiastical plunder, at four milliards.

(82) 1823 I'll bet you millions, milliards.

(83) 1874 All those untold milliards of human beings.

There is a note saying that the term is largely superseded by billion. However, again we have a word existing in English in the meanings found in the other continental European languages, but in this case the word in English has fallen out of use. Ivir (1968: 152) mentions this example of false friends, classifying it under 'different frequency of use'.

Comrie (1996) explains that there are two systems. In one, billion is 10 (12) and in the other 10 (9), which gave them the names 12-system and 9-system. The 12-system is also referred to as the German system and its spread across much of continental Europe is ascribed to German influence. The 9-system is sometimes called the French system, although it is not used in France today because in 1948 French shifted to the 12-system. The United States took over the 9-system in the 19th century, and in recent years British usage has increasingly accommodated itself to US usage, which confirmed the status of billion as false friends.

This example does not exhibit any semantic changes that have caused the words being false friends between English and other languages. It is simply a situation in which there were two synonyms for the same numeral in English. Naturally, as is paradigmatic for synonyms, they could not continue to coexist, particularly in the contemporary times of hyperinflation when this numeral is used more frequently than ever before.

The word milliard was coined at the end of the 18th century in France, using the word mille 'thousand' and the augmentative suffix .ard, which is ultimately of Germanic origin (as found in the words coward, drunkard or wizard, but also related to the English word hard and is found in Frankish compound personal names, e. g. Bernard).

The word billion was coined at the end of the 17th century and is a blend of the prefix bi. ('second power') and million. Million was coined in the 14th century in a similar manner like milliard (mille 'thousand' + augmentative suffix .one).

Large numerals are formed on the pattern of blending a prefix for power (bi , tri , quadri. etc.) and million. In the European system another adaptation of the word for 'thousand' was inserted (milliard) before following the same pattern that is used in the US.

This is the only example of false friends in this paper that is not a result of semantic change. It is the result of lexical change: a new lexical item was introduced which caused a systematic shift in meaning.

3.6 chef [vs. German Chef, Spanish jefe and Croatian sef 'boss']

[Fr.; = 'head, chief; used absolutely for chef d'office or chef de cuisine.]

The man who presides over the kitchen of a large household; a head cook.

(84) 1842 The chefs peace of mind was restored, And in due time a banquet was placed on the board.

(85) 1860 You have finally decided on the menu with your chef.

The meaning of the English noun chef, whose etymology can be traced to the French noun denoting head, means the head of the kitchen in English today. This is a classic example of anthropocentric metaphor: other domains are compared to the human body, so 'head' in the sense of 'chief person in an organization' is a metaphorical extension of 'head' meaning 'upper part of the body'. The English chef has also undergone a metonymy GENERAL FOR SPECIFIC, so 'an organization' has been specialized into 'a kitchen'.

There are no examples in the OED that show how the meaning has become specialized from that which the modern English word 'boss' signifies today. The German word Chef or the Croatian word sef (both borrowings from French) mean 'head' in general, but they can also mean a specific head--the head of the kitchen. Spanish uses chef just like English, but the word for boss in Spanish is 'jefe', which is derived from the same Latin word.

Speaking of heads, it is interesting to note that German and French did not inherit their primary word for 'head' from their mother languages (Proto-Germanic *haubipa and Latin caput), but recruited a Latin word which denoted a container for liquid such as a pot, vessel or jug. The French noun tete derives from Latin testa and the German noun Kopf is an adapted loan word from Latin cuppa, whose English cognate is cup. Even the Croatian cup is a loan word borrowed ultimately from Latin, via Turkish and Arabic. The Romans used the cup as a metaphor for the upper part of the head. This points to a fascinating interplay of metonymy (PART FOR WHOLE) and metaphor (body part is object). We also know that both the Germans and the Celts used a 'skullcap' as a drinking vessel during a ritual of honouring the enemy. This in turn gives rise to another metonymy--one part of the body (used as a drinking vessel) the skull for another part of the body--the head (PART FOR PART).

3.7 preservative [vs. German Preservativ, Spanish preservative and Croatian prezervativ 'condom']

Although the OED does not list the meanings found in the contemporary continental European languages, Kruck (1981: 18) notes that it was used as a euphemism in the 18th century in the meanings corresponding to those found on the continent. The original meaning in English, listed in the OED as first but obsolete usage is "a medicine or other agent that gives protection from disease or infection".

This meaning was most likely the same in other languages, and there was obviously a later extension to cover the meaning of the 'agent that protects from pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases', but it did not survive in English. This confirms the pattern from previous examples. A polysemic structure underlies this word, one of which meanings has died out. It has come to mean what other European languages call conservante (in Spanish), Konservierung (in German) or konzervans (in Croatian) a chemical substance or preparation used to preserve things subject to decomposition, as perishable foodstuffs.

What is being preserved in one language is health, and in another is food. Therefore, we have a metonymy here by which one function replaces another (FUNCTION FOR FUNCTION). In one language what is protected against is unwanted pregnancy and contracting a sexually transmitted disease, whereas in another it is the decaying of food.

3.8 sensible [vs. German sensibel, Spanish sensible and Croatian senzibilan 'sensitive']

The OED lists a plethora of meanings. However, for our purposes the following selection will suffice:

I. That can be felt or perceived.

1. a. Perceptible by the senses. (In Philos., opposed to intelligible 3: in this use now rare.).

(86) 1374 For it [intelligence] knowe[thorn] [thorn]e vniuersite of resoun and [thorn]e figure of [thorn]e ymaginacioun and [thorn]e sensible material conseiued.

a. Of material things or substances, esp. of instruments of measurement, as a balance, a thermometer: Readily affected by physical impressions or influences, sensitive. Const. to. Now rare.

(87) 1661 Like the sensible plant, when the hand of flesh does touch it, she shrinks in all her leaves.

IV. 14. a. Endowed with good sense; intelligent, reasonable, judicious. Stigmatized by Johnson 1755 as used only in 'low conversation'. In some of the early instances the sense may perh. be rather 'capable of mental perception'.

(88) 1584 If they were sensible, they would saie to the divell: Whie should I hearken to you?

(89) 1781 A moral, sensible, and well-bred man Will not affront me, and no other can.

c. Of clothing, footwear, etc.: practical rather than attractive or fashionable.

(90) 1888 Nice, large, sensible shoes for all couples to stumble over as they go into the verandah!

The meaning that Johnson tried to stigmatize has since become prototypical. In contemporary English, most speakers would say that the primary meaning of 'sensible' is 'reasonable, practical, and able to judge things well'. However, other languages have kept the meanings that correspond more to 'sensitive' as their prototypical meaning. Hence the false friend: sensible in Spanish, sensible in German, senzibilan in Croatian. Note that both English and Spanish have kept the meaning 'noticeable' usually listed as the last meaning in their contemporary dictionaries.

In the adjective formed from the noun 'sense', we arrive at the primary meaning 'that which is able to feel'. If this ability is emphasized or intensified, we can easily account for the extension of meaning 'that which is easily affected by extraneous stimuli', i. e. 'sensitive'. This is a metonymic shift, as we have one feature augmented, which is the capacity to feel.

The central meaning present in English is accounted for through synaesthetic metaphor. It is a strongly synaesthetic metaphor (FEELING IS THINKING) as both the source and the target domain are perceptual. In other words, 'sensible' in English comes to mean 'capable of mental perception'.

3.9 sympathetic, adj. [vs. German sympatisch, Spanish simpatico and Croatian simpatican 'likeable, friendly, nice']

The following selection from the OED is relevant for our investigation:

2. a. Agreeing, harmonious, befitting, consonant, accordant (obs.); according with one's feelings or inclinations, congenial. (Now only as coloured by or transf, from 3.)

(91) 1673 Thou thyself instead of coarse drugget shalt wear sympathetick silk.

(92) 1875 My imagination refused to project into the dark old town and upon the yellow hills that sympathetic glow which forms half the substance of our genial impressions.

2. b. Tending to elicit sympathy (senses 3 b, d) or to induce a feeling of rapport; also loosely, pleasant, likeable. Cf. sympathique a.

(93) 1900 The true Don Juan is not a 'sympathetic' part.

(94) 1926 Macbeth is not made sympathetic, however adequately his crime may be explained & palliated, by being the victim of a hallucination.

(95) 1965 Being a lover of the south, I personally found it [sc. a novel] more sympathetic.

(96) 1976 It was not a sympathetic house and the furnishing and pictures were ugly.

3. a. Feeling or susceptible of sympathy; sharing or affected by the feelings of another or others; having a fellow-feeling, sympathizing, compassionate. (With various shades of meaning. cf. sympathy 3 a d.)

(97) 1718 Your Sympathetic Hearts She hopes to move.

(98) 1875 You have faith in a friend when you know he is unselfish, and truthful, and sympathetic.

The meanings listed under 2 have become obsolete. However, it is precisely this meaning that the continental languages have retained: simpatico in Spanish, sympatisch in German, sympathique in French and simpatican in Croatian, all meaning 'nice, pleasant', and not 'compassionate and understanding' like in English.

The adjective 'sympathetic' and its cognates all originate from the noun sympathy (Greek syn 'with + pathos 'feeling'), meaning 'feeling with another'. When it means 'feeling sympathy' (listed under 3a), the adjective derived from the noun sympathy actually preserves the original meaning. In the case of these false friends, the semantic change occurred in the continental languages. The metonymy in operation here is arguably AIM FOR CAUSE, and there is a reversal of roles of who is the one who is feeling sympathy. Conversely, he/she is the one who is liked.

This is the only example in this investigation that showed that English did not depart from the original meaning but remained faithful to the etymon, whereas the continental languages changed the meaning, thus creating another false friend.

3.10 biscuit, adj. [vs. German Biskuit, Spanish bizcocho and Croatian biskvit 'cake']

Beside a most interesting etymological journey that this word has travelled, the OED offers a rich array of forms that have been documented in the history of English:

4 besquite, 5 bysgwyte, -cute, 5_6 bysket, 6_8 bisket, 8_ biscuit. (Also, casually, 6 bisket, -kette, -ked, -kitte, -kott, -ky, -quette, -quite; 6_7 bisquet; 7 bisquett, biscot, -coct.)

[a. OF. 12th c. bescoit, 13th c. bescuit, 16th c. biscut, mod. F. biscuit, a common Romanic word (= Pr. bescueit, Cat. bescuyt, Sp. bizcocho, Pg. biscuio, It. biscotto) on L. type *biscoctum (panem), bread 'twice baked,' from the original mode of preparation. The regular form in Eng. from 16th to 18th c. was bisket, as still pronounced; the current biscuit is a senseless adoption of the mod. French spelling, without the Fr. pronunciation.]

Different forms of this word show that each culture has adapted it to suit their own needs. For this reason, biscuit has become a false pair, and so Croatian biskvit is soft and serves as a basis for cake, whereas in English it is hard and crunchy, and can be a synonym for 'cookie'.

The metonymy at work in this example is ACTIVITY FOR RESULT or ACTIVITY FOR PRODUCT. The process of preparing this type of baked product has given the name biscuit. But as the ingredients were slightly modified at different times and different cultures, the exact meaning varies markedly in different parts of the world.

4. Conclusion

In this paper my intention has been to point out to a pattern in the English vocabulary that gives rise to the situations of false friends. When certain international words of Latin origin used in English are compared cross-linguistically, the meaning in English is different. However, they are not conceptually unrelated. In most examples a shift in meaning is identified, which is explained through the cognitive mechanisms of metonymy and metaphor.

All these examples have shown that all semantic false friends arise from polysemy, a natural capacity and tendency of words to have numerous meanings that are all related through various metonymic and metaphoric connections. The semantic changes that caused false friends analyzed in this paper have shown a more significant influence of metonymy than metaphor. This confirms the hypothesis postulated by cognitive linguistics in the past decade that metonymy is a more fundamental cognitive process and that it is more present in language than metaphor.

This paper showed that cognitive linguistic theoretical and methodological basis could shed new light on the links between false friends. It has also showed that lexemes that share the same etymon, borrowed from one language to another, extend meanings through metonymic and metaphoric shifts.

The prototypicality of meanings of words shared by different languages vary from language to language, and some meanings become so marginal that speakers almost neglect them, are not aware of them, or do not even know that they have died out, thus creating pairs of words across languages that share the same significant and etymology but not the same signifie, to use the Saussurean terms.

As for why prototypicality changed in English, the only sensible reason I can eventually think of is actually the result of a merger of the Germanic and the Romance vocabularies during the Middle English period. In order to avoid cases of near synonymy, words inevitably changed their meanings within a few centuries.


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Vlatko Broz

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Zagreb

(1) This is a revised version of a paper read in the general section of the 10th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference 2007 (July 15.21) in Krakow, Poland.

(2) Exploring the topic of false friends also has a long tradition in Croatia. Besides Ivir, who is credited with coining the term false pairs (1968), and has written several articles about this phenomenon using contrastive analysis between English and Croatian (1975), Maslina Ljubicic (2000, 2002 and 2003) has written about false friends primarily between Italian and Croatian, but also contrasting other combinations of languages. Other notable Croatian authors include Franolic (1976), Jernei (1977) Spalatin (1990) and Brdar (1992).

(3) In cognitive linguistics, the range of meanings of a certain word is often represented by a structured semantic network, with each element in the network connected to another element by some kind of cognitive relationship. The network is structured around a core meaning and is called radial because the various meanings are conceptualized as radiating out from a central point. Lakoffs (1987: 83) concept of 'mother' is the most quoted example in the literature.

(4) Prototypical in this paper is used as an adjective derived from 'prototype', as defined by the psychologist Eleanor Rosch in the 1970s. According to the Prototype Theory, some members of a category (or network) are more representative, more central and more salient than others. Prototype is the most representative member of a category, e. g. robin is a more prototypical bird than penguin or ostrich (Lakoff 1987: 40.45).

(5) Geeraerts (1997: 95) also uses the traditional classification of denotational semantic changes, which includes four basic types: specialization, generalization, metonymy and metaphor.

(6) Ullmann (1962) distinguishes between nature and consequences of semantic change. The nature of semantic change includes metaphor, metonymy, folk etymology and ellipsis, whereas the consequences are widening, narrowing, amelioration and pejoration of meaning.

(7) Blank (1999: 170.171) discusses the example of the semantic change silly (from OE saelig 'blessed' to ModE silly 'stupid'), labelling it as metonymy. He also notes that it was intended to be a euphemistic synonym of OE dumb. In other words, the categorization of this semantic change ranges from pejoration to euphemism, depending on the point of view. For this reason, categorizing the semantic change of silly under metonymy is more neutral and objective.

(8) In cognitive linguistics, the link between space and time is one of the fundamental conceptual links. We understand time in terms of space, which is reflected in languages across the world.

(9) In the history of the conjunction as long as, the original meaning relevant to the development of the temporal meaning was spatial. Once the temporal polysemy arose, the model is "reset", so that the primary meaning is temporal, which eventually gives rise to the conditional. (Traugott and Dasher 2002: 39)

Lazni parovi, tj. parovi rijeci u dva i1i vise jezika koje su slicne ili istovjetne u pisanju ili izgovoru, a razlicita su znacenja, vec su dugo vnjeme vrlo popularna tema u lingvistici (Koessler and Derocquigny 1928, Ivir 1968, Nilsen 1977, Chamizo Dominguez and Nerlich 2002). Poznati su po tome sto stvaraju teskoce pri ucenju stranih jezika jer zbog jezicne interferencije (Breitkreuz 1973) moze doci do pogresnog prepoznavanja rijeci. Kad prevodimo ili usporedujemo dva razlicita jezika, lazm parovi mogu nastati na vise nacina kao sto su homonimija, pseudoanglicizmi, srodne rijeci i frazemi (Chamizo Dominguez 2006).

Postoje mnoge engleske rijeci koje dijele istu etimologiju sa slicnim rijecima u drugim europskim jezicima, ali imaju razlicito znacenje. Rijec 'eventually' na engleskom znaci konacno, dok u vecini drugih europskih jezika (njemacki 'eventuell', spanjolski 'eventualmente', hrvatski 'eventualno') znaci 'moguce'. 'Actual' ne znaci 'aktualan' na hrvatskom, 'aktuell' na njemackom ili 'actual' na spanjolskom, vec 'stvaran'. Ti primjeri pokazuju kako je doslo do znacenjske promjene kod odredenih rijeci u engleskom koje imaju svoje srodne parnjake u drugim europskim jezicima. Za primjere u kojima dolazi do laznih parova izmedu engleskog i drugih europskih jezika u ovom istrazivanju odabrani su njemacki, spanjolski i hrvatski kao predstavnici triju velikih jezicnih grana indoeuropske jezicne skupine. Ovaj clanak istrazuje internacionalizme u engleskome, kao sto su actually, eventually, etiquette, fabric, billion, chef, preservative, sensible, sympathetic i biscuit. Najbolji historijski korpus za to istrazivanje pokazao se Oxford English Dictionary koji biljezi primjere prvih i najpoznatijih uporaba rijeci, navodeci pritom i izvor i godinu sve do samih pocetaka engleskog jezika.
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Date:Jul 1, 2008
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