Diagram showing relationships between etymologically-related words
Diagram showing relationships between etymologically-related words

In historical linguistics, cognates, also called lexical cognates, are sets of words in different languages that have been inherited in direct descent from an etymological ancestor in a common parent language.[1] Because language change can have very radical effects on both the sound and the meaning of a word, cognates may not be obvious, and often it takes rigorous study of historical sources and the application of the comparative method to establish whether lexemes are cognate or not.

The term cognate derives from the Latin noun cognatus, which means "blood relative".[2]

Characteristics

Cognates do not need to have the same meaning, which may have changed as the languages developed separately. For example English starve and Dutch sterven or German sterben ("to die") all derive from the same Proto-Germanic root, *sterbaną ("die").

Also, cognates do not need to have similar forms: English father, French père, and Armenian հայր (hayr) all descend directly from Proto-Indo-European *ph₂tḗr. An extreme case is Armenian երկու (erku) and English two, which descend from Proto-Indo-European *dwóh₁ (note that the sound change *dw > erk in Armenian is regular).

Examples of cognates in Indo-European languages are the words night (English), nicht (Scots), Nacht (German), nacht (Dutch, Frisian), nag (Afrikaans), Naach (Colognian), natt (Swedish, Norwegian), nat (Danish), nátt (Faroese), nótt (Icelandic), noc (Czech, Slovak, Polish), ночь, noch (Russian), ноќ, noć (Macedonian), нощ, nosht (Bulgarian), nishi (Bengali), ніч, nich (Ukrainian), ноч, noch/noč (Belarusian), noč (Slovene), noć (Serbo-Croatian), nakts (Latvian), naktis (Lithuanian), νύξ, nyx (Ancient Greek), νύχτα / nychta (Modern Greek), nakt- (Sanskrit), natë (Albanian), nos (Welsh, Cornish), noz (Breton), nox/nocte (Latin), nuit (French), noche (Spanish), nueche (Asturian), noite (Portuguese and Galician), notte (Italian), nit (Catalan), nuet/nit/nueit (Aragonese), nuèch / nuèit (Occitan) and noapte (Romanian), all meaning "night" and being derived from the Proto-Indo-European *nókʷts "night". The Indo-European languages have many hundreds of such sets of cognates, though not all are as neat as the cognates of night.

The Arabic سلام salām, the Hebrew שלוםshalom, the Assyrian Neo-Aramaic shlama and the Amharic selam ("peace") are also cognates, derived from the Proto-Semitic *šalām- "peace".

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, Dutch and Afrikaans melk, Russian молоко (moloko), Serbo-Croatian and Slovenian mleko/mlijeko.[3] On the other hand, French lait, Catalan llet, Italian latte, Romanian lapte, Spanish leche and leite (Portuguese and Galician) (all meaning "milk") are less-obvious cognates of Ancient Greek γάλακτος gálaktos (genitive singular of γάλα gála, "milk"), a relationship that is more evidently seen through the intermediate Latin lac "milk" as well as the English word lactic and other terms borrowed from Latin.

Some cognates are semantic opposites. For instance, while the Hebrew word חוצפהchutzpah means "impudence", its Classical Arabic cognate حصافة ḥaṣāfah means "sound judgment."[4]

False cognates

Main article: False cognate

False cognates are words that are believed to have a common origin, but which in fact do not. For example, Latin habēre and German haben both mean 'to have' and are phonetically similar. However, the words evolved from different Proto-Indo-European (PIE) roots: haben, like English have, comes from PIE *kh₂pyé- 'to grasp', and has the Latin cognate capere 'to seize, grasp, capture'. Habēre, on the other hand, is from PIE *gʰabʰ 'to give, to receive', and hence cognate with English give and German geben.[5]

Likewise, English much and Spanish mucho look similar and have a similar meaning, but are not cognates: much is from Proto-Germanic *mikilaz < PIE *meǵ- and mucho is from Latin multum < PIE *mel-; a true cognate is Spanish maño 'big' (archaic).[6]

Distinctions

Cognates are distinguished from other kinds of relationships.

See also

References

  1. ^ Crystal, David, ed. (2011). "cognate". A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics (6th ed.). Blackwell Publishing. p. 104, 418. ISBN 978-1-4443-5675-5. OCLC 899159900.
  2. ^ "cognate", The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed.: "Latin cognātus: co-, co- + gnātus, born, past participle of nāscī, to be born." Other definitions of the English word include "[r]elated by blood; having a common ancestor" and "[r]elated or analogous in nature, character, or function".
  3. ^ Compare also Greek ἀμέλγω amelgō "to milk".
  4. ^ Wehr, Hans (1994) [1979]. J. Milton Cowan (ed.). Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. Urbana, Illinois: Spoken Language Services, Inc. ISBN 0-87950-003-4.
  5. ^ Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben
  6. ^ Ringe, Don. "A quick introduction to language change" (PDF). Univ. of Pennsylvania: Linguistics 001 (Fall 2011). ¶ 29. pp. 11–12. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 June 2010. Retrieved 15 June 2014.((cite web)): CS1 maint: location (link)