By false friends I don’t mean those individuals who fail to show up for you birthday party. I’m talking about false cognates, words that sound alike or look alike and may be from the same origin, but that mean different things in different languages. Similarities between languages are extremely helpful when it comes to learning a new language. However, the presumption that similar words have the same meaning in a foreign language as they do in your own can lead to humorous misunderstandings as many have discovered, including the man who mistakenly presumed the toilet named merched in Wales was for men because it starts with the letters ‘me’. Similarly, the Welsh word moron is not an insult at all, it means ‘carrot’. Another common mistake is to translate ‘embarrassed’ into Spanish as embarazada, which means ‘pregnant’. If a Spanish person tells you they are constipado they may not be over-sharing as much as you think, as it simply means a blocked nose.
An English speaker who has never studied French already knows 15,000 words in the language of Molière. Nevertheless, French and English share numerous false friends. If a French person sends you a demande, don’t be offended – it’s a request rather than a demand. Don’t leave without paying in a librarie in France as it’s a bookshop rather than a library and, as you may know, a magasin is a shop, not a publication and a voyage is not necessarily by sea. Actuellement in French is ‘currently’ rather than ‘actually’ and éventuellement means possibly, rather than ‘finally’.
A French acquaintance of mine asked an English speaker for a rendez-vous and was embarrassed to find out that the word has romantic connotations in English that it lacks in French. If her counterpart was sympathique (nice rather than sympathetic) he would have forgiven the faux pas (same meaning in both languages). He in turn would have needed to learn that a réunion in French is any type of meeting, not necessarily a re-union as implied in English. Sometimes the French words have the same meaning in the English spoken some time ago, an example would be sensible to mean ‘sensitive’. Other words have the same meaning, but are pejorative in one of the languages, for example it’s fine to use ancien to describe the elderly in French and concubin(e) is simply a cohabiting partner. Exploitation is always negative in English, while in French is can simply mean ‘use’ and is another word for a farm. French speakers may be surprised to hear English speakers describe the iron lady as ‘formidable’ as it means wonderful in French, but suggests a battle-axe in English. Assister in French is a semi-false friend as it can mean ‘to help’, but also simply ‘to attend’ and blesser is to injure rather than to bless – an injure in French is an insult in English. If you ask for a caméra in French you’ll get a video camera rather than a photographic camera (appareil photos) and ‘film’ in French is of the kind you see in the cinema rather than the one insert into your camera, which is a pellicule. A car in French is a coach rather than a car, and as all wine lovers know the cave is the cellar rather than a cave, which is called grotte in French. If someone tells you a job is intéressant they may not mean that it’ll be anywhere near fascinating, merely that it would be in your interests to take it. In French a déception is a disappointment rather than a lie and disposer means to have rather than to throw away. Be careful not to issue an invitation to a large group to go out for dinner, because the French meaning of the word also includes payment. Nuances can be important – French militants might be worried if English speaking journalists described them as militants in English, as the French word merely means ‘activist’.
As fascinating as false friends can be, their existence is one of the reasons why translation is a highly skilled profession. You can find a few examples of things that can go wrong when people rely on anything less than professional translators here. To ensure that your text is correctly translated, you need a skilful translator who is a native speaker in the target language and has in-depth knowledge of the source language and culture. Contact us for more information.
Some of our customers
Find out what our customers think of us
Internet Slang: The New Form of Communication
Almost everyone uses the Internet these days. As such, most computer users are more or less familiar with Internet slang and the way that people communicate online. Internet slang refers to words and phrases that are cut short or abbreviated; the slang terms are widely used in social media, chat rooms and other channels on the World Wide Web. Often, these words are used to save time typing – especially in gaming rooms and chat rooms. They are also used in other channels that have character limits, such as Twitter. There are other slang terms, however, that are not abbreviated. Instead, these terms come in the form of altered English words, serving as "in-group language", defined as a manner of speaking that would make members identifiable to a particular group.
Selfie, Sext & Shizzle
A few years ago, the inclusion of the word "selfie" in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) came as quite a shock to many people, but if you look closely, you'll find that there are quite a few words originating in online communication that are now included in our everyday language. For instance, the terms lag and glitch were originally used in the world of gaming. Today, the term lag is used in reference to mobile phones and other gadgets working or responding slowly, while glitch is used to describe malfunctions in computers, programs and applications.
The Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary is the definitive record of the English language. It prides itself on being a descriptive record of the language rather than prescribing what words mean, as opposed to other records. It is updated four times each year, in the months of March, June, September and December. In the June 2015 update, slang words originating from the Internet, such as sext, shizzle, totes and fap fap fap, were included.
With increasing amounts of our time spent online, it is only natural that slang and terms used in that arena would spill over into everyday language. The inclusion of such words in records of the English language is essential to ensure that our language adapts to our times.
In 1993, a peaceful separation of the nation of Czechoslovakia resulted in the creation of two separate countries: Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Last month there was an announcement that the latter country's name would be changed to Czechia. It was a decision that came after much deliberation by the president, heads of parliament, the prime minister, and the country's defence and foreign ministers. At this early stage, many are already saying that the single-word name sounds a lot like Chechnya.
The new Czechia: Marketing move
Foreign ministry officials say that after the name has been formally approved by parliament, they will submit it to the UN requesting a database update. But they have stressed that Czech Republic will remain as the name of the country for administrative and official matters, while Czechia is to be used abroad as an informal, geographic name. Officials say that the shorter name will be easier for English speakers to pronounce, and that sportspeople, companies and other entities will find it easier to print labels for clothing and numerous other promotional materials.
Czechia Name Change: Long deliberation
According to official reports, the name change has been under deliberation since 1993, following the split. Czech Republic officials have also stated that it is frustrating to have their country's name misspelled a lot of the time, and it is no secret that foreigners find it difficult to pronounce the name as well. The officials argue that the name "Czech Republic" only has about two decades’ worth of history, whereas "Czechia" was first used in Latin in around 1634, and in English around the mid-19th century.
Arguments against the name change include the fact that the United States and the United Kingdom also have 2-word names. However, despite their longer names, these countries are much better known on a worldwide scale compared to Czech Republic. Likewise, they have abbreviations (the US/USA and the UK) that are accepted and recognised globally. Czech Republic, on the other hand, does not have an abbreviated name.
It's early days yet and things may not go smoothly for the name change campaign, as detractors have their say. In any case, the country will have to wait for the UN to approve the shorter name, even if only for commercial and marketing purposes.
Quebec: Should bilingual signage be mandatory?
A consultation recently took place in Quebec’s parliament, which was expected to require all businesses in the province to provide bilingual (English and French) signage.
Official Language of Quebec
French is the official language of Quebec, a province in eastern Canada, as defined by Law 101, the Charter of the French Language. The law protects the fundamental rights of using the French language. There have been a number of amendments to the law since it was passed initially in 1977, some very controversial, and none more so than this latest addition.
The expectation is that following the present consultation period (of 45 days) all businesses with branches in Quebec will be required by law to provide at least some French on their external signage. That may be an equivalent translation of the business name, or simply a description of the products or services they provide. The French text would have to be given equal importance, for example if the English name is lit up, the French version would also need to be illuminated.
Impact on Businesses
It would apply to almost all businesses, including some of the most well-known brands such as Walmart, GAP and Costco, and is expected to cost firms thousands of dollars. However, the law is not expected to apply to corporations with family names, such as McDonalds.
The change has been years in the offing, after the government lost court cases in both 2014 and 2015 against these major retailers refusing to add the French signage.
Government officials have argued that many firms already offer bilingual signage and that there is only a minority failing to do so. They assert that it is a matter of politeness; companies should acknowledge where their businesses are located and respect their environment. Those against the amendment claim that it is just a petty money-spinner. Nevertheless, the wheels are in motion and while companies will be given up to three years to comply, after that time substantial fines will be imposed on those refusing to observe the new legislation.
Google Translate was launched on 28 April 2006, which means that it has just celebrated its 10th birthday. Here are some fast facts about the controversial app:
• It began with just two, but the service now covers 103 languages, including some you may not have heard of, for example: Cebuano, a major language of the Philippines; Kannada, spoken in South India; and Sesotho, the main language of Lesotho and also an official language in South Africa.
• The most popular language combinations are English from and into Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, Russian and Indonesian.
• Over 500 million people use Google Translate; the country boasting the most users is Brazil.
• More than 100 billion words are translated using Google Translate every day – that’s around 13.5 words for every single person on the planet… every day!
• It relies on an online community to add, revise and improve translations, with over 3.5 million individuals having contributed.
Many companies in an eager attempt to engage with their international customers have translated their slogans and marketing materials that, unfortunately, have not had the same resonance as the original English version. And in some cases, the results can verge from being slightly embarrassing to downright catastrophic
There is no denying that Google Translate has a place in the world of translation; in fact it has come on leaps and bounds in the decade since its inception. Any professional in our industry will nonetheless happily chew your ear off about all the pitfalls of using machine translation in place of a real person. There are countless articles and blogs warning of Google Translate ‘fails’ (you can read one of our own blogs here, written by a member of the team at Business Language Services), which just goes to show that if you’re thinking of having something translated, it always pays to use a reputable company. You know the phrase: ‘You pay peanuts, you get monkeys’.
Game of Thrones & Dothraki
Fans of the hit TV series, "Game of Thrones", are familiar with Dothraki. It's the language of use in the series, together with Low Valyrian and High Valyrian. But did you know that this is a constructed language (conlang) created specifically for the series?
George R. R. Martin
Game of Thrones, written by George R.R. Martin, has many invented words in the book created by the author himself. When HBO turned the book into a TV series, the management team decided that the actors should use the words as they appear in the book so that fans of the novel would not be offended. HBO later partnered with the Language Creation Society to find a linguist who could create the language for the show. One of the participants, David Peterson, who is also a co-founder of the society, won the contest.
David Peterson & Conlangs
David J. Peterson, has created various conlangs used in a variety of sci-fi and adventure/fantasy shows. He has a Masters in Linguistics degree from the University of California, San Diego. For the Game of Thrones, Peterson created Dothraki, Mag Nuk, and Low and High Valyrian. He said that he did not have much to work on when he created Dothraki, although the producers told him they wanted to use all of the words from the books and to make sure that they were harsh-sounding words. Out of the 56 words Martin penned in his books, 24 were names of things, places and people, with no guides for pronunciation. Peterson began his conlang work for this project with a phonetic inventory and later found out that changing the cadence and stress system worked well. Likewise, ending some words with "kh" gave Dothraki a very distinct sound.
Mag Nuk is the language spoken by the Giants in the series. Peterson said that when creating conlangs, it is important to take the physiology of the speakers into account. For the creation of Mag Nuk, the giants' language, the background information he received was that the giants did not have the mental capacity of humans and they would use the Old Tongue, with one-syllable words.
Although the approach to creating conlangs is generally scientific, Peterson said he did add just a small personal touch, using Keli, the name of his pet, as the term for cats in High Valyrian.