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Translator’s false friends



 False friends are words in two languages that look or sound similar, but differ
significantly in meaning. The term is a shortened version of the expression "false
friend of a translator", and was introduced by linguists Maxime Kœssler and Jules
Derocquigny in 1928, in the book Les Faux Amis ou les trahisons du vocabulaire
anglais (False Friends, or the Pitfalls of the English Vocabulary, with a sequel,
Autres Mots anglais perfides).
 “False friends”, or more correctly “false cognates”, are pairs of words from two
different languages which look similar but can have entirely different meanings.
 It is frequently helpful to conversational speakers of more than one European
language that we share so many common words, and roots of words, with other
continental tongues. However, these perceived similarities can also easily lead
to confusion.
 False friends can cause difficulty for people who might interpret a foreign text
incorrectly. Similar words may also fail to catch all the nuances of each word in
both languages.
Example: A Romanian speaker may promise to do something, “eventual”, and an
English speaker, recognising a familiar sounding word, might eventually expect this
promise to be kept, but the Spanish speaker only meant ‘probabil’ ‘posibil’ or ‘care
depinde de întâmplare/ întâmplător’.

 False friends are letters in two alphabets or words in two languages that sound or
look similar, but greatly differ in meaning. For example, there’s the English word
‘embarrassed’, compared with the Spanish word embarazada (which actually
means pregnant).
 Similarly, if a Romanian speaker accused you of being “sensibil”, you might think they
were complimenting your sound judgement or being thoughtful. However, the
Romanian word ‘sensibil’ is another false friend, and actually means “afectiv,
senzitiv, emoțional”.
 Another example of a false cognate is the English jubilation and the Spanish
jubilación. The English word means 'happiness,' while the Spanish one means
'retirement, pension (money).'„
 At the simplest level there can be trivial confusion between everyday words such
as French carte (card, menu, etc.) and English cart (car, căruță, cărucior).
 Or sometimes is confused German aktuell (at present) or Romanian actual (care
există sau se petrece în prezent, în momentul de față) and English actual (real,
concret, adevărat).
False Friends in Romanian and English

 A frequent confusion in contracts is that between the English verb agree and
Romanian a agrea: to say that the parties agreed to terminate, Romanians often use
Părțile au agreat rezilierea contractului, which actually means they liked the idea of
termination: a agrea only means ‘like’ or ‘appreciate’ in Romanian. A conveni or a
stabili de comun acord should be used instead in such contexts, despite the strong
tendency to follow English patterns.
 Similarly, should one tell young Romanians who are applying for a job that the verb a
aplica does not suit their purpose, they would most likely be bewildered. What they
ought to use is probably a candida or a-și depune dosarul. A aplica is the
counterpart of English apply, but only in the sense of ‘putting into operation or use’,
and has nothing to do with formal requests or job hunting.
 Another common mistake is to treat expertiză as the counterpart of expertise, which
in English refers to expert skill or knowledge in a particular field. The two terms look
alike and they both obviously derive from expert, but according to the dictionary
Romanian expertiză is an expert’s technical research or report, and has no direct
relation to skill, even though the latter is required in drawing up such a report. It is
therefore recommended to replace expertiză with competenţă or cunoştinţe de
specialitate in describing an expert’s ability.
 Similar phrases abound in emails nowadays, copying English formulae attachment,
but what they actually do is bring affection (atașament) into business
correspondence. Atașament matches English attachment only in the sense of
‘fondness’, but has not yet officially acquired the meaning of ‘computer file
appended to an email’, however common among Romanian speakers. In fact, it
does not need to: anexă can cover it perfectly, unless we use paraphrases such as
fișierul atașat.
 English vocabulary and the Romanian one do not have too many words in
common as they derive from different ancient languages, still the Roman
influence has affected the Anglo-Saxon base of English.
 On the other hand, subsequent borrowings from other languages may have had
the same effect of assimilatingwords much alike. Some words may have a very
close meaning to the real one, the wrong usage will have no major consequence
in understanding the speaker:
False Friends in British and American
 These somewhat ‘foes’ of linguistics can even be a source of miscommunication
between speakers of different dialects of the same language. For instance, both
American and British English speakers speak standard versions of English, but there
are words between them that may bear different meanings. Consequently,
problems in communication may arise and even result in disagreements or
embarrassment when social or cultural contexts are not laid out.
Example: One really unfortunate scenario could pertain to when one of the false
friends happen to fall in the explicit or derogatory territory. A word such as ‘fag’ is an
offensive American English term insulting to homosexuals, but in British English, it is
used in reference to a ‘cigarette’.
Mischief of False Friends in Translation

 False friends also become a point of consideration in the production of media in unfamiliar
territory, as different cultural contexts may cause some words or phrases to be misconstrued
in another language. In 2009, Nutricia, a Dutch company focusing on nutrition, released a
signboard that read, “Mama, die, die, die… Alsjeblieft”, which really means “Mommy, (I
want) that one, that one, that one. Please.” Of course, taking this through any English
context, this line would have left many stumped at the choice of words.
 False friends can also happen when learners of a new language encounter
new words that strongly resemble words in their native language. This
causes the learner to identify words wrongly, and hence they find it harder
to differentiate words based on meaning. This is called a linguistic
interference. As such, language teachers aware of the students’ native
language backgrounds tend to compile lists of false friends in order to help
in their students’ learning.
 We can see that, just like how we have a tendency to take things at face
value, there is always a need to be cautious with familiarity.
 To bilinguals and language learners alike, false friends may not necessarily
be the best resource to help you guess a word’s definition. While they are
helpful (to some extent) in making sense of shared etymology, they are
best adhered to in the same way we think of friendship and enmity—“keep
your friends close, but keep your enemies closer”.