Saturday, April 10, 2010

False Cognates in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish

Swedish, Danish and Norwegian are closely-related languages. They are so similar that many of the words they use are identical. For example, the words "ord," "tid," "bord," "sol" and "himmel" mean "word," "time," "table," "sun" and "sky" in all three languages. However, they also have a number of false cognates, words that appear to share the same meaning but do not.

One cognate is the word "rolig." In Danish and Norwegian it means "calm" but in Swedish it means "funny." The Swedish meaning is very different from that of the other two languages.

The word "by" is another example. In Danish and Norwegian it means "city" but in Swedish it means "village." The difference in meaning is not as great as with "rolig" but is nevertheless significant.

The word "rask" shares the same meaning in Swedish and Norwegian but is different in Danish. In Swedish and Norwegian it means "fast." In Danish, however, it means "healthy."

The word "rar" shares the same meaning in Swedish and Danish but is different in Norwegian. This word means "nice" in Swedish and Danish but means "strange" in Norwegian.

A few false cognates have slightly different spellings. One example is "frukost" in Swedish which is spelt "frokost" in Danish and Norwegian. The Swedish word "frukost" and Norwegian word "frokost" both mean "breakfast." In Danish, however, this word means "lunch."

The Danish and Norwegian word "kunstig" is spelt "konstig" in Swedish. In Danish and Norwegian "kunstig" means "artificial" but in Swedish it means "strange." Though "kunstig" and "konstig" share the same origin, they have developed different meanings.

Though Swedish, Danish and Norwegian are similar, they have a number of false cognates. These words must have once shared the same meaning but clearly changed in meaning over time. If speakers of these three languages are not aware of the false cognates in their languages, this can lead to miscommunication.

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