False friends: Law and unrest

Crime includes shoplifting and even littering, not only murder

Artifact is not the usual word for a bomb.

Organizing a riot, scandal, etc. sounds about as undoable as controlling time, as they’re usually pretty chaotic.

Homicide is the department that investigates murder. Manslaughter (soon to be personslaughter?) is something else. And don’t even ask me to translate nocturnindad.

Longer False Friends Intro

Learning a language is no small thing. Doing it well amounts to no less than partitioning your hard disk (coconut?) and installing a new operating system there.

This is less apparent to the beginning learner, but becomes more evident over time in what is a never-ending, never completely achieved process. I’m speaking from experience here, as someone who, after decades, has acquired a serviceable and fast Spanish (I guess this shouldn’t be countable, in English. I’ll try to get something up on countable/uncountable, maybe under concept division), if not a rich and beautiful one. I think that for people learning their first foreign language and moving into it from the frame of a firmly embedded mother tongue there is a tendency to assume the new language is essentially the same as the old one, simply with different graphic and phonetic signs following a slightly different syntax. The feeling is that all thoughts and ideas are perfectly translatable. At this stage one may well conceive of communication as the transmission of universally human propositions like this steak is too well done (though not demasiado bien hecho —we Spanish learners [I’ll try to make a note somewhere including yourself in utterances like Los profesores tenemos] have plenty of false friend problems too!), the table is downstairs or I like octopus. Indeed, this viewpoint has its psychological value, keeping the task manageable and easing the transition.

Exceptions to this framework are perceived initially as curious anomalies, bits of exotica. Like the Uno de enero song, ¡San Fermín!, or raining cats and dogs (section on proverbs and idioms coming soon), or for a German learner saying the equivalent of please when one means thanks.

This illusion breaks down as one internalizes the language more and more. An apter metaphor would be that of a dancer, say Flamenco or square, going to Africa to learn some tribal dance. Really feeling the desire to express please, I have to assume, when one feels thankful, is quite another matter.

By talking about false friends I intend to take what was already a metaphor and extend it further, so that its purview becomes anything –not only single words but grammar, culture or whatever else –that presents particular difficulties in moving from one language system to the other.

False Friends Intro

False Friends, for me, has come to mean basically anything that creates translational interference when shuttling between Spanish and English (for example), not just the standard definition of false cognates. The good news is that between these two languages there are many true friends, but of course that’s where the problems starts. What’s the Spanish expression about trust (confianza, in this case) leading to problems? (It’s actually closer to generating disgust, isn’t it?). Anyway, I’ve tried to break the false friends down by category and serve them up in bite-sized posts. Enjoy.  :)

False Friends: Oft Confused Time expressions

In the (not this) moment is a good place to be, a la carpe diem, but if you just mean now (which in English means now, not in a few minutes or a few minutes ago) you probably mean at the moment.

Soon/early (both translate as pronto): Potentially tricky concept division here. Soon is generally in reference to now, while early usually means before an understood or arranged time. I’ll get it done soon would mean that you won’t have to wait long, but you talk about being early for an appointment/date (not exactly the same thing) /class/interview, etc. If you get up early (Sorry, no single-word equivielnt for madrugar), it means compared to normal or what one would assume (not asumir) to be normal. Continue reading

False Friends: Bureaucracy (competent organisms?)

In the USA, the Internal Revenue Service is who you file your taxes (not make the declaration) with. Whether or not (those last two words are pleonastic, but I like them here) they are a competent organism depends entirely on (not of) your opinion. And it would be strange if they were called the Ranch and the official program for preparing your taxes (not the rent) were called Father.

You don’t discount things on your tax forms, but you can deduct them.

Rest is what you do after you get your taxes in. It doesn’t mean subtract.