Languages are living creatures, and, as such, they are born, grow, and develop with the passage of time. This evolution often occurs through the adoption of sounds or words from other languages, which are called cognates. “Cognate” comes from the Latin word “cognoscere,” which means “to know.” When you learn a foreign language and you encounter a word that sounds familiar, you have most likely come across a cognate.
Although foreign words might be incorporated into a language, these imported words are usually slightly altered in the transition. English is no exception to this rule, and it shares many words with various foreign languages, including Spanish. In this article, you will read about some Spanish cognates that you may not even be aware of.
Situated in the northwestern United States, Montana is probably one of the most beautiful areas in the country. However, have you ever considered that “Montana” is, in fact, a Spanish cognate? It comes from the Spanish word “montaña,” which means “mountain.” This is a suitable name for a state with some of the most beautiful high mountain scenery in the country!
Known for its warm weather, sunny days, wonderful beaches, and playful environment, few people have ever stopped to think that Florida is another Spanish cognate found in the English language. In Spanish, “Florida” means “with flowers.” This territory was named Pascua Florida by the Spanish explorer Ponce de León on Easter 1513, and the name was chosen as homage to Spain’s “Feast of the Flowers,” which takes place right after the Easter celebration.
This is probably one of the most surprising Spanish cognates, even for Spanish-speaking people, as it is not immediately obvious that “buckaroo” is the way in which the English adopted the Spanish word “vaquero.” Also popularly known as a cowboy, “buckaroo” actually sounds quite similar to the way “vaquero” sounds in Spanish.
“Cannibal” is another English word that also has its roots in Spanish. Linguists theorize that the word comes from the Spanish word “cannibal,” which is an alteration of the term “caríbal” (“from the Caribe”). Over time, the word “caníbal” dramatically changed its meaning. Nowadays, it refers to people who feed on other people, and its meaning is the same in English.
With its destructive force, tornados are fearful weather events, regardless of their location. The Spanish word “tornado” comes from the verb “tornar,” which means “to turn.” In both English and Spanish, the word refers to a powerful wind that creates a funnel and makes everything spin around.
Spanish Cognates and English-Spanish Mistranslations
Even though it is true that cognates can be very helpful when learning a foreign language as they make it easier for learners to understand certain words, cognates can also be tricky and can lead to weird, funny, and sometimes embarrassing mistranslations when texts are translated from one language to the other by people with no professional training. There are plenty of examples of English-Spanish mistranslations that originated in misunderstandings of the precise meaning of a word in English that is written and/or sounds similar to one in Spanish.