Cognates in Translation: What They Are and Why They Matter

When it comes to translation, cognates are a crucial tool for language professionals. In this post, we’ll explore the origin of the word “cognate”, what cognates are, and the importance of cognates in translation.

What is a Cognate?

In the English language, the term “cognate” refers to words in different languages that share a similar spelling and meaning in both languages. For example, the English word “music” and the French word “musique” are both pronounced in a similar way and have a similar meaning.

Cognates can be found in many different languages, and they often arise due to historical and cultural connections between different groups of people. For example, many words in English have their roots in Latin, French, or German, which were influential languages in Europe for many centuries.

False Cognates: Be Careful

One important thing to note about cognates is that they are not always identical in meaning or usage. While they may share a similar form and basic meaning, they can also have subtle differences in connotation or usage, which make them “false cognates”. For example, the English word “sympathy” and the Spanish word “simpatía” are cognates that both share a basic meaning of “fellow feeling” or “empathy.” However, “simpatía” is also used in Spanish to describe a charming or appealing personality, which is not part of the meaning of “sympathy” in English.

Why Cognates Matter in Translation

Cognates are important in translation for several reasons.

First, they can help speed up the translation process. Because cognates have similar spelling and meaning, translators can quickly identify them and understand their intended meaning without needing to spend time researching the word or concept. This can save time and increase efficiency, especially when working on large translation projects with tight deadlines.

Second, cognates can help maintain consistency across translations. By using cognates consistently throughout a translation, the translator can ensure that the meaning of the original text is preserved in the translated version. This is particularly important in technical or scientific translations where precise language is essential.

Finally, cognates can help make translations more accessible to readers. When a reader encounters a cognate in a translation, they may be able to guess the meaning of the word based on their knowledge of the other language. This can make the translation feel more familiar and less foreign, making it easier for the reader to engage with the text.


Cognates are a valuable resource for translators, helping to save time, maintain consistency, and make translations more accessible to readers. However, it’s important to be aware of false cognates when translating documents. Finally, translators should always consider the context and audience of the translation and use a variety of translation techniques to ensure the accuracy and effectiveness of the final product.

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