Saturday, April 07, 2012

Another fun false cognate: Miura

We know that - sometimes - alcohol takes the name of where it originated. That's where we get the name Champagne (and the legal battles over its use). It's where we get the name Sapporo, and Milwaukee's Best.

This week, a friend of mine posted a photo with a large bottle that had the name "MIURA" emblazoned prominently on its label.

Not this Miura.
Not this Miura.
Not this Miura.
But this Miura, which gave us this Miura (and this Miura, too).

Ahh... another example of false cognates between languages. Interestingly, due to the analogous manner in which the languages combine sounds to make words, both Japanese and Spanish have a LOT of words that sound almost identical to each other (and are transliterated effectively the same). True, the likelihood that a homophone exists in both languages goes down precipitously as the number of syllables increases, but there are many two and three syllable words between Japanese and Spanish that sound the same... but mean very different things. (For example, there's a bit of "folk sociology" that says that one reason why Christianity had a hard time being spread in Japan was that it's Latin word for god, "Deus", sounded a lot like something else - click on the sound icon in the Japanese to hear the word.) That's what you get when you have basically the same vowel sounds between two languages (only 5 vowel sounds, each pronounced effectively the same way between Spanish and Japanese), the same effective range of combining those sounds with consonants, and a near requirement in both languages to always pair a consonant with a vowel.

Previous entry exploring some false cognates between Spanish and English as well as Spanish and Japanese here.

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