Shared Ancestors

Photo of a family tree painted on a wall.

Source: Family tree, m-louis, Wikimedia Commons

One way to describe cognates is in terms of common ancestors or familial relationships. You resemble the relatives on your family tree. You may have your father’s nose, your grandmother’s hairline, or your great grandmother’s thick ankles. Latin is a parent to many European tongues, and English developed alongside those siblings as a linguistic cousin. It follows that English shares some features with other European languages, Spanish for example. Cognates are English words with the same meaning and similar spellings as words in another language. Think of cognates as familial features.

Let’s explore some types of relationships between Spanish and English cognates. First, the easiest cognates to recognize are the closest relatives. These are the Spanish words that are spelled identically to their English equivalents. Among these cognates are animal, cafeteria, and patio. Although these words are spelled identically, they’re all pronounced differently.

Next are the linguistic cousins that are spelled nearly the same. Among these are familia and family, diferente and different, importante and important, and cognados and cognates, the vocabulary tool featured in this lesson.

Another group of linguistic cousins are the Spanish–English cognates pronounced nearly the same. Among these are bebé for baby, igual for equal, and norte for north.

If you’re a native Spanish speaker or studying Spanish, you have an advantage in learning English. If you pay attention to cognates, you can draw logical conclusions about the meanings of many unfamiliar words in English.

Cartoon of cave woman and cave man who has just clubbed someone. It reads, “I hated to do it, but conflicts like these are inevitable without a logical language”

Source: “Conflicts like this are inevitable without a logical language,”