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The term ‘translator’s false friends’ (les faux amis) was introduced by the French theorists of translation M. Koessler and J. Derocquigny in 1928.160 This term means a word that has the same or similar form in the source and target languages but another meaning in the target language. Translators’ false friends result from transferring the sounds of a source language word literally into the target language. P. Newmark calls them deceptive cognates,161 as their meanings are different and they can easily confuse the target text receptor.

Misleading words are mostly international, or it is better to say that they are pseudointernational. They are loan words that can be borrowed from the source text but have developed their own meanings in the target texts. For example, interview = ‘a series of questions in a formal situation in order to obtain information about a person’; интервью = a journalist’s questioning some public figure in order to be published in mass media’. Or they can have the same origin of the third language (mainly Greek and Latin) and be borrowed both into the source and target languages: aspirant = ‘a person who has great ambition, desires strongly, strives toward an end, aims at’; аспирант = ‘a graduate student’. Sometimes the form similarity can be accidental: herb = ‘an aromatic plant used in medicine or as seasoning’; герб = ‘an object or representation that functions as a symbol’.

Reference to some ‘false friends’ can be found in some dictionaries, like a special dictionary of ‘false friends’162 or Cambridge International Dictionary of English.163

‘False friends’ could be called interlanguage synonyms, homonyms and paronyms.

Interlanguage synonyms are words that coincide in one or more meanings. However, beside similar meanings, they have some special meanings. For example, concert – концерт. Both words have the meaning of ‘a musical performance’, but the English word has the second meaning: ‘agreement in purpose, feeling, or action’. The Russian one has acquired a generic meaning of ‘any performance (reciting, drama extracts, etc.)’. Thus they can be equivalents in only the first meaning and somewhat erroneous in their second meaning.

Interlanguage homonyms are words that have no common meanings, like accord – аккорд. The English word means ‘agreement, harmony; a settlement or compromise of conflicting opinions; a settlement of points at issue between the nations. The Russian word is more specific, meaning ‘musical chord’.

Interlanguage paronyms are words with similar but not identical sound, and with different meanings. The case can be illustrated by example – экземпляр. The Russian word denotes ‘a copy’, whereas the English indicates ‘a representative of a group as a whole; a case serving as a model or precedent for another that is the same or similar’.

When compared in the source and target texts, translators’ false friends can differ semantically, syntactically, stylistically, and pragmatically.164

Semantic difference presupposes the following oppositions:165

· generic vs. specific meaning: actual (real, existing in fact) – актуальный (topical); моторист (air-fitter; machinist) – motorist (one who drives or travels in an automobile).

· monosemantic vs. polysemantic: галантный (couth) – gallant (1. Showy and gay in appearance, dress, or bearing a gallant feathered hat; 2. Stately, majestic; 3.high-spirited and courageous gallant soldiers; 4. Attentive to women, chivalrous, flirtatious.)

· different connotation (positive vs. negative): aggressive (determined to win or succeed) – агрессивный (inclined to act in a hostile fashion)

Structural difference leads to

· different word combinations: comfortable – комфортабельный have the same meaning ‘producing a feeling of physical relaxation’. But in English this word is combined with the noun income (comfortable income), and in Russian this combination is impossible – the English expression has the equivalent of хороший доход. Likewise, sympathetic – симпатичный, but sympathetic strike – забастовка солидарности.

· impossibility of calque translation: ходячая энциклопедия – walking library. In this case idiomatic meanings are expressed by different structures.

· multi-component phrase vs. one-word structure: аудитория читателей – readership, readers.

Stylistic difference results in stylistic overtone of the words:

· neutral vs. emotionally colored words: ambition (stylistically neutral) – амбиция (often negative); protection (neutral) – протекция (bookish)

· modern vs. archaic: depot – депо (in the meaning of ‘a building where supplies are kept’)

· common word vs. term: essence – эссенция (vinegar).

Pragmatic difference implies the different associations a word carries for various groups of people, nations, etc. For example, when saying “Моя мама родилась через два года после революции”, a Russian person will definitely mean the Russian Revolution of 1917. S/he might be misunderstood by an American for whom the word ‘revolution’ is associated with American Revolution. The same with the common Russian expression после войны: Он поступил в институт сразу после войны. Probably, it will take time and effort for an American to associate the event with World War II, since America also knew the Korean and Vietnam wars in this century.


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