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False Friends

As you may already know, I began learning Brazilian Portuguese two weeks ago with Rosetta Stone.

The reason I chose to learn Portuguese is that I already have a good understanding of it. I spent several years living in Galicia (northwestern Spain) and learned the local language – Galician, a sister language of Portuguese.

Both Galician and Portuguese descend from a common language known as Galician-Portuguese. During the Middle Ages, that language was used in nearly all of the Iberian Peninsula for lyric poetry.

CHECK: Galician-Portuguese Lyric

Although they're considered different languages today, Galician and Portuguese are still very close. Mutual intelligibility between these two languages is estimated to be around 85%.

Still, some words that appear to be similar or even alike may have completely different meanings. This phenomenon is known as false friends, and it often happens within the Romance language group, where all languages descend from Latin.

For instance, I knew the word preto in Galician means "near." However, it is translated as "black" in Portuguese and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish). It's also accepted as "dark" or "black" in Galician (preto/a), but I don't think people use it often with that meaning.

Interestingly, Portuguese has a similar word (perto) for "near."

In Spanish, there's the word prieto/a, which is often used with the sense of "tight" or "tight-fitting." It may also mean "dark" or "dark-colored," even though I've only seen it used like that in literature – that use is likely archaic today.

I took French in college and learned the word prêt(e) for "ready." However, that word is not related to the ones I mentioned earlier, which come from the Latin word pressus.

Instead, prêt(e) comes from the Latin word praesto. It's the same for the Catalan word prest and the Italian word presto. These two words mean "soon," "early," or "quick."

Do you know of other examples?

If so, feel free to share them in the comments!

PS: I want to use this chance to thank my colleagues Fernanda Gonçalves for encouraging me to learn Portuguese, Cristina Gil for her writing tips, and Renata Fernandez for allowing me to practice with her on Twitter.

Também quero cumprimentar meus familiares que descendem de pessoas que migraram da Estremadura, mais especificamente Carrascalejo, para o Brasil.


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