False Friends

Discussion in '中文+方言 (Chinese)' started by Staarkali, May 26, 2009.

  1. Staarkali

    Staarkali Senior Member

    Hello all,

    do anyone know how to say false friends (or faux amis) in Chinese? This is a pair of words that sounds alike but are different in meanings (sometimes even the exact contrary).

    Further, if you'd notice some, I'd be glad to know about them; so far, I know only two:
    扑克 (cards) and poker (a card game)
    广东 (Guangdong) and Canton (广州)

    Thanks in advance for any help on this topic!
  2. alexcn Senior Member

    Shanghai, P.R.China
    Mandarin Chinese
    hehe, on dit "faux ami" "假朋友"
  3. alexcn Senior Member

    Shanghai, P.R.China
    Mandarin Chinese
    et peut-être à Hongkong et à Taiwan, la traduction est "伪友", mais je n'en suis pas sûr!!
  4. Geysere Senior Member

    Chinese - China
    I don't think we have an equivalent expression in Chinese as vivid as "false friends"... We would say "易混淆(的)词语" but that's a boring phrase :)
  5. Staarkali

    Staarkali Senior Member

    actually I was glancing over Wikipedia and clicked the Chinese version and they use 伪友 :)
  6. alexcn Senior Member

    Shanghai, P.R.China
    Mandarin Chinese
    我觉得faux ami是个法语特有的概念,比如说actuellement不是“事实上”,而是“现在”或者“当前”,pomme de terre不是土里的苹果,而是土豆,而土豆也不是haricot de terre。中文里确实没有perfect match,类似的情况用piege也不错
  7. WhisperBlade New Member

    Mandarin - China
    You can use "伪友" to describe Faux Ami in other languages. However, these words are seldom used in colloquial dialogue, and exist merely in linguistic studies. Faux Ami does not exist in the Chinese language. Faux Ami must exist in two different languages with the same linguistic root. This is most abundant in Romanic Languages.

    A Faux Ami exists when two words with exceptionally similar or identical spelling in two different languages mean different things. In Chinese, there is no such thing, as the Chinese language does not share roots with any other language in this world (Speaking strictly in terms of modern linguistics).

    Agréable in French means Likeable, Pleasant, or Nice.
    Agreeable in English means of Accordance.

    In Chinese, however, the case of "Multiple Homonyms" exist, as well as an abundance of Homophones. Remember, Faux Ami applies only to two different languages.

    What you have stated above

    扑克 is a PHONETIC TRANSLATION, or is known as 借音字。

    广东 and 广州 are not Faux Amis. They are references to two different provinces.

    Multiple Homonym is known as 同音多意字。
    Homophone is known as 同音字.

    Multiple Honomyms:
    李: A last name
    李: Plum

    代: A Generation
    代: To substitute

    乏: Lack of
    罚: To punish.

    Hope this helps.
    Last edited: May 28, 2009
  8. BorisDtt Member

    Dozens examples of Chinese-Japanese false friends can be found, but I think it's hard to find any English-Chinese false friends because they are not sharing the same linguistic origin
  9. Staarkali

    Staarkali Senior Member

    hehe indeed it's hard to find

    however, in my opinion 广东 and Canton are faux amis, a lot of foreigners coming over are not well versed in Chinese geography and mistake the city and the province for each other because of their obvious pronunciation similarities.

    We translate 杭州 as Hangzhou, 郑州 as Zhengzhou, 苏州 as Suzhou, 贵州 as Guizhou, etc. well you get the picture. But 广州 is Canton (for historical reasons) and not Guangzhou. The misleading is carried on further by the adjective, Cantonese is the adjective (food and culture) and language of Canton but also of the whole province.

    If people, foreigners use Canton for the province, for me that means that is a faux ami (and I can understand what misleads them).

    About the 扑克 thing, I've come across with the situation several times when some Chinese friends told me to play poker with them (in English, using poker) when the rules are nothing to do with poker; as we all know, poker is never a team game, there are no limit in the number of participants (therefore it's not especially four), most of games involve having 5 cards in hand, there are always money involved (otherwise there is no interest) and the game is clearly oriented negociations through bets (bluff), the required skills is therefore psychology and communication rather than intellectual strategies (like in bridge or in the belote).
    It's not that I dislike the game (although I'm not fond of money game) but when people invites me to play poker, I expect to play a game showing the characteristics I've just told.
    Most of the time, when I heard people discussing about poker here, it lead to some fun misunderstanding without consequences.
    So I like to think when people mistake the usage of one word for another in foreign language, because of the pronunciation proximity, I like to think it's because the two words are faux amis, even if one of the words is an informal phonetic transcription burrowed in a recent past (it is still a word).

    Chinese and Japanese of course share faux amis. I bet any Chinese learning Japanese will mistake 大家 for everybody/everyone whereas it means landlord/房东 in Japanese (and Japanese people will probably make the same mistake in return).

    More information on faux amis can be found here and there on the web. The concept has been developed by West Europeans experts (hence the number of examples about their languages on the web) but it is not necessarily restricted to these languages.

    PS: while writing, I was thinking of two more examples:
    功夫 (art, skill, technique) and Kungfu (better translated as 武术)
    We know that by extension 功夫 can mean fighting skill.

    白酒 (liquor, spirit, brandy) and white wine (白葡萄酒)
    白酒 (such as Scottish/Irish whisky, French cognac or Japanese sake) and white wine result from different processes, the degrees of alcohol are nowhere near to each other (30 to 60% for the former, 12 to 15% for the latter), thus the drinking situation is completely different (post meal or off the table for the former, during eating for the second)
  10. samanthalee

    samanthalee Senior Member

    Mandarin, English - [Singapore]
    I think, from the responses so far, you'll have concluded that Chinese native speakers have no concept of "false friends" and therefore, it is reasonable to deduce that there is no colloquial translation for "false friends". And "伪友" is mostly used in academic discussions.

    扑克 probably started out as 扑克牌 . But in your region, somewhere along the way, "牌" was dropped, hence creating a pair of false friends 扑克 and Poker. In Singapore, 扑克 still refers to Poker, while poker cards are still called 扑克牌; i.e this false friends pair doesn't exist in Singapore...yet.

    As for 广东 and Canton, I must admit this false friends pair got me; I always thought Canton refers to Guangdong. :p
  11. Staarkali

    Staarkali Senior Member

    thinking of the difference between Westerners calling Canton and 广东 reminds me beyond the words, concepts themselves may vary a lot from one country to another.

    For example, the concept of municipality is close to the one of city in Western languages (and the two words are often interchangeable with each other);

    therefore Chongqing being a municipality with an area of 82000km2 appears to be huge and impresses Western people: think that is bigger than the Benelux (3 countries together) or 海南 or even 宁夏 which are both provinces; not bad for a city!! :D

    Looking at both sides of the Silk Road is confusing sometimes, 伪友/false friend is probably not adequate when comparing Chinese and Western languages.
  12. falconskid007 Member

    the literal translation is 假朋友
    but it depends on the context, but if you want the exact translation (which is what I am assuming you do, 假朋友 is the right answer)
  13. Dragonseed Senior Member

    France - French
    I would tend to agree with Staarkali: "faux amis" often happens amongst European languages because we have many common roots (be it Latin, Greek, or germanic languages): a westerner should assume, when learning Chinese, that there are no "friends" at all in this new language, be them true or false!... :)

    Still, I remember being quite puzzled in my first year in Taiwan, when trying to get to know a little better that young lady I was working with: when I proposed a trip to the zoo on a Sunday (not a date, but getting close), she asked if she could bring 小朋友 (xiao peng you = kid(s)) with her... In French, "petit ami" (lit. "little friend") means boyfriend...
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2009
  14. Staarkali

    Staarkali Senior Member

    小朋友 is not a good example, although it's probably not a tough one, I never heard any Chinese calling kids "little friends" or any foreigners mistaking 小朋友 for anything but kids, at least after learning its meaning. For words like actually/actuellement in EN/FR, or Canton/广东 in EN/ZH, people still mistakes long after they know about the differences.

    I guess some faux amis are trickier that others.
  15. Staarkali

    Staarkali Senior Member

    sorry for quoting myself, but for some reason I just can't edit my post...
    小朋友 is a good example (sorry for the original typo, it was pretty clear in my head though ;) )
  16. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Bắc Kinh
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    Gonna revive this old thread. :p
    Wikipedia calls it 同形异义词

    I suppose that Starkaali has learnt Chinese in Shanghai. In my hometown we also say 扑克 (without 牌) for "playing cards". So maybe it's a common thing in Shanghai & Zhejiang. And I suppose the game he's talking is 双扣。:D
    While poker is called 沙蟹 (pronunciation: su ha) in my region. In other dialects (e.g. Cantonese) it's also found written 梭哈. It's a term derived from the English showhand, probably through Shanghainese (written 沙蟹) and Cantonese (written 梭哈).
    While in Standard Chinese it should be like what samantalee says, i.e. 扑克=poker, 扑克牌=cards.

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