Some languages have homonyms which are semantically equivalent to homonyms in other languages.

A few examples of this phenomenon:

  • "Morgen" in German and "утре" in Bulgarian can mean either "tomorrow" or "morning"
  • "Schloss" in German and "замок" in Russian can mean either "lock" or "castle"
  • 2
    A startling example is that both "tell" (from Germanic) and "count" (from French) have meanings around both "number" and "narrate"; so also do their cognates in their respective language groups (German 'Zahl' vs 'erzählen'; French 'compter' vs 'conte') Also in unrelated languages such as Hebrew: סָפַר • ‎(safár) "to count" vs סֵפֶר • ‎(séfer) "book" really are cognates with each other.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 9, 2016 at 13:14

1 Answer 1


Homonyms originate in basically one of two ways. Either they have different origins, and sound the same simply by coincidence - either a sound change resulted in two previously distinct words sounding the same, or a foreign word was borrowed that happened to sound like an existing word - or else the two words began as variant meanings of the same word (also known as polysemy) that diverged enough that their original similarity was lost.

In the case that two languages share similar pairs of homonyms like the ones you mentioned, it is possible that the similarity is a complete coincidence, but very unlikely. It is more likely that they originate in polysemy. I can see two ways for this to happen:

  1. They originate independently, but with similar logic. For example, it is quite logical to connect "morning" and "tomorrow" - one might begin by saying "next morning", then abbreviating to just "morning", then broadening the meaning to the entire day. I'm not sure if "morgen" and "утре" originated independently, but it's very plausible.
  2. The connection originates in one language, then calqued into another language. Calquing occurs through exposure between two languages, when a phrase or compound is borrowed through literal translation. This appears to be the case for Schloss and замок. From Wiktionary

Borrowing from Polish zamek, which is a calque via Czech zámek of Middle High German sloz ‎(“lock, keep”), which, in turn, is a calque of Latin clūsa ‎(“lock, fort, fortification”). Attested from the 17th century. Related to замыкать ‎(zamykatʹ) (замкнуть ‎(zamknut))

  • The Wikipedia's explanation of "calque" is amusing because "calque", a loanword, is a loanword by itself. In Czech, we have a very high number of loanwords, indeed, especially from German. Apr 13, 2016 at 14:26
  • It is indeed very plausible that "morgen" and "утре" originated independently. This phenomenon of deriving "tomorrow" from "morning" occured in: English (yes, "morrow" means "morning"), Japanese (あす asu vs あさ asa), ...
    – Kenny Lau
    Apr 16, 2016 at 13:32
  • Meanwhile, the phenomenon of deriving "tomorrow" from "brightness" (possibly referring to dawn) occured in: Chinese (tomorrow 明天 is literally bright+day), Latin (cras derived from a root meaning to lighten), ...
    – Kenny Lau
    Apr 16, 2016 at 13:34

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