What do you call a pair of words which specifically are either written our sounded out either the same or very similarly across two different languages and have different meanings (perhaps even different technologies) in such languages?


1 Answer 1


Generally (independently of different languages) you could use those terms:

  • A word with the same phonetic form (i.e. with the same pronounciation) and a different, completely unrelated meaning is called a homophone - such as bank (financial isntitute) and bank (river bank).
  • If they are spelled the same, they are called homographs - for example bow (weapon) and bow (to bend), which are spelled the same, but are different in meaning and in this example also in pronounciation.
  • Most of such pairs are both homphones and homographs, i.e. both pronounced and spelled the same - the degree of overlap depends on the writhing system and orthography.
    Sometimes, such pairs which have both the same phonetic and the same graphemic form are called homonyms, but often this term used synonymously to "homophones".
    Linguists usually prefer to speak of homonyms or homophones, as orthography is not really investing to linguistics in the more narrow sense.

I personally don't know about a special term for homophones or homographs across different languages as opposed to homonyms within one language, possibly there just is no offical terminological distinction for that.

Colloquially, a word that looks or sounds the same in a different language but has a completely different meaning is called a false friend (this was decided to be the most suitable answer in this related question), but this is not really a scientific term.

Additional information you may find helpful within this field of terminology:

  • If two words are etymologically unrelated, but have a similar form and meaning, they are called false cognates, but this is only for related meanings.
  • If two words have the same form and different, but clearly related meanings, they are called polysemes, e.g. parliament (institution) and parliament (building).
  • @Downvoter Could you please say what the problem about my post is? I wouldn't know what is wrong about my answer, and also I consider it relevant, as homonym is a general term that the OP might not know yet and that could be used to describe the relationship (language-independently), and the false friend I mentioned was decided to be the best answer in the post that jknappen linked (which I didn't see before, sorry). So I'd be happy to know why my answer wasn't helpful.
    – lemontree
    Jun 22, 2016 at 15:26
  • I didn't downvote this (I rarely do), but I thought it was rather unsatisfactory as less than a third of it (the sentences starting "However" and "Colloquially") addressed the question, and one of those two was saying the answerer didn't know.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 22, 2016 at 16:19
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    For the first, I like to add some more information for the OP to have a better overall understanding; for the second point, I'm always carfeul to formulate my answers in such a way that it gets clear this is only what I know and that there might be different opions/different know-how on that. But reading through my post again, I think I understand what you mean - I changed it a little. Thanks for the feedback.
    – lemontree
    Jun 22, 2016 at 17:22
  • Not me either, but I would say that the gratuitous information about homophones is a distraction. There are zillions of fun facts that are somewhat related to the question. We have no evidence that the OP is unaware of the term, and even if he doesn't know the terms, there is no justification for including that non-answer information.
    – user6726
    Jun 22, 2016 at 18:53
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    Wasn't OP exactly talking about homophones ("words which [...] are [...] sonded out either the same or very smillarly")? I would think that this is the most general term that one could use for what he/she means.
    – lemontree
    Jun 22, 2016 at 19:09

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