For example, Spanish corteza and French écorce (bark) both ultimately come from PIE *(s)ker- but they have different Latin roots (cortex and scortea). Does that stop them from being cognate?

  • 3
    They would always have new roots in a new language; but if they're from the same ultimate root, they're cognate. It means 'born together', from Latin co-g(e)n-atus; this from PIE *genə-.
    – jlawler
    Jun 1, 2020 at 20:03

2 Answers 2


Cognate doesn't have a single meaning and is sometimes used more strictly, and sometimes used more loosely

Sensu stricto, cognate means that two forms descend from identical forms in an earlier language. For instance, English "ship" and German "Schiff" both come from the same proto-Germanic word: *skipą "ship"

In a looser sense, two words may be considered cognate if they have the same root, but with different affixes (if any). When speaking with strict accuracy, such words are said to be "akin to" each other rather than "cognate with"

The example you give of corteza < cortex and écorce < escortea fits with the latter sense, but not the former. If speaking somewhat loosely, they're cognate, but if speaking more strictly, I'd say that corteza was akin to écorce

  • The example fits the former sense; there is a common origin in PIE. Also, do you have references for your second interpretation?
    – Keelan
    Jun 2, 2020 at 5:13
  • it doesn't fit the former sense. Both go back to the same PIE root, but with different suffixes (if the words are even reconstructable that far back). Cortex would need a form like **(s)kor-t-i-k-s whilst scortea would need a form like **(s)kor-t-i-eh2. As they have different suffixes they are not cognate in the strict sense of the word
    – Tristan
    Jun 2, 2020 at 9:13
  • I'm afraid I don't have a good reference to hand, but for a second-hand one see: english.stackexchange.com/questions/1404/…. I'll try to take a look at Crystal to see if I can get a better reference later today
    – Tristan
    Jun 2, 2020 at 9:15
  • correction, escortea < **(s)kor-t-e-y-eh2, cortex probably < **(s)kor-t-e-k-s
    – Tristan
    Jun 2, 2020 at 12:37
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    This is correct. The definition of "unbroken descent" requires a direct lineage. If there is any level of indirection, then sensu strictu the words are not cognate but, trivially speaking, clones, step-sisters, cousins (Derived), in-laws (loaned), you name it, but not old brothers (inherited). Yet the metaphor fails, if brothers never have identical DNA, except for twins. It is however unreasonable insofar sound change cannot be reasonably deemed a breaking change or not, as long as it's arbitrary by definition, not by evidence. I think I first saw our Mr. Bahs-Jacquet bring up such a notion.
    – vectory
    Jun 6, 2020 at 14:43

These words are cognate. Two words are cognate if they share an etymological origin.

  • This is a tautology. You might as well say "... share an original origin", or just "an origin". We are looking for qualified answers, not for an explanation of lay-man terms. For example, Insufficient and untennable share an etymological origin, too. I believe there is no solid answer to the question, no reason to worry.
    – vectory
    Jun 6, 2020 at 14:55
  • What's worse, saying that cognate and recognize are not cognate, just because we can't derive the roots *genH- and *gneH- any further. This implies that not the objective etymology but the subjective perception counts. More over, stuff like convergence through phono semantic matching is regularly not covered by the term, even if words are directly transcended from a common intermediate, thereby sharing an origin (pool, carpool, and cesspool being a neat example)
    – vectory
    Jun 6, 2020 at 15:02
  • @vectory "share an origin" could mean that we would include, say, prepositions deriving from body parts in totally unrelated languages. "share an etymology" would suggest that the entire derivation is the same (which cannot be, because the words are not the same). I believe both "etymological" and "origin" contribute meaning, but if you have an alternative suggestion I would be interested to hear it.
    – Keelan
    Jun 6, 2020 at 20:16
  • I believe I adressed that sufficiently in my second comment. You are shifting the goal post, or advancing the question--depends on perspective.
    – vectory
    Jun 7, 2020 at 12:36
  • For this question specifically, the difficulty is in the uncertainty of the reconstruction, especially with the so far unexplained s-mobile. cortus could well be from *k'er- "horn" instead (cp. cornea, Ger. Hornhaut) or akin to scrotum, if the similarity were due to analogic leveling. As I pointed out, it is often quite subjective and arbitrary how such uncertainty be treated, whether this should count as etymologic or not.
    – vectory
    Jun 7, 2020 at 12:44

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