Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Danger of False Cognates

You probably have heard that the Spanish word "embarazada" does not mean "embarrassed," but "pregnant." This is an example of what is known as a false cognate. A true cognate would be, for example, "el grupo" which means "group." While we're in the process of learning to speak or write another language, cognates are helpful for us when we get stuck and have to guess a word. We should still make those sorts of educated guesses, but be aware that there are a few words that sound like one thing in English and mean another.

We're not the only ones with that dilemma. Spanish speakers have the same difficulty when they try to use English. The hand soap in the picture is a perfect example. The Spanish word "sanidad" does not mean "sanity" but "health," but the company in question must have been confused, or assumed that the consumer wouldn't care, when they named this hand soap "Sanity Plus." I milked this for all it was worth and would ask if using this soap would help me keep my sanity. For the record, "sanity" would be loosely translated into Spanish as "salud mental," or mental health.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The View from the "Piedra Capira" in Colombia (2009)

Two weeks ago I took a trip to the town of Guaduas, about a 3-hour drive from Bogotá (4 hours on the slow-moving buses). One of the highlights of the region is the point called the Piedra Capira, which is a rock with a cross perched on it, that hangs over the edge of the hill, showing the full view of the Magdalena River. (The Magdalena is the Colombian equivalent of the Mississippi and runs nearly the full length of the country, flowing northward before it empties out into the Caribbean Sea.) To get to the Piedra Capira, one leaves Guaduas on the route toward the town of Honda, drives for about 15 minutes, and makes a left at the sign. The rest of the way is through a narrow gravel and dirt road, and at some point the car has to be parked and one has to go on foot until reaching the rock. I was especially surprised that this attraction did not appear in any guidebook, just in a pamphlet issued in the town of Guaduas.

On a clear morning the volcanoes Nevado del Tolima (left) and the Nevado del Ruiz (far right) are visible. There are two smaller peaks, barely visible in between these, called the Nevado del Quindío and the Nevado de Santa Isabel. I added new photos from this last trip to Colombia at the webpage for Cundinamarca, the name of the province that surrounds Bogotá.