According to Google (I'm not sure which dictionary source they use) the meaning of synonym is:

a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word or phrase in the same language, for example shut is a synonym of close.

I want to know if there is a similar word to describe when two words or phrases from different languages are used to refer to the same thing or idea.

The word cognate almost suffices except, Wikipedia says this about the word:

In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin.


Cognates do not need to have the same meaning, which may have changed as the languages developed separately.

So what word would I use when trying to explain that I have several words from different languages that have the same (synonymous) meaning, but they might have different origins. English and Chinese words for the same concept for example, most certainly will not be cognates.

Here is an example sentence where I might use the word I seek:

Chinese "饥饿" and Arabic "جوع" are ______ for the English word "hunger".

The word "translations" would actually work here, but I am looking for a more linguistic term for the actual concept that these words refer to and that links them together.

  • BTW, I am a native English speaker and do not know if there is a word for this other than "cognate" which seems to be erroneously used.
    – Octopus
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 20:38
  • "Analogous to"?
    – glytching
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 20:42
  • Comparable to, or equivalent in meaning to.
    – Davo
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 20:49
  • The question isn't about English? Really? It might sound multilingual in nature, but the word I seek is in English.
    – Octopus
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 20:56
  • 2
    "饥饿" is the Chinese word for hunger, and "جوع" is the Arabic word. Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 23:24

4 Answers 4


How about an equivalent? For example, there's the French term talkie-walkie and the English term walkie-talkie, which are different, but which describe exactly the same thing.

The linguistic purists at Canada's Office de la lange francaise recommend the use of an equivalent, which, when you drop the acute accent on the first e, is the same as its English equivalent: equivalent.

  • I think this would be understood well. It would be the plural "equivalents" and I believe "equivalents to" (not for).
    – Tom22
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 1:34
  • +1 Here's an example of an expert in 2nd language acquisition using equivalent for this, including explaining why she prefers it to synonym: books.google.com/…
    – 1006a
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 3:20
  • How has this gotten so many upvotes? That wikipedia article does not at all imply that the word equivalent is used to mean what I am asking. It merely suggests a number of equivalent phrases exist for Talkie-Walkie. Also, the word you suggest is French, and not really relevant to my English question. I can see how the word equivalent might be a somewhat reasonable answer, but not for the reasons stated here.
    – Octopus
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 7:08

Chinese "饥饿" and Arabic "جوع" are translations [The product or end result of an act of translating] for the English word "hunger".


Metaphrase [met-uh-freyz] /noun

  1. a literal translation.

Metaphrase is a functional terminology within "translation theory" which may better describe the precise relationship the OP is discussing.

the Chinese word "饥饿" and the Arabic word "جوع" are metaphrases for the English word "hunger".

  • I am not a linguist, so I am not sure if this refers to conceptual words that are analogous (like hunger), or strictly literal terms (like bird or tree). Perhaps some who knows definitively can comment or update. Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 21:05

False cognates or phono-semantic matching may be the answer you're seeking. I hope this helps you.

False cognates are described by Wikipedia as, "pairs of words that seem to be cognates because of similar sounds and meaning, but have different etymologies; they can be within the same language or from different languages. For example, the English word dog and the Mbabaram word dog have the exact same meaning, but by complete coincidence. This is different from false friends, which are similar-sounding words with different meanings, but which may in fact be etymologically related. (For example: Spanish dependiente looks like dependent, but means employee as well.)

Even though false cognates lack a common root, there may still be an indirect connection between them (for example by phono-semantic matching or folk etymology).[1]"

In association with false cognates, Wikipedia describes Phono-semantic matching as, "camouflaged borrowing in which a foreign word is matched with a phonetically and semantically similar pre-existent native word or root.

It may alternatively be defined as the entry of a multisourced neologism that preserves both the meaning and the approximate sound of the parallel expression in the source language, using pre-existent words or roots of the target language.

Phono-semantic matching is distinct from calquing. While calquing includes (semantic) translation, it does not consist of phonetic matching (i.e. retaining the approximate sound of the borrowed word through matching it with a similar-sounding pre-existent word or morpheme in the target language). Phono-semantic matching is also distinct from homophonic translation, which retains only the sound, and not the semantics. [2]"



  • 4
    Thanks for the answer, but this doesn't seem appropriate. They don't necessarily have to sound alike. I have no idea how those Chinese and Arabic words sound--likely not like hunger.
    – Octopus
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 3:48
  • Perhaps calquing "which is distinct from Phono-semantic matching. Calquing includes semantic translation, it does not consist of phonetic matching (i.e. retaining the approximate sound of the borrowed word through matching it with a similar-sounding pre-existing word or morpheme in the target language). [1]" [1] en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calque?wprov=sfla1 Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 3:55

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