Студент, студентка

by Don  

The Russian words студент and студентка are false cognates... sort of. A false cognate is a word in one language that sounds similar to a word in another language but does not share the same meaning. For instance, the English word ‘embarrassed’ is a false cognate with the Spanish word ‘embarazada’, which actually means pregnant. (The latter brings up all sorts of amusing errors when a gringa says “Estoy embarazada” meaning to say “I am embarrassed” but ends up stating “I am pregnant.” Alas, cross-cultural communication is full of such errors, and most of them are much more subtle than that one.)

Anyhoo, the word for “male college student” declines like this:


and the word for “female college student” declines like this:


A college student is not the same as a high school student, so you can't use these words to talk about kids in grade school or high school. Here are some sample sentences.

— Ты студент?
— Нет, я ещё хожу в школу.
“Are you a college student?”
“No, I'm still in high school.”
— Ты студентка?
— Да, студентка. Учусь в Московском государственном университете.
“Are you a college student?”
“Yes, I am. I attend Moscow State University.”
— Сколько студентов учится в Университете штата Аризона?¹
— Там учится почти семьдесят тысяч студентов.
“How many students attend Arizona State University?”
“Almost seventy thousand students go there.”
Как летит время! Через год моя дочка будет студенткой. How time flies! A year from now my daughter will be a college student.

¹ For many years Arizona State University has been called in Russian Аризонский государственный университет “Arizona Federal University.” This is an old error in translation. The “state” in ASU does not mean the nation state of the USA (государство), but rather the State (штат) of Arizona.


Comment from: Simo Vihinen [Visitor]

The last example, presented on a yellow background, is missing a word at the end.

Don responds: Thanks! I’ve corrected the error.

10/22/12 @ 19:16
Comment from: Bobcat [Visitor]

Russian makes more distinctions here than English in normal American usage does…

Ученик/ученица: primary/secondary school students, appx ages 6-17. “Pupil” is a close translation, however awkward it sounds in American English.

Студент/студентка: college students.

Аспирант/аспирантка: grad students.

I wouldn’t call “student” and студент cognates, though–that word is usually reserved for words that come from the same reconstructed word in a proto-language, which does not apply here, since both English and Russian borrowed the words from Latin… Possibly a better term would be “false friends".

Don responds: The word ‘cognate’ is used two different ways in the States. The first way is the way you mention, and professional linguists use it that way. The other way is in foreign language classrooms, where it is often used more loosely to mean ‘words which sound the same in two languages and have similar meanings.’ The phrase ‘false cognates’ is very common in foreign language classrooms and is based on the second meaning.

06/30/12 @ 13:08
Comment from: Karina [Visitor]

Старшеклассник/старшеклассница- this word you can use for a hidh scool student.

04/15/12 @ 05:06
Comment from: Richard [Visitor]

So is there a specific word for a student who is not yet in university? Also, is there a Russian equivalent to “high school” in the Canadian/American sense? “Gymnasium” maybe?

Don responds: There is a word for someone who has applied but not yet been admitted to to a university, which is абитуриент and абитуриентка. There is no straight-forward equivalent to high school.

02/29/12 @ 15:34

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