Cooperative and collaborative



Is there a difference between these two lexical items - "cooperative" and "collaborative" - in English? Many authors use the terms indistinctly, especially educators.

When I checked the American Heritage Dictionary, I found a negative connotation given to "cooperative" when given as a synonym for "collaborative." It reads:

To cooperate treasonably, as with an enemy occupation force in one's country.

Posted 18 September 2002
I think the question is about the verbs cooperate and
collaborate, and about the negative connotations of
collaborate. The American Heritage Dictionary (Hougnton Mifflin, 1992, p. 371), gives the first meaning of collaborate as "To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort." The second meaning given is "To cooperate treasonably, as with an enemy occupation force."

This second meaning is very restricted in use. It gained
wide currency during the World War II, when certain
nationals of occupied countries worked with the occupying
forces to further the ends of the enemy. This second
meaning is found more often in the nouns collaborator (e.g., "Did you know that he was a Nazi collaborator during the war?") and collaborationist. Collaborationist has as its sole meaning "One that collaborates with an enemy occupation force." The verb collaborate, on the other hand, is used widely to mean "work together in a joint intellectual task" (American Heritage Dictionary).

Even though the two verbs cooperate and collaborate are
sometimes used interchangeably or indiscriminately, there is a distinction between them. Cooperate means "to act together toward a common end or purpose" (American Heritage Dictionary). Cooperating does not have to involve any kind of task. One cooperates by following instructions willingly, acting in the best interests of others in a group, sharing responsibilities, etc.

Collaborate (in its major meaning), with its root labor, always involves some kind of task or effort. Once the context of "shared effort or task" is established, the noun collaborator can be used with no negative connotation. The Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1971) defines collaborator as "One who works in conjunction with others; esp. in literary, artistic, or scientific work." The OED, completed in 1933, contains no mention of any other meaning.

Marilyn Martin

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