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Earth China Communications

Why the World Only Has Two Words For Tea (qz.com) 227

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: With a few minor exceptions, there are really only two ways to say "tea" in the world. One is like the English term -- te in Spanish and tee in Afrikaans are two examples. The other is some variation of cha, like chay in Hindi. Both versions come from China. How they spread around the world offers a clear picture of how globalization worked before "globalization" was a term anybody used. The words that sound like "cha" spread across land, along the Silk Road. The "tea"-like phrasings spread over water, by Dutch traders bringing the novel leaves back to Europe.

The term cha is "Sinitic," meaning it is common to many varieties of Chinese. It began in China and made its way through central Asia, eventually becoming "chay" in Persian. That is no doubt due to the trade routes of the Silk Road, along which, according to a recent discovery, tea was traded over 2,000 years ago. This form spread beyond Persia, becoming chay in Urdu, shay in Arabic, and chay in Russian, among others. It even it made its way to sub-Saharan Africa, where it became chai in Swahili. The Japanese and Korean terms for tea are also based on the Chinese cha, though those languages likely adopted the word even before its westward spread into Persian. But that doesn't account for "tea." The te form used in coastal-Chinese languages spread to Europe via the Dutch, who became the primary traders of tea between Europe and Asia in the 17th century, as explained in the World Atlas of Language Structures. The main Dutch ports in east Asia were in Fujian and Taiwan, both places where people used the te pronunciation. The Dutch East India Company's expansive tea importation into Europe gave us the French the, the German Tee, and the English tea.

Why the World Only Has Two Words For Tea

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  • Polish... (Score:5, Informative)

    by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @10:51PM (#55919965)
    Polish language is an interesting exception -- "herbata" = "tea".
    • by GNious ( 953874 )

      Yeah, I've traveled half the planet, and know several different words for Tea (incl Herbata) not based on Cha/Tea

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Sssh, this is a promotion for a qz.com blog entry. qz.com, like wordpress.com and blogspot.com and forbes.com, is a blogging platform and people need clicks for their pieces. This obvious non-geek article is being promoted, so let's everyone pretend to go along with the premise of the article and discuss it.
      • I was about to post the same idea

      • The word that is the same in the most languages is "amen". It has basically the same pronunciation and meaning in all Indo-European languages, all Semitic languages, all Sinic languages, and nearly every other language as well.

        I was told this by a Unitarian.

        • Sure, but Ramen is a relatively recent word so that doesn't count. Like banana, or radio.

        • Actually, the one word that is common to every language is “football.”

        • Actually, the words most similar across all the language in the world are those for "mother" and "father", and for a good reason. Most use the sounds M and P, which are among the easiest for a baby to learn, and of course parents want to be the first word their baby says.
          • by nasch ( 598556 )

            Actually, the words most similar across all the language in the world are those for "mother" and "father", and for a good reason. Most use the sounds M and P, which are among the easiest for a baby to learn

            Where is the P in "father"? And in English (IME anyway) babies learn to call their parents "ma" and "da" or ("mama", "mommy", "dada", "daddy"). I think you're right about learning - I understand "da" is often among the first sounds a baby makes - but that doesn't explain "father".

            • P and F are similar sounds. I guess many americans call her dad not dad but pa, or at least grandpa, is called grandpa ...

              Father is obviously the "more formal name" of a male parent. The informal is Pa, Papa etc. Same with "Mum", "Mom" and "Mother".

              • by nasch ( 598556 )

                I guess many americans call her dad not dad but pa, or at least grandpa, is called grandpa ...

                Grandpa is very common, but Dad and Daddy are much more common than Pa or Papa, barring regional variations.

        • Americans can not even pronounce "amen" correctly.
          Amen is greek, and does not exist in any other language.

    • Re:Polish... (Score:5, Informative)

      by KiloByte ( 825081 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @11:09PM (#55920035)

      According to the article, there are 37 exceptions out of 230 languages. Tea, with its two principal words, is actually above the average compared to a typical word for something that was unknown to the world at large until early modern times.

      You can look this up by picking a word, going to its Wikipedia article, and hovering the mouse over the list of translations.

      Let's take for example "aluminium". While variations are bigger than merely correct -nium vs US -num, it's obvious that all languages other than Buryat/Mongol, Czech/Polish/Slovak, nv, Kurdish, Malagasy, Runa Simi, za and possibly some scripts I can't read (not Latin/Cyrillic/Greek) come from a single root.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        If there are 37 exceptions then that means there are not only two words for tea.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          How many different words are there for 'pedantic'?
      • 37 exceptions out of 230 is hardly "a few minor exceptions".
        • 37 exceptions out of 230 is hardly "a few minor exceptions".

          The question is what percentage of the world's population calls it something else.

      • by Xenx ( 2211586 )
        While I'll agree that aluminium is the standardized spelling, that doesn't make it the correct spelling. That makes it the standardized spelling. The word started as alumium, then aluminum, and then settled on aluminium. Following progression, aluminium has the least standing for being correct. It just became the most preferred.
        • Re:Polish... (Score:4, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 13, 2018 @03:56AM (#55920699)

          According to the Dutch "Etymologisch Woordenboek van het Nederlands" the name aluminium was coined by the British chemist Sir Humphry Davy, who first identified the element, in 1808: "I should have proposed for them the names silicium, aluminium, zirconium and glucium" (Phil. Transactions XCVIII, 353). In 1812 Davy himself changed the name to aluminum. That became popular in the US while the rest of the world settled on aluminium because it corresponds better to the Latin form as used for other elements, such as magnesium. Apparently aluminium was the original form of the word.

          Source [etymologiebank.nl]

          • And yet it was not, because as you note, aluminium was popularized by the discoverer. If the person who dubbed milk, meluks (Proto-Germanic) first considered malkus, that doesn't make malkus the original term if that's not what they used in practice.

            The rationale for changing aluminum is rather silly as well, since there are other elements that were not bastardized after the fact: tantalum, lanthanum, platinum.

      • What's the point of the dots, if there is not even mouseover? Do I have to guess that exceptions in the European midst are POrtuguese and Basque?

        • In Portuguese the word is "chÃ", pronounced as an English speaker would read aloud "sha". Don't know Catalan, but the dot is pink, indicating that in that the word is also some variation of "cha".

          • Slashdot is old enough to drink, but can't handle UTF-8. The word "cha" above should be with an acute diacritic over the a.

            • by Megane ( 129182 )
              Although Slashdot will often elide them as well, if you use the HTML entities, you at least avoid the chance of a broken UTF-8 vs Latin-1 encoding: á = á (don't forget the trailing semicolon)
      • Click on them (for example, https://bh.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]), copy paste the title to Google Translate, it will give you transliteration of the sound and it also has an audio button to hear it.

      • It's much better. Quartz should die.

        http://wals.info/feature/138A#... [wals.info]

      • See:

        https://eu.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        The source for WALS map's designation is Malherbe, Michael and Rosenberg, S. 1996. _Les langages de l'humanité: une encyclopédie des 3000 langues parlées dans le monde_, page 605

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        According to the article, there are 37 exceptions out of 230 languages. Tea, with its two principal words, is actually above the average compared to a typical word for something that was unknown to the world at large until early modern times.

        Well, tea was considerably earlier. Quoting a few Wiki snippets: "As prices continued to drop, tea became increasingly popular, and by 1750 had become the British national drink." vs "Prices of aluminium dropped, and aluminium had become widely used in jewelry, many everyday items, eyeglass frames, and optical instruments by the early 1890s." so it's early 18th century vs late 19th century. Late 19th century would be around the time you started having rapid long-distance communication via telegraph and tele

    • When I was in Poland, everyone called it chai(?). Google translate has it as herbata. I wonder if it's a mashup of herbal tea.
    • by nadaou ( 535365 ) on Saturday January 13, 2018 @04:49AM (#55920805) Homepage

      Polish language is an interesting exception -- "herbata" = "tea".

      And of course "atabreh" in reverse Polish.

    • But herbata refers to herbs, so it's not specifically tied to the tea plant. It's like saying infusion as short for infusion of tea leaves.

    • Re:Polish... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SPopulisQR ( 4972769 ) on Saturday January 13, 2018 @06:31AM (#55921009)
      Polish language is not exception but merely another iteration in evolution. Polish "Herbata" is derived from latin "Herba thea", which means plant tea in which "thea" is latin version "chay". Entire word was shortened to Herbata.
  • Wiktionary's etymology says both forms are derived from the same root in a proto-language. I.e., they're cognates.

  • by rnbc ( 174939 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @11:28PM (#55920097) Homepage

    In Portuguese the word is "chá" and originated in Macau. That does not match the article theory: it came through sea trade, at least in that case.

    • by crunchygranola ( 1954152 ) on Friday January 12, 2018 @11:59PM (#55920187)

      DId you read the article? It discusses this interesting anomaly.

      Yet the Dutch were not the first to Asia. That honor belongs to the Portuguese, who are responsible for the island of Taiwan’s colonial European name, Formosa. And the Portuguese traded not through Fujian but Macao, where chá is used. That’s why, on the map above, Portugal is a pink dot in a sea of blue.

    • In Portuguese the word is "chá" and originated in Macau.

      The Portuguese trading empire was a tiny fraction of what the Dutch accomplished. The Dutch fleet was estimated to be larger than all other traders in Europe combined and it was the Dutch that introduced tea to most of Europe.

      That does not match the article theory: it came through sea trade, at least in that case.

      The article specifically talks about it.

  • 'OK' is known around the world and means the same. It's often associated with affirmative sign language. I haven't the energy to spend on research but I assume someone here has. So speak up- tell us what it stands for, tell us why, tell us origins, tell us how it spread. Use a scholarly analysis to get your mod points up to 3 so I'll see your post.

    Other than that 'Coca Cola' is one of the best known words worldwide. I've seen it on a billboard deep in a Philippine jungle where it was used as the wall of a h

    • In an SF novel, by John Brunner (probably "Stand on Sansibar") the author explains that OK comes from an African dialect spoken in Senegal. And the word in that dialect is "wokai" which means "all is fine" or "all is good" or "for sale" or "you can have". It came to Europe by dutch traders.

      However I never checked this ... after all SF stories are truth, or not?

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Saturday January 13, 2018 @12:38AM (#55920311) Journal

    Back in German class in the early '70s, my instructor made this claim for "telephone":

    In every other language in the world, it was called "telephone" - inheriting the sound from the American English word for the American invention and and (if necessary) distorting the pronunciation slightly to use the closest phonemes.

    But German, with its standard of buildAWordByRunningTogetherADescriptivePhrase, called it a "fernsprecher" (far-speaker).

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      Which in Finnish is "puhelin". So if you see the word "Puh" and a number written somewhere it's most likely Finnish. In Icelandic it's "Sími".

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 13, 2018 @01:57AM (#55920475)

      your teacher must have learned German before the Second World War. The young probably wouldn't even know what a `Fernsprecher` is. They'd assume that's a person doing something. And older Germans would be slightly amused by someone using this ancient term. It's a `Telefon` in proper German.

      But the term for mobile phone is peculiar, here you're exactly right, the official word is `Mobiltelefon` (so a mobile phone), but basically everyone calls it a `Handy`, which is an artificial word derived from bullshitized English. Actually, you'll encounter a lot of Germans who'll ask you for your handy number, referring to your cell.

      • The fact that the word has changed in areas of Germany is true. I first started learning German in the mid 80's however, and the texts still used Fehrensprecher at that time. Probably because it was the US, and middle school.

        • Well,
          I'm born 1966, the word I grew up with was "Telephon" (note the ph, it is now reformed to an f).
          However my grand aunt used "Fernsprecher".
          I don't recall others using that word (but probably my fathers mother did, too)

      • by Carewolf ( 581105 ) on Saturday January 13, 2018 @02:49PM (#55922711) Homepage

        your teacher must have learned German before the Second World War. The young probably wouldn't even know what a `Fernsprecher` is. They'd assume that's a person doing something. And older Germans would be slightly amused by someone using this ancient term. It's a `Telefon` in proper German.

        But the term for mobile phone is peculiar, here you're exactly right, the official word is `Mobiltelefon` (so a mobile phone), but basically everyone calls it a `Handy`, which is an artificial word derived from bullshitized English. Actually, you'll encounter a lot of Germans who'll ask you for your handy number, referring to your cell.

        Funnier is table football, which in American English is known as Fussball from bullshitized German, and in German is known as Kicker from bullshitized English.

  • Down south they also call it supper...

    (You probably have to be English to get that)

  • /r/TodayILearned ?
  • I actually found that interesting. Surprises me too.
  • Only 2 words?? (Score:2, Informative)

    Zulu: itiye
    Lithuanian: arbata
    Samoan: lauti
    Malagasy: dite
    Polish: herbata
    Maltese: corto
    • Zulu: itiye Lithuanian: arbata Samoan: lauti Malagasy: dite Polish: herbata Maltese: corto

      I am guessing that you plugged "tea" into Google Translate and looked it up in all the languages (since I found all of these languages on Google Translate when I went to check).

      It is evident that Lithuanian and Polish are the same word -- the equivalent of "herb" (from the Latin herba).

    • by jblues ( 1703158 )

      Malagasy is an interesting language for me. It is Austronesian, from the same family as Malaysian, Indonesian, Filipino, and made its way all the way to Madagascar, off the East coast of Africa.

      Speaking of which, I just looked up the Filipino (Tagalog) word for tea, and it is 'tsaa', sounds like Cha . . and the Philippines is a sea-faring (not silk road) nation - the Manila galleons would trade spices between Manila or Cebu and Acupulco, Mexico. So we have yet another exception to the generalisation.

      • It's pronounced tsaa in Cantonese and Hokkien, both of which are spoken on China's south-east coast. There are plenty of examples in many language families showing how the sounds ch, ts, and t(y)/d(y) can morph into one another over a few centuries.

      • Keep in mind that modern "Tagalog" is an artificial language. Formed after WW2 in language contests to determine what the official language of the Philippines should be. It is basically an amalgam of the 2 or 3 most common Tagalog dialects.

        • by jblues ( 1703158 )

          I would not call it an artificial language. Like all languages it is evolving. The Philippines is a young and newly industrialised nation of approximately 7200 islands. There are many clans and ethnic groups, that, until fairly did not see themselves as part of a nation, but traded regularly with their neighbours. This allowed many separate languages and dialects to evolve, however they were nearly all part of the Austronesian family of languages, sharing grammatical structure and vocabulary. An exception i

    • Zulu: itiye Lithuanian: arbata Samoan: lauti Malagasy: dite Polish: herbata Maltese: corto

      Five of those end in t+vowel. The other has t+diphthong.

    • Maltese: corto

      Man, that was a great comic. [cortomaltese.com]

    • Thanks for compiling that list, but I'm not convinced that those are counterexamples at all.

      Let's start with the obvious one. The Maltese for tea is "tè". Corto Maltese [wikipedia.org] is a fictional sailor. Presumably you were trying to catch people out, right?

      "Arbata" and "herbata" come from the Dutch "herba thee", which in turn comes from "te". Some say it comes from Latin, but Wikipedia disagrees (and Latin wasn't widely-spoken in the 16th century when tea was introduced to Europe, so I'll side with Wikipedia on t

  • I thought this was obvious....it's because of the song... Tea for Two and Two for Tea...la la la...

  • Interestingly, Greece, being near the border between "chai" and "te" regions from the eastern and western influxes uses an amalgamation of the two words that sounds close to "tsai".

    • To me, "tsai" sounds like the Russian version of "cha". In Finland, the mainstream word is "tee" but some Eastern dialects use something like "tsaju" via Russian influences.
  • ...and that explains why "a cup of char" is a way of referencing a cup of tea. I always thought it was odd slang, now I know it's actually distorted Chinese.

    http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/... [rmg.co.uk] has more (Royal Museums Greenwich).

  • "It is a curious fact, and one to which no-one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85 percent of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonyx, or gee-N'N-T'N-ix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand variations on this phonetic theme. The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian ‘chinanto/mnigs’ which is ordinary water served just above room temperature, and the Gagrakack
  • "After a fairly shaky start to the day, Arthur's mind was beginning to reassemble itself from the shell-shocked fragments the previous day had left him with.

    He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

    The way it functioned was very interesting. When the Drink button was pressed it made an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject's taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject's metab

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