LINGUIST List 7.174
Sun Feb 4 1996
Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <dseelyemunix.emich.edu>
Theriault Alain, Turkey
Message 1: Turkey
Date: Sat, 03 Feb 1996 21:16:17 EST
From: Theriault Alain <theriaalERE.UMontreal.CA>
This is the sum up of my turkey question. I do not intend to draw any
conclusion (It is out of my field) but it seems to be amusing. It seems,
however, that I was mistaken about the Egyptian Vs Greek translation of
I would like, first, to thank the following persons for their answers.
Alexandra Aikhenvald, Alice Faber, Andrew R Linn, Baum Jonathan , Bilge
K. Say, Bill Turkel, Bridget M. Canniff, Caroline Wiltshire, Cem
Bozsahin, Cohen Dana, Dan I. Slobin, Dan Moonhawk Alford, Daniel Baum,
David Lidsky, Deborah D K Ruuskanen, Donald T. Davis, E Wayles Browne,
Eirik Hektoen, elisabeth.seitzuni-tuebingen.de, Eul`alia De Bobes I
Soler , Falk Yehuda , Frances Karttunen, Fred Baube, Gary H. Toops, Geoff
Smith, Gomez Lopez Ricardo, Hannele Dufva, Hartmut Haberland, Hitay
Yukseker, Jon Aske, Joseph Davis, jpkirchneraol.com, Karen S. Chung,
Karen Stanley, Karl Teeter, Keller Rabenda Martin Robert, Kevin Tsai,
Lora G. Lunt , Louis de Saussure, Manuel Sifre, Marcia Haag, Markus
Nussbaumer, Mikko Lounela, Muriel Norde,
musab.hayatlisomerville.oxford.ac.uk, Randy Hudson , Richard Sproat,
Ruth Loew, Saeed Menasan, Sarah Fairchild Sherry, Szymon Grzelak, Terry
Regier, Thomas Becker, Thomas F. Shannon, Timo Honkela, Zarautz Gipuzkoa.
So the bird seems to be related to INDIA for the following languages:
Just for the record, in standard Arabic (MSA) turkey is diiq hindi, or
Indian rooster. And Benjamin Franklin thought that the U.S. should have
claimed the turkey as our state bird instead of the eagle! Indigenous
and more intelligent than the eagle.
In Azari, a language spoken by 13-15 million Iranians and many more
around the region, turkey is 'hindishga', that's something related to
In Basque a turkey is "indioilar" or "indioilo" ("India rooster" india +
oilar 'rooster' and "India hen" india + oilo 'hen').
In Catalan it is "gall dindi". The translation may be, more or less,
"cock from India"
In Hebrew it is called a "tarnegol hodu" or "Indian rooster"
In Polish it is indyk, or more specifically indor 'male turkey', indyczka
'female turkey' from the name 'India'.
In Russian the turkey is called _indjuk_ (male), _indjushka/indejka_
(female). As food, the turkey is referred to by the term _indjushka_. In
sum, it's the "bird of India," as in French.
Russian has "ind'ejka" (sg.fem.n.) for "turkey," which is related to the
word for "Indian." It's interesting to note, however, that seems to
derive from "ind'ejec"/"ind'ejskij" which mean "Indian
(sg.masc.n.)"/"Indian (sg.masc.adj.)" as in Native American, as opposed
to "ind'ijec"/"ind'ijskij" "Indian (sg.masc.n)"/"Indian (sg.masc.adj)" as
pertaining to the people of India.
(Note: in the above transcriptions, c = ts, and ' indicates
palatalization or softness. All five Russian words have stress on the
Turkey in Turkish is 'Hindi'. My etymology book says that it is named
after Hindistan, the Turkish name for India. Hindistan is usually
shortened to Hind. so it's Hindistan->Hind->Hindi. It also mentions that
we got the bird from India, after having exported to East Asia from
America. the source is:Turk Dilinin Etimoloji Sozlugu [The etymology of
the Turkish LAnguage], I.Z. Eyuboglu, Sosyal Yayinlari (publisher),
Istanbul, 1991, 2nd edition.
In Yiddish "turkey" is called "indik". The Yiddish word for Indian (the
adjective) is "indish". The suffix -ik in Yiddish words usually indicates
a slavic origin and thus the source of "indik" in Yiddish is presumably
In Danish, Dutch, Finnish and Norwegian, it is associated with a town
from the Malabar coast (southern India):
The Danish word is kalkun (stressed on second syllable) which is similar
to Dutch kalkoen. The source seems to be an adjective kalkunsk, borrowed
from Dutch kalkoensk, which means 'from Kalikut (on the Malabar coast)'.
As the Danish etymologicl dictionary remarks, 'clearly a mix-up between
the West and the East Indies'. (This is, actually, much more precise than
just 'somebody else's bird', since the bird seems to have come from
Mexico via the West Indies.)
The Dutch word for turkey is "kalkoen", deriving from the town "Calicut"
(now Kozhikode) on the coast of India. Originally, the bird was called
"kalkoense haan", that is, rooster from Calicut.
Turkey, in Finnish, is kalkkuna. This is a IE loan-word, related to
modern Swedish kalkon, which derives from some earlier form of low
German (something like 'the hen of Calcutta'. I'm no expert on
etymology, and I found this explanation in a popular book on etymology,
but it seems to fit, doesn't it?
But when I checked Norsk Riksmaalsordbok (a dictionary of Riksmaal, a
rather conservative literary form of written Norwegian), it turns out
that the word comes (via Low German and Dutch) from the name of the town
Calicut on the Malabar Coast on the western side of southern India.
In the folowing languages, 'turkey' has different origins:
In Palestinian Arabic, the bird's name is equivalent to "Ethiopian
rooster". It is pronounced as / diik Habash / where /diik/ is rooster and
is /d/ as in "duck", long/i/ and /k/as in "king" /H/ is pharengeal
fricative, /a/ is as a shwa, like the vowel in English /the/, and /sh/
is like the first consonant in English "show"
In Levantine Arabic turkeys are referred to as Abyssinian roosters (diik
Habash: diik is rooster and Habash is Abyssinia or Ethiopia.
(It seems I was misleaded in that one...)
Greek (cf. Andriotis, Etimologiko leksiko tis koines neoellinikes,
Thessaloniki 1983) has: dianos < indianos, glossed as 'indike ornitha'
ie. Indian bird, kourkos < Romanian curca (a with breve) < Slavic kurka
gallos or galos, from Italian gallo 'cock' (but cf. gallo d'India
'turkey'); the similarity with gallos 'Frenchman' is probably accidental
gal(l)opoula 'female turkey' is just a diminutive of gal(l)os, although
it lends itself to reanalysis as gallo- 'French' + pouli 'bird'. Now both
pouli 'bird' and the diminutive suffix -poulos/poula go back to Latin
pullus, but they are usually kept apart in Modern Greek (also because of
different placement of stress), so one should not put to much weight on
this possible reanalysis (better ask some native speaker).
In Macedonian [Slavic] it is misir m., misirka f., from Misir [the
letters i should have no dots on top] (the Turkish name of Egypt) from
MALAISIA (She didn't say wich language)
En Malaisie, on dit "ayam belanda" [ayam = poulet; belanda =
hollandais].(In Malaisia, it is "ayam belanda" [ayam = chiken; belanda =
In Portuguese, turkey is peru, which probably comes from the country
Peru (feminine -a can be added to it, and then you get peru-a which means
'slut'; I thought it was some sort of analogy with galinha 'hen' which
means the same thing).
from: Caroline Wiltshire (wiltshirlin.ufl.edu)
the word in Tamil (a Southern Dravidian language) is "vaankooRi" (the R
is a retroflex approximant, more or less), which comes from "vaan" = sky
and "kooRi" = chicken, domestic fowl. On the other hand, one of my
dictionaries lists an alternative which I've never heard
"siimaikkooRi", from "siimai" = foreign country, Europe or any of the
European countries. Perhaps a native speaker can tell you if this word
is ever used these days.
For the other languages of wich I received answers, there are either no
etymology or country related to the name:
In Bulgarian, the turkey is a pujak (m.) / pujka (f.).
Bura, a Chadic language spoken in Nigeria. The word for turkey is
something like tlotlo (where is supposed to be open-o). Apparently
that is similar to other languages in the area. My guess is that it is
onomatopaea (sp?) from the sound that turkeys make.
mandarin chinese: huo ji (fire chicken or angry chicken)
In Cantonese, turkey is foh(2) gai(1) - literally fire chicken,
presumably from the red colouring round the face.
in Farsi language the word for 'turkey' is 'bugalamun' which has notiong
to do with any country!
in Japanese it's _shichimenchoo_, 'seven-sided bird'. (literally meaning
something like "a bird with seven faces or surfaces)
In Upper Sorbian, the turkey is a trutak (m.) / truta (f.).
Now, turkey is native of the American continent (That is what I have been
told many times). Here are a few of the languages that are (or were)
spoken on this Continent:
In Maliseet-Passamaquoddy (north-est of New-England) he word for
"turkey" is nehm.
In Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs and their neighbors and the heart
of original turkey-domestication), the word for the male turkey is
huehxo:lo:-tl, which appears to be a compound of hueh- 'great, big' and
xo:lo:-tl 'male servant', while the word for female turkey is to:tol-in,
which is the general word for domesticated bird. Since the turkey was
the Aztecs' domesticated bird, further specificity doesn't seem to have
been needed prior to the introduction of European chickens at the time of
the conquest. European chickens were called either cax < castilla or
piyo (apparently from the call that Europeans use when rounding up their
chickens: piyo, piyo, piyo, which is basically 'chick, chick, chick' cf.
Sp. pollo). Xuehxo:lo:-tl has given rise to the Mexican Spanish word
guajalote. In other Spanish-speaking areas the word pavo is used. It
originally was used for the peacock, until turkeys were imported from the
In Yucatec Maya, the word for turkey is tso' and the European chicken is
In Choctaw, an interesting thing has happened. There are two native
words, fakit and cholokloha, both based on the sound of the bird's call.
The word `fakit' is pronounced just like `fuck it' so it has fallen
precipitously from use as the Choctaw community has become bilingual.
Fakit has been replaced by `akank chaaha' or `tall chicken'. I am not
sure if `akanka' referred to native birds before the advent of European
domestic chickens, but that word is used for this bird now. So we have a
native word replaced by a phrasal descriptive term based on a European
bird to avoid embarrassing ourselves to English speakers. Sigh.
Thanks to Thomas F. Shannon (who is not affraid to open a dictionary)
here is a list of different languages and their word for 'turkey'
from: Thomas F. Shannon (tshannongarnet.berkeley.edu)
In answer to your repeated request for the word for turkey in various
non-indoeuropean languages, I went to my shelf, picked up my handy
"Concise dictionary of 25 languages" and found the following:
Turkish hindi (I assume the etymology is what it looks like!)
Indonesian ajam belanda
Arabic dik roumi
Hebrew tarnegol hodu
Swahili bata mzinga
The other languages listed are IE, to wit
German Truthahn (Puter/Pute is also used)
Thanks to Randy Hudson who reads very interesting books:
from: Randy Hudson (rghdsd.camb.inmet.com)
According to Reay Tannahill's "Food in History" (rev. ed., 1993, Crown
Publishers, originally Penguin): the Mexican [Nahuatl?] word is
"uexolotl"; in Turkey it's "hindi" (suggesting, like Fr. "dinde" or
"dindon" < "coq d'Inde", or Ger. "indianische Henn", that the origin was
thought to be India); in Egypt, "dik-rumi" ("Turkish fowl"); in India
[language unspecified], "peru" (evidently "Peru"); in Persia, "filmurgh"
And, to finish, here is a letter I received from David Lidsky wich
conclude the topic in a very nice way:
from: David Lidsky (fdlidskynetvision.net.il)
Two English dictionaries which I have consulted give similar etymologies
for "turkey". The story goes like this. The African bird now called the
"guinea fowl" used to be called (presumably because of a mistaken belief
about its origin) the "Turkey cock", it's having arrived in Europe via
Turkish territory. The bird now called "turkey" in English was originally
thought to be identical with (or a sort of) the bird now called the
"guinea fowl" and that being then called the "Turkey cock" the turkey was
also called the "Turkey cock".
Doesn't that all sound a bit unlikely involving as it does two separate
mistakes? Do historians of language have documentary proof of these
mistakes having been made in the way described? And are we to believe
that two additional mistakes occurred relating the bird to India and to
Peru in other languages (according to my encyclopedia it is a North
One mistake which I think is well documented is the mistaking of America
for India by the first visitors from Europe. Could this explain those
cases in which "turkey" in different languages is related to India?
I hope you found it as amusing and instructive as I have
Alain Theriault | "The problem with the future
Etudiant au doctorat | is that it keeps on turning
Departement de linguistique et traduction | into the present"
Universite de Montreal |
theriaalere.umontreal.ca | Hobbes (Bill Waterson)