Featured Linguist!

Jost Gippert: Our Featured Linguist!

"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more

Donate Now | Visit the Fund Drive Homepage

Amount Raised:


Still Needed:


Can anyone overtake Syntax in the Subfield Challenge ?

Grad School Challenge Leader: University of Washington

Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


What is English? And Why Should We Care?

By: Tim William Machan

To find some answers Tim Machan explores the language's present and past, and looks ahead to its futures among the one and a half billion people who speak it. His search is fascinating and important, for definitions of English have influenced education and law in many countries and helped shape the identities of those who live in them.

New from Cambridge University Press!


Medical Writing in Early Modern English

Edited by Irma Taavitsainen and Paivi Pahta

This volume provides a new perspective on the evolution of the special language of medicine, based on the electronic corpus of Early Modern English Medical Texts, containing over two million words of medical writing from 1500 to 1700.

Summary Details

Query:   Re: 9.1779 International Words
Author:  Karen Steffen Chung
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Historical Linguistics

Summary:   This is a follow-up to the summary on 'international
words' -i.e. words like _chocolate_ that appear in similar
phonetic form in a large number of the world's languages -
posted last December 14. Many thanks to all who responded:

Balestrieri, Peter <Peter_Balestrieri@intuit.com>
Charles Bigelow <bandh@maui.net>
Damon Allen Davison <davison@uni-koeln.de>
Jakob Dempsey <jakob@saturn.yzu.edu.tw>
James L. Fidelholtz <jfidel@siu.buap.mx>
Mark Irwin <padz@ilcs.hokudai.ac.jp>
Kimberly Jones <jonesk@u.arizona.edu>
Patricia Kilroe <kilroe@web-net.com>
Agnes Lesznyak <fs5a215@uni-hamburg.de>
Zouhair Maalej <zmaalej@gnet.tn>
Duncan MacGregor <aa735@freenet.carleton.ca>
John Mackin <jmackin@flm.se.fujitsu.co.jp>
Heather Marsden <H.L.Marsden@3f.co.uk>
Arto Mustajoki <Arto.Mustajoki@cc.helsinki.fi>
Artan Pernaska <pernaska@paris7.jussieu.fr>
Norvin Richards <norvin@kanda.kuis.ac.jp>
K. P. Schneider <k.schneider@uni-bonn.de>
Hartmut Traunm?ler <hartmut@ling.su.se>
Colin Whiteley <cwhiteley@tyco.geis.com>
David Wilmsen <dwilmsen@aucegypt.edu>

Below follow (1) a list of words that have not yet been
'disqualified' as possible international words; (2) new
suggestions for possible international words; (3) words
disqualified as international words in the second round of
inquiry; (4) comments on some of the stronger contenders for
international word status: a. _chocolate_, b._coffee_, c. _tea_,
d. _mama_ and _papa_, e. sauna; (5)information on a research
project in international words; and (6) information on a CD-ROM
that uses international words to teach Russian.

(1) Survivors from the second round of inquiry - i.e. words that
have not yet been 'disqualified' as possible international words:


(2) New suggestions for possible international words:


(3) Words disqualified in the second round of inquiry:


(4) Further comments on proposed international words:

a. _Chocolate_

i. On the etymology of chocolate: Spanish chocolate < Aztec
s3okoatl 'beverage made of fermented maize', by mistake instead
of the intended kakau9atl (made of cacao and maize).

Hartmut Traunm?ler <hartmut@ling.su.se>

ii. The history of the Meso-American "chocolate" word(s) is
nicely discussed in "The True History of Chocolate" by Sophie D.
Coe and Michael D. Coe (Thames and Hudson.
Here are the etymological points given by the Coes in their
chapter 4.
- "cacao", referring to the tree or the substance made from
the seeds of the tree, is a Mixe-Zoquean loan word, reconstructed
by modern linguists as *kakawa in proto-Mixe-Zoquean. From
approximately 1,000 B.C. - *kakawa was borrowed into Mayan
languages sometime between 400 B.C. and 100 A.D., as something
like *kakaw
- in early Mayan-Spanish dictionaries, the spelling become
- the etymology of "chocolate" referring to the drink is
uncertain, or at least there are different explanations.
- Nahuatl "chocolatl" is often proposed as the source of
Spanish "chocolate" and its derived words in other European
languages, but it is not attested in early sources on Nahuatl and
Aztecan culture. The word for chocolate in the early sources is
"cacahuatl" = "cacao water".
- Nahuatl "xoco" (bitter) + "atl" (water) is one hypothesis,
but the Coes reject it because there is no strong reason for the
shift from Nahuatl "x-" [Eng. "sh-"] to Sp. "ch-", nor for the
interpolation of the additional 'l'.
- The etymology preferred by the Coes is: a) the Mayan word
for chocolate drink was "chacau haa" (= "hot water); b) in
Yucatec Mayan a related form would have been "chocol haa" (I
don't know if it is actually attested);
c) "chocol hau" was borrowed by the Spanish but the Mayan
word for "water" "haa" was replaced by the Nahuatl word for water
"atl", to give "chocol atl".
The Coes cite, among other sources:

Leon-Portilla, Miguel. 1981. "Otro testimonio de
aculturacion hispano-indigena". Revista Espanola de Antropologia
Americana 11: 220-43.

Davila Garibi, Ignacio. 1939. Nuevo y mas amplio estudio
etimologico del vocablo chocolate y de otros que con el se
relacionan. Emilio Pardo y Hijos.

Charles Bigelow <bandh@maui.net>

b. _Coffee_

i. *"bunn" in Tunisian Arabic refers to coffee powder, and
"qahwa" is a polyseme that could be used to refer to coffee beans
(qahwa k3abb, literally), liquid coffee (qahwa, in the
indefinite), and coffee shop (l-qahwa, in the definite).

Zouhair Maalej <zmaalej@gnet.tn>

ii. In Arabic -- i dont know about amharic -- the word /bunn/
refers to coffee beans, green, roasted, or ground. NB, the
company that makes commercial coffeemakers and some for the home,
Bunn, takes its name from this.
The word /qahwa/ used to refer to wine in old arabic poetry.
I had never thought of this before, but perhaps arabic aquired
the amharic and used it for the raw material, while it then
applied its old term for wine to the drink after the orignal
referent was proscribed.

David Wilmsen DWILMSEN@aucegypt.edu

c. _Tea _

i. Another language with a non-borrowed word for "coffee" is
Tibetan, which calls it "tsig-ja"--literally, "burnt tea".... I
may not have transliterated that correctly, by the way--it starts
with an aspirated affricate. Maybe the standard way of
transliterating it would be "tshig-ja". ...

Norvin Richards <norvin@kanda.kuis.ac.jp>

ii. Although tea is associated with southern China, most, but
not all Tibeto-Burman languages use the same etymon. Some instead
use "la" or "lap", the latter probably being the same word as
'leaf' (Chinese jep also cognate). Of course "la" may well be
cognate with "cha" ( < *g-la ?).

Jakob Dempsey <jakob@saturn.yzu.edu.tw>

d. _Mama_, _papa_

A number of people pointed out Japanese _chichi_ and _haha_
are used differently from _mama_ and _papa_. Here is one
representative message:

...mama and papa may not be disproved by the Japanese case,
as they are commonly used in Japan these days and have been since
at least 20 years ago, when I first went there. ... Haha and
chichi are humble words for one's own parents, used when
referring to them while talking to someone outside one's family.
The equivalent native Japanese words for addressing them,
referring them to someone in your own family, or even referring
to them to someone to whom you don't want to be overly polite,
are okaasan and otoosan. But mama and papa are used instead of
okaasan and otoosan in many families.

Kimberly Jones <jonesk@U.Arizona.EDU>

e. Sauna

Just read your summary regarding international words. I was
surprised to see "sauna" on your list of candidates. At least the
Russians have a different word for it; the Russian word is
"banja". Also it may be interesting to check what the Turkish
expression is.

Klaus P. Schneider <k.schneider@uni-bonn.de>

(5) International word research project:

Hartmut Traunm?ler [I'm not sure of the letter between 'm'
and 'l' since this character doesn't come through on my system]
in Sweden <hartmut@ling.su.se> is currently doing research on
international words.
His homepage:
Hartmut's criterion for considering a word 'international'
is adoption in 40% of the languages he is studying.

(6) CD-ROM using international words to teach Russian:

Arto Mustajoki in Helsinki has compiled a CD-ROM introduction to
the Russian language based totally on 'international words',
which he defines as words which can be easily recognized by
native speakers of other European languages. Examples: banan,
turist, prezident, park. He says that this CD-ROM has been
popular in Finland, and that there is also an English version of
it. If interested contact: "Arto Mustajoki"

Karen Steffen Chung
National Taiwan University

LL Issue: 10.703
Date Posted: 08-May-1999
Original Query: Read original query


Sums main page