Etymology of TEA in European languages

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Youngfun, Apr 23, 2012.

  1. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    Tea is a Chinese plant and drink that has now become widespread in the world, and for this in most of the languages it derived from the Chinese word 茶,pronounced teh in Amoy dialect (厦门话, a dialect of Min nan language)and cha in Cantonese/Mandarin.
    Wikipedia also talks about the etymology.

    As far as I know, in Western Europe only Portuguese uses chá (derived from Cantonese), because they brought the tea from their colony Macau, where Cantonese is spoken.
    They were the first European to bring tea in Europe in about the XVI century, at that epoch the other European languages also used words similar to cha for designating the tea. In English it survived in the slang char.
    Later the British and the Dutch brought it from Amoy, Taiwan (where min nan language was spoken) and Malaysia (where in Malay it's also called teh as far I know).
    That's why it's tea in English and thee in Dutch.
    In the XVII century their role in the commerce with Asia became more important that Portugal, so progressively all Western languages began to use tea-like words, e.g. thé in French, in Spanish, or the in Italian, etc.

    But my question is... why Dutch and French have a h in the middle? Why thee and thé?
    Isn't the h letter useless there? As far I know, teh is pronounced with unaspirated t in both Malay and (modern) Min nan. So why the Dutch and the French spell it with th?

    I think it's unlikely that the Min nan language at that time had unaspirated t, as it derive from the Middle Chinese /dja/ with retroflex d. As far as I know, the Middle Chinese /d/ and retroflex /d/ never become aspirated in none of the modern dialects...
     
  2. swift

    swift Senior Member

    Spanish – Costa Rica (Valle Central)
    Hi,

    The French orthography of this term, i.e., 'thé' is easy to explain if you consider French borrowed the word from Dutch. ;) Portuguese introduced the term 'cha', as you mention, and this word was adopted under several different spellings. Dutch influence is probably the most evident in German, English, French and Spanish. :)
     
  3. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    But why Dutch writes Thee with h? Wouldn't Tee be enough?
    Also that text says it's t'e in Amoy dialect, then t' indicates aspiration? Then at that time it was aspirated in Chinese? But here we need an expert of ancient Min nan language...
     
  4. swift

    swift Senior Member

    Spanish – Costa Rica (Valle Central)
    There seem to be several explanations to that spelling:

    1.- Th- reflects the exotic origin of the word
    2. A Hellenised spelling?
    3. Now, the following is funny because it claims that French influenced the spelling with -h-. :p
    Source: http://etymologiebank.nl/trefwoord/thee
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2012
  5. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    Thanks swift, you are an etymology genius :)
    Unfortunately I can't read Dutch, but the sinthesis in each of your point are enough for me. :)
    The 3rd hypothesis seems very unlikely... as the Dutch brought the tea first, and only after it became common in France...
     
  6. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    Greek
    In Greek its older name was «τέϊον» /'te.i.on/ (neut.) a Chinese loan word via French: Fr. thé > Greek τέϊον (τέ + -ιον, suffix for neuter nouns). Nowadays «τέϊον» is used as its formal/scientific name.
    Its current name in vernacular is «τσάϊ» /'tsa.i/ (neut.) a Chinese (Cantonese) loan word via Russian: Rs. чай > τσάϊ.
     
  7. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    Interesting. In Hebrew the word for tea is תה pronounced either /te/ or /tei/, but the word for a tea bag is תיון pronounced /teion/.
     
  8. djmc Senior Member

    France
    English - United Kingdom
    A popular English alternative to tea is char as in "Ah, that's a nice cup of char".
     
  9. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    Thanks djmc, I've already said that in my opening post :)
     
  10. Timesieve Junior Member

    English
    Interesting since in Arabic it is شاي /ʃai/. Perhaps this is taken from European languages in modern Hebrew? I'm not sure when tea first came to the Middle East. Does classical Hebrew have a word for it? According to Wikipedia, most other Middle Eastern languages use words derived from the /cha/ pronunciation.
     
  11. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Perhaps it is just a spelling convention. In English, we write "tea" because "tee" already existed. Same in Spanish, "té" (tea) has an accent mark cause "te" (to you) existed. I think that's similar to other languages too. Besides that, that there is the letter "T" to deal with. My Dutch is next to nothing but I did find "tee" (tee) and "te" (at) in the dictionary. Could the h have been put in there just to make a written distinction?
     
  12. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    Well, by the time tea was introduced to the middle east Hebrew was no longer a spoken language, so the word is obviously modern.
     
  13. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Norway
    Polish
    "In de latere spelling thee met -h-, is waarschijnlijk sprake van vergrieksing: theedrinken was aanvankelijk prestigieus (Van der Sijs 2005; 394)."
    It's funny, as in Swedish, Danish and Norwegian 'h' is often added to make a given name look more prestigious, even if it doesn't exist in the original name, for example 'Margareth'.
     
  14. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    Which tee do you have in mind here? I think we write ⟨tea⟩ because the original pronunciation in English was /teː/. (As shown also by the spellings ⟨tay⟩ and ⟨tey⟩ used in English during the 1600s.)
     
  15. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    According to http://www.safa-ivrit.org/imported/german.php the origin of this pronunciation is German.
     
  16. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    ... or Anthony in English. This is indeed wide spread in European languages.
     
  17. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    But the h is pronounced in this name: /æn-θɘ-ɴi/
    That may work for "Thomas" though.

    Okay. I didn't know the "ea" was /e:/ in the 1600's. I assume "ee" was /i:/ and they merged later. /ea/ would have been the natural spelling in English then.
     
  18. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Only in the States, not in Britain. It is essentially a 16th century spelling "mistake" which got canonicalized; probably for a similar reason.
    Yes, in the early 17th century "ee" was already raised from /e:/ to /i:/ and "ea" from /ɛ:/ to /e:/. The further raising of "ea" to /i:/ and the merger with "ee" happened a bit later.
     
  19. Ghabi

    Ghabi Moderator

    Hong Kong
    Cantonese
    The Arabic Wikipedia says شاي comes from Persian چای.

    I don't know if it's the first mention of tea in Arabic, but the 9th-century Arab merchant سليمان التاجر did mention it in his work اخبار الصين والهند, calling it, well, saakh: ويختص الملك من المعادن بالملح وحشيش يشربونه بالماء الحار ويباع منه في كل مدينة بمال عظيم ويقال له الساخ
     
  20. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    For example, also in Hungarian historical family names: Báthori, Batthyány, Básthy ...
     
  21. Timesieve Junior Member

    English
    Woah. Where did ساخ /sa:x/ come from? Perhaps from an Indian language? Do you know which region he's talking about here?
     
  22. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    There are a few people with a /æn-tɘ-ɴi/ pronunciation in the States (unfortunately usually Ant-knee) but they write it Antony.

    I suppose "learn", "pear" and "great" went astray and got left behind on that journey from /ɛ:/ to /e:/ to /i:/.

    I remember an urban "etymological" legend that would have it that "tea" came into being because it was transported in big crates from the far east or India to Britain. They were marked "T" meaning ready for transport. Upon arrival the dock workers started saying "give me the T". You'd be surprised how widespread that story is!
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2012
  23. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Yes, the second raising was not universal and those which remained /e:/ were then picked up by the 19th century shift from /e:/ to /eɪ/, like steak or great. Words like learn or pear are different because almost everything is different in front of "r".
    Urban legends can be very persistent.:D
     
  24. Abu Rashid

    Abu Rashid Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Australian English
    And also شاهي (shahee) in some dialects.
     
  25. OBrasilo

    OBrasilo Senior Member

    Koper, Slovenia, Central Europe
    Brazil, Brazilian Portuguese
    Not all European languages use a Chinese-derived word for tea. Polish, for example uses the word herbata instead, which seems to be derived from Latin.
     
  26. gevenamolalandaziseafaine Banned

    Kusunda
    Russians say "Chai", presumably taken along with the "Samovars" from Persia and Turkey; Once I bought "Tchaï" in London. Turnt out to be heavily spiced strong black tea! Here the Heavy Metal Umlaut and the redundant T- were used as augmentatives :)
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2012
  27. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    Here we have a brand called צ'אי מסאלה (Chai Masala) which is supposed to be Indian tea.
     
  28. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    You're right. In recent times the term Chai (Tchaï in French) has come to refer to an extremely spicy and milky tea mix of indian origin known there as Masala Chai. I imagine if you order it expecting regular black tea you'll be unpleasantly surprised.

    Edit: I see I had the same thought at the same time as tFighterPilot
     
  29. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Norway
    Polish
    You will be surprised: ‘samovar’ is a genuinely Slavic word. It consists of word stems ‘sam’ (-self as in’myself’) and ‘var-’ (to cook, boil). Thence a device that “boils and makes the tea itself”.
    By the way, the two dots over the ‘I’ is not an umlaut, this is a diaeresis (a diacritical mark), marking that the ‘ai’ combination is to be pronounced as a diphthong in French, not as one sound ‘è’. Umlaut (German), called also apophony (from Greek) applies only to German and Scandinavian phonetics, and marks a change from one sound into another inside a word (like mutter>mütter). As the transformed sounds are always ‘ä’, 'ö'and ‘ü’ in German, they began to be called ‘a-umlaut’, 'o-umlaut' and ‘u-umlaut’.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2012
  30. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Absolutely right. Nor is the "T" redundant. The tchaï transcription is from French approximating Hindi [tʃɑːj]. The transcription chai would yield [ʃɛː] in French.
     
  31. Schem

    Schem Senior Member

    Unaizah
    Najdi Arabic
    Yes, indeed. It's also still called "Chai" in the Gulf dialects, as it was first introduced through India I believe.
     
  32. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    In Korean the same letter 茶 has two pronunciations, unlike in Chinese or Japanese:
    cha when referring to tea proper, but
    da in most compound words.
    Example:
    茶道 dado : the way of tea, i.e. the manners and customs of drinking tea.
    茶客dagaek: a tea guest, somebody invited to have a cup of tea.
    But:
    紅茶hongcha: red tea, i.e. black tea.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2012
  33. Timesieve Junior Member

    English
    Which dialects?
     
  34. Schem

    Schem Senior Member

    Unaizah
    Najdi Arabic
    We call it شاهي (shahi) in Najdi/Guisseemi Arabic.
     
  35. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    I think the forms chai, tchaï, shahee, shehi, etc. are already explained by this sentence from the Wikipedia article:
    Korean has the double form ta and cha, the first form should come from Middle Chinese /ɖja/ (retroflex /d/), while the latter from modern Mandarin cha.
    Japanese also has two forms: da (also pronounced ta) and cha.
    The Koreans and the Japanese like to import words from Chinese in different history times, even when they have already imported the word earlier. :D

    @Ghabi:
    Do you know how was it pronounced in Middle Chinese? I consulted the 廣韻 but I'm not sure if I can use it correctly. Apparently the pronounciation in Middle Chinese should be /ɖja/.

    I guess the Middle Chinese voiced consonant /ɖ/ cannot become an aspirated /tʰ/ in neither of the modern Chinese dialects.
    And in Minnan (Xiamen dialect) should be unaspirated /te/, and in Mindong (Fuzhou dialect) should be unaspirated /tja/ or /dja/ (not sure which one). Right? Any speaker of Min here? :D
    So the aspiration is not the reason why it's spelled with Th- in Dutch (Thee) and French (Thé).

    And how is it pronounced in Cantonese? I suppose /tsʰa/. Right?

    In my native language, Southern Wu (Wenzhou dialect and Qingtian dialect), it's pronounced /dzu/.
    It makes sense that in Souther Wu language the Middle Chinese /ɖ/ became /dz/ retaining the voicing, while it de-voiced in other Chinese dialects, such as /t/ in Minnan, /tsʰ/ in Cantonese, and /tʂʰ/ in Mandarin.
    While only Mandarin has retained the retroflex consonant.

    In Standard Italian we already have the word te /te/ that means "you" (object).
    In order to distinguish from /te/, tea is pronunced with an "open e" /tɛ/. While in order to distinguish it from the spelling te, tea has two spelling: the "authentic Italian" one and the French-derived the.
    I prefer much more , since this spelling is "more Italian", as in Italian we don't have words spelled with th-, and moreover the could be confused with the English article.
    Furthermore, the doesn't give a hint about the pronounciation as according to Italian spelling rules, monosillabic e's are always pronounced with closed e /e/.
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2012
  36. Ghabi

    Ghabi Moderator

    Hong Kong
    Cantonese
    He's talking about how the Chinese emperor draws his income, and how a major part of it comes from salt tax and this "saakh" tax. Thus "saakh" is supposed to be a Chinese word. So what is it? Have no idea. In the famous eighth-century The Classic of Tea 茶經, five names of tea are mentioned: 其名一曰茶二曰檟三曰蔎四曰茗五曰荈. Well, none of these really sounds close to "saakh". Perhaps there was another unrecorded word for "tea"? Or he just misheard the word? Erm ...
    Ancient "rime dictionaries" like Guangyun 廣韻 can't tell us how a word was pronounced.:( It tells us about a word's phonological properties, not its actual phonetic value. To reconstruct the value we need more than rime dictionaries, and different scholars propose different reconstructions. [ɖa] is a possible one (I don't know why you add the glide [j]:confused:), and you may be interested to know that द्रविड़ "draviḍa" was transliterated as 達羅毗 by the legendary Xuanzang 玄奘 in his famous travelogue. So yes, the initial may be a voiced retroflex.
    I think you're right, but I really don't know.
    For what it's worth, the Teochew cognate has entered Cantonese as [tɛ] (in some idioms, usually written as 嗲).
    Exactly.:thumbsup: So there's actually a pair of "doublets" ([tsʰa] and [tɛ]) for "tea" in Cantonese.
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2012
  37. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    Sorry, I got confused with 福州话 and added the [j]... my mistake...
    According other scholars, the reconstructed sound could be also [ȡa] with a 舌面前塞音 (coronal stop?).
    Wasn't 玄奘 a historical person? :confused:
    I also heard that he used the Wu language 吴语 of that time to transcribe names from Sanscrit, but it seems that nobody knows about the differences between dialects in Middle Chinese...

    I think in Mandarin it's only used for 肉骨爹,an alternative for 肉骨茶。

    Interesting. Are these 2 interchangeable, or do you use [tsʰa] in some cases, and [tɛ] in other cases?

    Then Chinese people in Italy also have a pair of doublets. ;)
    We use [tsʰa] (in Mandarin) and [dzu] (in Wenzhou dialect 温州话 or Qingtian dialect 青田话) to call the Chinese tea (made with imported Chinese tea leaves).
    And [tɛ] or [te] for the Italian tea (made with tea bags with sugar and lemon added) and for bottled/canned ice tea.
    Well... I guess immigrants from Fujian don't make such difference, as for them the pronounciation would be the same. ;)
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2012
  38. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    Hello, Merquiades. Doesn't the word Chai come from China, as samovars do. In fact samovars were invented in China and they were designed to cook food as well: they had three different compartments: for rice, vegetables and water. The word itself is definitely Slavic, though.

    Tea in Lithuanian is called arba - most likely from herbal and herbata in Polish. They are of Latin origin, no doubt.

    I have been always intrigued by the drink mate, which is called chimarrao in Portuguese and chano in Bolivian (whatever they meant by it -- either the Spanish from Bolivia or some indigenous languages). Are these nouns somehow related to chai? I drank it once. A friend of mine who had lived in Cuba for 10 years as a child prepared it, but it was really a shocking experience, not being able to describe it any better, unless she did not know how to prepare it. The powder, or leaves from which it is made, is called mate yerba, just like arba or herbata.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2012
  39. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Modern Greek τσάϊ surely comes not from Russian, but from Turkish çai (like most Greek words for foods and drinks). Arabic šāy also comes from Turkish or Persian, which in turn have it from Chinese cha.
     
  40. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    Greek
    I'm sorry but no, prof. Babiniotis clearly states that the word is a late loan (1895) and taken straight from the Russian чай, while the earlier «τέϊον» comes from the French thé
     
  41. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    That is an interesting reference. While awaiting a better explanation I can only suggest that الساخ is a scribal error for الشاى .
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 17, 2012
  42. Ghabi

    Ghabi Moderator

    Hong Kong
    Cantonese
    Hi again YF! I had time recently to check a dialect glossary, which includes 20 dialects, and found that in none of which the word 茶 is pronounced with an apsirated /t/. So your conjecture is probably right.
     
  43. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    Thank you very much, Ghabi!
    You always give very interesting information about etymologies.
    Can I ask what glossary you checked?

    You finally answered to my original question which inspired me for opening this thread.
    Because of the double graphy of and the in Italian, I was curious to know where that TH- comes from...

    Thanks OBrasilio and Liliana for the information! Finally two languages, Polish and Lithuanian, where the word for tea doesn't derive from Chinese. :)
    Do herbata/arba/yerba simply mean "herbs"/"herbal drink"?

    At least, in my opinion, mate yerba sould simply mean "mate herb", as it is called erva-mate in Portuguese, though I would have expected this order as well (*yerba mate) in Spanish. So I don't think that has something to do with Polish/Lithuanian word for tea.

    Chimarrão is also known as cimarrón in Spanish.
    Wikipedia
    explains the meaning:

    In Brazil, traditionally prepared mate is known as chimarrão, although the word mate and the expression "mate amargo" (bitter mate) are also used in Argentina and Uruguay. The Spanish cimarrón means "rough", "brute", or "barbarian", but is most widely understood to mean "feral", and is used in almost all of Latin America for domesticated animals that have become wild. The word was then used by the people who colonized the region of the Río de la Plata to describe the natives' rough and sour drink, drunk with no other ingredient to soften the taste.

    Did you mean the Chinese hot pot? (usually not rice... but noodles or rice gnocchi... and a lot of meat and sometimes seafood too)
    The old traditional hot pot looks a bit like samovars but I'm not sure. It's not usually used to make tea in China.
    These are Chinese tea pots.
    I've made a web search for samovar, according to Wikipedia it's Russian, Persian and Turkish.
     
  44. Ghabi

    Ghabi Moderator

    Hong Kong
    Cantonese
    Hi again! You can check the reference work entitled 汉语方音字汇 (北京大学, 2003).
     
  45. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Norway
    Polish
    [Q
    This is not that simple … ‘Herbata’ in Polish is derived from ‘herba tea’, where the first element is obviously Latin and the second comes from the same source as the French, English, Italian name, namely from Chinese. The name resembles a pharmaceutical name in its composition, so it is probable, that some apothecaries who used Latin as their working language made it up.
     
  46. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    Thanks Ben.
    But it's strange that thé and tea [originally] had a /e/ vowel, then it became an "a" in Polish. According to Google Translate, I hear it is pronounced with a final /a/.

    It got me confused, because in Italian -ata is a general suffix meaning "made of".
    E.g. limonata = limone (lemon) + ata = lemoneade.
    aranciata = arancia (orange) + ata = orangeade
    peperonata = peperoni (bell peppers) + ata = dish made with bell peppers.
     
  47. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Ben made a tiny mistake which probably confused you: It is actually not herba tea but herba thea. Thea, "e" and "a" pronounced separately, is a Latinization of thé.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2012
  48. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    Thanks berndf, now it's clearer.
     
  49. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Norway
    Polish
    If the 'h' was there originally in the latinate name it had no influence on the pronunciation, as 'th' in latinate names was always pronounced 'as' 't' in Polish (and Italian as well). So the early Polish word must have been 'herbatea', which was quickly contracted to 'herbata', as there is no 'ea' diphthong in Polish. As far as I know there is no 'herb-ata' word in Italian.
     
  50. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Sure. The issue was not the "t" but the vowels. The way you spelled it, Youngfun thought of the English and the English pronunciation.
     

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