1. Marsario Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Italia, italiano
    Hi! Wikipedia gives a good explanation concerning where the word coffee comes from:

    Does anybody know through what language the Chinese word for coffee
    (咖啡 kāfēi) came to China?
  2. Marsario Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Italia, italiano
    Hi again,

    I have found this link where it is said that the word coffee was adopted from Italian (http://linguacuriosa.blogspot.fi/2009/09/etymology-of-apple-and-coffe.html). However, the statement sounds strange to me because Italy has never had any real imperialistic influence in Asia. Nevertheless, it is still very probable that China adopted the world from Europe, and so indirectly from Italy. Has anyone got better information than me?

    (By the way, Finland might have loaned the word coffee directly from the Ottoman Empire, or at least the Finnish word Kahvia sounds very much like the Turkish Kahve...)
  3. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    In Vietnamese the word for “coffee” is cà phê, which is pronounced exactly like French “café” (apart from the tones), and it is generally accepted that it is loan word from French (Vietnam was of course a French colony). In Sino-Viet (Nôm) script cà phê appears as 咖啡 , exactly as in Chinese.

    Last edited: Oct 5, 2012
  4. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    But Italians were some of the first Europeans to trade with China, correct?

    kahvi is probably a recent adoption from Swedish: compare pihvi "steak" / Swedish biff.
  5. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Bắc Kinh
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    I'm not sure from where the Chinese 咖啡 comes. In China it's commonly accepted that it comes from English.
    In Mandarin Chinese the sound /kɒ/ doesn't exist, so maybe they replaced it with ka... though this kind of sound is more often replaced with ke.
    And in English there's also the word café.
    In my dialect, if we read the ideograms 咖啡 it's /kʰæ fi/ and this is the "modern" pronunciation. However many people, especially those of the older generations like my uncle, pronounce it /kʰo fi/, that clearly resembles to the English "coffee".
    So probably we took coffee from English, but Mandarin couldn't reproduce the English pronunciation, while my dialect yes.
    Of course, this is only my supposition.
  6. Marsario Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Italia, italiano
    It might be, indeed! Funny how it became back so similar to Turkish.
    This is interesting, thank you for pointing it out Youngfun!
  7. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    Hello! It's difficult to ascertain from which language the word 咖啡 entered Chinese, although it can be pointed out that 咖啡 is a later orthographic form. The earlier forms, as attested in a work produced in the 1840s, are 加非 and 珈琲. As you probably know, the form 珈琲 is also used in Japanese, where the earliest mention of coffee (Dutch koffie) goes back to as early as the 18th century. So perhaps there's a chance that the Chinese word actually came from Japanese? Have no idea.
  8. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    I am an amateur in matters Chinese, but I understand that the two characters 咖啡 are both used only in the word for coffee. Is that correct? Does this mean that the two characters were invented at the time when coffee was first imported to China (say in the 18th century)?
  9. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Bắc Kinh
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    Ghabi and fdb, you both are right!

    Those who understand Chinese can read this article about how coffee was introduced into China.

    I'll do a brief summary:
    • The characters 咖* and 啡 didn't exist in the past, they were not found in the Kangxi Dictionary (published in 1716, the greatest dictionary of the Chinese history) nor in other historical documents till XIX century. So fdb is right.
    • At first coffee was called 嗑肥 kē féi. But there wasn't a standard translation of 'coffee', so there could be other translations too. As I said in my above posts, the English /kɒ/ sound is usually rendered with 'ke' in Chinese. But it could also come from Dutch, since it has more or less the same pronunciation.
    • As Ghabi said, the Chinese 咖啡 comes from Japanese 珈琲. The Japanese entered in contact with the coffee and opened cafés far earlier than the Chinese and called it 珈琲, so when they invaded China in 1894, the Chinese started to use 咖啡, which derives from the Japanese 珈琲.
    • The Zhonghua Da Zidian Dictionary (1915) defines: '咖啡, western drink, like the Chinese tea, English: coffee'. Though I'm not sure it comes from English...

    The rest of the article tells other interesting facts about the coffee's history in China, but does not deal with the etymology.

    *咖 is not a historical Chinese character, AFAIK it's only used in two loanwords:
    1) 咖啡 coffee, where 咖 is pronounced kā [kʰa].
    2) 咖喱 curry, where 咖 is pronounced gā [ka]. Maybe because the Indians don't aspirate the plosives? :)

    I think in my hometown when coffee was first introduced we stuck with a pronunciation more similar to the original one (whether English or Dutch); but now we use more the Mandarin word 咖啡.
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2012
  10. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Thank you for the instructive answer. I was not aware that Chinese had such a capacity for creating new characters.
  11. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    Hi YF! I think I've to take exception to some of the points of the article you quote from:
    Actually the characters are 磕肥, and were a later variation, not the first transliteration.
    Ah, I've to eat my words I posted in Post #7! I checked again the 1840s work I cite above, and found that it uses 咖啡 as well as 加非/加菲/珈琲. So the form 咖啡 is earlier that I thought. In any case, there remains a possibility that the basic form of the word came from Japanese, although I don't think we can be certain of it.
    Hi fdb! As a side note, the ancient Chinese monks did create the characters 迦 and 伽 to transliterate the Sanskrit syllables क [ka] and ग [ga], although 咖 seems to be a late-comer.
  12. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Bắc Kinh
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    Thanks Ghabi!
    Maybe my source is not exact... but I found the same text copied & pasted in A LOOOT of websites from Mainland China.
    Unfortunately, the source you provided is too difficult for me to read it... Although I study Traditional Chinese Medicine, I can't read Classical Chinese very well...

    Just a curiosity: how do you pronounce 咖啡 in Cantonese? :)
    When Hong Kong became British, did it already use the Chinese word 咖啡 before that?
    According to the Cantonese Wikipedia it can also be written 㗎啡.

    In Mandarin, the 迦 as in 释迦牟尼 is now pronounced jiā, quite different from the old Chinese (maybe 中古汉语?) pronunciation.
    I suppose in Cantonese it preserved that pronunciation, right?
    In my dialect it changed the vowel, it's pronounced [ku].

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