Monday, 14 March 2005

English words that are borrowed from Cantonese

Since my original post on English words that are borrowed from Malay was so popular, here's a much shorter list, that of English words that are borrowed from Cantonese. I'll exclude words like ginseng, kumquat, and lychee, which refer to unique objects that are clearly Chinese in origin, choosing instead to look at words that are not immediately apparently Cantonese. As can be seen, although the British have had a presence in Hong Kong for a while, the loan words are much fewer:
  • tangram, possibly from Cantonese "t'ang"
  • typhoon, from "tai fung" i.e. large wind, although as Dictionary.com notes, the spelling of the English version of this word is strongly influenced by the Greek "tuphon"
  • yen, in the sense of desire
As for "ketchup", which was discussed by some commenters in my earlier post, this article makes an interesting point: when "ketchup" was borrowed into English in the 18th century, the English used it to refer to a sauce that had fish, but no tomato whatsoever, as the Online Etymology Dictionary entry for the word notes. So while "ketchup" may ultimately be Cantonese in origin, the word most probably does not come from "keh-tsap", the Cantonese for "tomato sauce" - it's just an odd coincidence.



so why is it (or was it) spelt 'catsup' in the Queen's English?


how about doing a post on western influences on Asian languages? off hand, i can think of soap, which in malay "sabun", hokkien and teochew "saboon" coming from Portuguese "sabao". of course, it may well be from italian "sapone", or even french "savon". but i'm more inclined to believe that the language influences in this region will come from the powers that historically were active in this region: Dutch, English, Portuguese and Spanish.


Alternate spellings of "ketchup" included kitchup, catchup, catsup. English speakers then liked to spell the words as they heard it. (countess vs. cuntesse, contesse in French)In more recent times, the etymological principal is usually in place, so a word like "rendevous" is still spelt the French way.

Popular origins of "kepchup" include Amoy "kôechiap" or "kê-tsiap", and the slightly more contentious Malay variant "kechap"/ "ketjap".

All sources from OED online by the way, for those who are interested. Pity it's subscriber content though...

For Western influence on Chinese, I would probably quote "cool" and "bowling ball". Chinese is logographical, so western words that are loaned are usually translated into the closest sounding Chinese word. This irritates me especially when the Chinese newspaper is translating English names and I have no idea who they are referring to.


Hmm, excuse me for trying to clarify. Isn't large wind suppose to be "dai-fung"? tai sounds mandarin. Or tyoi-fung(typhoon). Or maybe because my understanding of cantonese is colloquial or something


A few naturalised English words from various Chinese languages/dialects

bok choy from ?? (Via Cantonese baak choi)
China, Chinese from ? - Qin Dynasty
coolie an unskilled worker. from ??
chopstick(s) ?? The 'chop' part comes from the Cantonese.
chop suey The popular 'Chinese' dish in Chinese restaurants in the west. The name comes from the Cantonese ?? ( jaap seui)
chow mein ?? from Cantonese
dim sum from Cantonese ??
feng shui ?? Note that this is pronounced in the UK as if it were English spelling rather than pinyin
gingko ??????,??? came into English via Japanese
ginseng ?? (Via Cantonese yan sam)
gung-ho enthusiastic - from ??
junk ? Boat
kaolin Kaolinite is a mineral with the chemical composition Al2Si2O5(OH)4
Used in making porcelain or china - from ???
ketchup Ketchup (or catsup) is a bottled sauce usually made from tomatoes. It is believed that the word came into English from Malay (???). It may have come into Malay from the ?? dialect spoken around ?? Xiamen. Alternatively it could have come from the Cantonese . No-one is sure!
kumquat ?? via Cantonese
kowtow ??
kung fu ?? via Cantonese
longan ?? via Cantonese
loquat ?? from the Cantonese ?? (lou gwat).
lychee (or litchi) ?? from the Cantonese
mahjong ?? from the Cantonese
oolong (tea) ???
rickshaw A small two-wheeled hooded carriage, either drawn by a person on foot, or attached to a bicycle or motorcycle.

Shortened from Japanese jinrikisha, from jin a person + -riki power + -sha a vehicle. Japanese borrowed from ???

sampan A wooden boat Probably from ?? or ??
silk ?
soy or soya sauce ?? English borrowed the word from Japanese. The Japanese borrowed it from China. It Japanese it is pronounced sh?-yu
Tai Chi ??(?)
Tao ?
tea ?, from the ?? dialect spoken around ?? Xiamen
tofu ?? via Japanese
tycoon ?? via Japanese
typhoon ?? There is another theory that it came from a similar sounding word in Arabic and not from Chinese! Who knows?
wok ? Via Cantonese 'wok'
yen ?


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