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Loan words from Hokkien (Taiwanese) 英文中的閩南語外來詞

22/11/2011

I came across the word ‘cumshaw’ while reading a book recently. It means a present or gratuity. I was surprised to find out that according to the Oxford English Dictionary the word originates from Amoy and was taken from 感謝 (kám-siā) used by beggars in the ports of Xiamen (廈門). At this time, there was a lot of trade happening in Amoy between the Europeans and the Chinese and many words were borrowed into English from Hokkien.

In the process of looking up some of these loan words, I made a serendipitous discovery. It was an answer to a question I should have asked myself before: Where does the word Amoy originate from? It differs so much from Xiamen, the mandarin term. 下門 is actually  a much older name for the area that is now referred to as 廈門. Officials at some point thought having a 下 in a place name wasn’t grand enough and so changed it to the ‘homophone’ 廈. The problem is that 廈 is not a homophone, not in Hokkien from which the place name originates. 廈 is pronounced hā and 下  is pronounced ē (in the colloquial way it is used for the word Amoy). This hints to the solution of the ‘Amoy puzzle’. The Hokkien pronunciation of 下門 is Ē-mûi in the 漳州 (Zhāngzhōu) dialect, which is the origin of the English word ‘Amoy’.

The most common word to come from Hokkien is tea. Such a shame that most people don’t know it’s actually from the Hokkien for 茶 (tê). Related to this is satay; yet another English word from Amoy. Anybody familiar with Chinese cuisine will know about satay sauce. This is actually from 沙茶 (sa-te), which is no doubt another gem from the bartering that took place in the ports of Fujian.

Another loan word is that wonderful Chinese panacea, ginseng. The characters are the same as the MSM (Modern Standard Mandarin) 人參 (rénshēn), but the Hokkien pronunciation is lîn-sim (note the literary pronunciation for 人) and so the choice for the English sound gin becomes obvious. Gin being something already quite familiar to the sailors who probably coined the phrase, I’m sure.

Some other words listed by wikipedia:

Pekoe from Amoy 白毫, lit. white downy hair

Oolong from Amoy 烏龍, lit. dark dragon

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From → Taiwanese

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