Why the world only has 2 words for tea

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With a few minor exceptions, there are really only two ways to say "tea"
in the world. One is like the English term -- te in Spanish and tee in
Afrikaans are two examples. The other is some variation of cha, like
chay in Hindi. Both versions come from China. How they spread around
the world offers a clear picture of how globalization worked before
"globalization" was a term anybody used.
The words that sound like "cha" spread across land, along the Silk
Road. The "tea"-like phrasings spread over water, by Dutch traders
bringing the novel leaves back to Europe. The term cha is "Sinitic,"
meaning it is common to many varieties of Chinese. It began in China
and made its way through central Asia, eventually becoming "chay" in
That is no doubt due to the trade routes of the Silk Road, along which,
according to a recent discovery[1], tea was traded over 2,000 years
ago. This form spread beyond Persia, becoming chay in Urdu, shay in
Arabic, and chay in Russian, among others. It even it made its way to
sub-Saharan Africa, where it became chai in Swahili. The Japanese and
Korean terms for tea are also based on the Chinese cha, though those
languages likely adopted the word even before its westward spread into
But that doesn't account for "tea." The te form used in coastal-Chinese
languages spread to Europe via the Dutch, who became the primary traders
of tea between Europe and Asia in the 17th century, as explained[2] in
the World Atlas of Language Structures. The main Dutch ports in east
Asia were in Fujian and Taiwan, both places where people used the te
pronunciation. The Dutch East India Company's expansive tea importation
into Europe gave us the French the, the German Tee, and the English tea.
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Reply to
Dario Niedermann
This theory is an interesting one, but perhaps it is more fundamental than that. There are many nearly universal words. Nearly every language has some derivation of "mama" or "mother" to describe one's parent. It is not learned, it is some of the very limited innate language that the brain comes with.
"Tea" and "Chai" are also like this, they are words that come in the brain at birth because the brain itself is designed to subsist on tea. Tea is nature's most perfect beverage: it is cooling in hot weather and warming in cold. It wakes you up in the morning and puts you to sleep at night. The human being and the tea plant co-evolved and neither one can survive independently.
In comparison with the so-called "coffee," itself merely a repulsive sort of burned bean soup, tea is fundamentally integral to the process of human life. So it is no wonder that the mind is born with an innate need for tea and consequently for the vocabulary to request it. "Chai, Chai!" cries the child. "Forget my mother's milk, I want Fujian oolong!" That is how we get our words for tea in all languages. --scott
Reply to
Scott Dorsey

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