Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and important words

What does it say about how a culture’s language reflects its preoccupations, when we realize that there are only two words for tea in most of the world (with some slight spelling variants)? In most of the world’s languages, tea is either some variation of:
tea - te’, te, tra, The
cha - chai, tsa

Both are short, easy to say words. Does this say that tea is one of the most basic elements in human cultures all over the world? (I’m certainly prepared to believe that. I think tea makes the world go 'round.)

Beer is another one that’s quite similar in many languages in unrelated or only-distantly-related groups; also a short word in all languages.

So, does Sapir-Whorf address tea and beer?

oops, sorry, here’s the link that should have been with that post.

I rather fancy there’s only one world-wide word for “kangaroo”. A cultural concept that has only recently received worldwide propagation, like tea, will naturally have few associated morphemes. Morphology isn’t connected with Sapir-Whorf anyway, as far as I know.

Neither, as far as I know, is word length. Besides, for most cultures that possess beer, it is important. Same for wine. (On the other hand, Julian the Apostate wrote an epigram on “wine made from grain”. I don’t know whether beer was so unknown to him that he didn’t have a word for it – that would be odd, since it was certainly known in the classical Mediterranean world – or whether he was referring to something like whisky.)

Sapir-Whorf is somewhat more subtle. You can find some discussions linked to from James Cooke Brown, the creator of Loglan, felt that his experiences with Loglan indicated at least some truth in the weak form of S-W. (The intent of the Loglan project, of course, has always been to develop the apparatus for a controlled experiment.) On the other hand, C. S. Lewis, in his “Studies in Words”, points out that some very important and difficult-to-pin-down words like “world” and “nature” show similar semantic developments in unrelated languages – but, of course, he was working only within western culture.

Outside Australia probably there is only one Kangaroo. In the hundreds of Australian aboriginal languages and dialects there are hundreds of words equivalent to kangaroo. Kangaroo is a local name used by aborigines living near present day Sydney.

In the same way, the politically correct term for aboriginal Australians is ‘koori’ Unfortunately this annoys the hell out of any Aborigine who lives more that 50 miles from Sydney who call themselves something completely different.

As far as kangaroo goes. A preferred term is skippy. As in when you go to a MacDonalds burger joint you should ask for a skippyburger. It slips past the tongue so much easier than kangarooburger and tastes a lot better than any madcowbeefburger anyway.

  • For the uninitiated, Skippy was the Australian marsupial equivalent of Flipper the dolphin or Lassie the dog.


I guess also, in more enlightened times, we could have not only skippyburger, but also filet’o’flipper and the McLassie meal.


(If you can’t beat-em, eat-em)

A very sweeping statement here. Beer is very similar in Western European languages, beer, bier etc. Move right a fraction and you get Pivo a two syllable name for beer in the Slavic tongues. Other language versions include Sahti and Kilju in Finnish, sör in Hungarian, Kareh Tchour in Armenian, Garagardo in Basque, õlu in estonian, la cerveza in Spanish, ubhiya in Xhosa and utshwala in Zulu

Lots of polysyllabic words in that lot, let alone the rest of the world.

You should have discussed the term milk - a pre-indo european term that is very widespread, probably the most widespread word ever. People belive that echos of the word exist even in the Americas.


Only recently received worldwide propagation?? Are we talking about the same thing? Brewed leaves?? Been around for thousands of years. Has roots (pardon the pun) in languages thousands of years old, so that there’s been plenty of time to develop new words in new languages… And, tea is important too! One can drink a lot more tea than beer, or wine. Tea is an all-day, many times a day, beverage for large parts of the world- including large parts of the USA. (Even larger parts of the USA if you count the 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year iced tea contingent in Texas, which, despite having a “national beer of Texas,” does drink lots more tea than beer!)

Tea, as in Camellia sinensis, has only very recently become a worldwide phenomenon. I dare say the number of worldwide morphemes for “tisane” or “infusion” (the only correct words for boiled leaves that are not Camellia sinensis,) is much greater.

Per the Larouse Gastronomique, Tea originated in China in about 3000 BC, reached Japan in c.780AD, reached England in 1644, and America in the “early 18th century”. It was not grown in India/Ceylon until after 1840. So it hardly had an early world-wide popularity, and arrived in most places long after the language developed, and with likely the foriegn word ofr it. Ie, Tea spread along with it’s name, as it was imported/introduced. Sorry bunrab.
On an unrelated note- i don’t feel so bad now, even Cecil is being called a racist without justification. :smiley:

I realize it’s not standard, but in most of the English-speaking world “cuppa” is used to mean “tea,” in certain circumstances. So there is at least one other word for tea. And isn’t “té” cognate with “tea?” I think it’s just an English word spelled in Spanish phonology, like “beísbol.”

Ah, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Though I’ve never seen episodes of this Lassie-like show and I’ve never been to Australia, I’ve read about it in a few books about bad TV shows, most notably “TV Turkeys” (1986 more or less). I’d give the author’s name, but I can’t find my copy at the moment.

Anyway, the book is written in a humourous, sarcastic, dare I say Cecil-ish tone. The funniest line in it, though, was within the article about Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo. At the time, the U.S. was undergoing a brief pro-Australia fad, mostly inspired by Paul (Crocodile Dundee) Hogan. The book’s author suggest it would be a perfect time to renew the Skippy show, perhaps with Australian Mel Gibson. They could call it “Hopping Mad Max”.

I laughed for quite some time.

¡Mas cerveza, por favor!

The writer and weird dude, Robert Anton Wilson, once wrote about feces as being a preoccupation to the American people. He cites everyday terminology as examples, some of these being “full of shit”, “shithead”, “getting shitfaced”, “shit for brains”, “no shit”, “scared shitless”, “tough shit”, and one of my personal favorites, “eat shit and die”. Just thought it was interesting. Enjoy!

OK, WHAT people? There was no dairying in the Americas, not even of Llamas. Unless you are talking about human milk. Milk is a widespread term in indo-european languages because the proto-indo-europeans were pastoralists. But they didn’t make it to america…

Even aside from the pervasiveness (or lack thereof) of milk, one must wonder what the etymological connection is between “milk” and “lait” (from relatively closely related languages, at that!). What’s the word look like in other languages?

Hleeb in Arabic. Or Leben, depending on the dialect. I once tried to learn some Tachelhit, I only recall the word bears no ressemblance to milk or hleeb. Same for Peul.

Ergo, moving along?

(I daresay random comparision of words will not lead us anywhere.)

“maito” in Finnish, “bainne” in Irish, gyu-nyu in Japanese.

From the Loglan page:

“…the structure of a human language sets limits on the thinking of those who speak it; hence a language could even place constraints on the development of the cultures that use it.”

We have a plethora of words that describe beer and shit. What does this say about the development of American culture?

saoirse said:

That’s an interesting notation. I’m sure you understand the origin of that word is an abbreviation for “cup of tea”. Nevertheless, it has become commonly used, at least in slang.

I did realize that, but since slang develops organically, I think it can be a valid expression of weak determinism. “Cuppa” expresses a certain aspect of the concept of “tea” in a certain setting (I’ve never heard it used in a formal setting, although my experience is limited).
Actually, what I was getting at was that the number of words for something within a language is more important than comparisons among languages. I believe that in the strong determinism theory, it is virtually impossible to compare signifiers to concepts in different languages, since we are at the mercy of a particular language in the way we understand the world.