Why is the word for coffee the same in every language?

Coffee- English
Kaffee- German
Cafe- French
Ko phe- Vietnamese
Khaphe- Greek
kohhi- Japanese

I know that “coffee” is also roughly the same in portuguese and Chinese and probably a bunch of other languages.
I think this is really odd, I looked it up and the origin of the word, according to Merriam-Webster, is from 1598, from the Italian word “cafee”. Ok. So why has that partcular word spread all over the world?

Are there any other words that are almost the same word in almost every language?

Also, does anyone know a language in which the word for “coffee” sounds nothing at all like the ones I could come up with?

Perhaps because it was Europeans who popularized coffee throughout the world and all the other languages borrowed it from them.

Does anyone know what any of the indigenous people of the Americas called coffee?

I think BobT’s got it. Coffee was introduced to the Old World through a very small number of sources (probably just a few Spanish traders). One they settled on a name for the stuff, that name was used by everyone who bought or drank it.

For the record, I should say that I was making a WAG.

How could you forget Latvian, one of the most important languages of this century?

Coffee = Kafija

BobT asks:

Nothing, as the coffee tree is not indigenous to the Americas.

“Coffee” is a recent loan across many languages (and coffee, of course, is a recent loan across many cultures). The spread of the word (and substance) was made quicker and easier by the increased mobility provided by, and political, etc. dominance of, Europeans in the past few centuries.

(The word “coffee”, incidentally, does derive from Italian caffè, but that word itself is a loan, via Turkish, of Arabic qahwah, which in turn is probably from Geez (which is a Hamitic language formerly spoken in Ethiopia, as well as an exclamation :slight_smile: )).

Other recent loans to many languages are “cigar” and such brand names as “Coke®” (of course, “cigar” did not originate in English).

I read an interesting factoid once (don’t know if it’s true) that the most common word across languages is no. The second most common is taxi. I wonder where coffee fits in the rankings.

Klingon = raktajino

So there! So much for that theory.

Semi-educated WAG here …

I recall reading that coffee originated in the Arabic world, and was a popular drink at mosques, since it helped one stay awake during the long services. Since the drink’s popularity originated in one particular spot on earth, the phonetic version of the drink’s name spread outward from there (when coffee was traded); only the spelling changed based on the local lingo.

Plenty of them, especially technical terms, e.g., “telephone”, “Internet”, and “molybdenum”.

French téléphone
German Telefon
Portuguese telefone
Italian telefono
Spanish teléfono
Swedish telefon

The following can’t be displayed exactly in this font:

Japanese terefon (Japanese also has an unrelated synonym “denwa”)
Greek telephono
Russian telephon
Although there are probably others, Icelandic (which is quite resistent to loan words) is the only language I could find that doesn’t have a related word for telephone. Their word is talsími, loosely “speaking wire.”

I think that there are more and more words that cut across languages. In general, I suspect that the more recently a word was coined, the more likely it is to be adopted with minimal or no changes throughout the world. I mean, if a new product is invented in Japan, let’s say… the karaoke machine, for example… are Americans more likely to make up a new, English word for it, or just to adopt the Japanese word “karaoke”? In the same way, if a popular American product catches on in Europe, most Europeans will use the English name for it, rather than making up a new word in their language (yeah, I know that L’Academie Francaise makes up “French” words for everything, but nobody in France pays them much mind!).

Well, in the grand scheme of human history, coffee is a relatively recent development. Once it was introduced throughout Europe, most Europeans were inclined to call it by the name it was given. Only minor variations in spelling and pronunciation resulted.

To add to the list, in Hawaiian:

coffee = kope
telephone = kelepona

I suspect the simple word “Ma”, or close approximations of it, pops up in quite a few languages.

The fact that all these M words for “mother” appear, and that “Ma” means the same thing in languages as geographically and linguistically removed as English and Vietnamese, and that it is obviously not some recently coined, or technical, word such as “karaoke” has me stumped.

Is it more to do with certain sounds being more natural for very small children to utter? I would suspect this is the case, although most little kids tend to say “mum (or mom)” a little later than they attempt the apparently easier “Dadda dad dad da” type words (much to the chagrin of mothers everywhere).

The Japanese “denwa” is probably derived from the similar Chinese (well, at least in Cantonese) “deen-wa”. Loosely translated as “electric voice.”

I have a dictionary, a very handy thing, Websters:
Italian & Turkish; Italian caffe, from Turkish kahve, from Arabic qahwa

Don’t look like ‘coffee’ in all languages to me.

Looks don’t matter; pronunciation does. The “q” in arabic is pronounced “k”, for instance. And “v” can easily be softened to an “f” sound. Additionally, it’s not unusual for some languages to change “w” to “v.”

There’s a fair number of words that are borrowed across many languages. There’s a saying among linguists that every language has coffee and mango. Others come from sports: polo, golf, music: opera, jazz, biology: virus, and as has been pointed out, technology: radio, radar, modem, laser, plus some miscellaneous terms like sauna and veto. No doubt you can find more for these categories.

I once tried to find the word spelled the same in the most number of languages, but I was defeated by the lack of good bilingual dictionaries available in all the languages I was looking at.

The Arabic q is not pronounced the same as k. The articulation is further back, at the uvula.

The Arabic word *qahwah is not derived from Ethiopic (a related South Semitic language), but from a native Arabic root. Originally it meant ‘wine’, but after it caught on in Arabia, the word was adapted for the new beverage as well. So it could be generalized as ‘a dark-colored strong-flavored beverage with psychoactive properties.’ Arabic did borrow a coffee word from Ethiopic, however: the name for the coffee plant is bun in Ethiopic and bunn in Arabic. No doubt the Bunn company, manufacturer of commercial coffee equipment, will be pleased to know that.

Turkish kahve is simply what happens to Arabic words when adapted to Turkish pronunciation. The letter q has been dropped in modern Turkish spelling, but when written in Ottoman Turkish in the Arabic alphabet, it used the letter qaf. The Arabic vowel a remained “a” in Turkish after a back consonant (like q), but shifted to “e” after a front consonant. Arabic w always becomes “v” in Turkish. The h in the middle of qahwah was actually pronounced with aspiration in Arabic and Turkish, even though followed by a consonant (like the initial /hw-/ sound of English “wh-”).

Italian has no /h/ sound. But the unvoiced h in Turkish kahve went to make the v unvoiced as well, so it became “f” which then rebounded on the adjacent h, making it double “ff”. Italian caffè preserved the accent on the final syllable which is typical of Turkish pronunciation.

Japanese kohi substituted “h” for f. Why? In Japanese, the four sounds [p], [b}, [f], and [h] are all considered, for historical/etymological reasons, variants of the same sound, and are written with the same kana characters. The Japanese [h] and [f] are two allophones of the same phoneme: it sounds like h when it comes before a, e, o; it sounds like f only before u. So English /f/ adapted to nineteenth-century Japanese pronunciation came out [h] if it wasn’t followed by u. Present-day Japanese borrows the [f] sound in any position, but when coffee was borrowed in the 19th century, they hadn’t gotten used to that yet.

Then the linguists are wrong.

Coffee is bun in Amharic.

Mango is âmra in Sanskrit and âm in Hindi. In Tamil, the word from which “mango” originated, they call it mam-palam.

The guy who created modern Hebrew, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, made up a bunch of new words for non-biblical items, like telephones. Some of them got picked up, but the loads were completely ignored. Hence, the Hebrew word for telephone is (get ready for it) “telephone”. BUT, they got creative when it came to cell phones, which are called “pelephones” (well, the cause it’s Hebrew, the plural is actually “pelephonim”). Not sure why.

Anyway, coffee in Hebrew is “cafe”.