[Tibeto-burman-linguistics] Words for tea

Stephen Morey S.Morey at latrobe.edu.au
Mon Nov 3 20:10:16 UTC 2014

Dear Katie,

In Singpho in India the word for 'tea' is pʰa¹lap², which is literally 'what leaf', based on a story in which two young men are in the forest, discover a leaf and ask its name. They then taste it and decide that it is good to drink.

The history of tea in North East India is about using local varieties, as the Wikipedia page on tea says:
"Tea was introduced into India by the British, in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on it. The British brought Chinese seeds into Northeast India but the plants failed; they later discovered that a different variety of tea was endemic to Assam and the Northeast region of India and that it was used by local tribes."

It is these local tribes whose languages I have been working on; and in North East India the Singpho are particularly credited as the group from whom the British obtained tea. Upper Assam is today an area of huge tea plantations and many Singpho villagers grow tea as well as rice.

In the various Tangsa varieties, the word is borrowed from Singpho, and undergoes various sound changes, as pʰalap, pʰelap, pʰiʔjaʔ, pʰeiʔlap and other similar forms.

In Singpho pʰa¹kʰaa⁴ is used for the bitter tea that is produced by brewing the traditional tea for some time. When I first tasted it I could barely swallow it but you get used to it and it's a good thing to have after a meal.

In the Tai languages, there is a different word, neŋ³ in Tai Phake, which is used for the plant. It is called nam³neŋ³ when drunk (nam³ 'water').

Stephen Morey
La Trobe University

From: Tibeto-burman-linguistics [tibeto-burman-linguistics-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org] on behalf of Nathan Straub 曹內森 [nstraub at gmail.com]
Sent: 04 November 2014 02:14
To: Katie B Gao
Cc: Tibeto-Burman Linguistics
Subject: Re: [Tibeto-burman-linguistics] Words for tea

Hi Katie,

Here are a few languages I have on hand...

In Rawang (Mvtwang dialect), 'tea' is /paqká/ [pʰaʔ⁵⁵kʰa⁵³]. I'm not sure of the etymology, although STEDT says [pʰaʔ] comes from a PTB root *r-pak meaning 'leaf', and the second syllable might be related to Mandarin /chá/ [tɕʰa³⁵]. I always get it mixed up with /kapà/ [kʰa³³pʰa²¹] 'what'. Their tea leaves are small and broad-leafed, and the tea is served in small bamboo cups.

In Anong, it is [lɑ³¹tɕɑ⁵⁵].

In Thai, it is /náamchaa/ [naam³⁵tɕʰaa³³] (water+tea) or just [tɕʰaa³³]. That, except for the 'water' part, definitely seems to be from Mandarin.

In Dai Lue, there are several words:
/sutʰaa⁴/ [sutʰaa³³] 'tea (literary)'
/nam⁶laa⁶/ [na̰m³³la̰a̰³³] 'tea' (water+tea)
/laa⁶/ [la̰a̰³³] 'tea'
/laa⁶kʰew¹/ [la̰a̰³³kʰew⁵⁵] 'green tea' (tea+green)
/laa⁶dæŋ¹/ [la̰a̰³³dæŋ⁵⁵] 'black tea' (tea+red) (a calque with Mandarin /hóngchá/ (red+tea))


Mani, Samuel. 1997/1978. Zaqxømpkà (Thesaurus) [Rawang dictionary]. Chiang Mai: self published, p.59.
LaPolla, Randy J. 2003. Rawang glossary. electronic data, received 26 July, 2003. Accessed via STEDT database <http://stedt.berkeley.edu/search/> on 2014-11-03.

Sun Hongkai & Liu Guangkun. 2009. A Grammar of Anong: Language death under intense contact. (Ed.) Li Fengxiang, Ela Thurgood & Graham Thurgood. (Languages of the Greater Himalayan Region 9). Leiden & Boston: BRILL, p.305.

Becker, Benjawan Poomsan. 2002. Thai-English English-Thai dictionary. Bangkok: Paiboon Poomsan Publishing, p.301.

Hanna, William J. 2012. Dai Lue-English dictionary. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, pp.95, 205, 294.


On Mon, Nov 3, 2014 at 4:50 PM, Katie B Gao <katiebgao at gmail.com<mailto:katiebgao at gmail.com>> wrote:
Hi all,

A brief (fun) request if you’re interested. I’m working on a mapping project illustrating the words for ‘tea’ in the world’s languages. If you have a minute, I would love to know the generic word for ‘tea’ in the language(s) you work on. If you have any etymological info (direct borrowing, trade-related, etc) for this lexical item or interesting sources you could point me to, I would appreciate it.


Katie Gao

katiebgao at gmail.com<mailto:katiebgao at gmail.com>
University of Hawai’i at Mānoa

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