Monthly Archives: December 2012

I’m always fascinated by the relationships between words in the same and different languages, and so while I’m currently trying my best to learn Cantonese, I’m intrigued by how a word I want to learn is related to another, and where it comes from in general. A big problem with this is that writing and spoken language are not that closely related as, say, Spanish; that means that most etymology that can be found online is about the signs, which are “the same” in Mandarin and Cantonese (apart from being simplified in China, with Hong Kong and Taiwan still using the traditional characters), not about the changes in pronunciation, which is most interesting to me, especially because I plan to learn Mandarin at some later time, when I’m proficient enough in Cantonese, and would like to connect the two languages using etymology.

So I didn’t find any resource for spoken Cantonese etymology; that may be because any resource is in Chinese, so I can’t search for it (yet). But I found another interesting tidbit: the name “Mandarin” for the Chinese language spoken around Beijing and made the official language of China is actually Indo-European. It entered English via Portuguese mandarim or Dutch mandorijn, who over some steps (Malay menteri, Hindi mantri) got it from Sanskrit mantrin “counsellor”. Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century used this word for the language as a loan translation: 官話 (guānhuà) means “language of the officials”. The root of the word *men- “to think” is related to mantra, mental and so on, and to Portuguese mandar “to lead”, which does not come from the same root, but probably from Latin manus “hand” (Indo-European root *man-) and dare “to give”.