Caucasian words for tea

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In Appendix C of The True History of Tea, a book that I wrote with Erling Hoh, I showed how all the words for "tea" in the world except two little-known Austro-Asiatic terms can be traced back to Sinitic.  The three main types of words for tea (infusion of Camellia sinensis leaves) may be characterized as te, cha, and chai.  I won't repeat all of the philological and linguistic data in this post, but you may find the essentials nicely summarized here:

"An evening with Victor Mair" ("Pluck Tea", 6/1/11), also in this Wikipedia article, and in this blog post on Languages of the World by Asya Pereltsvaig:  "What will you have:  tea or chai?" (9/28/14).

Here's a map of words for tea in European languages.

If you want more detail, go to Appendix C of the book, but — unless you have exceptionally good eyes — you'd be well advised to enlarge it on a photocopier because that part of the book is in double columns of very fine print.

Recently, at the Global Tea Initiative colloquium held at UC Davis, Matthew London mentioned to me that he had heard there is another word for tea in the Caucasus that doesn't fall within the te, cha, chai paradigm.  I was dubious because virtually all of the words for tea that I know of in languages stretching in a broad band across the center of Eurasia from Manchuria and Mongolia to Greece and Arabia belong to the chai type (which stems from New Persian châî, without Middle Persian predecessor, and also without Middle Iranian [Sogdian, Khotanese] predecessor either, so far as I know).

I asked Peter Golden, a Turkologist who is also familiar with Caucasian languages, to list the words for tea in languages of the Caucasus that he was aware of.  Peter replied:

Of those known to me, most go back to čay (cf. Russ. чай): Georgian č’ai (ჩაი), Chechen: čay, Abaza: čay, Abkhaz: a-čay, Kabarda-Circassian: šay/šey; Adyghe: š'aj (шьай), Ubykh. čay; Lezgin: čay, Lak: čiay (чяй) [with many variants depending on type, e.g. nuġay čiay (нугьай чяй) “Noghay Tea” (a tea mixed with milk, butter, St. John’s wort and other elements) – elsewhere in Daghistan this is called qalmuq čay (къалмукъ чай) “Kalmyk Tea” – i.e. coming from Kalmyk/Western Mongols (probably through Turkic intermediation – these are viewed as loanwords from Turkic, see N.S. Džidalaev, Tjurkizmy v dagestanskix jazykax. Opyt istoriko-étimologičeskogo analiza (Moskva: Nauka, 1990):109. A notable exception is Armenian t’ei (թեյ). Except for the Armenian, these terms come either from or via Turkic (Turkish, Azeri and sometimes Qumuq or Qaračay-Balqar) or Russian.

My guess is that their history goes back to the introduction of tea into the region by the Turks and/or Russians. Culinary issues are always interesting.


Here follow some interesting notes about the lateness of tea drinking in Iran from Brian Spooner:

I've not seen any evidence of tea in Iran before the 19th century, and the people I talked to about it in Iran in the 1960s, who were mostly in villages (everyone everywhere throughout Iran drinks tea all day), said no more than a hundred years ago. But I would bet that it was in the cities before that. It's difficult to find any evidence, since there was no printing or journalism until the early 20th century. Before that everything that got written was literature (classical style) or religious commentary. I suspect the best place to look for evidence would be the British Indian archives, since the British in India began to take a serious interest in Iran in the first decade of the 19th century. Cambridge Archive Editions is about to send me a collection of everything from the archives that has anything to do with the Afghan-Iran border….

Something similar may be said about the lateness of tea drinking in India, despite its similar ubiquity there now.  The late appearance of tea drinking in India is all the more surprising because Assam is part of the botanical homeland of tea.  The story will be told in a forthcoming (but not right away) book by Philip Lutgendorf.

On the introduction of tea to Iran, Pardis Minuchehr observes:

As for the the word "chai," I am not aware of a Middle or Old Persian equivalent.  But there are some accounts that the word may have come into Persian as early as 15th or 16th century- in the course of the silk road trade.  Others believe the Dutch had some hand in bringing it to the West of Asia in the seventeenth century.  But actual tea farms were not developed in Iran until the late nineteenth century by Kashef al-Saltanah (I recall reading his biography with you several years ago).

This article on "ČĀY" in Encyclopædia Iranica by Daniel Balland and Marcel Bazin is valuable, not just for tea in Iranian language and culture, but for the history of tea in Asia in general from the medieval period on.  Note that dates are given both in Hijiri and Julian years.

On the introduction of tea to Inner Asia, Juha Janhunen reports:  "To my knowledge the word is not attested in our extant sources on Khitan [907-1125] and Jurchen [1115-1234]."  But tea did spread from China to Central Asian peoples who were in close contact with China (e.g., Tibetans, Uyghurs) by that time.

Paul Smith remarks:

The earliest notice of tea spreading north from China is by Feng Yan (jinshi [advanced scholar 756]) in his Fēng shì wén jiàn jì 封氏聞見記 (A record of things seen and heard by Mr. Feng), where he writes that around the 720s tea "began to spread from the interior to the lands outside the fortifications. In recent years the Uighurs have come to pay court, driving their famous horses before them in great number to trade for tea." (6.2a, quoted in Paul J. Smith, Taxing Heaven's Storehouse: Horses, Bureaucrats, and the Destruction of the Sichuan Tea Industry, 1074-1224 [Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 1991], 53).

We do have a couple of mentions of ja in Old Tibetan (mid-7th c.-early 11th c.) documents, but there is some question whether they refer to tea as a beverage, which the word comes to mean in later centuries.  Patrick Booz has written a dissertation on the tea trade in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands (Oxford, 2011) and he mentions the presence of tea in Tibet as early as the 8th century, with large-scale use of it from the 11th century. Paul Smith in Taxing Heaven's Storehouse (see above) mentions Song period trade in tea with groups in the Tibetan borderlands in the late 10th and the 11th centuries. The concordances of the Dunhuang historical texts don't seem to have an entry for ja in the sense of tea.

As to when tea become a popular drink among the Mongols, Christopher Atwood relates:

There's a rather famous reference in the 17th century chronicles to Mandukhai Sechen Khatun throwing a cup of tea on an official who suggests that she marry a non-Chinggisid. This incident would be set in 1497 or so, but the chronicles were written in the 1630s to 1660s. — there's debate over whether it's an anachronism, and I think it probably is. But it certainly shows tea was a major drink by the 1600s. In general, tea probably became a mass consumption item along with the Second Conversion* (1570s on).


*In 1576, Altan Khan met Sodnam Gyatso, the 3rd Dalai Lama, in northeast Tibet.  This marked the beginning of the Mongols’ “Second Conversion” to Buddhism.

After this brief survey, I'm not finding any clear evidence of ultimately non-Sinitic words for tea in West Eurasia or, for that matter, anywhere else, except for two Austro-Asiatic words, specifically as found in the Palaungic division of northern Mon-Khmer, and both of which yielded Sinitic words for tea (see The True History of Tea, p. 266ab).  If anyone can point me to a word for the leaf of Camellia sinensis as consumed by humans, particularly as a beverage, that lies outside the te, cha, chai + Mon-Khmer paradigm, I would be very interested in learning about it.

[Thanks to Eugene Anderson, Martin Schwartz, Hiroshi Kumamoto, Stanley Insler, Nathan Hill, Pamela Kyle Crossley, Nicholas Sims-Williams, Elliot Sperling, Douglas Duckworth, Gray Tuttle, and David Dettmann]


  1. Finn said,

    January 26, 2017 @ 7:52 pm

    The map you link shows herbata/harbata/arbata as words in Poland/Belarus/Lithuania. What is the etymology of those? Cognate with "herb"?

  2. Victor Mair said,

    January 26, 2017 @ 7:56 pm


    Good eye, good question. Yes, they are cognate with "herb + tea".

  3. Victor Mair said,

    January 26, 2017 @ 10:27 pm

    From Martin Schwartz:

    All I have to add to your blog on tea are two instances in which each of the two basic words for 'tea' coexist, albeit with sociosemantic distinction, which may be fine-tuned beyond my broad report.

    In Greek téïon is the puristic (decades ago de rigueur on menus), high-falutin' form, and tsái the familiar and more folksy form. By now, for all I know, it has completely eclipsed the first word. In Yiddish both word-types are used, but t$ay ($ = esh), clearly from Russian, the more folksy form.

    I think it likely that the Greek forms reflect resp. Italian tè and Turkish çay, and the Yiddish forms reflect German Tee and obviously Russian c^ay (c^ = c hacek). For the latter, we have Yidd. c^aynik 'teakettle' and cf. the importance of samovar. I have a beautiful inlaid samovar behind me, either Russian or Iranian. Today I noticed that a trader's argot from a town in Iranian Kurdistan has c^im 'tea', which I think is merely a defornation of Kurdish c^ây. Central Asiatic Gypsy persophone argots also have 'tea' the argot word for 'water'.

  4. Endymion Wilkinson said,

    January 26, 2017 @ 11:01 pm

    Was I completely off course in deriving chai from Manchu tsai?

  5. SB said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 12:57 am

    Below the linked map, a commenter mentions that "cha" is/was used as slang for "tea" in London (UK, I assume). In my experience (London-ish), it is only ever used in the phrase "a cup of cha". So A might say, "shall I make the tea?", and B might respond, "yes, let's have a cup of cha". But nobody would say: "Shall I make the cha?"

  6. Keith said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 2:24 am

    Use of the word "cha" or "char" (non-rhotic) for "tea" in British, especially London, English is very well known (at least to British people, anyway). It also appears in at least one compound word, "char-lady" or "char-woman", a probably extinct occupation, nowadays.

    British English has a large stock of loan words from Hindi (well, I suppose that at the time of those borowings it would have been called "Hindoostani"). Terms such as "char-wallah" were kept in the popular passive vocabulary (by which, I mean that people would understand the term perfectly, though probably never use it in speech) by TV programmes set in Imperial or WWII India. In particular, I'm thinking of "It ain't half hot mum". Just google for that name, and you'll see the "char-wallah" and "punkah-wallah".

  7. John Walden said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 2:45 am

    My initial suspicion that 'char-lady' or 'char-woman' had more to do with 'chore' than with 'cha' is supported by the one etymological dictionary (and Wikipedia) that I have looked it up in. Char-ladies didn't (don't) just make tea.

  8. SB said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 3:28 am

    When I said "In my experience (London-ish)", I meant that I grew up near London. I guess that wasn't as clear as I thought.

  9. AntC said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 5:19 am

    Assam is part of the botanical homeland of tea

    Thank you Victor. I noticed in Taiwan that cha, by default means Oolong tea. (Taiwan's is the best ;-)

    Black tea is called Assamu. (This sweetened with sugar cane makes the best iced lemon tea.)

  10. Amy Stoller said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 6:57 am

    I agree with John Walden re charwomen, who in US parlance are cleaning ladies. In homes that also boasted at least one maid, the charwoman did the heavy cleaning jobs. Nothing to do with a cuppa char, except coincidence—as is the fact that I’m enjoying a lovely cup of Assam tea right now.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 7:25 am


    Taiwan teas are exceptionally fine; truly divine in many cases.

  12. Chris Button said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 11:12 am

    I'd always wondered about the idea of an original *la behind the first syllable of Burmese lakphak /ləpʰɛʔ/ "tea" since there is clearly a -k in Written Burmese "lak". Looking at Shorto's "A Mon Khmer Comparative Dictionary", I note that he has *slaʔ "leaf". Perhaps the Mon-Khmer -ʔ was reflected as -k in Burmese?

    While Old Burmese does appear to have had a glottalic final of sorts that developed into a tone category (it originally came from -s as in the Old Chinese qu-sheng), its form in Inscriptional Burmese as a subscript glottal (that eventually just became the dot of Written Burmese used today) suggests that already by the time of the Mon borrowing, it would have reflected some kind of glottalic co-articulation (nowadays this is the creaky tone). Since this would not have been an individual segment, perhaps -k was the next closest thing? In support of that, one could perhaps cite Mon-Khmer *slaʔ "spleen" and Burmese sarak(ywak) /θəyɛʔ(ywɛʔ)/ "spleen".

  13. Victor Mair said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 11:38 am

    @Endymion Wilkinson

    "Was I completely off course in deriving chai from Manchu tsai?"

    Not completely off course, but going in the opposite direction, since the Persian scholar Biruni already mentions čāy in the first half of the 11th c. (see the link to EI in the o.p.).

  14. Victor Mair said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 11:44 am

    From David Dettmann:

    You alluded to fermented tea for eating in your book, with the word letpet လက်ဖက် (which I usually see latinized as lahpet online and in cookbooks), and the word for tea (drink) in Myanmar as lahpet-yei လက်ဖက်ရည်

    Is the "la" at the beginning of these words a relative of that early Sinitic word?

  15. Victor Mair said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 11:46 am

    @David Dettmann:

    The "la" that I was talking about is Austro-Asiatic (Mon-Khmer, Palaungic), and the Sinitic words ultimately derive from it.

    Cf. Chris Button's comment above and Appendix C of The True History of Tea.

  16. Chris Button said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 12:35 pm

    For any sticklers for detail, I should have written sarak(rwak) not sarak(ywak) for "spleen"

  17. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 12:53 pm

    If you're looking for designations for "tea" that aren't Wanderwörter, I'd recommend looking at American Indian languages. These are famously resistant to borrowing. I can count on one hand the number of borrowed words in Modern Osage (the one I know best). The Osage for "tea" is hpéže mąhká (lit. "weed medicine"; cf. mąhkása "coffee" from mąhká sápe "black medicine") or hpéženíi "weed water". Though Wiktionary tells me that Navajo dééh is a borrowing, as is chʼil ahwééh ("plant" + Spanish café).

  18. Victor Mair said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 6:10 pm

    Thank you very much for bringing up the matter of Native American teas, Daniel von Brighoff. I have long heard of traditional American Indian herbal infusions that are customarily referred to as "teas", but I doubt that any of them have Camellia sinensis as an ingredient:

    herbal "teas"


    These American Indian herbal infusions are only loosely called "tea", which refers specifically to a steeped beverage prepared from Camellia sinensis leaves. Technically, they are herbal blends or herbal infusions.

    For example, one of the most popular, "chamomile", promotes sleep, which is the opposite effect of tea that has not been decaffeinated.

    Another example of an infused beverage that is conventionally called "tea" is made with roasted barley, which is especially popular in Korea. In Korea it is called boricha 보리차, in Japanese it is called mugicha 麦茶), and in Mandarin dàmàichá (大麦茶 / 大麥茶) or màichá (麦茶 / 麥茶).

    The last, and very long, Korean dynasty, the Choson / Joseon (1392-1897), also called the Yi Dynasty was very pro-Confucian and anti-Buddhist. Since tea was so closely interwoven with Buddhist culture, the ruling Yi dynasty essentially proscribed it, particularly in the cities. In its place, an infusion of roasted barley became a very widespread ersatz.

    These herbal and other plant based infusions that are not from Camellia sinensis should preferably be referred to as tisanes, which, by the way is not derived from the word "tea", but comes from the Greek word ptisane meaning "crushed barley". That's very intriguing, since it points to a use of barley for a tea-like infusion in two parts of Eurasia (Greece and Korea) that are widely separated in time and space.

    An infusion of roasted barley is not the only "tea" drunk in Korea. There are dozens listed here:

    With the fall of the Choson / Joseon or Yi Dynasty, Buddhism was reinstated, and the drinking of genuine tea quickly spread again in Korea. It is very interesting that this reborn tea in Korea is pointedly referred to as prajñā ("wisdom") tea, a quintessentially Buddhist concept.

    From Wikipedia:


    Drinking of green tea by common people in Korea was not popular until recently. Commercial production of green tea in South Korea began in 1970s. Even in 2012, production of tea in South Korea is 20% of Taiwan and 3.5% of Japan and tea consumption per capita is less than one tenth of other East Asian countries.


    By the way, I am not trying to be prescriptive here, but these are the usages that the tea industry would like to adopt. To show how confused the terminology is at the present time, I have seen tisanes referred to as "tisane tea" and even "non-tea".

  19. Not a naive speaker said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 6:15 pm

    From Young and Morgan – The Navajo Language
    [The only for "tea" I found with a quick search was the teapot]

    tea: Navajo tea, ch'il 'ahwéhé

    teakettle: tó bee nániildohí

    teaspoon: béésh 'adee' 'ałts'íísigiíí (little metal spoon)

    dééh bee yibéshí teapot, (lit. the one with wich tea is boiled)

    infusion: An infusion made made with water and herbs, used ceremonially, kétłoh
    an infusion made with water and herbs, and used cermonially. It is both imbibed by the patient and placed on the patients body. The feet and legs are the starting point. (ké-, feet + tłoh, application)

    coffee: gohwééh, 'ahwééh, 'ahwéí (spanish: café)

    ch'il: plant, shrub, bush, weed, vegetable growth

  20. Cervantes said,

    January 27, 2017 @ 7:00 pm


    Thank you very much for bringing up the matter of Native American teas, Daniel von Brighoff. I have long heard of traditional American Indian herbal infusions that are customarily referred to as "teas", but I doubt that any of them have Camellia sinensis as an ingredient:

    Yes, an interesting example is the infusion of ka’a (Guarani name; a. k. a. Ilex paraguariensis) now commonly referred to as yerba maté in Paraguay and elsewhere, where yerba is from Spanish and maté derives from Quechua.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    January 28, 2017 @ 9:43 am

    From Matthew Kapstein:

    There is a legend concerning the introduction of tea to Tibet under one of the old Tibetan emperors, Khri Lde-gtsug-brtan, I believe, in the early 8th c. However, I do not know a source for the legend before the Rgya bod yig tshang of the 14th c.

    There is one observation I have made in reading Tibetan religious biographies that I should write up as an article one of these days: in authentic 11th c. sources, people are always drinking zho (yogurt) or chang (beer), never tea. It is towards the second quarter of the 12th c. that one begins to see references to tea being served, offerings of tea, and the like. My belief is that, although tea may have rarely entered Tibet earlier, it only becomes a regular import and part of Tibetan culture in the 12th and that this may be directly correlated with the rise in trade between Khams and China during the Song period.

  22. Victor Mair said,

    January 28, 2017 @ 1:12 pm

    From Thomas Allsen:

    According to H. Serruys, SINO-MONGOL RELATIONS, VOL II, THE TRIBUTE SYSTEM (Bruxelles, 1967), pp. 497-98, Mongolian tribute missions were treated to "tea parties" in the 1480's once inside the Ming frontiers. But as he points out in vol. III of this work, TRADE RELATIONS, THE HORSE FAIRS (Bruxelles, 1975), pp. 83-91, there are no references to tea drinking in Mongolia until the 1570's. Moreover, all these are clearly associated with the spread of Lamaism in the eastern steppe. In Serruys' view, the widespread use of tea as a social drink in Mongolia is a development of the early Qing. In this regard it is worth stressing that Serruys has gone through all the relevant Chinese sources with a fine tooth comb.

    While I have never researched the problem, I certainly have no recollection of tea among the Mongols of the imperial era. The only connection I can think of comes in Rashid al-Din's agricultural manual prepared during the reign of Ghazan (1295-1304). Here Chinese tea (CHA) is discussed, more particularly its medical properties which were much appreciated in Iran. For details, see Allsen, CULTURE AND CONQUEST IN MONGOL EURASIA, pp. 120 and 138-39.

  23. Chris Button said,

    January 28, 2017 @ 2:04 pm

    We do have a couple of mentions of ja in Old Tibetan (mid-7th c.-early 11th c.) documents, but there is some question whether they refer to tea as a beverage, which the word comes to mean in later centuries.

    I don't know about the Tibetan side of things, but Burmese lakphak /ləpʰɛʔ/ mentioned above refers just to the tea leaves which are commonly used in cooking (most famously in "tea leaf salad"). The drink tea is called lakphakraɲ /ləpʰɛʔje/ in which raɲ /je/ means "water".

  24. Leonard van der Kuijp said,

    January 28, 2017 @ 2:34 pm

    As for drinking tea in Tibet, there is a reference to Atiśa's (11th c.) astonishment that people were drinking tea in Tibet in an early study of a portion of his life that was allegedly co-written by two of his students, Nag tsho Lo tsā ba and 'Brom ston. Unearthed by Lu Houyuan and others, there is now also archeological evidence that supports the view that tea drinking was a custom in far Western Tibet (Mnga' ris ) as early as the second or third century AD.

  25. Victor Mair said,

    January 28, 2017 @ 2:49 pm

    @Leonard van der Kuijp

    That evidence for alleged tea drinking in far Western Tibet during the second or third c. AD is mighty slim (I've gone over it carefully), so slim as to be virtually non-existent. Consequently, I don't believe that Tibetans were drinking tea in the second or third c. AD.

  26. julie lee said,

    January 28, 2017 @ 11:09 pm

    The Chinese characters for satay (the sauce originating in Java and widely used in Thai and other southeast Asian cooking), are 沙茶。 沙茶 ,satay, is pronounced sha cha in Mandarin because 茶 (tea) is cha in Mandarin and tay in Fujianese. I used to wonder why sha cha 沙茶 was known as satay in English.

  27. Gastón said,

    January 30, 2017 @ 4:40 am

    @Cervantes: It's yerba mate, not yerba maté (that would mean "herb I killed"). The accent is an English addition or hypercorrection, presumably so that people wouldn't pronounce it like check mate. With the effect that people pronounce it ma-TAY, like saté/satay.

  28. Victor Mair said,

    January 30, 2017 @ 3:09 pm

    From Mark Mooradian:

    In Armenia (ie, the previous SSR of Armenia), the two words, "cha" and "tay" are used interchangeably, perhaps by different social groups. In general I heard mostly "cha". In Soviet days, with universal education, any and all Turkish words were removed from the language and the original Armenian word used. It's possible that "cha" was considered "Turkish" and an attempt was made to substitute "tay". My mother uses "cha", but her language came from the Turkish-Armenian provinces of eastern Turkey. When I heard both being used in Armenia, my thought was that this was just another example of being "caught" in the middle between east and west. The language is clearly delineated between Western Armenian pronunciations, which correspond to the European family of Indo-European languages and the Eastern Armenian pronunciations which correspond to the Asian Indo-European sounds. Sometimes when watching Bollywood Hindi movies I get confused, thinking that they are speaking eastern Armenian.

    Of further note is that my mother's language, being from the eastern part of Western Armenia ( the Turkish provinces), sometimes straddles the sounds of both east and west, like bending a note off the chromatic scale.

  29. Victor Mair said,

    January 30, 2017 @ 3:24 pm

    Excellent article by Philip Lutgendorf, "Making tea in India: Chai, capitalism, culture", Thesis Eleven, 113.1 (2012),11-31:


    Reprints and permissions: DOI: 10.1177/0725513612456896

    This essay examines the process by which tea, a plant and product introduced into the Indian subcontinent in the early 19th century as a colonial cash crop, became indigenized and popularized as chai, often regarded today as India’s ‘national drink’. This process mainly occurred during the 20th century and involved aggressive and innovative marketing by both British and Indian commercial interests, advances in the technology of processing Assam tea, and changes in social space and practice, especially in urban areas.


    Highlights and details many of the points mentioned in the o.p. and in The True History of Tea.

    I have a pdf of this article if anyone is interested in reading it.

  30. Victor Mair said,

    January 30, 2017 @ 4:28 pm

    @julie lee

    Thank you for explaining the connection between "satay" and "shāchá 沙茶". That always used to puzzle me too, especially since satay sauce / "shāchá 沙茶" has nothing to do with "sand" or "tea", as the two Chinese characters would seem to indicate.

    To understand more fully how the sauce got this odd name in Chinese, we need to step back and see where the word "satay" itself came from. It turns out that satay is a dish of marinated meat strips that are skewered and grilled. The sauce is used for dipping the already seasoned meat in to add additional flavor.

    From Wikipedia:


    A dish with widespread popularity, the origins of satay are unclear. The word "satay" itself is thought to have been derived from Indonesian: sate and Malay: saté or satai, both perhaps of Tamil origin. Satay was supposedly invented by Javanese street vendors as an adaptation of Indian kebabs. This theory is based on the fact that satay has become popular in Java after the influx of Muslim Indian and Arabs immigrants to Dutch East Indies in the early 19th century. The satay meats used by Indonesians and Malaysians — mutton and beef — are also favoured by Arabs and are not as popular in China as are pork and chicken. During the same period, other goat-based food such as tongseng and gulai kambing spicy goat soup were also appeared in Java.

    Another theory states that the word "satay" is derived from the Min Nan words sa tae bak (三疊肉), which mean "three pieces of meat". This theory is discounted, however, as traditional satay often consists of four pieces of meat and the fact that four is considered to be an inauspicious number in Chinese culture.


    The most likely explanation is that the Indonesian and Malay words for satay come from Tamil catai ("flesh") (AH dictionary).

    Note that in Hokkien (Minnan, Taiwanese), 沙茶 is pronounced sa-te, and shāchá is simply the Mandarin reading of what in Hokkien and other southern Sinitic languages is sa-te or something similar.

    That sa-te / shāchá 沙茶 is a Chinese transcription of the Indonesian and Malaysian words for satay is corroborated by the fact that it is also transcribed as Teochew sateh MSM shādiǎ 沙嗲 (see here). The second character also sometimes appears without the mouth radical, hence 沙爹, and in Cantonese that would be read as saa1de1.

    Satay is a peanut based sauce (also called bumbu kacang, sambal kacang, or pecel), which is used for dipping skewered meat (i.e., satays) (see here and here).

  31. Eidolon said,

    January 30, 2017 @ 4:47 pm

    "Kabarda-Circassian: šay/šey; Adyghe: š'aj"

    These don't quite look like the rest. Could Matthew London have been talking about them? How might you arrive at a recent sound change from č- to š-, or are they ultimate from different sources?

  32. Victor Mair said,

    January 30, 2017 @ 7:23 pm

    Cf. Arabic shay شاي, which is a fairly common kind of variant of the "chai" type of words for tea.

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