"Onion" in Persian, Turkic, Mongolian, Manchu, Dungan (northwest Mandarin), and Indic

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By chance, I came across this interesting Uyghur word for "onion" that derives from Persian:

Uyghur پىياز‎ (piyaz), from Persian پیاز

(source)

It's piyoz (пиёз) in Uzbek also, which is closely related to Uyghur.

From Brian Spooner:

It's the normal Persian word for onion, which is a key ingredient in pretty much every Persian dinner dish, and (as I wrote in The Persianate Millennium) as Persian culture spread through Central Asia with the Persian language starting in the 9th century all the way to northern China, I wouldn't be surprised to find piyaz in any Turkic language. I don't remember whether the Ottomans bequeathed it to modern Turkish.

Ten-twenty years ago, when the previous Persian teacher would have parties and language tables in Williams Hall, I was very much aware of them because I would always smell the pungent odor of sliced onions, so I can very well believe what Brian Spooner says about the importance of onions in Persian cuisine.

From Mehmet Olmez:

In Uyghur, the Turkic word for onion (soQOn) was forgotten and they used the Persian word piyâz instead. Clauson already wrote about that in 1972. This is familiar to Turcologists.  In modern Turkish, the word piyaz is used for a special food prepared with onion, boiled eggs, and beans.

Along with the Old Uyghur script, the Old Uyghur word for "onion" passed into Mongolian as songino сонгино.  That became ᠰᡠᠨᡤᡤᡳᠨᠠ (sunggina) in Manchu. (source)

From James Millward:

When I was learning Uyghur (on my own, never became fluent) I would recite my vocab flash cards as I worked through them.  When I hit the food words, such as piyaz, half the time my wife (Punjabi-English) would say "onion" or whatever the word was before I could recall it.  There's a ton of these Persian cognates or Hindustani shared food words:   samsa = samosa, tandoor = tandur, jira (cumin) is "zi-ran" in Chinese, but probably a loan from Uyghur.  Is there a Uyghur word "sabsi"?   Berthold Laufer's book Sino-Iranica would be a cool way to get at this.

I think there was a local Han word borrowed from the Uyghur, pi ya zi, for onion.  Saw it in an old Xinjiang Hanyu book once.

From Middle Persian, pyʾc (piyāz) spread into many other Asian languages.

Dari Persian پیاز
Iranian Persian
Tajik пиёз (piyoz)

پیاز (piyâz) (plural پیازها(piyâz-hâ))

    1. onion
    2. bulb

Synonyms

Derived terms

Descendants


Southwestern Fars

Noun

پیاز (piyâz)

    1. (Masarm, Deh Sarv) onion

See also


Urdu

Etymology

From Persian پیاز(peyâz).

Pronunciation

Noun

پیاز (piyāzf (Hindi spelling पियाज़)

(source)

The same Persian word also worked its way into Sinitic, hence Dungan (Northwest Mandarin, written in Cyrillic): пиязы (pii͡azɨ, I-I-II)

In Pekingese, we have a completely homophonous word written with the same characters, but here the morphemes are purely Sinitic and it means something completely different than the Sinitic transcription of the Persian word for "onion", where the characters are being used purely for their sounds:

píyázi  皮牙子 (lit., "skin / pelt teeth", i.e., "hairs revealed along the edges of a fur garment")

(source)

 

Selected readings

[Thanks to Mark Dickens and Sean Roberts]



33 Comments »

  1. Victor Mair said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 5:44 pm

    From Darren Byler:

    There are other words for leek, but I haven't heard other words for onion. The most common word for leek is جۈسەي jüsey which comes from 韭菜. Though there is another word كۈدە küde that is sometimes used as well. Would be interesting to know if küde is from Persian. Another interesting word in Uyghur is potato ياڭيۇ yangyu which appears to be from the Chinese 洋芋.

  2. cameron said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 5:52 pm

    Piyâz is one of the Persian words that many English speakers encounter on the menus of Indian restaurants.

    Note that the "derived term" piyâzče, listed above, is the word for scallion. -che is a diminutive suffix.

    And Nowruz mobârak to all!

  3. Success Point College said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 8:32 pm

    Many Persian and Farsi words are used in Bengali such as Bengali: পেঁয়াজ (pẽyaj). Actually this is derived from Persian. I gained much knowledge from your post. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Olga Zavyalova said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 8:53 pm

    By the way, this word is given as a loan from Persian in Janshansin's book on the Dungan Shaanxi dialect.

  5. Robot Therapist said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 9:10 pm

    "Piyâz is one of the Persian words that many English speakers encounter on the menus of Indian restaurants."

    I've never seen that, but I have seen "dopiaza" everywhere, which wikipedia now tells me means two onions.

  6. Michael Watts said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 10:40 pm

    I've always been interested that the Chinese term for onions, 洋葱, appears to mean "foreign scallions". The relationship between onions and scallions is clear. But is "foreign" really the sense of 洋 here? I would expect onions to have a pretty long history.

  7. Chris Button said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 12:57 am

    I've always been interested that the Chinese term for onions, 洋葱, appears to mean "foreign scallions". The relationship between onions and scallions is clear. But is "foreign" really the sense of 洋 here? I would expect onions to have a pretty long history.

    Well, we do have Old Burmese kɐswɐn (the first syllable later become krɐk in Written Burmese), which Hla Pe (1967) notes to ultimately come from Pali lasuna via Mon, and which Luce (1981) then compares to 蒜 *swan

  8. Andy said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 12:58 am

    Do we know the etymology of 'piyâz' beyond Persian?

    If only this post had come out before the pub quiz I was at about a month and a half ago, when we were asked 'what is the main ingredient in the dish called dopiaza?' With the extra point we would have come first and won more gin.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 1:11 am

    From Taras Ivchenko:

    Yes, it is a word commonly used by Dungans in Alexandrovka, Irdyk and Sortobe (Masanchin). It is also a Kyrgyz word for 'onion'.

  10. Chris Button said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 1:16 am

    Well, we do have Old Burmese kɐswɐn (the first syllable later become krɐk in Written Burmese), which Hla Pe (1967) notes to ultimately come from Pali lasuna via Mon, and which Luce (1981) then compares to 蒜 *swan

    To be precise, the later tone of 蒜 *swán would on internal grounds indicate an original final -s as 蒜 *swáns (or *sʷáns since by the time of OC I prefer to assign the labial feature to the onset rather than treat as a separate medial), but the -s is probably best omitted given the loanword status.

  11. Chris Button said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 1:28 am

    Interestingly, Luce then compares a Written Tibetan form with 蒜 that better correlates with 蔥 tsʰáŋʷ (earlier *tsʰwáŋ). Perhaps we should best leave that aside, but it is tempting to speculate further given the common association *s- and *ts- in Old Chinese. Now I'm almost certainly reaching too far, but I wonder if we could perhaps bring this in…

    In Uyghur, the Turkic word for onion (soQOn) was forgotten and they used the Persian word piyâz instead…Along with the Old Uyghur script, the Old Uyghur word for "onion" passed into Mongolian as songino сонгино. That became ᠰᡠᠨᡤᡤᡳᠨᠠ (sunggina) in Manchu.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 1:29 am

    From John Clark, also relayed by Bayakhunov Bakir:

    Also piyaz in Kyrgyz. Turkish is sogan, the g being the soft one, so it is pronounced so-an.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 2:58 am

    From Thomas Benfey:

    I will just add that I couldn't find Middle Persian pyʾc/piyāz anywhere, whether in MacKenzie's Zoroastrian Middle Persian dictionary, Skjærvø's digitized ZMP corpus, or Durkin-Meisterernst's dictionary of Manichaean Middle Persian and Parthian. There aren't all that many culinary discussions that survive in any of these corpora, so it could well be from Middle Persian but simply not attested. But unless the author of that Wiktionary entry is aware of something I'm not, the MP pyʾc/piyāz in the piyāz entry there should really come with an asterisk. That said, there are several cases of words from eastern Middle Iranian languages such as Sogdian and Bactrian making their way into the core vocabulary of New Persian. This is not too relevant to the etymology of Persian piyāz because of the final consonant, but for what it's worth I did find a Sogdian pyʾk (piyāk) meaning "onion" in Gharib's dictionary.

  14. Peter B Golden said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 3:00 am

    Let's not forget Turkish yeşil soğan "scallion" (green onion).

  15. Victor Mair said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 4:00 am

    China had a number of native species of Allium, such as cōng 葱, jiǔ 韮, and suàn 蒜, including one called xiè 薤 (Allium chinense, also known as Chinese onion, Chinese scallion, glittering chive, Japanese scallion, Kiangsi scallion, and Oriental onion).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allium_chinense

    They are chives, leeks, scallions, garlic, etc. They tend to be green, thin, and wispy, and have small bulbs. The large bulb onion with the layered, edible part that is white or light yellowish comes from elsewhere (probably ultimately from the region around eastern Iran, northwestern India, and Central Asia). Although it was likely circulating on a small scale before the Ming-Qing transition (around the 17th century), it is then that it became generally known as yángcōng 洋蔥 ("overseas / foreign onion"), as with so many other things that were associated with Westerners that started to flood into China from abroad during the succeeding centuries.

    Berthold Laufer does discuss "Chive, Onion, and Shallot" in his magisterial Sino-Iranica, pp. 302-304, but he doesn't talk about the origins of 洋蔥 ("overseas / foreign onion").

  16. Pushkar Sohoni said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 4:58 am

    In Marathi and Gujarati, it is kanda (कांदा) and kando (કાંદો) respectively.
    From the Sanskrit root कन् (kan), from Proto-Indo-European *gnew- ("a bundle; knot"), usually used as kand for all tubers and root vegetables.
    Punjabi also uses ganda instead of piyaz sometimes.

  17. SlideSF said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 6:25 am

    Piyaz is also a cold white bean, parsley, and onion salad in Turkey.

  18. Alexander said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 9:05 am

    @SideSF And Greece, not surprisingly. I first encountered it at a local (Minneapolis) Greek restaurant, where they make it with black-eyed peas.

  19. Chris Button said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 2:08 pm

    China had a number of native species of Allium, such as cōng 葱, jiǔ 韮, and suàn 蒜, including one called xiè 薤 (Allium chinense, also known as Chinese onion, Chinese scallion, glittering chive, Japanese scallion, Kiangsi scallion, and Oriental onion).

    韭 (later 韮) is an interesting one. It seems to have popped out of nowhere with its own graphic form to boot!

  20. Neil said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 2:24 pm

    @pushkar I'm only married to a Gujarati, but my in laws use doongri (etymology?) for onion. What's the difference between that and kaando, which I've never come across ? Thanks.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    March 23, 2020 @ 2:06 am

    I neglected to mention earlier that, wherever and whenever Buddhism travelled, words for and knowledge of alliaceous plants followed, because there are prohibitions against these pungent vegetables for the strictly religious.

  22. E. N. Anderson said,

    March 23, 2020 @ 3:42 am

    Yep, dopiaza is a class of curries that use twice as many onions as ordinary curries. Otherwise…Persian/Iranian food words show the triumph of Persian culture in central Asia–they're all over. See e.g. kaleh pacheh "head and feet," a dish of sheep or goat head and feet (it's actually good), universally known by local pronunciations of that name from Iran to Uyghur land. I have some fine photos from Tashkent with the Uzbek pronunciation kalya pocha on the food stall signboard.

  23. David Marjanović said,

    March 23, 2020 @ 4:21 am

    In Marathi and Gujarati, it is kanda (कांदा) and kando (કાંદો) respectively.
    From the Sanskrit root कन् (kan), from Proto-Indo-European *gnew- ("a bundle; knot"), usually used as kand for all tubers and root vegetables.
    Punjabi also uses ganda instead of piyaz sometimes.

    Wait, how did a PIE *g become a Sanskrit k? That's not supposed to happen.

  24. David Marjanović said,

    March 23, 2020 @ 4:23 am

    dopiaza […] twice as many onions

    Oh! Do-pi(y)az-

  25. Nelson said,

    March 23, 2020 @ 6:17 am

    The *√gnew- connection is apparently from Wiktionary: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E0%A4%95%E0%A4%A8%E0%A5%8D%E0%A4%A6#Sanskrit

    I'm not sure what it's source for this connection is (the only citation is to Monier-Williams, who doesn't seem to have it), but it's not a good etymology at all. The phonology doesn't remotely work. A connection with Greek kóndulos is formally possible, but only through *kond-, not anything with *g.

    (Even this connection is rejected by Beekes & van Beek, whose conclusion is quoted (with a bit of truncation), though without being marked as a quote, on Wiktionary: 'The formation is similar to δάκτυλος (dáktulos) and σφόνδυλος (sphóndulos); the bare stem is seen in κόνδοι (kóndoi, "vertebrae"). Most connections outside Greek, like Sanskrit कन्द (kanda, "bulb") and Sanskrit कन्दुक (kanduka, "playball, cushion") can be rejected straightaway. The word is probably of Pre-Greek origin, in view of the structure.' https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%CE%BA%CF%8C%CE%BD%CE%B4%CF%85%CE%BB%CE%BF%CF%82#Ancient_Greek )

    Beekes & van Beek also refer to discussions by Mayrhofer in his Kurzgefasstes etymologisches Worterbuch des Altindischen, and report that he entertains a Dravidian word for all these words, including kanda-. (I don't have the original to check his original discussion.)

  26. Chau said,

    March 23, 2020 @ 7:35 am

    @Victor Mair: "… including one called xiè 薤 (Allium chinense, also known as Chinese onion, Chinese scallion, glittering chive, Japanese scallion, Kiangsi scallion, and Oriental onion)."

    The Kanji 薤 by Japanese On-reading is kai whereas by Kun-reading rakkyō. Corresponding to Japanese rakkyō is Taiwanese lō·-kiō 蕗蕎; both terms mean 'scallion', in particular, the 'pickled white scallion bulbs' which are served as a side dish for breakfast.

    Taiwanese lō·-kiō 蕗蕎 is not a loan from Japanese rakkyō. This can be ascertained from its listing in Rev. Carstairs Douglas' Chinese-English Dictionary of the Vernacular or Spoken Language of Amoy (page 317), published in London in 1873, predating the cession of Taiwan to Japan (by the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895) by over two decades. Lō·-kiō is also pronounced as such in Zhangzhou, Fujian, whereas in Xiamen (Amoy) and Quanzhou it is lō·-giō. I do not know whether this name has cognates in other Sinitic topolects.

    Tw lō·-kiō 蕗蕎 bears a striking resemblance to modern Icelandic laukur 'onion' which is derived from ON laukr 'leek, garlic', ultimately from Germanic *laukaz, of which no cognates are known outside Germanic (Oxford Etym. Dict. page 522). In comparing laukr with lō·-kiō, we see there is a sound change of -au- to -o-, which is not unusual, as it is recorded since the Roman times. Emperor Claudius is known to make fun of the vulgar pronunciation of au as ō by calling himself Clodius.

    Thinking that Dutch seafaring traders who pried the Asian waters in the 17th-18th centuries may have brought a Germanic word to Japan and the Southern Min speaking areas, I checked Modern Dutch words for leek, onion, scallion, and garlic; they are "prei, look", "ui", "lente-ui", and "knoflook", respectively. I should have checked their Old Dutch forms, but I don't have access to Dutch etymological dictionaries. Even if I do, I can't read Dutch. Anyway, it seems that Dutch words offer no obvious hint as a source for borrowing.

    Since the Dutch traders operated from the Dutch East India Company based in Batavia (now Indonesia), I thought that they might leave some loans in modern Indonesian. From the Internet I was able to find Indonesian names for the respective vegetables: bawang perai 'leek', bawang 'onion', daun bawang 'scallion', and bawang putih 'garlic'. None of them bear resemblance to rakkyō or lō·-kiō. But I don't know anything about Indonesian languages; these terms may pertain to Bahasa Indonesia, and it is possible that some Old Dutch words may be left behind in local languages. I would appreciate you or anyone who could offer me information in this regard.

  27. Chau said,

    March 23, 2020 @ 11:25 am

    I just realized I shouldn't have labeled the 17th-18th centuries Dutch as Old Dutch.

  28. Hiroshi Kumamoto said,

    March 24, 2020 @ 8:17 am

    Gharib's Sogdian Dictionary refers only to Buddhist Sogdian py'k, but there is also the Christian Sogdian word py'q in a passage in the Saint George (Giwargis) Passion, where a blind boy is cured by the Saint when something like "onion skin" fell from his eyes.

  29. Victor Mair said,

    March 25, 2020 @ 4:43 pm

    From Ondřej Klimeš:

    It is interesting how in northwestern Chinese it is rendered as piazi, although the syllable pia does not exist in standard Chinese, except for the drinking game "pia pia fei a".

  30. Victor Mair said,

    March 25, 2020 @ 4:46 pm

    From Alan Kennedy:

    Not at all relevant, but I am reminded of the French expression, which can be abbreviated as "tes oignons," meaning "mind your own business."

    Why onions, who can say?

  31. Chris Button said,

    March 26, 2020 @ 11:24 pm

    I keep wondering if 韭/韮 might possibly be related to 臭 "smelly" in some way. I'm thinking of a similar relationship between 焄 "fumes, aroma" and 蔒 (葷) "strong smelling vegetables like onion, garlic, etc.". However, it still goes no further to explaining where the graphic form came from.

  32. Philip Taylor said,

    March 28, 2020 @ 5:28 am

    Alan Kennedy — some interesting and plausible suggestions as to the possible etymology of "tes onions" ici

  33. Philip Taylor said,

    March 28, 2020 @ 5:29 am

    Oops, the hyperlink for "ici" disappeared. It was intended to be https://www.expressio.fr/expressions/occupe-toi-de-tes-oignons-ce-ne-sont-pas-tes-oignons

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