Caldo/Kaldu: A Linguistic Mystery

It is no surprise that I am fond of soups, and ever since I have found out about it, I have made it a point to regularly enjoy caldo de pollo, a chicken soup dish I discovered first when visiting Bogota with my family but have since enjoyed in a variety of different contexts as a popular Mexican soup. It must be admitted that I am in general fond of chicken soups and will happily try just about any tradition of chicken soup around the world with a high chance of liking it as my anecdotal research has revealed so far. That said, there is a mystery I have become acquainted with, as it happens that a friend of mine from Indonesia has revealed that the word for soup/broth in the Austronesian language of Bahasa Indonesian is kaldu, a word very close to caldo given the exact similarity of meaning.

There are four main possibilities for such a cognate. For one, the similarity could be a chance similarity, depending on how one considers the odds that a two-syllable word would be nearly identical in two very widely separated languages in two entirely different language families. Second, there could be some sort of loan word that connects them. Several possibilities exist in such a case. Either the word is originally from the Western Romance languages of Iberia that was then spread to Southeast Asia (perhaps through the Philippines?), the word was originally Austronesian but was spread to Iberia through the same imperial connections, or the word was mutually borrowed by both Austronesian and Iberian languages through a common source, most likely Arabic given the geography involved.

How is one to solve such a mystery? If one looks at, say, the history of caldos in the Iberian world, one finds that they are everywhere to be found, with distinctive local soups under that name in Galicia and Portugal, in the Canary Islands, and all over Latin America, as well as among the diasporic populations of these peoples, who have apparently had this word for related broth soups that they have kept for centuries and have taken with them wherever they have gone and applied to a large number of similar but often locally distinctive dishes. Moreover, the word itself for caldo refers to a hot broth not only in Spanish and Portuguese/Galician, but also in Italian, showing itself to be a pretty strong word in the Romance subfamily of the Indo-European languages as a whole.

Interestingly enough, there is a situation where this word was used as a loanword in the Tagalog language, where a dish called arroz caldo (or hot rice soup) served as Spanish-named soup that itself had an origin that was Chinese-Filipino for a rice gruel that serves (naturally) as a comfort food in the Philippines. Also of interest is that kaldu is used as a word for broth not just in Indonesian but also in Malay and Cebuano, suggesting a pretty wide currency among Austronesian languages as well. How did this come to happen?

Well, as it turns out, kaldu appears to have been a loan word into various Austronesian languages from both the Portuguese and Spanish [1], starting in the period when they began exploring the world. As sometimes happens, the broth that Iberians enjoyed so much traveled well and was quickly adopted by the trading partners of the Portuguese and Spanish in Southeast Asia, where the word became adopted into Malay, Indonesian, and various Philippine languages as well, all of them coming to mean a hot broth-based soup, well-befitting of a word whose ultimate origin springs from the Latin calidus, meaning warm or hot, and being transferred to a wide group of languages not only in the Mediterranean world but indeed all the way into Southeast Asia as a dish that has served as a comfort food for not only me but many millions of other people as well.


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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