There Once Was A Chicken

One of the most obvious aspects of my tastes that was readily evident, so much so that it was obvious to my family even when I was a child, was my fondness for chicken. It is something I have commented on numerous times, so I mention it here merely as context for the fact that I tend to be rather sensitive to words relating to chicken in foreign languages that I study, and find it interesting when those words occasionally converge, even if they appear to do so for independent reasons.

The Indo-European languages have a wide variety of words used for the chicken. The Spanish pollo, for example, is mirrored by similar words in French and Italian that make sense in having a Latin root for the word, although the word for rooster is gallo and for hen gallina, about which I will have more to say shortly. It is noteworthy that the Portuguese word for chicken, frango, is so distinct from the rest of the Romance sub-family, in its word for chicken. In looking at the humble chicken, it appears to be nearly universal as a food bird but also immensely complex in what people happen to call it.

My fondness for chicken as it relates to Asian food, for example, has given me the interesting understanding that the word for chicken is relatively similar in both the Tai languages of Thai and Lao on the one hand and Vietnamese, part of the Vietic branch of the Austroasiatic languages, on the other. Thai chicken dishes are referred to as gai, which is not dissimilar from the Lao kai, which is the word that Thai uses for egg. Similarly, the word for chicken in Vietnamese is ga. This appears to be fairly rare when one looks at languages, as the rest of the Austroasiatic family appears to have a different name for chicken that was passed down through those languages, and the cousins of the Tai-Kedai languages have their own distinct words for chicken.

How does one come up with a name for an animal. In the Bible, of course, we have the story of God bringing the animals before Adam and being named, but there not being any being of his equal to be found among all the animals, which prompted a loneliness and a longing that prompted God to create Eve out of his rib. Even so, though, people learn about the names of things from being told what they are from childhood, or in that second childhood when one seeks to learn another language and does the same thing at looking up the names or pointing at things and asking what they are called. How striking is it that three different language families hit upon similar words for chickens from among the sounds that were available to them. One is led to think that chickens are a pretty fundamental thing to know about, seeing how convenient they are for eating.

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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