Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tupí Loanwords

In recent weeks, we've looked at loanwords that have made their way into the English language from various world languages including Tamil, Russian, and Malay. Today, we're taking a look at some vocabulary that finds its origins in the extinct Brazilian language known as Tupí.

Originally the native language of the Tupí indigenous group that lived mainly along the Atlantic coastline, Tupí eventually earned its status as the lingua franca of colonial Brazil, when it was widely used by both natives and European settlers. By the mid-1700s, it began to decline due to a push towards speaking Portuguese, though some isolated groups continued to speak the language for another century until its numbers finally dwindled to the point of extinction. Related languages still in use include Guaraní, an official language of Paraguay, and Nhengatu, a descendant of Tupí with a few thousand native speakers in Brazil.

Enough history, on to the loanwords!

Yes, it is a giant rodent. But it is admittedly kinda cute.
Cashew - This tasty nut gets its name from the Portuguese word caju, which was derived from its indigenous Tupí name, acajú.

Capybara - The world's largest rodent is a herbivore native to South America, so it's no surprise that its name is thought to come from the Tupí word ka'apiûara meaning "grass-eater".

Cougar - This large solitary cat is also known as "puma" and "mountain lion", depending on who you speak to. However, the name "cougar" comes from the French couguar via the archaic Portuguese çuçuarana, which was derived from a Tupí term, possibly susuarana.

Jaguar - These big cats are beautiful, but don't let that convince you that they're friendly. These fierce hunters can bite directly through the skull of their prey in order to pierce the brain and kill their next meal. Their name came from the Tupí word jaguara, which may have been used to denote any large beast of prey at the time.

Macaw - These large, colorful birds get their name from the Tupí word macavuana. It is thought that the Tupí people used the word to refer to the type of palm tree which the birds eat from as a source of fruit.

Petunia - A genus of 35 species of flowering plants whose name comes from Tupí petun via French, where it was used for a time to mean "tobacco plant". However, tobacco plants are closely related, but of the Nicotiana genus instead.

A jaguar delivering its deadly bite to the neck of a tapir.
Piranha - These terrifying fish get their name from either pira nya or pira'ya, Tupí terms that meant "scissors". Enough said.

Tapir - These odd animals are most closely related to horses and rhinos, and look like pigs with prehensile snouts. Their name came from Tupí tapira via the French tapir.

Toucan - Related to macaws, these other large, colorful South American birds get their name from the Tupí word tukana, which made its way to English from a Romance language, likely French toucan or Spanish tucán.

Do you know any other loanwords from Tupí? Let us know in the comments, and please include a definition!