Chinese has no cognates with English (one of the reasons it’s difficult to learn). So, when I come across words like these, I know one of the words has been imported from one language to another (yes yes, I know, that means there are some cognates NOW–but precious few):
1. sofa = shāfā 沙发 (English -> Chinese)
2. typhoon = táifēng 台风 (Chinese -> English)
But some things I can’t explain at all. Are these just amazing qiǎohé-s? I’d love to know.
Fee = fèi 费
The English word is from the Middle English and Old French term “fief” and the payment fiefs gave to their landlords. If you tell me it’s just a one-in-a-million coincidence that the Chinese word sounds so similar, I’ll accept that…once.
Totem = túténg 图腾
The English word comes from a North American Indian language family called Algonquian. Does that mean that the ancient Chinese people in southern Guangxi who made totems didn’t have a word for it and waited for the term to get imported across the Pacific? Or is this just an amazing coincidence again? I’d be willing to accept that, but not the next one.
The two English words have different histories. The word for the bird comes from the Old English “swealwe” akin to the German “schwalbe.” The verb comes from the Old Engilsh “swelgan” which goes back to the Indo-European base “swel-” meaning “to devour” (from which we also get the English word “swill”). Ok, that’s just a coincidence. If we had “yingzi” pictographic characters, the bird and the verb would be two different characters, but the same pronunciation.
But what are the chances that the Chinese name for the bird and the verb are also two different characters but the exact same pronunciation? The others I MIGHT be willing to accept as coincidences, but not this. This is too weird. I’m loosing sleep over this, people. Help! Help!
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