Words denoting pea (Pisum sativum) in European languages

 

Mikić, A.                                                                           Institute of Field and Vegetable Crops, Novi Sad, Serbia

 

European linguistic families

Europe has always been extremely rich in languages. It is estimated that it has been home to at least three hundred living and extinct languages (1). The spoken languages of Europe basically belong to six great linguistic families: Indo-European, Uralic, Altaic, Caucasian, Kartvelian and Afro-Asiatic. 

 

The most abundant linguistic family of Europe is Indo-European. It consists of Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, Indo-Iranian, Italic and Slavic branches, each comprising a large number of languages, as well as less rich groups, such as Albanian, Armenian and Greek. The languages of this family have been the majority of spoken tongues throughout European history for the last several millennia (Figure 1).

 

Text Box: Figure 1. Modern languages of Europe

 

The Uralic linguistic family in Europe is represented by its extensive Finno-Ugric sub-family that has two main branches, namely Finno-Permic and Finno-Ugric, Finnish and Hungarian as its most known members. The great Altaic family in Europe is most widely represented by Turkish and other languages belonging to its Turkic branch, as well as a few languages belonging to the Mongolian branch. 

 

Both Caucasian, also known as North Caucasian, and Kartvelian, also referred to as South Caucasian, languages are spoken in a relatively small area adjacent to Caucasus with Georgian as the most famous representative of the latter. Comprising Arabic and Hebrew, a rather rich Afro-Asiatic linguistic family in Europe is represented only by the Maltese language.

 

The Basque language is regarded as a language isolate with no demonstrable relationship with other languages, although certain novel classifications include it in the Den-Caucasian linguistic superfamily (2).

 

Pea in the Old World

Together with many of its more or less close botanical relatives and traditional European legume crops such as vetchlings (Lathyrus L.), vetches (Vicia spp.), lentils (Lens spp.) and chickpeas (Cicer spp.), pea (Pisum sativum L.) originated from the Near Eastern and Mediterranean centers of diversity (3).

 

Rich archaeological evidence, mainly in Syria, witnesses that pea (Pisum sativum L.) was among the first domesticated crops in the world (4), along with bitter vetch (Vicia ervilia (L.) Willd.), chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.) and lentil (Lens culinaris Medik.). Together with emmer, einkorn, barley and flax, pea and these three legumes were grown nearly 10,000 years ago.

 

The Old World, especially Europe, Near East and Northern Africa, were home to various ethnic groups throughout their history. For this reason, common vocabularies of the words related to pea and other grain legumes to both languages within a linguistic family and between languages of different families prove that these crops were well known to the ancestors of nearly all modern European nations from time immemorial (5).

 

Pea in Indo-European languages

The majority of the words related to pea in modern European languages belonging to the Indo-European linguistic family originate from several Proto-Indo-European roots with a subsequent diversification within each of its branches (6).

 

 

Branch

Language

Word

Branch

Language

Word

Albanian

bizele

Italic

Catalan

psol

Armenian

olor

Corsican

pisu

Baltic

Latvian

zirņi

French

pois

Lithuanian

irnis

Galician

ervella

Celtic

Breton

piz

Italian

pisello

Cornish

psen

Occitan

pis

Irish

pis

Portuguese

ervilha

Manx

pishyr

Romanian

mazăre

Scottish Gaelic

peasair

Sardinian

pisu

Welsh

pysen

Spanish

guisante

Germanic

Danish

rt

Walloon

pe

Dutch

erwt

Slavic

Belarusian

garoh

English

pea

Bulgarian

grah

Faroese

ertur

Croatian

graak

Flemish

erwt

Czech

hrch

Frisian

eart

Kashubian

groch

German

erbse

Lower Sorbian

groch

Icelandic

erta

Macedonian

graok

Norwegian

ert

Polish

groch

Swedish

rt

Russian

gorokh

Yiddish

arbes

Rusyn

hračok

Greek

bizli

Serbian

graak

Indo-Iranian

Kurdish

polik

Slovak

hrach

Ossetian

tymbylqdur

Slovenian

grah

Romani

boobi

Ukrainian

gorokh

Italic

Aromanian

grshac

Upper Sorbian

hroch

Text Box: Table 1. Words denoting pea in modern Indo-European languages 
 
 

The well-known Latin word, pisum, produced the words denoting pea in numerous modern European languages, such as Albanian, all Celtic languages and nearly all Italic languages, as well as English (Table 1). This word, denoting the same in Latin, has its origin in the Proto-Indo-European *pis- (7), literally meaning to thresh and obviously describing one of the most obvious characteristics of pea and other grain legumes.

 

The Proto-Indo-European root *erəgw(h)-, denoting a kernel of leguminous plant, resulted in numerous derivations (8). One of them is the Proto-Germanic *arwait, denoting pea, and from it are derived the words denoting the same in nearly all modern Germanic languages. Another derivation is the Latin ervum, denoting bitter vetch which gave rise to the words denoting pea in the majority of Iberian Romance languages, such as Portuguese.

 

The words denoting pea in all Slavic languages, including neighboring languages from other branches of the Indo-European family, such as Aromanian, have their origin in the Proto-Slavic *gorxŭ, denoting the same, and was itself derived from the Proto-Indo-European *ghArs-, denoting a leguminous plant (9).

 

It is interesting that the modern Baltic languages did not preserve certain more ancient forms of the words that denoted pea. The extinct Old Prussian had the word kekrs to denote pea, which is a derivation of the Proto-Indo-European *kek-, denoting the same and being also responsible for the Latin cicer, denoting chickpea. The words denoting pea in modern Lithuanian and Latvian are derived through the Proto-Baltic *irn- i, with the same meaning, from the Proto-Indo-European *g'er(a)n-, denoting grain and being the ultimate source of the Latin granum, denoting the same.

 

The Latin word vulva, denoting an envelope, gave the most commonly used word denoting pea in modern Spanish. The definite origin and the meaning of the modern Romanian word denoting pea is still unclear but is surely of Dacian origin, sharing its Pre-Roman Balkan roots with an alternative Albanian word denoting pea, modh (10). The Romani word denoting pea is most likely from Slavic languages where it denotes faba bean (Vicia faba L.), being itself derived through the Proto-Slavic *bobŭ and together with the Latin faba and the Proto-Germanic *bab-n-ō from the Proto-Indo-European *bhabh-, all denoting faba bean.

 

Pea in Uralic languages

A large majority of modern languages of the Finno-Permic branch of the Finno-Ugric subfamily of the Uralic linguistic family borrowed their words denoting pea from neighboring non-Uralic languages. This may confirm the theory that these people have always lived too North (11) and thus unlikely had pea as a traditional crop, importing it from southern regions together with its original words.

 

Text Box: Table 2. Words denoting pea in modern Uralic languages of Europe 
 

Branch

Language

Word

Branch

Language

Word

Finno-Permic

Estonian

hernes

Finno-Permic

Moksha

snavnja

Finnish

herne

Saami

earta; hearta

Ingrian

herne

Udmurt

ky

Karelian

herneh

Veps

herneh

Komi

anikytsh

Vro

herneh

Livonian

jernd

Ugric

Hungarian

bors

 

The most widely used form of words denoting pea in European Uralic languages are modified from the words denoting pea in Baltic languages of the Indo-European linguistic family, such as Finnish or Estonian (Table 2).

 

It is notable that the Saami word denoting pea resembles the words with the same meaning in the Germanic languages of the Indo-European linguistic family, meaning that both the pea crop and its name could have been imported from the neighboring regions of Scandinavia.

 

 

 

 

Pea in Altaic languages

Branch

Language

Word

Branch

Language

Word

Mongolian

Kalmyk

brcg

Turkic

Karaim

burchax

Turkic

Azeri

noxud

Kazakh

noqat; burşaq

Bashkir

borsaq

Kumyk

burchaq

Chuvash

pra

Nogai

burşaq

Gagauz

borchaq

Tatar

borchaq

Karachay-Balkar

burchaq

Turkish

bezelye

Text Box:  
Table 3. Words denoting pea in modern Altaic languages of Europe
The Proto-Altaic word *bŭkrV, denoting pea, nut and cone, gave the Proto-Mongolian *buγurčag, denoting pea, and the Proto-Turkic *burčak, denoting both faba bean and pea (12). In most cases, their modern descendants retained a rather similar form with the same meaning (Table 3). As a consequence of living in the same region as the Altaic tribes at one point in their history, certain Uralic peoples borrowed their word denoting pea from them, as witnessed by the modern Hungarian denoting the same. 

 

In the modern Turkish language, the common Altaic ancestral word denoting pea shifted its meaning and today denotes bitter vetch, while an Italian word denoting pea was borrowed with the same meaning. At the same time, Azeri and Kazakh imported their present words denoting pea from the Persian language where modern and old forms, nuχūd and naχōd, denote chickpea.

 

 

 

Pea in Caucasian languages

Branch

Language

Word

Branch

Language

Word

East

Archi

čaq

East

Rutul

xar

Aghul

xur

Tabasaran

harar; xar

Chechen

qş

Tsakhur

xara

Ingush

gerga qeŝ

West

Abaza

kyrkyrla

Kryts

xarxar

Abkhaz

kyrkyrra

Lak

qulru

Adyghe

nekhut

Lezgi

nahut; zar

Kabardian

cesh

Text Box: Table 4. Words denoting pea in modern Caucasian languages
One of the very rare Proto-Caucasian words related to legumes, *qŏrā, denotes pea (13). Despite a rather small area of distribution in comparison to other linguistic families, this one has numerous descendants and all of them have retained both form and its meaning (Table 4).  

 

As a consequence of cohabitation of peoples of other origin next to each other, certain Caucasian languages, such as Lezgi and Adyghe, adopted the above mentioned Persian words denoting pea and related species in a similar way as some of their Turkic neighbors. On the other hand, the Caucasian words denoting pea was transmitted into certain Indo-European languages such as Ossetian and perhaps some belonging to the Uralic family such as Komi or Udmurt. 

 

Pea in other European languages

It is still very uncertain if there was a Proto-Kartvelian word denoting both pea and any other grain legume. The modern words denoting pea in Georgian, such as mukhudo, may derive from Persian, while the Svan ghedar and the Laz parzuli may be imported from their Caucasian and Turkic neighbors.

 

In a similar way to many other words in its vocabulary, the Maltese word denoting pea, pizella, was obviously borrowed from Italian. The modern Basque word denoting pea, ilar, was derived from the Proto-Basque, *iłhař, where it denoted pea, faba bean, vetch and heather (14).

 

Acknowledgements:  The author wishes to thank Branko Ćupina, Noel Ellis and Mike Ambrose for their support in the legume linguistic research, as well as to Denis M. Sacharnych for his assistance in the issues related to Udmurt language.

 

Inwitri! O Pisum Queen!

Thy beloved crop peas always been.

Thou made pea most precious food

And keep its yields both high and good.

 

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