A Wanderwort (German: [ˈvandɐˌvɔɐt], 'wandering word', plural Wanderwörter; capitalized like all German nouns) is a word that has spread as a loanword among numerous languages and cultures, especially those that are far away from one another, usually in connection with trade. As such, Wanderwörter are a curiosity in historical linguistics and sociolinguistics within a wider study of language contact.[1] At a sufficient time depth, it can be very difficult to establish in which language or language family it originated and in which it was borrowed.


Typical examples of Wanderwörter are sugar,[2] ginger, copper,[1] silver,[3] cumin, mint, wine and honey, some of which can be traced back to Bronze Age trade.

Tea, with its maritime variant tea and Eurasian continental variant chai (both variants have entered English), is an example[1] whose spread occurred relatively late in human history and is therefore fairly well understood: tea is from Hokkien, specifically Amoy, from the Fujianese port of Xiamen, hence maritime, while cha (whence chai[4]) is used in Cantonese and Mandarin.[5] See etymology of tea for further details.

Farang, a term derived from the ethnonym Frank through Arabic and Persian, refers to (typically white, European) foreigners. From the above two languages, the word has been loaned into many languages spoken on or near the Indian Ocean, including Hindi, Thai, and Amharic, among others.

Another example is orange, which originated in a Dravidian language (likely Tamil, Telugu or Malayalam), and whose likely path to English included, in order, Sanskrit, Persian, possibly Armenian, Arabic, Late Latin,[citation needed] Italian, and Old French. (See Orange (word) § Etymology for further details.)

The word arslan ("lion") of Turkic origin, whose variants are now widely distributed from Hungarian, Manchu to Persian, although merely serving as personal names in some languages, is used as Aslan in the English novel series The Chronicles of Narnia.

Some ancient loanwords are connected with the spread of writing systems; an example is Sumerian musar 'written name, inscription', Akkadian musarum 'document, seal', apparently loaned to Proto-Indo-Iranian *mudra- 'seal' (Middle Persian muhr, Sanskrit mudrā). Some even older (late Neolithic) Wanderwörter have been suggested, e.g. Sumerian balag, Akkadian pilakku-, or Proto-Indo-European pelek'u- 'axe'. However, Akkadian pilakku- really means 'spindle', and Sumerian balag is properly transcribed balaĝ (ĝ stands for [ŋ]), meaning 'a large drum or harp'. and was borrowed into Akkadian as balangu-.[6]


  1. ^ a b c Trask, Robert Lawrence (January 2000). The Dictionary of Historical and Comparative Linguistics. Psychology Press. p. 366. ISBN 978-1-57958-218-0. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
  2. ^ Hock, Hans Henrich; Joseph, Brian D. (1 January 1996). Language History, Language Change, and Language Relationship: An Introduction to Historical and Comparative Linguistics. Walter de Gruyter. p. 254. ISBN 978-3-11-014784-1. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
  3. ^ Boutkan, Dirk; Kossmann, Maarten (2001). "On the Etymology of 'Silver'". North-Western European Language Evolution. 3: 3–15. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
  4. ^ "chai". American Heritage Dictionary. chai: A beverage made from spiced black tea, honey, and milk. Etymology: Ultimately from Chinese (Mandarin) chá.
  5. ^ Dahl, Östen. "Feature/Chapter 138: Tea". The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Max Planck Digital Library. Retrieved 4 June 2008.
  6. ^ The Pennsylvanian Sumerian Dictionary

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