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In Turkish, the word for turkey is Hindi 16 décembre 2011

Posted by Acturca in History / Histoire.
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Daily Nation (Kenya) Friday, December 16, 2011

By Philip Ochieng

In the coming days, a funny-looking bird will be slaughtered by the million and consumed throughout Christendom. The question is: Why does the Christian world know the bird by the name of a major Muslim country?

It is because of the widespread assumption that Turkey was the native home of that bird.

That was what was behind a strange diplomatic event in 1949 (as related by Bernard Lewis in an engrossing book called From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting The Middle East).

It was an example of the bloomers which have characterised American diplomacy ever since Woodrow Wilson.

On Thanksgiving, that November occasion on which Americans gorge themselves with turkey, the US president – a man called Harry (« Give-‘Em-Hell ») Truman – tried to curry favour with his Turkish counterpart by sending him a dead but beautifully preserved turkey through the diplomatic bag.

The embarrassment was that neither the US president nor his advisers on history and world cultures seemed to know that America itself — not Turkey or anywhere else in Eurafrasia (the « Old World ») – was the native home of the turkey. In reference to the bird, the word turkey is probably also North American in origin.

It was, most likely, through that conduit that the word reached England, the European country whose cultural and linguistic ties with North America are thickest.

Bird of India

That is what may explain why English is the only national European language in which – like North America — that bird is known as turkey.Most other European languages know it as « bird of India ».

Why? For exactly the same reason that the Western Europeans of that time referred to the autochthonous (Mongoloid) Americans as « Indians » (or « Red Indians) » and the Atlantic islands off Mesoamerica’s east coast as the (West) « Indies ».

For Copernicus had just shown that the earth is round. Thus, when they reached the Americas by sailing west, Columbus, del Cano, Magellan and other graduates of Prince Henry the Navigator’s school at Lisbon thought they had reached India – the oriental land which, in Europe’s dreams, was viscous with riches.

In French, for instance, the word for turkey remains dinde. Yet not too many French people know that dinde secretes in it the word « India » – which, in French, is « Inde ».

For, originally, the full name was Oiseau d’Inde (« bird of India » – pronounced something like « wazo- dengd). Dinde, then, was originally d’inde (« of India »), from the preposition de and the noun inde.

But, in French, when two vowels clash like this, one must yield. So « de inde » became d’inde.

However, to the ordinary speaker (of any language) oiseau d’inde is such a mouthful even for a bird as grotesque as that. The tendency was to thin it down.

Thus the word oiseau was eventually dropped altogether. In time, too, the apostrophe mark (‘) in d’inde was also dropped.

Thus, today, no French child has any suspicion that the word dinde has anything to do with India. Perhaps the Turkish child knows better because, in Turkish, the word for turkey is Hindi.


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