Portuguese Loan Words in Malayalam

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Malayalam is a language that has been influenced by many cultures and foreign languages over the centuries. In Malayalam, we find a mix of all the various cultures that has been associated with Kerala over time. Surprisingly most Keralites are unaware of the cultural influences present in their culture and how it is seen in the nitty gritties of their everyday life, how there are words Malayalees use in day to day life which finds its origin in a far away land. Looking into these words is a fun and interesting process! What we think of as our own might not exactly be ours to claim completely. Language is a complicated area of study but has generated a lot of interest in recent times.

The influence of the Portuguese dates back to the time Vasco Da Gama first set foot in Calicut, with the coming of the Portuguese many aspects of Indian life was affected, language being one. Vasco Da Gama established the sea route which made international trading with India possible. Many of the words that came into being were those which were absent in the Indian vocabulary when certain items needed to be referred to. Some of the major influences from Sanskrit and Tamil are easier to understand compared to the international influences of the Portuguese, words we have acquired from the interaction with international traders in the State over time are some of the most unique and different ones we have. Loan words are words borrowed from a foreign language with little or no modification, we can see such loan words in the Malayalam language as well.

The Malayalam word for key, Chaavi, comes from the Portuguese word Caave. The word for Pineapple, Annara, is from the Portuguese Ananas. So many words we use in daily parlance have Portuguese origins, Alumaari from Armario, Iskool (school) from Escola, Istri (Iron) from Esterar and the list goes on and on. Here are some other Portuguese loan words in Malayalam!

  • Amara – അമര – Mulberry tree – “Amora”
  • Aaspatri – ആസ്പത്രി -Hospital – “Hospital”
  • Govi – ഗോവി – Cabbage – “Couvre”
  • Jennal – ജെന്നാല് – Window – “Jenala
  • Kamis – കാമിസ് – Shirt – “Camiso”
  • Kurisu – കുരിശു – Cross – “Cruz”
  • Laelam – ലഈലം – Auction – “Leilac”
  • Mesha – മേശാ – Table – “Mesa”
  • Maestri – മെസ്ത്രി – Foreman – “Mestre”
  • Naranja – Lemon / Citrus fruit
  • Rasītŭ – രസീത് – receipt – “receito”
  • Paadhiri – പാധിരി – Clergyman – “Padre”
  • Paappa – പാപ – The Pope – “papa”
  • Pena – പേന – Pen – “Pena”
  • Pera – പേര – Guava – “Pera”
  • Pikkassu – പിക്കാസ് – Pick-axe – “Picao”
  • Tambloor – തമ്ബ്ലൂര് – “Tambler”
  • Teila – റെഇല – Tea leaves – “Tea”
  • Tuuvala – തൂവാല – Towel, handkerchief – “Toalha”
  • Vattakka – വട്ടക്ക – Watermelon – “Pateca”
  • Vatteri – വട്റെരി – Battery, a set of guns – “Bateria”
  • Vippa – വീപ്പ – bottle – “jarpipa”
  • Maṟukŭ – മറുക് – scar – “marco”
  • Semittēri – സെമിത്തേരി – cemetery – “cemitério”
  • Semināri – സെമിനാരി – Seminary – “seminario”

It is also important to see that the Portuguese language has also been influenced by Malayalam.

  • jaca – jackfruit – ചക്ക
  • manga – mango – മാങ്ങ
  • betel – Betel – വെറ്റില
  • teca – Teak – തേക്ക്
  • jagra – Jaggery – ചക്കര

Looking at these examples we understand that there are many words we malayalees use that are influenced or rather contributed by the Portuguese. In their constant trade associations with Kerala, they have over time loaned words that we use constantly today. It is also worth knowing that through these interactions we have also been able to contribute and influence words in the Portuguese vocabulary. The cultural associations we have with these countries are therefore very interesting and built up of several layers. Next time you say these words, you might want to think twice of where it came from!