LINGUIST List 7.174

Sun Feb 4 1996

Sum: Turkey

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Theriault Alain, Turkey

Message 1: Turkey

Date: Sat, 03 Feb 1996 21:16:17 EST
From: Theriault Alain <theriaalERE.UMontreal.CA>
Subject: Turkey
Hello everyone!
This is the sum up of my turkey question. I do not intend to draw any 
conclusion (It is out of my field) but it seems to be amusing. It seems, 
however, that I was mistaken about the Egyptian Vs Greek translation of 
the word.
I would like, first, to thank the following persons for their answers.
Alexandra Aikhenvald, Alice Faber, Andrew R Linn, Baum Jonathan , Bilge 
K. Say, Bill Turkel, Bridget M. Canniff, Caroline Wiltshire, Cem 
Bozsahin, Cohen Dana, Dan I. Slobin, Dan Moonhawk Alford, Daniel Baum, 
David Lidsky, Deborah D K Ruuskanen, Donald T. Davis, E Wayles Browne, 
Eirik Hektoen,, Eul`alia De Bobes I 
Soler , Falk Yehuda , Frances Karttunen, Fred Baube, Gary H. Toops, Geoff 
Smith, Gomez Lopez Ricardo, Hannele Dufva, Hartmut Haberland, Hitay 
Yukseker, Jon Aske, Joseph Davis,, Karen S. Chung, 
Karen Stanley, Karl Teeter, Keller Rabenda Martin Robert, Kevin Tsai, 
Lora G. Lunt , Louis de Saussure, Manuel Sifre, Marcia Haag, Markus 
Nussbaumer, Mikko Lounela, Muriel Norde,, Randy Hudson , Richard Sproat, 
Ruth Loew, Saeed Menasan, Sarah Fairchild Sherry, Szymon Grzelak, Terry 
Regier, Thomas Becker, Thomas F. Shannon, Timo Honkela, Zarautz Gipuzkoa.
- ----------------------------------------
So the bird seems to be related to INDIA for the following languages:
ARABIC (standard)
Just for the record, in standard Arabic (MSA) turkey is diiq hindi, or 
Indian rooster. And Benjamin Franklin thought that the U.S. should have 
claimed the turkey as our state bird instead of the eagle! Indigenous 
and more intelligent than the eagle.
In Azari, a language spoken by 13-15 million Iranians and many more 
around the region, turkey is 'hindishga', that's something related to 
In Basque a turkey is "indioilar" or "indioilo" ("India rooster" india + 
oilar 'rooster' and "India hen" india + oilo 'hen'). 
In Catalan it is "gall dindi". The translation may be, more or less, 
"cock from India"
In Hebrew it is called a "tarnegol hodu" or "Indian rooster"
In Polish it is indyk, or more specifically indor 'male turkey', indyczka 
'female turkey' from the name 'India'.
In Russian the turkey is called _indjuk_ (male), _indjushka/indejka_ 
(female). As food, the turkey is referred to by the term _indjushka_. In 
sum, it's the "bird of India," as in French.
 Russian has "ind'ejka" (sg.fem.n.) for "turkey," which is related to the 
word for "Indian." It's interesting to note, however, that seems to 
derive from "ind'ejec"/"ind'ejskij" which mean "Indian 
(sg.masc.n.)"/"Indian (sg.masc.adj.)" as in Native American, as opposed 
to "ind'ijec"/"ind'ijskij" "Indian (sg.masc.n)"/"Indian (sg.masc.adj)" as 
pertaining to the people of India. 
(Note: in the above transcriptions, c = ts, and ' indicates 
palatalization or softness. All five Russian words have stress on the 
second syllable.)
Turkey in Turkish is 'Hindi'. My etymology book says that it is named 
after Hindistan, the Turkish name for India. Hindistan is usually 
shortened to Hind. so it's Hindistan->Hind->Hindi. It also mentions that 
we got the bird from India, after having exported to East Asia from 
America. the source is:Turk Dilinin Etimoloji Sozlugu [The etymology of 
the Turkish LAnguage], I.Z. Eyuboglu, Sosyal Yayinlari (publisher), 
Istanbul, 1991, 2nd edition.
In Yiddish "turkey" is called "indik". The Yiddish word for Indian (the 
adjective) is "indish". The suffix -ik in Yiddish words usually indicates 
a slavic origin and thus the source of "indik" in Yiddish is presumably 
- ----------------------------------------
In Danish, Dutch, Finnish and Norwegian, it is associated with a town 
from the Malabar coast (southern India):
The Danish word is kalkun (stressed on second syllable) which is similar 
to Dutch kalkoen. The source seems to be an adjective kalkunsk, borrowed 
from Dutch kalkoensk, which means 'from Kalikut (on the Malabar coast)'. 
As the Danish etymologicl dictionary remarks, 'clearly a mix-up between 
the West and the East Indies'. (This is, actually, much more precise than 
just 'somebody else's bird', since the bird seems to have come from 
Mexico via the West Indies.)
The Dutch word for turkey is "kalkoen", deriving from the town "Calicut" 
(now Kozhikode) on the coast of India. Originally, the bird was called 
"kalkoense haan", that is, rooster from Calicut. 
Turkey, in Finnish, is kalkkuna. This is a IE loan-word, related to 
modern Swedish kalkon, which derives from some earlier form of low 
German (something like 'the hen of Calcutta'. I'm no expert on 
etymology, and I found this explanation in a popular book on etymology, 
but it seems to fit, doesn't it? 
But when I checked Norsk Riksmaalsordbok (a dictionary of Riksmaal, a 
rather conservative literary form of written Norwegian), it turns out 
that the word comes (via Low German and Dutch) from the name of the town 
Calicut on the Malabar Coast on the western side of southern India. 
- ----------------------------------------
In the folowing languages, 'turkey' has different origins:
ARABIC (dialects)
In Palestinian Arabic, the bird's name is equivalent to "Ethiopian 
rooster". It is pronounced as / diik Habash / where /diik/ is rooster and 
is /d/ as in "duck", long/i/ and /k/as in "king" /H/ is pharengeal 
fricative, /a/ is as a shwa, like the vowel in English /the/, and /sh/ 
is like the first consonant in English "show"
In Levantine Arabic turkeys are referred to as Abyssinian roosters (diik 
Habash: diik is rooster and Habash is Abyssinia or Ethiopia.
(It seems I was misleaded in that one...)
Greek (cf. Andriotis, Etimologiko leksiko tis koines neoellinikes, 
Thessaloniki 1983) has: dianos < indianos, glossed as 'indike ornitha' 
ie. Indian bird, kourkos < Romanian curca (a with breve) < Slavic kurka 
gallos or galos, from Italian gallo 'cock' (but cf. gallo d'India 
'turkey'); the similarity with gallos 'Frenchman' is probably accidental 
gal(l)opoula 'female turkey' is just a diminutive of gal(l)os, although 
it lends itself to reanalysis as gallo- 'French' + pouli 'bird'. Now both 
pouli 'bird' and the diminutive suffix -poulos/poula go back to Latin 
pullus, but they are usually kept apart in Modern Greek (also because of 
different placement of stress), so one should not put to much weight on 
this possible reanalysis (better ask some native speaker).
In Macedonian [Slavic] it is misir m., misirka f., from Misir [the 
letters i should have no dots on top] (the Turkish name of Egypt) from 
Arabic Misr.
MALAISIA (She didn't say wich language)
En Malaisie, on dit "ayam belanda" [ayam = poulet; belanda = 
hollandais].(In Malaisia, it is "ayam belanda" [ayam = chiken; belanda = 
 In Portuguese, turkey is peru, which probably comes from the country 
Peru (feminine -a can be added to it, and then you get peru-a which means 
'slut'; I thought it was some sort of analogy with galinha 'hen' which 
means the same thing).
from: Caroline Wiltshire ( 
the word in Tamil (a Southern Dravidian language) is "vaankooRi" (the R 
is a retroflex approximant, more or less), which comes from "vaan" = sky 
and "kooRi" = chicken, domestic fowl. On the other hand, one of my 
dictionaries lists an alternative which I've never heard 
"siimaikkooRi", from "siimai" = foreign country, Europe or any of the 
European countries. Perhaps a native speaker can tell you if this word 
is ever used these days. 
- ----------------------------------------
For the other languages of wich I received answers, there are either no 
etymology or country related to the name:
In Bulgarian, the turkey is a pujak (m.) / pujka (f.).
Bura, a Chadic language spoken in Nigeria. The word for turkey is 
something like tlotlo (where  is supposed to be open-o). Apparently 
that is similar to other languages in the area. My guess is that it is 
onomatopaea (sp?) from the sound that turkeys make.
			v _
mandarin chinese: huo ji (fire chicken or angry chicken)
In Cantonese, turkey is foh(2) gai(1) - literally fire chicken, 
presumably from the red colouring round the face. 
in Farsi language the word for 'turkey' is 'bugalamun' which has notiong 
to do with any country!
in Japanese it's _shichimenchoo_, 'seven-sided bird'. (literally meaning 
something like "a bird with seven faces or surfaces)
In Upper Sorbian, the turkey is a trutak (m.) / truta (f.).
- ----------------------------------------
Now, turkey is native of the American continent (That is what I have been 
told many times). Here are a few of the languages that are (or were) 
spoken on this Continent:
In Maliseet-Passamaquoddy (north-est of New-England) he word for 
"turkey" is nehm.
In Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs and their neighbors and the heart 
of original turkey-domestication), the word for the male turkey is 
huehxo:lo:-tl, which appears to be a compound of hueh- 'great, big' and 
xo:lo:-tl 'male servant', while the word for female turkey is to:tol-in, 
which is the general word for domesticated bird. Since the turkey was 
the Aztecs' domesticated bird, further specificity doesn't seem to have 
been needed prior to the introduction of European chickens at the time of 
the conquest. European chickens were called either cax < castilla or 
piyo (apparently from the call that Europeans use when rounding up their 
chickens: piyo, piyo, piyo, which is basically 'chick, chick, chick' cf. 
Sp. pollo). Xuehxo:lo:-tl has given rise to the Mexican Spanish word 
guajalote. In other Spanish-speaking areas the word pavo is used. It 
originally was used for the peacock, until turkeys were imported from the 
In Yucatec Maya, the word for turkey is tso' and the European chicken is 
usually cax.
In Choctaw, an interesting thing has happened. There are two native 
words, fakit and cholokloha, both based on the sound of the bird's call. 
The word `fakit' is pronounced just like `fuck it' so it has fallen 
precipitously from use as the Choctaw community has become bilingual. 
Fakit has been replaced by `akank chaaha' or `tall chicken'. I am not 
sure if `akanka' referred to native birds before the advent of European 
domestic chickens, but that word is used for this bird now. So we have a 
native word replaced by a phrasal descriptive term based on a European 
bird to avoid embarrassing ourselves to English speakers. Sigh.
- ----------------------------------------
Thanks to Thomas F. Shannon (who is not affraid to open a dictionary) 
here is a list of different languages and their word for 'turkey'
from: Thomas F. Shannon (
In answer to your repeated request for the word for turkey in various 
non-indoeuropean languages, I went to my shelf, picked up my handy 
"Concise dictionary of 25 languages" and found the following:
Language word
Hungarian pulyka
Finnish kalkkuna
Turkish hindi (I assume the etymology is what it looks like!)
Indonesian ajam belanda
Arabic dik roumi
Hebrew tarnegol hodu
Japanese shichimenchoo
Swahili bata mzinga
The other languages listed are IE, to wit
French dindon
Spanish pavo
Italian tacchino
Portuguese peru
Rumanian curcan
German Truthahn (Puter/Pute is also used)
Dutch kalkoen
Swedish kalkon
Danish kalkun
Norwegian kalkun
Polish indyk
Czech krocan
Serbo-Croat puran
Esperanto meleagro
Russian indyuk
Greek galopou'la
Yiddish indik
Thanks to Randy Hudson who reads very interesting books:
from: Randy Hudson (
According to Reay Tannahill's "Food in History" (rev. ed., 1993, Crown 
Publishers, originally Penguin): the Mexican [Nahuatl?] word is 
"uexolotl"; in Turkey it's "hindi" (suggesting, like Fr. "dinde" or 
"dindon" < "coq d'Inde", or Ger. "indianische Henn", that the origin was 
thought to be India); in Egypt, "dik-rumi" ("Turkish fowl"); in India 
[language unspecified], "peru" (evidently "Peru"); in Persia, "filmurgh" 
(elephant bird).
And, to finish, here is a letter I received from David Lidsky wich 
conclude the topic in a very nice way:
from: David Lidsky (
Two English dictionaries which I have consulted give similar etymologies 
for "turkey". The story goes like this. The African bird now called the 
"guinea fowl" used to be called (presumably because of a mistaken belief 
about its origin) the "Turkey cock", it's having arrived in Europe via 
Turkish territory. The bird now called "turkey" in English was originally 
thought to be identical with (or a sort of) the bird now called the 
"guinea fowl" and that being then called the "Turkey cock" the turkey was 
also called the "Turkey cock".
Doesn't that all sound a bit unlikely involving as it does two separate 
mistakes? Do historians of language have documentary proof of these 
mistakes having been made in the way described? And are we to believe 
that two additional mistakes occurred relating the bird to India and to 
Peru in other languages (according to my encyclopedia it is a North 
American bird).
One mistake which I think is well documented is the mistaking of America 
for India by the first visitors from Europe. Could this explain those 
cases in which "turkey" in different languages is related to India?

- ----------------------------------------
I hope you found it as amusing and instructive as I have

Alain Theriault | "The problem with the future 
Etudiant au doctorat | is that it keeps on turning
Departement de linguistique et traduction | into the present"
Universite de Montreal | | Hobbes (Bill Waterson)
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