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The Evolution of Language

The English language shares many words in common with other languages. These words sometimes will have similar meanings but not always the same meaning. I would like to take a small dive into the discussion of this topic and question if the English language is being disrespectful to other languages by having different meanings of these words. I had not known about this potential issue until a discussion with a friend who had felt very strongly about it. I have not personally heard of this topic being discussed and I would build more conversation about it to learn more about language development, sharing, and problems. I hope that by me sitting down in this lovely vegan cafe and typing out this article I encourage a respectful, peaceful, and understanding relationship between languages and countries.

Language Development

Historical linguistics is the scientific study of language change over time. This study includes cognates: sets of words (in different languages) that have been inherited in direct descent from an etymological (relating to the origin and historical development of words and their meanings) ancestor in a common parent language. [1] Cognates do not always have the same meaning since languages change and develop independently over time. It is easy to see how language development can seem like a natural occurrence. However, it could be possible we have made mistakes when deciding what words should be used if they have a different meaning from their origin. It is also possible this is something that we don’t consciously decide. Do word origins claim ownership over words to which we should be adhering too? There are many different opinions to have in this regard.

Sharing Language

The suggestion that the English language needed improvement and re-education about language use was suggested to me by a friend after I said (in English) “chai tea”. This was because chai (in the Hindi language) means tea (so they believe I am saying tea twice and therefore incorrect). As mentioned, about cognate words, this situation could potentially arise with many shared words. If we follow etymology (the study of the history of the form of words) then we would discover that neither English nor Hindi language is the origin of the word “chai” (meaning “spiced tea”). This word originated from a northern Chinese pronunciation of cha, then to Central Asia and Persia (picking up a Persian ending yi on the way), and then entered English via Hindustani in the 20th century. Regardless of fighting over who “owns” the word, the most shocking part was that saying “chai tea” was considered so terrible and disrespectful by some individuals. It was deemed so wrong by my friend that they refused to be my friend unless I changed what I called it. It is suggested that the English only say chai or say masala chai (the Hindi language for ground spices). To read more about why Khushbu Shah reports in her article: you should never use the phrase: ‘chai tea’.

The Problem

It is obvious that English will not change their language and convert to strictly only Hindi language. The English language has been developed in many countries, one of them being my own home country Canada. We welcome many tourists and immigrants from all over the world who speak a variety of other languages and they adapt to our English language which may be different from the language they are used to.

So how serious of an insult is this? I reached out to a couple of friends, who all spoke Hindi, who said that this is in fact not seen as disrespectful to them. One friend, is from India and speaks Hindi but is living in another country (which does not recognize English or Hindi as their first language). My friend has learned 3 different languages and is an active traveler. So how could they have never heard of this before? Does this affect you or someone you know?


I do not think there is anything intentionally disrespectful or wrong about saying chai tea in my country. I do think it would be incorrect if I were in India and tried to order a chai tea among many who likely spoke Hindi as their first language as opposed to English. Overall, I would hope countries would have mutual respect for each other’s languages which they have developed, and embrace our differences. I think this is especially important during traveling and embracing cultures. Letting something like this get in the way of healthy relationships with other cultures and countries seems very unnecessary in my opinion. It leads me to believe there is a deeper problem such as Ethnocentrism (the tendency to look at the world primarily from the perspective of one’s own culture). The belief that one’s own race, ethnic, or cultural group is the most important or that some or all aspects of its culture are superior to those of other groups plays a large role in ethnocentrism. [3]

Making Peace

I think we can all fall guilty of ethnocentrism at one time or another and we may not even realize it. The takeaway from this I think it is important for us all to respectfully accept that we have these differences and it is okay to be different and unique. Not all people are the same, even if they speak the same language I still find some people pronounce words differently from each other. An example is drama (pronounced draw-ma or dram-ma). I believe arguing over which is correct or came first is pointless because they are the same thing (or in other cases related to the same thing). Maybe this is arrogant of me, or maybe I am missing a point that I do not see. That is quite possible because, like many of us, I am not an expert and am limited in education. However, I think my point is, that even if it is misused that it is not an effort to disrespect anyone and we can be civilized humans to one another’s culture.

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