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Re: Maize origins [was re: "Corn" in medieval Europe]
Some further remarks on European cereal names.
The main cereals known in Europe since the Neolithic are barley and
wheat (both originally from the Near East), and the locally
domesticated oats and rye. Rye was specifically Northern European,
and Basque does not have a native word for it. By the time of the
Roman Empire, two further cereals were known: millet (foxtail millet
from China, finger millet from Egypt/Ethiopia), and rice (from SE Asia
by way of India).
At the start of the Modern era, three further cereals were introduced:
buckwheat by the Turks (it originates in Central Asia), sorghum
(Guinea corn, from West Africa) and maize (from Mesoamerica) through
the Portuguese and Spanish voyages to Africa and America. Of the
three, maize is by far the most useful and the most widely cultivated
Apart from the Arawak word "mahiz", which was adopted through Spanish
in French, English, Dutch, German and the Sandinavian languages, we
have the following names given to the plant in Europe:
Ita. granturco, Fr. ble' de Turquie, Bret. ed Turki, Germ. tuerkischer
Cat. blat de moro, moresc
Cat. blat de les Indies, blat d'India; Fr. ble' d'Inde; Ir. arbhar
Indiach, Welsh indrawn (ind- + grawn), gwenith India; Eng. Indian corn
> Am.Eng. corn
Turk. mIsIr bug~day
Eg.Arab. dhura shaamii (and in Syria it's: dhura s.afraa` "yellow
The Slavic word, Russ. (> Lith., Latv.) kukuruza, Pol. kukurydza, Cze.
kukur^ice, Serb-Croat kukuruz, is of unknown origin, possibly a
loanword from Turkish?
Romanian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Greek and Italian also use words derived
from "pigeon". Cf. Spa. "palomitas" = popcorn.
Finally, there is also some confusion with words for "millet", as in
Fr. mil gros, Basque arto (orig. "millet", now "maize", "millet" now
being artatxiki "little millet").
Note also the words for "sorghum": Fr. petit mil, Eng. milo, Egyptian
corn, great millet, Indian millet, Guinea corn. Relevant words for
"buckwheat" are: Spa. trigo sarraceno, trigo morisco; Fr. ble'
sarrasin. In Dutch, "boekweit" is first attested in 1441, "mais" in
1581 ("mais van Peru").
Resuming, I'd say the chronology must have been:
1. buckwheat ("Turkish/Moorish/Sarrasin corn") introduced by the Turks
and Mongols from the 13th century onwards, first to the Russians and
Poles (where buckwheat "kasha" is still a staple food).
2. sorghum ("Guinea corn", "great millet") introduced by the
Portuguese exploration of the West African coast in the 15th c.,
certainly earlier in the Arab world (13th c.? gold trade with Ghana
and Mali empires).
3. maize ("Indian corn", "mahis") introduced after Columbus' voyages,
in the 16th. century.
Given the success of maize cultivation, maize usurped some of the
names for the barely established "buckwheat" and "sorghum" cereals.
Hence such names as Ital. "granturco" (Turkish corn), Basque "arto
(handi)" ([great] millet) or Arabic "dhura s.afraa`" (yellow sorghum).
Miguel Carrasquer Vidal ~ ~
Amsterdam _____________ ~ ~
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