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Re: Maize origins [was re: "Corn" in medieval Europe]
Miguel Carrasquer Vidal writes:
>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
If blat de moro is Catalan for maize, that would suggest, to me at
least, that it was in Iberia before the Christian consolidation under
Ferdinand and Isabella, and therefore before Columbus.
In Morocco, however, maize is Tshurkiya (according to Jeffreys,
in _Man Across the Sea_, p. 399), so that even the "Moors" attribute
a Turkish, not Spanish or American Indian, origin to it.
>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").
Particularly in Portuguese, where today milho is maize, but surely
this word must have started off as millet (L milium, proso millet =
panicum miliaceum). Jeffreys cites some evidence that milho,
and in particular milho grosso, was already maize in the early
>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").
Milo, although it sounds like millet, actually comes from Sesuto
(a Bantu language) maili, according to the MW 2nd Unabridged
Dictionary. It is the English name of one variety of sorghum.
Sorghum itself, according to Klein's Comprehensive Etym. Dict.,
comes from Italian sorgo, from ML surgum, surcum, suricum,
from L. Syricum, ie grass of Syria.
>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).
What is your evidence that buckwheat was ever "Turkish corn"?
This is crucial, since in the 16th century, according to Finan,
_Maize in the Great Herbals_,
"Frumentum Turcicum/ Tuerkischer Korn" designates one of the two
varieties of maize grown in Europe, the older one, thought to have come from
Buckwheat/boekweit is supposed to mean "beech wheat",
after the tree. I don't see what the connection would be. Perhaps
the buckwheat kernels taste like beech nuts? The American
beech has an abundant nut, but I'm not sure about the European
beech. Buckwheat was a major staple in the US in the 19th century,
particulary for pancakes, but has lot a lot of its popularity.
It is not a true grain, but is used as one.
Kasha, according to MW, is Russian for a mush made from buckwheat,
millet, or barley, and therefore indicates a generic product rather than a
specific crop, even if in today's supermarkets it primarily indicates
a pilaf made from buckwheat.
>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).
If sorghum is "Syrian grass", perhaps it was in Italy etc. before the
African explorations, even if it ultimately of African origin, and even
if other varieties were later introduced directly from Africa.
>3. maize ("Indian corn", "mahis") introduced after Columbus' voyages,
>in the 16th. century.
Not if it is depicted in 12th and 13th c AD So. Indian sculptures, per
Johannessen and Parker, _Economic Botany_, 1989!
>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).
Durra is a modern variety of sorghum that must have gotten its name
from dhura. But what evidence do you have that granturco was ever
>Miguel Carrasquer Vidal ~ ~
>Amsterdam _____________ ~ ~
>========================== Ce .sig n'est pas une .cig
-- Hu McCulloch
Ohio State U.