Beer words are geographical not genetic

BEER: Faeroese, English, French, Dutch, German, Italian, Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian.

ALE: Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian.

CERVEZA: Welsh, (Basque), Spanish, Catalan.


LEANN: Gaelic, Irish.

PIVO: Polish, Czech, Slovak, Slovene, Serbocroat, Russian.

S?R: Hungarian.

This isn’t a complete set, but what’s very noticeable is that beer words in neighbouring countries tend to be alike, regardless of how unrelated their languages are. Thanks to Wikipedia for Bulgarian and Romanian, which I didn’t know, but at the BEER?PIVO frontier, I thought I ought to check.

Update (20110206): Garagardo, at least according to, seems to beat zerbeza. I feared it might have been invented by Sabino Arana and had never caught on in real life.

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6 Responses to Beer words are geographical not genetic

  1. LizUU says:

    Welsh being something of a counter-example of this, surely? Also Cornish, which similarly seems to throw its chips in with the cerveza camp.

    • colin says:

      If we admit the French cervoise, then it looks a bit less isolated. But I’ve never seen cervoise in a French pub, hypermarket or a beer festival and I’m at a loss to know how I know the word.

    • smallbeds says:

      Welsh being something of a counter-example of this, surely?

      I’m not sure if that necessarily follows. Certainly the Celtiberians were a genetic (and linguistic) mix, so I suppose I would accept crb’s negative assertion, while suggesting his positive assertion is a bit oversimplified.

      Maybe it’s more accurate to say that “beer” words are spread by migration and then adopted by settlement (so “geographical” in the syllabus sense), rather than spread by conquest and “adopted” by displacement (so “genetic”). Although I’d then argue against myself, that even “ale” isn’t a word that obviously “migrated” along with Danish brewers (as I’d originally thought) but is merely an Old English cognate of the Danish. Where do the branches join up there, I wonder?

      Geography and migration do go some way to explaining how cerveza seems to straddle the P/Q-Celtic boundary: Celtiberians are Q-Celtic, aren’t they? So Proto-Celtic could have carried that word during the Gaulish migration to Iberia (while the Halstatt culture was still a dominant social force.) Then, later, P and Q drifted apart, leaving cerveza/cwrw stranded on either side of the divide. I’d love to know how leann fits into this calendar. I note that Manx has lhune.

      I don’t have any dictionaries to hand, but I think that Breton does have the simple Germanic “bier”; although half of the Google hits for “cervoise” contain the word “breton” too, so. I don’t know where this is going any more. I need a beer.

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