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Today George brings on his fiancé Li Wang to talk about some interesting little lexical facts in Chinese that might be an inspiration.

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8 Responses to “Conlangery SHORTS #14: 吃酒喝面 Eating Wine and Drinking Noodles”

  1. Serj

    Italian, like Spanish, has distinctions for the time of the day you have a meal:
    dinner : cena : : to have dinner : cenare
    lunch : pranzo : : to have lunch : pranzare
    breakfast : colazione : : to have breakfast : *colazionare
    … but it interestingly lacks the verb form for breakfast. I chalk this up to the fact that there really isn’t a “breakfast” in Italian culture; just a coffee and maybe a few small biscotti IF you’re lucky.

    These verbal forms don’t really translate well with the verb “eat” though, because it’s understood that you’d be drinking as well. We can see this in English too when we say “I’m going to ‘eat’ dinner.” This usage of eat, at least for me, includes obvious drinking.

    Final point: It would be cool if this flattening between “eat” and “drink” when specifying time did not happen in a language and there were terms for eating and certain times, that contrasted with drinking at certain times (think tea-time), that contrasted with doing both simultaneously at certain times… or basically just interesting combinations of the above (which would probably be more naturalistic than a comprehensive list).

    • Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets

      Mmm… I don’t agree completely. Those are not so much synonyms of “to eat” for specific times of the day as they are verbs that mean “to attend breakfast/lunch/dinner”. Eating and drinking are understood as being part of attending a meal, but are not the main point of these verbs.In French, my mothertongue, those verbs exist as well, but they do not feel to me like equivalent of “to eat”, but more of “to have” (as in “to have lunch”, “to have dinner”).

      Like in Italian, we have “dîner” for “to have dinner” and “déjeuner” for “to have lunch”, but we lack the verbal equivalent of “to have breakfast”. That’s because French has undergone a change in meal words: breakfast used to be “déjeuner” (with the verb “déjeuner”, literally meaning “to unfast”, i.e. to break the fast), lunch was “dîner” (with the verb “dîner), and dinner was “souper” (supper), with the verb “souper” (“to have supper”). This was somehow changed: “souper” became less and less used (and now feels very archaic, or refers to a light collation late in the evening, after 11PM at least), “dîner” replaced “souper” to mark the evening meal, “déjeuner” took over from “dîner” to mark lunch, and the name of breakfast was filled in by the compound “petit-déjeuner” (literally “small lunch”), without an equivalent verb.

      In any case, this was a very interesting short. I already knew about the weird (but somehow understandable) case of Japanese using nomu (to drink) not only for liquids but also for pills (and for cigarettes!), but “eating wine” is a first!

      In my conlang Moten, I also went another route than the boring “solid vs. liquid” stuff :P. Moten has two verbs: jo|zemej and ipsenaj. They both basically mean “to swallow” or “to ingest”. The difference between the two is whether what is swallowed is considered a foodstuff (drinks included) or not. So most food and drinks use jo|zemej, while medicine, cigarettes and saliva use ipsenaj. I have yet to ascertain exactly what the speakers of Moten consider to be foodstuff or not, so one could also have things that we would consider food using ipsenaj simply because culturally speaking the Moten speakers don’t consider it that way :) . I hardly dare to mention that the opposite could also be true! 😛

      • admin

        To be fair, the breakfast/lunch/dinner thing really deserves to be taken on separately — there’s actually a huge history behind those words that ties into the evolution of cultural mealtime behaviors in Europe (and potentially elsewhere as well).

        As far as the Moten concept, I like that. I think that “to smoke” also might be a good one to look into, since I’ve seen a varied array of verbs co-opted for it (“drink” as mentioned by you for Japanese and by William’s entry, “to breathe”, “to smoke (emit smoke), fume”).

  2. Walter

    Normally, [Brazilian] Portuguese uses three verbs: ‘comer’ (to eat); ‘beber’ (to drink); ‘tomar’ (to have/take).
    As a rule of thumb, solids are eaten and liquids (including soups) are drunk, but ice cream and medicine –regardless of whether they are solid (tablet or capsule) or liquid (syrup or drop)– go with that third verb. Popsicles and ice pops are suck.

  3. Edmund Yong

    Something that might interest you, I’m a Chinese Malaysian. For some reasons, the word “吃” is sometimes “misused ” in cases where supposedly “喝”should be used in Malaysian Mandarin. But this doesn’t happen the other way round.


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