Tuesday, 10 September 2013


The Toronto Catholic District School Board, on its English courses page, has an animated GIF showing the word "welcome" in 29 languages.

Here are some etymological notes on these words. It's interesting that so many terms for "welcome" can be literally translated as an adverb "well/good" + a verb "come".

Corrections are welcome.

The well of welcome used to be will - as in "desire". Old English wilcuma was "one whose coming is pleasing or desirable; an acceptable person or thing". This changed to well under the influence of Old French bien venu. A parallel change happened in Dutch welkom.

The French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish words are derived from Latin bene "well" plus the past participle of ueniō “to come”. Latin ueniō is from Proto-Indo-European *gʷeh₂- "to go, to come" which is the source of English come.

The Persian/Urdu خوش آمديد ḵẖūś āmadīd is from Persian ḵẖūś "good, excellent" (as in cushy) and آمدن āmadan "to come" (I think).

The Pashto ښه راغلاست x̌ah rāğlāst is composed of x̌ah "good, pleasant" and I assume a form of راغلل rāğlal "to come".

The Czech vítame vás, Ukrainian вітаємо, radi vitati vas and Polish witamy all contain the element vita- which is found in verbs meaning "to greet". I don't think this is of PIE origin. vas "you" is cognate with Latin uōs from PIE *wōs-, an extended form of *yū- "you".

Russian and Serbian dobro means "good", from PIE *dhabh- "to fit together", and cognate with daft and deft. Old English gedæfte meant "mild, gentle", related to gedæftan "to make fit or ready, to prepare". daft went from meaning "mild, gentle" to "stupid, foolish", and deft retained the "fit" sense.

Serbian došli is a form of doći (доћи) "to come". Note that the Cyrillic spelling contains that well-known letter Ћ.

The Irish greeting fáilte was possibly (according to McBains, citing an article in Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung) borrowed from Latin ualēte "be well/healthy", in other words "goodbye". The Latin is from PIE *wal- "to be strong" as in English wield.

The Greek καλώς ήλθατε kalōs ēlthate is also written καλώς ήρθατε kalōs ērthate. The first word means "well"; in Ancient Greek it meant "beautiful", and gave us words such as Callisto and kaleidoscope. It's from PIE *kal(i/u)- "beautiful" and is found in Old English hæleð and German Held "hero". The second word is the suppletive aorist formal second person plural form of έρχομαι erkhomai "to come". This is from PIE *h₁er- "to move, set in motion", which found its way into English as are.

The Armenian Բարի եկաք bari ekak' is composed of bari "good" possibly from PIE *bher- "to bear, carry" as in English bear and bring. I think, but I know nothing about Armenian so I'm probably wrong, that the second word is a form of եկ- ek-, which is a suppletive part of the conjugation of գամ gam "to come". ek- is apparently derived from PIE *gʷeh₂- as in English come (and gam is derived from PIE *ǵheh₁- as in English go).

The Sinhala sadarayen piliganimu is composed of සාදරයෙන් sādarayen "respectfully" and පිළිගනිමු piḷiganimu, a form of පිළිගන්නවා piḷigannavā "to accept". I assume the first word is related to Sanskrit सादर sādara "respectful".

The Tibetan tashi delek is a representation of the pronunciation of the greeting spelled བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས་ bkra shis bde legs. The connection between Tibetan spelling and pronunciation will forever elude me.

I believe the Tagalog maligayang pagbabalik literally means "happy homecoming".

Here are the languages in the order they appear (with some help from Omniglot):

Bienvenue - French
欢迎 - simplified Chinese (huānyíng)
Բարի եկաք - Western Armenian (bari ekak')
خوش آمديد - Persian/Urdu (ḵẖūś āmadīd)
Benvenuti - Italian
ДОБРО ПОЖАЛОВАТЬ - Russian (dobro požalovat')
Bem Vindos - Portuguese
நல்வரவு - Tamil (nalvaravu)
Dobro dosli - Serbian/Croatian - should be dobrodošli
Kihn chao ong - Vietnamese, should be kính chào ông
Kihn Chao ba - Vietnamese, should be kính chào bà
مرحباً - Arabic (marẖabā)
Vítame vás - Czech
Вітаємо - Ukrainian (vitajemo)
Willkommen - German
Καλώς ήλθατε - Greek (kalōs ēlthate)
Welkom - Dutch
Witamy - Polish
أھلاً و سھلاً - Arabic again ('āhlān wa sahlān)
Failte - Irish/Scots Gaelic (fáilte/fàilte)
tashi delek - Tibetan (བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས་ bkra shis bde legs)
Maligayang Pagbabalik - Tagalog
Radi vitati vas - Ukrainian again? (раді вітати Вас)
歡迎 - traditional Chinese (huānyíng)
Hwan-Yong Ham Nee Da - Korean (환영합니다)
sadarayen piliganimu - Sinhala (සාදරයෙන් පිළිගනිමු)
ښه راغلاست - Pashto (x̌ah rāğlāst?) (this used to be rendered incorrectly but it's been fixed)
Hoş geldiniz - Turkish
Bienvenidos - Spanish


Carl M. said...

The Chinese and Korean are cognates. (Well, the Korean version also has some indigenous grammatical bits, but huanying and hwanyong are.) The Japanese cognate, kangei, is also used to mean "welcome," but usually not as a salutation.

goofy said...

That's cool.

andre rodenburg said...

The Polish 'witamy' is the root of the word 'vitamin'. Discovered by doctor Kazimierz Funk.

goofy said...

I don't think so. "vitamin" is from Latin vīta "life" + "amine".

Vincent said...

I imagine that it's no coincidence that wo many mean something like "you have come/arrived well"; rather that we have here cases of loan-translation. My guess would be that the Romance languages came first.

Arabic ahlan wa sahlan is a little difficult to translate literally, the meaning having been somewhat forced for the rhyme. but it's something like "You are here as if in your family; be at ease." Ahl = family, sahl = easy, smooth; the -an ending is adverbial.