In ancient times, the Central Plain people (the area on the lower reaches of the Yellow River which formed the cradle of Chinese civilization) had frequent exchanges with other ethnic groups around them. In fact, what is called the Han Chinese are the fusion of the the Yue, Yi, Qiang people who entered “China” in ancient times. Therefore, what we call “Chinese” is originally a hybrid of of ancient Yue, Yi and Qiang languages. As such, there are many loanwords in the “ancient Chinese” of the pre-Qin period.
1. “牙 (yá) – tooth”
In antiquity time, “齿 (chǐ)” is used to refer to “tooth”, regardless of people or beasts. The word “牙” came later, at first referring to the teeth of some animals. According to academics’ research, “牙” originally refers to ivory in the South Asian language and was imported along with the ivory. It’s called “Nga” in Vietnamese.
2. “贝 (bèi) – cowrie”
The word is found in Oracle bone script. However, the origin of shell used in ancient China is far from Taiwan, the South China Sea, the Arabian Peninsula and even South Africa. It is borrowed from South Asia or South Island. You can find “beer” in Thai, which is similar in pronunciation.
3. “蜜 (mì) – honey”
You can see this word in “Han Feizi (an ancient Chinese text attributed to foundational political philosopher)” and “Lunheng (a Chinese classic text comprising critical essays on natural science)”. However, it is a foreign word from Indo-European languages, such as “mit” in Kucha, “madhu” in Sanskrit, and “meth” in Greek.
4. “福禄 (FúLù) – prosperity and status”
It expresses the meaning of praying for happiness and career development in Chinese. We find statues of three gods Fu, Lu, Shou in religion’s temple. But it is also the name of “zebra”, originally from Somali, called “falo”. It was one of tributes to the Ming Dynasty.
Are those unexpected?
Learn Chinese and discover the etymology in your language, you will be surprised to find that there is a lot of convergence in both histories.