Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How many words for ‘rice’ in Tanii ?

English language basically has two words :

- paddy, which refers to the unhulled raw rice, especially when it is still in the field (called paddy-field when flooded)
- rice, which refers either to the cooked state, or to the species in the general sense (hence ‘rice-field’ is also appropriate).

But for a culture with such a deep relationship with rice as the Taniis, it is not surprising to find various words for expressing rice in its various stages of growth and preparation, depending on whether it is husked or unhusked, cooked or uncooked…
Beginning from the generic word for seed, PYALYI (PYALI). When it is first sprouted in nurseries (miding) it is known as ENI. Becoming a rice plant, the names changes from ENI to ENDI. After months of maturing it is harvested, the ear (elyang) is separated from its stalk, then the grain from the ear. This unhulled raw rice (still called paddy in English) is referred to as EMO. When the hull or chaff (empi, piinan) is removed, you finally get EMBIN, the basic word for husked but uncooked rice. Another possible word is PANYI. This unpolished brown rice is the simplest form of ready-to-cook rice. At this stage, the rice may be steamed or boiled. Once it is cooked, it is no longer called EMBIN, but becomes APIN. There is apparently another word, DO, which applies to the rice set apart for pounding. AMU refers to the quantity of grain, or to the paddy crop as quantity, either in the field (aji amu), or stored in baskets or in granaries.

Note that most of the words used for ‘rice’ or for describing parts of the paddy plant use the same prefix, EN- (or EM- , esp. before m, b and p letters). Thus :

embin : husked raw rice
emo : paddy (as crop)
empii : husk
endi : paddy (as rice plant)
eni : paddy sprout
enkho : paddy stem
entii : harvest (of paddy)

For that reason, in order to maintain the unity of this ‘word family’, spellings such as ‘ambing’ and ‘ankho’ which are sometimes seen in publications, should be discarded. The same prefix is also present in 3 words refering to 3 months of the Tanii calendar viz., Enda (May-June), Empii (June-July), and Emo (November-December).

There may be some more words that I missed, so please add your comments.
P. Bouchery

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