Sunday, July 20, 2008


The mango tree originated in the northeastern part of the Himalayas in the India-Burma border. Then it migrated to the plains of North India like Bihar and UP. Later it spread to other parts of India including South India. Vasco de Gama was the first European to see a mango when he landed in Calicut. The local name in Malayalam is MAANGGA. Difficult to pronounce for non-Malayaalees. This became MANGO in English.

But when you scratch open the word MANGO, you will find the history of its migration.

The Sanskrit word for mango is AAMRAM. When it migrated to the Hindi region, it became AAM-PHAL. It migrated to South India in very ancient times. Then Tamil was the local language in the whole of South India. Phal means Kaay in Tamil. So AAM-PHAL became AAM-KAAY in Tamil. Later by a twist of pronunciation AAM-KAAY became MAANG-KAAY. In Malayalam it got shortened as MANGA. The Portuguese adopted this word in their language.

How MANGA in Portuguese became MANGO in English is also interesting. One of the Portuguese who landed in Calicut reported the discovery of the fruit Manga to his English friend in a letter. It was a handwritten letter since there were no typewriters in those days. The Englishman could not correctly decipher the word. Since names of most of the fruits and plants found in the new world end in “o” as in avocado, tomato, potato, tobacco etc. he spelt the word as "mango”.

Now let us describe the journey of this word over thousands of years.

AAMRAM - Sanskrit
AAM-PHAL - Hindi
AAM-KAAY - Tamil 1
MAANG-KAAY - Tamil 2
MANGA - Malayalam
MANGA - Portuguese
MANGO - English

The idea that sometimes the pronunciation of words gets reversed is also an interesting discovery. In 1972 i.e. some 30 years ago, we were staying in a North Indian City. Accustomed to some North Indian habits, my wife was sometimes making CHAPATHIS at home. My very young son at that time used to ask his mother “Give me PACHATHI”.

Ten years later while I was on a morning walk I remembered this episode and the idea that sometimes language undergoes a twist in pronunciation occurred to me leading to my above discovery.

Mr. Khushwant Singh used to write about Mangoes now and then in the weekly Magazine Sunday. When I wrote to him about my discovery, he published the article verbatim.

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