Beer in 78 languages

l p 78 sprk - Cerveza en 78 lenguas - Pivo na 78 jazykoch

"Tell me, Alvis - for all wights' fate
I deem that, dwarf, thou knowest -
how the beer is hight which is brewed by men,
in all the worlds so wide?"

- The Lay of Alvis (Elder Edda),
Hollander translation.



Beer has a long history - the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians brewed a beer-like drink, and in the Middle Ages it was the most common beverage in European towns and cities. The word "beer" originally meant simply "The Drink" (it probably derives from Latin bibere, to drink). In other languages the word for beer points at the bitterness of the drink, the barley from which it is brewed, or the feasts with which it was associated.

Modern, western beer with hops was first brewed in Bavarian monasteries in the 7th century. Through the centuries it has followed the routes of trade, culture and colonialism. The French borrowed the words bire, mannequin and boulevard from 15th century Dutch, whereas the Spaniards brought the old Gaulish word for beer to the speakers of Tagalog (Philipines) and Quechua, the Inca language of Peru.

The list contains the word for beer in 78 languages, ranging in size from Chinese to Manx, the revived Celtic language of the Isle of Man. Some artificial languages have also been included.

LanguageWord(s)
Afrikaansbier
Albanianbirr
Arabicbeereh (bir)
Azerbaijanipivo
Basquegaragardoa
Belorussianpiva
Bengalibeer
Bretonbier
Bulgarianbira
Catalancervesa
Chechenianjij
Chinese (Mandarin)pi jiu
Croatianpivo
Czechpivo
Danishl
Dutchbier
Englishbeer, ale
Esperantobiero
Estonianlu
Faeroesel, bjr
Finnisholut, kalja
Flemishbier
Frenchbire
Frisianbier
Gaelic (Scotland)leann (lionn), beir
Galician (Galego)cerveja / cervexa
German (High)Bier
German (Low)Beer
Greekmpra (bira), zthos
Hawaiianpia
Hebrewbeera
Hindibeer
Hungariansr
Icelandicl, bjr
Idobiro
Indonesianbir
Interlinguabira
Irish (Gaeilge)beoir
Italianbirra
Japanesebiiru
Koreanmek-ju
Kurdishbre
Lappish (Smi)vuola
Latincerevisia, cervisia
Latvianalus
Lithuanianalus
Lugandabbiya
Macedonianpivo
Malaybir
Manx (Gaelg Vannin)lhune, beer
Neobiro
Nepalibiyar, jad
Norwegian (bm & nn)l
Occitan (Provencal)bira, cervesa
Persian (Farsi)ab'jo
Police Motubia
Polishpiwo
Portugesecerveja
Quechuasirbisa
Rheto-Rumanschbiera
Romanianbere
Russianpivo
Serbianpivo
Sesothojwala
Slovakpivo
Slovenepivo
Spanishcerveza
Swahilibia, pombe
Swedishl
Tagalog (Pilipino)serbesa
Thaibia
Turkishbira
Ukrainianpivo
Vietnamesebia
Volapkbil
Welshcwrw
Xhosaibhiye
Yiddishbir
Zuluutshwala

In Europe there are four main words for beer. Strictly speaking, ale is used in the North, beer in the West, cerveza in the South, and pivo in the East.
  • Beer (bier, bire, birra, bjor, etc) probably derives from Latin bibere (to drink) or biber (a drink). The word beer is not related to the word brew.
  • Ale (l, olut, etc) derives from alum. The original meaning is "bitter".
  • Cerveza (cerveja, sirbisi, sr, cwrw, etc) derives from the old Gaulish word for beer. In Gaul (France) itself it was replaced by bire in the 15th century.
  • Pivo, the word used in most Slavonic languages, derives from the old word piwwo (barley).
Beer is not mentioned in the Bible (wine is). The word "l" is used 21 times in Ibsen's plays (9 times in The Wild Duck alone). Shakespeare used "beer" 4 times, and "ale" 17 times in his plays ("Do you look for ale and cakes here, you rude rascals?"). For a more modern approach to beer and literature, read a book by the Flemmish novelist Herman Brusselmans!

In a Russian frequency dictionary "pivo" (beer) is word no. 3901 - hardly surprizing: "vodka" is much more frequent (no. 1488). The Norwegian word "l" is no. 2915 in bokml and no. 1339 in nynorsk according to two different frequency dictionaries. So, why is l more frequent in nynorsk than in bokml? Beer is not only a drink, - it is culture.


Some links: Amstel Bier - How to ask for two beers ... - Beer Dictionary - Herman Brusselmans Link Page - Artificial languages - Beer Reviews - SoulSailor - Michael Jackson, Beerhunter - Mack, verdens nordligste bryggeri - Pivara Skopje, Macedonia - Biero kaj beleco - Verda pagxo, weird page?
(c) compiled by Morten Svendsen, 1998. Minor update 2004
This page is http://www.oocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/1222/beer.html
Main Page E-mail Guestbook
1