Dual Language Schools: Biliteracy Word of the WeekDo You Like Your Beach Sandy or Rocky? How Different Languages Name the Word Beach

06/2019
Author Photo: Velázquez Press

Photo for: Do You Like Your Beach Sandy or Rocky? How Different Languages Name the Word Beach

The beach is the only place on planet Earth where most people think of being on a hot summer day. Beaches are geographic terrains that border the seas that can take different forms: sandy, rocky with cliffs, and pebble-ridden beaches. Beaches were not places of leisure until the mid-nineteenth century, when many physicians recommended their aristocratic patients that breathing the salty, fresh breeze of the sea helped with respiratory problems. Overtime, it became places of leisure for people of all walks of life. Today, many activities that are common to do at beaches include, sunbathing, surfing, skiing, kayaking, beach volleyball, and many more. All over the world, there are many places where one can enjoy the beauty of the beach—Hawaii, the Caribbean, Brazil, Greece, Thailand, and Oceania are just a few places on Earth where the most beautiful beaches can be found.

The English word beach originally meant the “loose, water-worn pebbles of the seashore” along the English coast. In Sussex and Kent, beach is still used to mean loose pebbles of the seashore. This relation to pebbles is because the word beach in Old English (bece) meant ‘stream’, and, what does one find in streams and rivulets? Pebbles! In other Germanic languages, there exist cognates with the word ‘beach’ with the meaning of ‘stream’, ‘brook’, or ‘creek’: beek, Dutch; Bach, German; and back, Swedish.

In Spanish, the word for beach originated with the Latin word for ‘zone’ or any other insignificant piece of land—plaga. Plagæ were any land zones that were wide and plane, and the sandy shores of the Mediterranean were no exception. What, then, would Ancient Romans do if they wanted some leisure time to play or bathe? They would go to the public baths, of course! Public baths existed all over the Empire, and it was a public commodity for all citizens. Public baths also existed in civilizations from Imperial China to Islamic Spain. In Vulgar Latin, the sandy coast began to be called plagia, and it evolved to become Italian spiaggia, French plage, and Spanish playa.

There is a language off the coast of the Indian Ocean, in Eastern Africa, in a country called Mozambique, in the northern corner of the country, where the people there are connected to the beach by their language. The language, a Bantu language related to Swahili, is called Mwani, and that is because these people identify with the mwani, or beach. Kimwani, or the language of the beach, is spoken by this group of coastal inhabitants of the Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado along with Swahili and Portuguese. Other cultures may not have had a connection to their beaches, but the speakers of Mwani have that connection that is tied to their culture and identity as well.

Nowadays, beaches are hot vacation spots to relax and enjoy the view, sitting on a chaise longue or lying on the sand taking in the rays of the sun. Many beach towns have restaurants and bars where locals and tourists alike can enjoy good sea food and refreshing drinks while having an exceptional time at the beach. It is fascinating to see how different can our culture change to see the beach as a solitary place where land and sea meet to a place packed with people enjoying activities on the sandy beach.

Sources:

https://www.etymonline.com/word/beach

https://dle.rae.es/?id=TNj4Tug

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