The previous post explained that the element Indo- in words like Indonesia, Indochina, and Indoeuropeo/Indo-European refers to the large country of India. That form of the country’s name, which Spanish and English share, goes back to Latin, which took the name from Greek, where it referred to the region of the Indus River. The Greeks called that river the Indos, a word that they took from Old Persian Hindush, which designated the province of India now called Sind. That name had come from Sanskrit sindhuh ‘river.’ Here’s how the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica summarized the situation:

The natives of India can scarcely be said to have a word of their own by which to express their common country. In Sanskrit, it would be called “Bharata-varsha,” from Bharata, a legendary monarch of the Lunar line; but Sanskrit is no more the vernacular of India than Latin is of Europe. The name ” Hindustan,” which was at one time adopted by European geographers, is of Persian origin, meaning ” the land of the Hindus,” as Afghanistan means ” the land of the Afghans.” According to native usage, however, ” Hindustan ” is limited either to that portion of the peninsula lying north of the Vindhya mountains, or yet more strictly to the upper basin of the Ganges where Hindi is the spoken language. The “East Indies,” as opposed to the “West Indies,” is an old-fashioned and inaccurate phrase, dating from the dawn of maritime discovery, and still lingering in certain parliamentary papers. “India,” the abstract form of a word derived through the Greeks from the Persicized form of the Sanskrit sindhu, a “river,” preeminently the Indus, has become familiar since the British acquired the country, and is now officially recognized in the imperial title of the sovereign.

Notice the reference to Hindi, which Spanish renders without a capital letter: it refers to a group of Indic dialects in northern India that are descended from Sanskrit and that are therefore Indo-European languages. The word  Hindi comes from the Hindi name for India, Hind, which we’ve already seen was taken from Old Persian Hindush.

As for the adjective Indic, it refers in English to India or its people or cultures; it is also the name of the Indo-European language family that included Sanskrit, the Prakrits, and their descendants. The Spanish adjective índico, on the other hand, is defined in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española as ‘perteneciente o relativo a las Indias Orientales.’ That raises the question of what las Indias Orientales means, which the Spanish-language Wikipedia answers:

Indias Orientales es el antiguo nombre que se le dio a las Indias de Asia, en oposición a las Indias Occidentales que eran una referencia al nuevo continente de América. Fue muy usado desde el s.XVI al XIX y comprendía todo el Sudeste y Sur de Asia, desde Indonesia a la región del Indostán. Sin embargo otras acepciones daban una equivalencia con el Sureste Asiático y otras restringían más aún su uso equiparándolas al archipiélago malayo como un sinónimo de Insulindia.

So now you’re probably wondering about Insulindia, which Wikipedia explains in this way:

Insulindia (del latín insula, “isla”, e India) es el antiguo nombre con el cual se conoce el archipiélago ubicado entre la península de Malaca y Australia, ocupado hoy en día por los países de Indonesia, Filipinas, Brunéi, la zona insular de Malasia, Timor Oriental y Papúa Nueva Guinea; se le denomina también archipiélago malayo. Antes de la llegada de los europeos a Insulindia y desde la prehistoria, existieron en ella varias civilizaciones e imperios, como el Imperio Srivijaya y el Imperio Majapahit, sultanatos como el sultanato de Ternate, de Mataram o de Malaca, o civilizaciones neolíticas como el complejo cultural lapita.

En la actualidad el topónimo Insulindia, al igual que “archipiélago malayo”, está en desuso, a cambio a veces por el de Indonesia, que en estricto rigor, identifica sólo a uno de los Estados que existen en dicho territorio. El archipiélago también recibió la denominación de Indias Orientales, bajo la dominación holandesa.

And lest we get etymological and geographical India-gestion, we’ll end this meaty post here.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 16:08:13

    I made the effort to check before posting, and as far as I can tell there’s no connection at all between “indolent” and the various “Indo -” forms you’ve posted here and in your previous post.

    Still, it’s intriguing that for so many centuries, peoples of India, certain island-dwellers and the Indians of North America all have been described as “indolent”. N. Scott Momaday’s play “The Indolent Boys” is one well-known piece that tackles the issues.


  2. Steve Schwartzman
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 16:25:11

    You’re correct that indolent is unrelated to the words discussed in this post and the last one, in spite of the supposed indolence of certain peoples. Ah, misperceptions!


  3. Trackback: indolente « Spanish-English Word Connections

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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