Info Tech, Language

While we are speaking of etymologies, one of the most popular ones on the internet is that for wiki.”

As more or less everyone who’s worked with wikis knows, Ward Cunningham named his software WikiWikiWeb” after the Hawaiian term, wiki wiki”, which means quick”.

I believe that shuttle buses one gets at the airport in Hawaii are also named wiki wiki” and that this is where Ward got the name from.

Now, via Ethan Zukerman, linguist Peggy MacEachern weighs in on the origin of the term, which she believes is a loan word from English:

In Hawaiian, she tells me, syllables are either single vowels, or a single consonant followed by a vowel. When loan words come into a language, they’re adapted to fit local syllabic structure. So if Hawaiian speakers started using the word quick”, they would likely pronounce it ki-wi-ki” or just wi-ki.”

This is all second hand, via Ethan, who warns that he might not be recalling everything correctly, but hopefully some language blogger will blog about this soon and give us the full story. (And, knowing some language bloggers around here, I expect Ethan will probably get chastised for suggesting that Hawaiians didn’t have a concept for quick” before they borrowed the word from English.)

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