Lagniappe, beef jerky, and the Incas

Enlace para español/Link here for Spanish

Una representación de los famosos puentes de cuerda, una de las hazañas de la cultura quechua-incáica. Extraída de la monumental historia visual del Perú, "Nueva corónica y buen gobierno" (1615) de Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala.

A representation of the famous rope bridges of the Inca Empire, one of that culture’s many stunning achievements. From the monumental visual history of Peru, Nueva corónica y buen gobierno (1615) by Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala.

Dear reader,

An Argentine reader of this column asks us how to translate yapa into English. 

This fascinating word refers to a small addition of merchandise given to a customer without charge, or more broadly to any small extra amount of something.

It comes from Quechua, the language of the Inca Empire. Quechua-Spanish contact was massive from 1532; from it come Spanish words like cancha (sports field), ñato (snub-nosed), choclo (ear of corn), poroto (bean), papa (potato), and mate (an herb tea).

To translate “yapa” into English we use French: the word lagnappe (or lagniappe).  The road took several turns. Ñapa is a palatalized variant of yapa, where the first sound is produced bringing the tongue up to the palate.

It turns out that French speakers in Louisiana, an area having much contact with Spanish, heard “la ñapa” as one word and spelled it French-style: lagnappe. In French (like Italian) ‘gn’ makes the ‘ñ’ sound (ny), but adding the ‘i’ made the pronunciation clearer for English speakers. Lagniappe can also mean tip (gratuity) or even kickback.

In Mexico, the merchant’s small gift to the customer is known as a pilón or piloncillo. The latter word also means a small pyramid-shaped mass of unrefined sugar. The connection may be that pilloncillos themselves were a typical yapa, or perhaps from the idea of the tip that completes the mountain. (Mexico Bob’s entertaining and thorough exploration of the word pilón can be found here.)

In English, the word “bonus” is common, and the expression “a baker’s dozen” (meaning thirteen) conveys in a picturesque way the idea of a yapa.

Another Quechua-derived word, charque (or charqui) means dried and salted meat. Its English translation, as with yapa, preserves the Andean root: “jerky”and the adjectival form, as in Jamaican “jerked chicken”.

¡Buenas palabras!


Enlace para español/Link here for Spanish

Copyright ©2013 Pablo J. Davis. All Rights Reserved. An earlier version of this essay was originally written for the January 20, 2013 edition of La Prensa Latina (Memphis, Tennessee), as part of the weekly bilingual column Mysteries & Enigmas of Translation/Misterios y Enigmas de la Traducción.


About Pablo Julián Davis
Pablo Julián Davis, PhD, ATA Certified Translator (Engl>Span) and Supreme Court of Tennessee Certified Interpreter (EnglSpan), offers world-class Spanish/English language services including translation, interpreting, copywriting, and editing in both languages. His specialties are legal, business, medical, and humanities/education; he has wide experience in other fields as well. Also offered: interactive and transformative cultural-awareness training for companies, non-profits, communities, government agencies, institutions of faith, and other audiences. (See just a small sampling of testimonials from happy and satisfied clients: The ability to move effectively from language to language - which necessarily also means moving between cultures - has likely never been at a greater premium than it is in today's world. That ability is what we mean by Interfluency TM.

One Response to Lagniappe, beef jerky, and the Incas

  1. Pingback: Yapa, charque y el quechua « Interfluency: Translation+Culture

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