People all around the world are distinguished only by their language, religion, and customs. We talk differently, we dress up differently, our food habits are different, and we don’t worship the same gods. But no matter what the difference, we all have the necessity of greeting.
In English, we greet each other with a “hello” or “hi”, and it’s the simplest form of greeting in the English language. But the same words aren’t used in case of every language out there.
Why do we say a particular word? Where does it come from? And what essence does it carry? These are the questions we’ll be answering in this article.
We’ll not only discuss how to say hi in different languages, but we’ll also delve into the origin stories behind those words and phrases. So, without further ado, let’s get right to it!
1. English – Hello
The word “Hello” hasn’t been around for a long time, but it’s a rather new word. According to the Oxford dictionary, this word was first used back in 1827. Then how did this new word become one of the most used words in history?
Back in the days, Thomas Edison urged that people say “hello” whenever they start a conversation with someone over the phone. On the other hand, Alexander Graham Bell insisted on the word “ahoy”.
So, “ahoy” became the rival of “hello”. The former word is from a nautical background, and it stems from a Dutch word that means hello. But eventually, “hello” won.
In Connecticut, in the year of 1878, the first-ever phone book urged its 50 listed users to start their conversation with a “hullo”, which eventually morphed into the simpler form that we now know as “Hello”.
Nowadays, “Hello” is widely used not only in English but in a lot of other languages. And that has become possible because it’s a custom to say “Hello” whenever someone is picking up a call.
Phone books also listed a phrase to bring the conversation to a halt, and that was “That is all”. Unlike “Hello”, though, people didn’t seem to bother about using this phrase much, and the word “bye” became popular instead.
2. Spanish – Hola
The second word we will be talking about in our list of how to say hi in different languages is “Hola”. Experts can’t seem to come to an agreement regarding the origin of the word “Hola”. Spanish people use this word widely to greet each other. There are some speculations about its origin that different groups promote. We’ll cover a handful of those here.
A popular belief is that the word “Hola” stems from an Arabic root. It’s undeniable that Arabians influenced Spanish culture a lot. And some believe that the word “Hola” is just another derivation of “Allah”.
Some also say that “Hola” was originally brought by the Visigoths. This race was of Slavic origin, and their chief used to command the troop to come to a halt using the word “Hola”.
Although we can’t say for sure which of these are true, there’s no doubt that both origin stories are pretty interesting.
3. French – Bonjour
We all know what French people say to greet each other, and it’s “Bonjour”. The word itself was formed from two words. These are “Bon” and “Jour”, which literally means “a good day”. But saying “Bonjour” is generally the same as saying “Hello”.
“Bonjour” can be used at any time of the day. If you’re a perfectionist, though, then you can try “Bonsoir” at times, instead. It sounds more poetic and “Bonsoir” is more appropriate if it’s used at evening or night.
Other than “Bonjour” and “Bonsoir”, the French people also use “Salut”. “Salut” is the cool word, and it’s the equivalent of “hi”.
There’s another word used for greeting in French. But you should use this word only if you want it to be super informal. And the word is “Coucou”. It’s a cute and fun greeting that should be used with kids, friends, and family only.
The French also use “Ça Va”, which means “How’s it going?” as a greeting. It’s a widely used phrase, and it’s used to mean “How are you?” as well.
4. Portuguese – OLÀ
The next entry in our list of how to say hi in different languages is OLÀ. “OLÀ” is used widely to greet people in Portuguese. And if you were wondering, Portuguese is the official language of seven major countries such as Portugal, Cape Verde, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and São Tomé and Príncipe.
Among all the words used to greet in Portuguese, “OLÀ” is the simplest one. It’s the equivalent of “Hello”. It sounds identical to the Spanish greeting “Hola”. But unlike the Spanish one where the first syllable is stressed, in “OLÀ”, the second syllable is stressed. So, it sounds like “oh-La”.
The Portuguese also use “Oi” to greet one another, and it’s the equivalent of “Hi”. It’s already very common in Brazil to use “Oi”, but the usage is growing more and more in Portugal as well. We should note that if someone says “Oi” in a flat tone, it means that they’re greeting you. But if they’re saying it with an upward intonation, they might be asking you a question instead.
The Portuguese also use greetings such as “Bom Dia,” which means “Good morning”. Then there’s “Boa Tarde”, which means “Good afternoon”. And finally, we have “Boa Noite” means “Good night”. A fun fact about “Boa Noite” is that, unlike its English equivalent “Good night”, you can use “Boa Noite” to mean either “hello” or “goodbye”.
5. German- Guten Tag
“Guten Tag” is the most known form of “Hello” in German. There are three ways in which you can use this phrase. This is because the first word “Guten” means “good”. And the second word depends on the time of the day.
Firstly, there’s “Guten Tag”, which literally means “a good day”. Then there’s “Guten Morgen”, and this means “good morning”. Finally, there’s “Guten Abend”, which means “good evening”.
Another thing that confuses many people is the word “gut”. “Guten” is just the masculine form of “Gut”. So, many people question why we can’t use the phrase “Gut Tag” instead?
And the reasons are, the nouns “Tag”, “Morgen”, and “Abend” are all masculine nouns, and that is why the previous word must also be masculine in all cases.
6. Italian- Ciao
Ciao is used by the Italians to greet each other, but this word has a background that has almost nothing to do with mere greetings.
The word “ciao” comes from the Venetian Dialect “Sciavo”, which, in turn, is a derivation of the Latin word “Slavus”. “Slavus” means slave. This word is used in another form now, though. We use the word “Slavo” to denote the Slavic. Back in the days when Venice was ruling the economy of the world, there were a lot of Slavic slaves.
And at that time, the word “Sciavo” stemmed from “Slavus”, which later became “Sciao”, and then “Ciao”. This word used to mean “at your service” and was used by slaves mostly. But that meaning is long lost in the fabric of time, and “Ciao” is considered as a common greeting today.
7. Indian (Hindi) – Namaste
The seventh word we’ll be talking about in our list of how to say hi in different languages is “Namaste”. The word “Namaste” is an ancient word, and it belongs to the “Sanskrit” language. “Sanskrit” is the classical literary language of Hinduism. The word “Namaste” isn’t only used in Hinduism, but it’s also used in Yoga.
The word “Namaste” can be broken down into two parts: “Namah” and “te”. The first portion means “bow, adoration, or obeisance”, while the latter means “to you”. So, “Namaste” literally translates to “I bow to you”.
The word “Namaste” is used in India and Nepal to greet each other. It’s also heavily used in Yoga. Unlike a lot of other greetings, while saying “Namaste”, a person must perform a hand sign.
8. Islamic – Assalamu Alaikum
Although it originated in Saudi Arabia, Muslims across the world use this to greet, mostly because it has become their custom.
“Assalamu Alaikum” comes from the Arabic root word “Salam” which means “peace”. And “Salam” comes from the word “Islam”. The part “Ala” from the word “Alaikum” means “on”. So, “Alaikum” means “upon you”.
The phrase “Assalamu Alaikum” means “peace be upon you”. And though it originated from Arabia, you’ll see a lot of Muslims greeting each other with this phrase. And if someone is greeted you with “Assalamu Alaikum”, it’s customary to reply with “Wa Alaikum As Salam”.
There’s more to this phrase than its use as a simple greeting. Islamic scholars preach the religion Islam as a religion of peace. And through saying “Assalamu Alaikum”, they convey respect to each other.
9. Jewish – Shalom Aleichem
Just as “Assalamu Alaikum” is a general greeting for Muslims all over the world, the Jewish people use “Shalom Aleichem”. It’s also the name of a famous poem.
The phrase “Shalom Aleichem” has close ties with “Assalamu Alaikum” and they both mean “Peace be upon you”. This is truly one of the most beautiful ways to greet a person.
10. Persian – Salam
Many of the ways that people say hi in different languages come from the same origins. The word “Salam” is used heavily in countries like Iran, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan.
But it’s also used in other Islamic countries. The word “Salam” literally translates to “peace”. We should note that “Salam” is actually a shorter version of “Assalamu Alaikum”.
11. Japanese – Konnichiwa
“Konnichiwa” means “Good Day” in Japanese. This phrase is actually an idiom. Previously, this phrase was used at the beginning of a sentence. But as time passed by, people eventually decided that it is easier to be lazy and use a shorter form. This is why this phrase is now used to refer to a whole sentence.
The Japanese also use the word “Ohayo”. They usually use it before noon, as the word literally means “Good morning”.
In the evening, they use a word similar to “Konnichiwa”. However, as “Konnichiwa” means “Good day”, they use the word “Konbanwa”. This word means “Good evening”.
12. Turkish – Merhaba
Some people used to think that “Merhaba: is a word that was dericed from Syriac. Later, it was proved that Merhaba has an Arabic root. It’s the adjective of the word “Rahb”. “Rahb” is a noun and it means “spacious or ample”.
As it is the adjective of “Rahb”, “Merhaba” acts as a greeting that means that the greeted person is welcome to the heart of the person greeting them. It also means that they have enough space to share their mind.
Another meaning of this word stands as “I won’t harm you”, or “You won’t see violence from me”. This means that this word is also used to declare peace between two people or groups.
13. Swahili – Jambo
The word Jambo has a meaning close to “Hello” in English. The word didn’t have the same meaning when it was first used, though.
The word “Jambo” was used by traders from China, India, and other lands who used to trade in the Swahili Coast of Southeast Africa. In essence, the word doesn’t mean “Hello”, but it asks the listener to come and settle any business affair.
There are around ten million Swahili native speakers, and they are spread across Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. These people use this word widely. But the word has spread out to a large scale, and almost eighty million people of East Africa now use this word as a greeting.
14. Mandarin – Ni hao
Mandarin is a pretty complicated language, even though it’s the easiest way to communicate with a Chinese. The easiest way to greet someone in Chinese is to use the word “Ni hao”. The literal translation of the word “Ni hao” is “good” and “You okay”.
Sometimes, people in Taiwan add another word to this and change the meaning a bit. They use “Ni hao ma” instead of “Ni hao”. This addition adds a question to the sentence, as it means “How are you?”
When greeting elders, the greeting has to be more formal. So, if you think you’re going to be greeting any elder in China, you should practice using the phrase “Nin hao” instead of “Ni hao”.
15. Korean – Annyeonghasimnikka
There are a lot of words used in the Korean language for greetings. The word “Annyeonghasimnikka” is one of the most common ones among them. You’d see the use of this word in commercials, news, speeches, or any formal occasions in Korea because this is a formal way of saying hello there. In fact, if you want to greet an elder person, you’ll use “Annyeonghasimnikka”.
You can also use this word as a question. If you want to do so, make sure you say it with an upper intonation.
Besides that, “Annyeonghaseyo” is the standard word for saying “Hello” in Korean. This is the most used word to greet in Korean. It’s not as formal as the previous one. But it’s the most used one to start a conversation.
The word has two parts—the first one being “annyeong”, which means peace, and the second part is “haseyo”, which means “to do”. Although the word “Annyeonghaseyo” literally means “To do well-being” in English, it’s used to mean “Are you doing well?”
The phrase is less formal but anyone will consider you polite if you start a conversation with this word. Besides, the word is used in both North and South Korea.
There are different words and phrases for saying hi in different languages. There are thousands of languages all over the world, and it’s not possible to cover all of them.
We only covered a few common ones, and we tried to share the origin story of these phrases with you. It’s genuinely remarkable how some of these phrases meant something completely different when they were initially used but came to mean a great deal to a number of people.
One hi from the person you were missing can put a smile on your face. And that’s the power, that’s the strength of this word.
So, we hope that you enjoyed the different stories about how to say hi in different languages and that you’ve learned a thing or two about different languages and cultures.