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In those languages I'm a bit familiar with, the verb for drinking is very often understood as drinking alcohol, especially if its meaning "the oral intake of any fluid", wouldn't make sense.

For example, "I don't drink.", "Ich trinke nicht." (German), "No tomo." (Spanish) and「飲みません。」(Japanese) seem to be usual expressions to confess one's teetotalism. (Please correct me if I'm wrong!)

However, I would find it very surprising if this phenomenon would be somehow universal among languages because of the long drinking culture in the respective culture.

Are there languages in which the generic word for drinking can not convey the meaning of drinking alcohol by itself, so that the direct translation of the above sentence could only be understood as the renunciation of any kind of beverage and would therefore irritate the listeners?

I would expect this to be the case in languages where alcohol consumption isn't socially accepted in the respective society (e. g. in languages with mostly islamic speakers) or in languages whose speakers have only been exposed to alcohol for a comparatively short time period.

Can anyone provide further information, especially on those languages?

  • Not completely. While the answers to that question inform you only about other languages which follow the same pattern as English (although there might be additional colloquial verbs for drinking alcohol), my question is rather concerned with languages where this is not the case and where to drink is restricted to the meaning of drinking anything. – Dominik Jan 17 '16 at 2:53
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You know, a human cannot survive without drinking water for 3 days, that's why everybody drinks water every day, so if one says "I don't drink" it means the person drinks water but doesn't drink something else. What else? Do you know people that abstain from drinking milk, tea, or juice? I think no, if somebody refuses to drink, the beverage is usually alcohol. That's mere logic, there's no linguistics in that.

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  • Of course, its clear that, lacking any other context, only alcohol abstinence could be meant. However that doesn't explain why the negative habitual form of the generic word for drinking possesses this special meaning. – Dominik Jan 17 '16 at 2:36
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    For example, "I don't eat." cannot mean "I don't eat some special variety of food" (like sweets, meat, or something like that). – Dominik Jan 17 '16 at 2:41
  • @Dominik - That happens only because people can live without food for 3 months, and, taking into account all the hunger worldwide, "I don't eat" really means what it is. I wonder, why you didn't ask about "I don't breathe"... – Yellow Sky Jan 17 '16 at 14:16

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