Maria Benet of alembic has a wonderful post describing her experiences growing up in communist Romania in a Hungarian-speaking family, where “we dreamt of travel the way Odysseus dreamt of going home. Though our borders were closed and we were shipwrecked, the world was still wide open to us in words.”

The sirens—dictionaries, primers, novels—perched on the shelves of our small bookcase, sang and lilted of enchanted sunny islands in the subjunctive of French, echoed of the cobblestoned meandering paths of German compound nouns, and spoke in clipped tones of the bright, jagged cliffs of English verbs that stood like wardens holding off the invasion of maudlin latinates.
Our passage through these worlds of words was slow and required a great deal of effort, though we traveled light and weather was never an issue. But, back then, we had time and we had plenty of energy—for we had few possessions to care for, and the exercise of effort seemed the only right to free speech left to us.
So we ventured, back and forth, between the languages, whispering words from one or the other to crack open the doors to a bit of fresh air and to another view…

Read the whole thing, finishing off with her lovely poem “A Dish of Peaches in Cluj,” which begins:

A peach is sweeter than any other
If its taste is the sun of years, the idea
Of a peach, extravagant and plump
Staked to the tongue—

The peach was on a branch, the branch was
From a tree, and the tree grew
In a town that had a name
In three languages…

The name of the Transylvanian town is Cluj in Rumanian (currently the official language), Kolozsvár in Hungarian (the official language under the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and Klausenburg in German (the main language of many Eastern European cities until the triumph of nationalism). And if you’re wondering about the url of her blog,, it’s from a Celan poem which she quotes at the bottom of her About page.
[First sentence of post edited for accuracy thanks to the acute eye of Michael Farris in the comments.]
Update, April 2005. I am happy to report that Gheorghe Funar was defeated in last year’s election; I have no idea whether the new mayor of Cluj, Emil Boc, is or is not a barf-bag.


  1. I once allowed myself to be bullied into translating Klausenburg as Klausenburg in a certified translation for the USA. The client told me the first translation, with ‘Cluj’, was not accepted by the U.S. authorities. They compare the original with the translation and weren’t having any.

  2. I should add that Transylvania had German as a main language up till a few years ago. I lived many years with a friend who is now 46, who grew up in a German-speaking town, went to German-speaking schools and could have gone to German-speaking university in Transylvania, but went to Bucharest instead. The Germans in Siebenbürgen (as Transylvania is called in German) have been there for hundreds of years, and they were originally from Germany – nothing to do with the Austro-Hungarian empire (although they were influenced by it).

  3. Thanks for that keen editorial eye, language hat — not to mention for this feature here.
    MM, the Germans you mention in Transylvania have been there for centuries — and one branch of my family tree leads to that well-established trunk…. We spoke Hungarian at home, Romanian on the streets, but I was duly packed off to a German Kindergarten in my early years. Once I was given a choice in these matters, though, I switched to French lessons….

  4. And I believe the Germans in Transylvania are called “Saxons,” though whether they come from Saxony originally is dubious. And there are Hungarian-speaking people called Szeklers, about whom I’d like to know more.

  5. Michael Farris says

    You might want to have another look at your opening line, the Maria in question seems to be from Cluj which was never part of communist Hungary (though I guess it has been at various times uner Hungarian political control, just not communist Hungarian political control).
    Confusion is understandable, I do think Central/Eastern Europe is the only part of the world where you can be born, go to school, work and retire in different countries without ever leaving your hometown.

  6. Maria, I did say they’ve been there for hundreds of years…
    Yes, they are called Siebenbürger Sachsen, but then the Scots call the English Sassenachs too. I find the dialect sounds odd – especially when I hear them talking about computers…
    The site (alembic?) is down, anyway.

  7. Michael: Oops! Good catch; I was (obviously) extrapolating from “speaking Hungarian” and formed the idea before I got to the Cluj part, and then never got my thoughts synchronized. I’ll fix it.
    MM: It’s been working every time I’ve checked.

  8. Cluj is in Romania (or was at the time I lived there)… but then, I also spent a number of years living in Budapest, Hungary … so language hat is right, in a sense, about my growing up under some Hungarian communist rule.
    Michael Farris, in his comment above, certainly captured the vagaries of history (with a capital H, let’s add) in that part of the world!

  9. By amazing coincidence, I have just posted a translation of a Romanian poem by Stefan Baciu, born in Brasov, buried in Honolulu, by way of Switzerland and most of Latin America.
    The poem is Patria, which I have translated as simply Home in this context. Corrections or suggestions are welcome.

  10. Well, you say “born in Brasov,” and your site says:
    Stefan Baciu was born in Brasov, Romania, on 29 October 1918
    …but in the picky spirit of this comment thread I must point out that the armistice of Padua was not signed until 3 November and the Republic of Hungary was not proclaimed until 11 November (formally ending the Austro-Hungarian Empire), so my guess (though I Am Not a Historian) is that he was actually born in Kronstadt (German)/Brassó (Hungarian) in the Hungarian half of the Empire. Despite the truce, Rumanian troops advanced into Transylvania, whose annexation was unilaterally announced by the Bucharest government on 11 January 1919. This was recognized by Hungary (most reluctantly) in the Treaty of Trianon on 4 June 1920. So by his second birthday he was definitely in Rumania. Or Romania.

  11. So, are you saying that each town (and person) of three names only has one name depending on which side of a border they stand at any moment? Are all trilinguals really just serial monolinguals, depending on whom they’re talking to at any particular moment? Must they become resolutely monolingual within each set of borders? Did every barack or pfirsich become a piersică on the date when the border shifted?

  12. Just to complicate things further, the official name of the city is Cluj-Napoca. I always wondered where “Napoca” came from. Googling around, I discovered the claim that “the main town of Transylvania has two names: Napoca is the name of the old Dacian fortress, and Cluj is the Latin one from Clusiurn, a closed town” and “following the conquest of Dacia by the Romans and its becoming a Roman province, in the place of the old settlement of Napoca a Roman city was erected and elevated to the rank of municipium by emperor Hadrian (AD 124), then turned into colonia during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (AD 160-180). An important economic and political centre during the Roman rule, the settlement was for a time the capital of Dacia Porolissensis […]In AD 1213, the locality was mentioned under the name of Castrenses de Clus, owing to its position in an area enclosed (from the Latin clusus) by hills”. The city has a website here.

  13. Oh yes, and the Latin (presumably Mediaeval Latin) name was “Claudiopolis”.

  14. Googling around again, I’ve found someone casting doubt on the continuity of ancient Napoca and Mediaeval Cluj: “For more than 10 years in the 70’s and 80’s the biggest city of Transylvania, in Kolozsvár-Clausenburg-Claudiopolis-Cluj $8 was officially renamed by the Roumanian authorities as Cluj-Napoca, where Napoca is the old Latin name of the substantial city of Provincia Dacia from 106 AD. The official compound name was for emphasizing the continuity with Napoca. Still that continuity did not exist; ancient Napoca did not overlap with the medieval city whose Roumanian name was Cluj. An official order is independent of facts of history”. I suspect this is all part of the endless argument between Romanians and Hungarians over who was in Transylvania first…

  15. I think Ceaucescu made a big thing of Dacia, and whenever I read statements about the history going back to Dacia, I have my doubts. OTOH I have a Third Reich world atlas where the drawing of the typical Romanian looks rather like a Roman in a toga, ploughing the fields, so maybe the tradition goes back even further.
    (I have tried to get the site about ten times, from various links, but I always get an error message).

  16. Joel: Nah, I was just wallowing in an excess of historical detail. Your statement is perfectly fine. (Just to add more trivia, I believe the town was renamed Stalin for a while in the ’50s.)

  17. I believe the town was renamed Stalin for a while in the ’50s
    IIRC the Soviets returned the compliment and there was a town in Ukraine named Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej in honour of Ceausescu’s predecessor. I seriously hope they’ve changed it in the last decade. Dej was arguably the most murderous of Eastern Europe’s “Little Stalins”.

  18. OK, here’s how it works. If you are a Transylvanian Hungarian you call it Kolozsvar, but when speaking Romanian (which a Transylvanian Hungarian will speak quite well, usually with a Transylvanian Romanian accent) they call it ‘Cluj.’ A Romanian will generally call it “Cluj” unless they are the Mayor of the town, in which case they are a manaical and corrupt barf-bag named Gheorghe Funar hiding behind the shield of a nationalism so strident that the Romanian federal government can’t stand him anymore and has about 600 counts of corruption against him. Funar will call it Cluj-Napoca. It’s a bit of a Ceacescu era throwback. On official documents you have to write the Napoca part. Whether people agree with the Dacian arguments or not, it’s a part of the linguistic landscape.
    There are generally fewer Germans in the area since so many exigrated in the 1980s, but it is Klausenburg to them when they speak German. Gypsies call it “Kokoshvar” in Romani. There is also a Hasidic group from Cluj – now mostly living in Brooklyn and in Bnei Brak, Israel – called the Klausenburger Hasidim, which in Yiddish comes out sounding like “Kloysenburg”
    It’s a great place. I was there over New Year’s. Regardng nationalists it is a pretty laid back place – the Mayor’s weekly outrages seem to alienate everybody regardless of nationality, and mainly serve to keep foreign business sinvestment out of the city and in the hands of his cronies. So Cluj has a bit of a rundown, backwater feel to it compared to towns like Brasov or Sibiu which have been able to get business investment from abroad in the last decade.
    Just about every town that was on the old Austro-Hungarian pre-1918 map has at least three names. Even Zakopane, Poland has a Hungarian name.

  19. Hey, zaelic, long time no see! Thanks for the report on Cluj and its manaical and corrupt barf-bag of a mayor. OK, I’ll bite: what is the Hungarian name of Zakopane? It’s not given in my Baedeker’s Austria-Hungary or on this website or even on GeoNative (as far as I can tell; it doesn’t have a search function). (I really should have this book. Sigh.)

  20. Geez… I can’t find my multilingual “Felvidek” map. There is a great series of maps that show the names of towns in Transylvania and the “Felvidek” (i.e., highlands, Slovakia and Galician Poland) in three languages – Romanian or Slovak, Hungarian, and German. These are great maps but they tend to really annoy border guards. But Zakopane was something like “õkõrpaták” or something (OX Brook) but I am probably wrong.
    Csango place names and old Hungarian place names in Moldavia are where you can really rile folks up. Like Chishinau/Kishenev from Kis Jenõ (‘small Jenõ, from the ninth century Jenõ tribe of Hungarians), Orhei from “örhely” (guard place) Suceava from “Szucs” (furrier), Iasi from “Jaszvasar” (Jasz, i.e. Alan or Ossetian Market). Hey, ya gotta love Moldavia in the ninth century. A great place to visit but…
    Csangos, the Hungarian minority in Romanian Moldavia, usually have Romanian names for their villages, so you have Saboani for Szabofalva (Tailor Village) or Faroani for “Forrofalva” (Boiling Village), but these are rarely on any map since the mere existence of the Csangos is still a controversial theme in Romania.

  21. I’ve got the trilingual Erdély (Transylvania) map, but alas not the Felvidék.
    E.M. Pospelov (my go-to guy for place-name etymology) disagrees about Chisinau/Kishinev; he says it’s from Old Moldavian kish(i)neu ‘well; source’ — but of course there’s no certainty in these things, and I like “Kis Jenõ.”

  22. I spent a frustrating postdoc year in Romania in 1983-84 trying to get Romanian perspectives on the Balkan Sprachbund and substrate effects more generally. (My dissertation was on Sprachbund effects–including wholesale word order changes–among Austronesian languages in New Guinea, the only place you can find verb-final AN languages.)
    My Romanian advisor was a timid and unhelpful Albanian specialist. (And he was disappointed that I was no Eric Hamp.) No one wanted to talk much about Slavic influence or, God forbid, Slavic substrates. In fact, some seemed to believe the Balkan Sprachbund idea was part of a German-inspired plot to justify taking over the whole Balkan Peninsula.
    All research in historical linguistics seemed to have an irredentist agenda. The putative Dacian substrate was useful because it antedated any Hungarian presence in Transylvania. And the putative Illyro-Thracian substrate was useful because it antedated any Slavic presence in the Balkans. I remember wading through a book of some professor’s dry etymological articles, only to find conclusions that took care to note that the presence of Romanian place names in then-Yugoslavia (Mt. Durmitor was one such, IIRC) proved that Romanian speakers had been there first. Well, good for them. I don’t care.
    It was a lousy year for research but a fun year for language-learning.

  23. 1) Cluj-Napoca is indeed the official name. It dates back to the 1970s when Ceausescu was on one of his nationalist kicks. Before that, the name in Romanian was just Cluj.
    2) Yes, it does indeed reflect the Romanian nationalist assertion that Cluj is continuous with (and directly descendant from) the Roman/Dacian town of Napoca. It’s a bit as if York had been renamed York-Eboracum, or Cologne Koeln-Colonia, but there it is.
    The present Romanian government does not make this assertion /quite/ so strongly, BTW, but it is still pretty much the official line, and there appears to be no interest in changing the name back.
    3) In practice everyone calls it Cluj.
    Doug M.

  24. All research in historical linguistics seemed to have an irredentist agenda.
    This is true everywhere in the Balkans, but it’s most especially true in Romania. The notion of Daco-Roman “continuity” has obsessed the Romanian academic community for a long, long time now, and the 1989 Revolution seems to have made very little difference in this regard.
    No one wanted to talk much about Slavic influence or, God forbid, Slavic substrates.
    Well, the Slavic influence is now generally acknowledged, although it seems to be a bit… gauche, perhaps… to bring it up. “Yes, yes, we have some Slavic words, everybody knows that, moving right along.”
    Slavic substrates, yikes.
    In fact, some seemed to believe the Balkan Sprachbund idea was part of a German-inspired plot to justify taking over the whole Balkan Peninsula.
    I haven’t heard it put in those terms, but they definitely don’t like the Balkan Sprachbund. I took Romanian lessons from a young woman who reacted to the idea… well, strongly. And I haven’t met a single educated Romanian who will give it the time of day. So the definite article has been turned into a suffix in Romanian, Bulgarian and Albanian? Big deal. (I did encounter one person sophisticated enough to add “and the Swedes do that too!”)
    Doug M.

  25. The Szeklers are an interesting group. They claim to be a people related to, but distinct from, the Hungarians. Their traditions claim descent from Attila’s Huns, but I don’t think even they believe that. (Although it’s surely no less likely than descent from the Roman colonists of Dacia.)
    Other theories have them as Pechenegs, as Hungarized Avars, or as an offshoot of the Magyar Hungarians themselves. The Szeklers dislike this last one BTW; they insist that they are distinct from, though closely connected to, the main Hungarian stock.
    There are some fascinating peculiarities about them. For instance, before they were brought firmly under the Hapsburg crown in the 18th century, they were largely self-governing. And their basic units of government were village communes known as “tens”. These is eerily reminiscent of the habit of many Central Asian horse nomads. The Mongols, for instance, organized their societies along military lines, with the squad of ten horsemen — the “ten” — being a basic unit.
    I understand that their language is basically Hungarian, but I welcome correction. Phenotypically they are not very distinct. As far as I know, there has been no methodical study of their genetic relationships to other groups.
    Doug M.

  26. Székhelys! I was married to one. A whole family of them lives downstairs – about two meters below me right now – and is screaming insanely at each other this very minute. Székhelys!

  27. But are they screaming in Hungarian?

  28. Yes, they are screaming in Hungarian, with broad “aw” sounds for “a” and “t” sounds slurred on their palinka-soaked palates… when they are sober they are actually quite nice. They borrow my Maria Tanase CDs in the summer and engage in college dorm-style stereo-out-the-window combat with the upstairs neighbors who blast bad Magyar Smurf-voice techno out of thewir windows. I -the second floor tenant with the Moldavian bagpipes – get blamed for the “Romanian” music.
    Seriously, Szekelys get their name from “Eskil” an old term for the Dnister River. They were probably a Turkic speaking tribe who became one of the affiliated Magyar tribes, although tradition holds that they were already across the Carpathians when the Magyars arrived in 895. They were affiliated as border guards and granted freedom from serfdom for their military service. They have spoken Magyar as long as anyone has been writing about them, and apart from their accents they don’t have a lode of hidden vocabulary that would give away their ancient orgins (unlike the Kun/Cuman and Jasz of the Hungarian plains, who do actually have oddball dialect terms reflecting their Kipchak or Alan pasts.)
    Are they Hun remnants? Maybe. Maybe not. One can’t judge all of them by the neighbors and ex-in laws, can one? You know the Redneck Hillbilly family characters who occaisionally appear on the Simpsons? Imagine them speaking Hungarian, eating raw bacon and potatoes, drinking quarts of wood alcohol, and chewing coffee beans. Székelys.

  29. Oh, and they used to use a Runic script -related to ones found in Central Asia and the Ukraine – into the 18th century, but in Hungarian language.

  30. I just noticed that Transitions Online includes in its Week in Review for 20-26 January an article about the Szeklers calling for an autonomous region in Romania.

  31. The Mongols called the Germans of SE Europe “Sesut”, from “Saxons” (“-ut” is a plural or collective ending).
    The Goths also survived in the Crimea until the 16th century.
    There still remain in Poland Muslim “Tatars” who write Polish in Arabic script. Polish Tatar units fought in WWI at least, maybe WWII.

  32. Scott Martens at Pedantry has also translated long sections of the memoirs of some of his Mennonite German ancestors from the Ukraine. Fascinating stuff, including one man who was shot nine times by anarchists and lived on for two days.

  33. The Szeklers have exactly two changes of getting an autonomous region: slim and none. It’s just /so/ not going to happen.
    The Germans of Romania come in at least two flavors, BTW — Saxons and “Flemings”. The Flemings weren’t actually Flemings, but they came from a different part of Germany than the Saxons, and spoke a different dialect. I have the impression that the two eventually grew together into Siebenburgerdeutsch — both waves arrived in the middle ages, so there was time — but I’m not completely sure of that, and welcome correction.
    Oh, and there’s also a small third wave of Germans from Germany who came to be mine bosses and technicians during the 19th and early 20th centuries. (Our landlord is one of those — his grandfather was a Sudetendeutscher who came here between the wars.) This group was never more than one or two percent of the total German population before 1989, but my completely anecdotal and unscientific impression is that it’s probably now more like five or ten percent of the ever-dwindling remnant German population. I’m really not sure why.
    Doug M.

  34. Germans from Germany who came to be mine bosses
    I have to say that I first read this as German-accented English for “my bosses”: Ja, dey came to be mine bosses!
    Another great thread full of fascinating and useless information, and I want to thank Maria for providing the impetus for it.

  35. Flemings? Doug, have you ever seen decent frites with mayonnaise in Romania? Neithere have I. As far as I know there are three traditional German communities: The Saxons in southern Transylvania who settled in in the 13th century as Teutonic Knights, the Zipsers who settled in Maramures in the 16th century from Slovakia, and the Schwabs, who were given land in the Banat and around Satu Mare by Maria Teresa in the 18th century.
    The Székely had autonomy after WWII, but were gerrymandered out of it during the 1960s. A lot of the autonomy question has to do with internal politics among the ethnically based Hungarian political parties in Transylvania, which in turn is definately reflective of manipulation by the main parties in Hungary, who help fund them.

  36. Ah, the Zipsers! I presume they came from Spisz / Spiš / Zips / Szepes, one of my favorite multilingual Eastern European place names. Yes, a little googling turns up this page [link dead as of 2016], which says:

    1784-1809 Germans from the Zips (Spiss in today’s Slovakia) brought to Bukovina by Anton Manz who had gained concessions to exploit mineral deposits after silver, lead, iron, and copper had been discovered; miners settled in Jakobeni (1784), Kirlibaba (1797), Luisental (1805), and Freudental (1807); others put down roots in Stulpikany, Frassin, and Paltinossa. Manz provides housing and garden plots for those in his employ.

    Hey, this page on Transylvanian history (which admirably gives multilingual versions of many place names) says “Especially King Geysa II (1141-1162) was successful in attracting German and Flemish farmers, trades people and lower nobility. They settled in Zips, today’s Slovakia, and in Transylvania. ” So there’s Doug’s Flems. And later on (just after the Document of Privileges of the Transylvanian Saxons, 1224) it says:

    At the beginning, beneficiaries of these rights, German colonists originating from different regions, were called “hospites Theutonici” or “Flandrenses”. Later the collective description “Saxones” as used by the Hungarian administration (Chancellery) became predominant. German settlers of the Zips region (Slovakia), German miners in the Balkan (Bosnia and Croatia belonging to Hungary), in Serbia and in the Osmanian Empire were also called “Saxones” apparently referring to the owners of privileges as defined in the “jus Theutonicum”.

    Wow, and here’s a wonderful passage from Luise Muhlbach‘s Joseph II and His Court (one of her dozens of historical novels):

    “Your majesty is pleased to speak of the county of Zips. Zips has always belonged to Hungary. It was mortgaged by the Emperor Sigismund to his brother-in-law Wladislaw Jagello for a sum of money. Hungary has never parted with her right to this country; and, as we have been compelled to send troops to our frontier to watch Russia, the opportunity presents itself for us to demonstrate to Poland that Austria can never consent to regard a mortgaged province as one either given or sold. Zips belongs to Austria, and we will pay back to the King of Poland the sum for which it was mortgaged. That is all.”

    “Yes, but it will be difficult not only for Poland, but for all Europe, which is accustomed to consider Zips as Polish territory, to remember your highness’s new boundaries. I, for my part, do not understand it, and I will be much obliged to you if, according to your new order of things, you will show me where Hungary ends and Poland begins.” [Footnote: The kng’s own words. Ferrand, P. 112.]

    “Where the county of Zips ends, and where the boundaries of Hungary began in olden times, there the line that separates Austria from Poland should be drawn.”

    “Ah!” sighed the king, “you speak of the olden time. But we must settle all these things now with regard to the present. I happen, by chance, to have a map of Poland on my table. Oblige me now by showing me Poland as your highness understands its boundaries.”

    The king stood up, and unfolding a map, laid it on the table. Kaunitz also rose, and stood on the opposite side. “Now,” said Frederick, “let me see the county of Zips.”


    “HERE, your majesty, is Zips,” said Kaunitz, as he passed his delicate white finger over the lower part of the map.

    The king leaned over, and looked thoughtfully at the moving finger. For some time he kept silence. Then he raised his head, and met the gaze of the prince.

    “A very pretty piece of land which Austria takes from her neighbor,” said he, with a piercing glance at Kaunitz.

    “Austria takes nothing from her neighbor, sire, except that which belongs to her,” replied Kaunitz, quietly.

    “How very fortunate it is that this particular piece of land should belong to Austria!” said the king; with a slight sneer. “You see that Poland, who for so many centuries had supposed herself to be the rightful owner of the Zips, has, in virtue of such ownership, projected beyond the Carpathian Mountains quite to the interior of Hungary. Now a wedge of that sort is inconvenient, perhaps dangerous, and it is lucky for Austria that she has found out her right of possession in that quarter. It not only contracts her neighbor’s domains, but essentially increases her own. It now concerns Austria to prove to Europe her right to this annexation, for Europe is somewhat astonished to hear of it.”

    “In the court-chancery, at Vienna, are the documents to prove that the Zips was mortgaged by the Emperor Sigismund to his brother-in-law Wladislaw, in the year 1412, for the sum of thirty-seven thousand groschen.”

    “Since 1412!” cried Frederick. “Three hundred and fifty-five years’ possession on the part of Poland has not invalidated the title of Austria to the Zips! My lawful claim to Silesia was of more modern date than this, and yet Austria would have made it appear that it was superannuated.”

    “Your majesty has proved, conclusively, that it was not so,” replied Kaunitz, with a slight inclination of the head.

    “Will Austria take the course which I pursued to vindicate my right?” asked the king, quickly.

    “Stanislaus will not allow us to proceed to extremities,” replied the Prince. “True, he complained at first, and wrote to the empress-queen to demand what he called justice.”

    “And will your highness inform me what the empress-queen replied in answer to these demands?”

    “She wrote to the King of Poland that the time had arrived when it became incumbent upon her to derive the boundaries of her empire. That, in her annexation of the Zips to Austria, she was actuated, not by any lust of territorial aggrandizement, but by a conviction of her just and inalienable rights. She was prepared, not only to assert, but to defend them; and she took this opportunity to define the lines of her frontier, for the reason that Poland was in a state of internal warfare, the end of which no man could foresee.” [Footnote: Ferrand, i., p. 94.]

    Now, why don’t they write novels like that any more, with footnotes and lines like “Here, your majesty, is Zips”? I love the internet.

  37. There’s definitely some group called Flemings. But whether they are descendants of the Flemish settlers of the Middle Ages, or some other group — perhaps zaelic’s Schwabs — is beyond my ken.
    Both place and group names creep around in the Balkans. A Vlach in Macedonia is not the same as a Vlach in Serbia, and the geographical term “Banat” has evolved noticeably just since 1918. (Serbs no longer consider Vojvodina to be part of the Banat; Hungarians, I think, do; Romanians have an interestingly complicated response.)
    Let that process continue over centuries and, really, the whole thing can become very confusing.
    Doug M.

  38. As I said, slim and none.
    The Szeklers got some autonomy after WWII largely because the Ghirgiu Dej government, while evil in almost every other imaginable way, was probably the least nationalistic government Romania has ever had. Dej seems to have truly considered himself a Communist first and a Romanian second, and he was willing to give all national minorities (well, except the gypsies, of course) the opportunity to participate equally in the onward march to international socialist glory. It would not actually be ironic to say that the Dej government was an equal-opportunity provider of oppression, poverty, expropriation, misery, and terror.
    However, in this respect Dej was a historical anomaly. When Ceausescu took over, he pretty promptly snapped minority policy back into line with long-term Romanian (and regional) norms, and Szekler autonomy went glimmering.
    Note that Ceausescu’s gestures to gross nationalism were always among the more popular things about his regime. (Towards the end, they were the /only/ popular things about his regime.)
    So it is very, very unlikely that this government, or any one in the near future (like the next decade or two) is going to offer the Szeklers their autonomy back.
    You’re quite right about the cross-border connections with Hungarian parties, BTW. But it’s an exercise in image rather than substance for all concerned.
    Doug M.

  39. Can anyone enlighten me about when the Armenians in Romania first arrived. I visited an Armenian church once in Gherla, outside Cluj, and there is a whole cycle of jokes in Romania that involve call-in questions to Radio Yerevan. Did the Armenians come as refugees from Turkey in 1915 or thereabouts, or do they go back further?

  40. Hi Joel,
    They go back further. Early modern times at least, and maybe further back than that. Until the early 19th century, they seem to have filled the niche that Jews did in other eastern European countries — traders, moneylenders. (Romania did have Jews before 1800, but not so many; Jewish numbers rose in the 19th century because of emigration out of the Pale.)
    I have the strong impression that the Armenians were junior partners to the Phanariot Greeks, and sort of rose and fell with them. This would mean that they arrived in force in the 1600s. But I’m not really sure.
    Unsurprisingly, the Romanians that I’ve asked offer blank looks when I raise the question. (I am very fond of Romania, but “history of our minorities” is not a subject in the school curriculum, nor does anyone here seem to be writing much about it.)
    I note in passing that Liviu Rebreanu’s novel _Rascoala_ (The Uprising), written in 1933 and set in 1907, features a prosperous and well-established Armenian banker as a minor character. (Also a Jewish newspaper editor and a Greek overseer — the latter having been Romanianized to the point where he no longer speaks the ancestral tongue.)
    Anyhow — what baffles me is not when they came, but whence they departed. Where did all Romania’s Armenians go? Apparently there are only about 8,000 left, down from a high of more than 50,000. Romania’s Germans went to Germany, the Jews went to Israel or America, but it’s hard to believe that the Armenians all went to Armenia… Romania has problems, but it’s quite a bit better off than Armenia.
    Doug M.

  41. The Armenians entered in the late 1600 via the Ukraine and Volynia. There were already communities of them around the black sea but the Jelali Revolts in eastern Turkey around 1610 caused a flood of Anatolian Armenians to flee to the Ukraine, and thence to Moldavia (There are still some in Iasi and Suceava). Since Transylvania was a more peaceful choice in the 17th century, many moved there – a particularly corrupt Archbishop sold loyalty to the Austrians by accepting the authority of Rome but maintaining the rituals of the Armenian Church as specific Armenian Uniates. Armenian was basically only a liturgical language. The original Armenian emigrants spoke Armeno-Kipchak – basically turkish vernacular but written in Armenian script – and today Armenian is only used in some church hymns, and I don’t know if Father Fogojan is still in charge of things up in Gheorgheni but I think he is the only priest fluent in the language (he lived mosty of his life on the Armenian Church Island in the VEnice Lagoon.)
    The Transylvanian Armenians are still there – the former Priest in Gherla was a very good friend of mine. A lot were in Alba Iulia, but most were up in the Szekely country. The Armenians had assimilated into Hungarian speakers by 1800 and were generally called “Szekely-Armenians” Gheorgheni (Gyergyoszentmiklos in Hung even has a mini Armenian Museum.) still has a lot, but being downtown bussiness folks many moved to bigger towns after 1945 – Cluj, Tirgu Mures. A lot of them moved to Budapest after 1920, where they have an organization and a chapel at Gellert square.
    My ex-wife was a Szekely Armenian from Gyergyo. Most of them don’t have -ian names, though. She was a Lazar. We did a lot of ethnographic research among her relatives back around 1991, taped interviews, etc. They have a particular culinary tradition – making churut, dried yogurt/parsley spice for soup. The general observation is that they are “smart like Jews” and basically everybody makes the wise crack that my 10 year old son Aron is going to be rich because he is half Jewish and half Szekely Armenian.

  42. Double post!
    Sorry. But if you are in Bucharest, head down to the Armenian Church off of Strada Rosetti. On the side there is the office of the Armenian minority association, including their Armenian language newspaper. It was closed last August when I visited, though. These, however, are Orthodox Armenians, whose descendants mostly came around 1920 from Turkey. In 1991 they still had an Armenian traditional band playing Armenian folk music on oud, accordion and fiddle. The restaurant, Hanul Manuc is named after a famous Armenian merchant, in fact.
    Also, in Budapest there is an woman from Tirgu Mures who did her anthro degree on the ethnohistory of the Transylvanian Armenians. A friend of mine. What a dish!

  43. there is a whole cycle of jokes in Romania that involve call-in questions to Radio Yerevan
    They have those in Romania too? They were very popular in Russia back in Soviet days (I have no idea whether they still are).
    zaelic: I’ll delete the repeated comment; also, I’m going to give your first paragraph its own post (“Armeno-Kipchak” — I love it!). This whole thread is full of great information; you guys are an online university!

  44. Okay, here’s a sample of Radio Erevan jokes from C. Banc [and obvious pseudonym] and Alan Dundes, _You Call This Living?_ (U. Georgia Press, 1990):
    –Can bedbugs make a revolution?
    –In principle, yes, for in their veins flows the blood of peasants and workers.
    –Is it true that Russian U-boats hold the record for extended submersion?
    –In principle, yes. Two of them have been on the bottom since 1957.
    –Is it true that the composer Khachaturian has won a car at the lottery?
    –In principle, yes, but there are some small corrections to be made. It’s not Khachaturian, but Shostakovich; it’s not a car, but a motorcycle; he didn’t win it, but he lost it; and it wasn’t at the lottery, but at stud poker.
    –Would it be possible to import socialism into the Sahara?
    –In principle, yes, but after the first five-year plan, the Sahara will have to import sand.
    –How come the Armenian Republic has a Ministry of the Navy even though it has no outlet to the sea?
    –It’s not so unusual. Don’t they have a Ministry of Culture in the Georgian Republic?
    –How come Canada and the U.S. can sell us so much wheat?
    –The fault lies with the catastrophic capitalist overproduction.
    Well, it’s hard to stop, but I’ll have to.

  45. (My dissertation was on Sprachbund effects–including wholesale word order changes–among Austronesian languages in New Guinea, the only place you can find verb-final AN languages.)
    I’ve been puzzling over this for weeks, and only now realized that AN stands for Austronesian rather than adjective-noun.

  46. I only just understood it myself, rereading this thread, which is My Favorite Thread Ever.

  47. Mine too, I think. I just reread the whole thing. From Maria’s reference to “a town that had a name/ In three languages…” we get Germans in Siebenbürgen, the armistice of Padua, Dacia Porolissensis, a manaical and corrupt barf-bag named Gheorghe Funar, the Klausenburger Hasidim of Brooklyn, putative Illyro-Thracian substrates, Sesut, Crimean Goths, Zipsers, Flemings, Armenians (complete with jokes), and Székelys, Székelys, Székelys!

  48. But no mention of Latveria yet, and its capital, the eighth city of the Siebenburg, Doomstadt.

  49. Hmm… they seem unclear as to whether Latverian is based on Hungarian or Slavic (with Romance admixture). Sounds like an interesting place to visit:
    “A word of caution though, stay to the established trails, which are well marked with signs and directions every few hundred feet, whenever hiking in Latveria. Straying from these paths is not only dangerous, but may run you afoul of the Master’s robots, which regularly patrol the outer boundaries for thieves, smugglers, and illegal immigrants. The Master wouldn’t want you to get hurt!”

  50. artapatakan says

    Hello Maria,
    Many dictators have diberrately changed history . .
    not only dictators but also other powers in history.
    The Szeklers have exactly two changes of getting an autonomous region: slim and none. It’s just /so/ not going to happen.
    The Germans of Romania come in at least two flavors, BTW — Saxons and “Flemings”. The Flemings weren’t actually Flemings, but they came from a different part of Germany than the Saxons, and spoke a different dialect. I have the impression that the two eventually grew together into Siebenburgerdeutsch — both waves arrived in the middle ages, so there was time — but I’m not completely sure of that, and welcome correction.
    I think the Flemings were old Hungarian who migrates to what is now Belgium, they settle in flemish part of the country and they went back to Hungary after the year thousand. They settled in the flemish part but their mother language was “walachian” walachian is by the way the same language as in the region of LiŽge (Luttich) or walloon.
    May be they (the Hungarian of Transylvania or szeklers?) settled after the battle of the Dyle, 891 against the Vikings, by Arnulf the German king. Sincerely.
    [Italics added for clarity — LH.]

  51. Richard Waugaman, M.D. says

    There seems to be a desperate need for a good book on U.S. place name etymology. All I’ve found so far are British, etc. (This is off the topic, but I understand that Venezuela means “little Venice,” since the Spanish explorers thought the native huts on stilts over a lake was reminiscent of that city.)
    Does anyone know of good existing books on this topic?

  52. There is indeed a need for such a book. The most comprehensive I’ve found is Kelsie Harder’s Illustrated Dictionary of Place Names: United States and Canada, but it’s got lots of gaps (it seems half the places I look up aren’t in there) and isn’t all that reliable. (On the other hand, you can get it very cheap.) I trust Pospelov’s Geograficheskie nazvaniya mira more, but of course covering the entire world it doesn’t have that many US names (not to mention that it’s in Russian). I wish somebody would put out a US equivalent of the Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names.

  53. Richard Waugaman, M.D. says

    Thanks, language hat!

  54. One can’t forget the Schwabian Germans of Transylvania, Romanian!
    As far as the origin of Szekelys/Szeklers, the most promising new research comes from the field of genetics and is already causing some waves in linguistics. There is converging evidence that indicates an uninterrupted, local population (or populations) related to Hungarians/Magyars that predates the 896 Hungarian/Magyar conquest and settlement of the Carpathian Basin. Exploring these areas has been tabu for some time and those who pursued such questions were (on some level understandably) considered crazy.

  55. Clusiurn
    This mysterious name is a mis-OCRing of Clusium, though probably it doesn’t mean ‘closed’ at all but is an Etruscan name picked up by the Romans and drop-kicked into Dacia. “Lars Porsena of Clusium / By the Nine Gods he swore / That the great house of Tarquin / Should suffer wrong no more.”
    maniacal and corrupt barf-bag
    Guffaw #2 of this series.

  56. Sir JCass says

    Back in 2004, I didn’t realise quite how manic Dacomania could be. Since then I’ve learned that one of the Dacomaniacs’ prime arguments is a linguistic one. Trajan’s Column in Rome, depicting the emperor’s conquest of the country, shows Roman soldiers and Dacian peasants speaking to one another without an interpreter. This proves that they must have spoken the same language and therefore Latin and Dacian were one. Moreover, Latin had a Romanian origin and not vice versa. It was brought to Western Europe via earlier invasions by the Geto-Dacians and thus Dacians were the original founders of the Roman Empire so Dacia was never really conquered by foreigners. Maybe I’ll dig out some books on the subject…

  57. Moreover, Latin had a Romanian origin and not vice versa.
    Guffaw #3.

  58. Георгиу-деж town has been renamed as soon as the Soviet Union fell apart, BTW.
    Wonderful post! Rio Wang also has numerous entries about Szekelys, and about Armenians of Lemberg / Lwow / Lviv.
    And of course I couldn’t resist posting one more Radio Armenia joke, breaking their usual Q&A mold because this one doesn’t give an answer:
    A listener from Yerevan asks us who is the author of all of the Radio Armenia jokes. The same question is also asked by our listeners from KGB…

  59. Since this may be the only open page discussing semi-unrecognized fusion cultures, and since no other LH entry mentions Talysh language controversy (is it a Turkic dialect or a full-fledged IE language related to Farsi?)
    As I mentioned in the comments to this rio Wang post, I knew about the suppressed Talysh controversy ever since my days in Azerbaijan. And it has been predicted even then than, having fulfilled their dreams of cleansing Armenians, the Azerbaijani nationalist will turn to the “non-existent minority” of the Talyshs next.
    The persecution took a peculiar XXIst century twist lately. Apparently the author of the Talysh dictionary has just been jailed for treason, essentially for overstepping his boundaries by … posting a viral youtube video of a traditional wedding couplet-singing contest

  60. How depressing. Another example of how easily nationalism runs amuck.

  61. Another example of how easily nationalism runs amuck
    what makes this example peculiar and more relevant for a language-centered discussion is the official concept of non-existence of Talysh language; and of course the central role there of a traditional multi-lingual form of folk poetry, the Meykhana

  62. Now, why don’t they write novels like that any more?
    Well, I have just read the whole 697 pages of Joseph II And His Court: there are really six books, “Maria Theresa”, “Isabella”, “King of Rome”, “Emperor of Austria”, “Marie Antoinette”, and “The Reign of Joseph”. One reason they don’t write like that any more is that no one has time to read like that any more — but I have the speed-reading superpower, and what’s more, I’m attending a conference, and my nights are free.
    Another reason is that perhaps few readers now could swallow the endless stream of melodramatic language and incidents without breaking out laughing. The passage you quoted is not at all typical, being quite sober in tone. Here, for instance, is the beginning of Chapter 67, whose style much better expresses the feeling tone of the whole:

    The pearls were sold, the countess [Wielopolska] had arrived in Vienna; and she was in the presence of the empress, whom, although they had never met before, she had so long regarded with affectionate admiration.
    “I rejoice to see you,” said Maria Theresa, graciously extending her hand. “It gives me pleasure to receive a relative of the Countess von Salmour. But you have another claim upon my sympathy, for you are a Polish woman, and I can never forget that, but for John Sobieski, Vienna would have been a prey to the infidel.”
    “Upon your majesty’s generous remembrance of Sobieski’s alliance rests the last hope of Poland!” exclaimed the countess, kneeling and kissing the hand of the empress. “God has inclined to her redemption the heart of the noblest woman in Europe, and through her magnanimity will the wicked Empress of Russia receive her check. Oh, your majesty, that woman, in the height of her arrogance, believes to-day that you are only too willing to further her rapacity and participate in her crimes!”
    “Never shall it be said that she and I have one thought or one object in common!” cried Maria Theresa, her face glowing with indignation. “Let her cease her oppression of Poland, or the Austrian eagle will seize the Russian vulture!”
    The face of the countess grew radiant with joy. Raising her beautiful arms to heaven, she cried out exultingly: “King of kings, Thou hast heard! Maria Theresa comes to our help! Oh, your majesty, how many thousand hearts, from this day, will bow down in homage before your throne! Hereafter, not God, but Maria Theresa, will be our refuge!”
    “Do not blaspheme,” cried the empress, crossing herself. “I am but the servant of the Lord, and I do His divine will on earth. God is our refuge and our strength, and He will nerve my arm to overcome evil and work out good. I will countenance and uphold the Confederates, because it is my honest conviction that their cause is just, and that they are the only party in Poland who act in honor and good faith.”*
    * The empress’s own words. See Ferrand, i., p. 72.

    And a lot more like that. Of course the language is that of the translator, Adelaide de Vendel Chaudron, but I am sure she is tracking the style of the author quite faithfully. Now no doubt Maria Theresa did say something like this — but in a private conversation with an unknown countess? Give me leave to doubt it, your Hatness.
    The plot is so preposterous that if it did not agree with history, no one could possibly swallow it. Almost everyone dies of the smallpox sooner or later; well, a great many people did. But there is hardly a woman in it who does not forecast her death of a broken heart if she is compelled to marry or not marry someone, and while the actual cause of death generally turns out to be typhoid fever or the like, they always seem to be able to “call” their deaths almost to the very day.
    It seems to me that this book is the veritable nightmare of history from which Stephen Dedalus said he was trying to awake. Having finished it, I am certainly glad to wake up to the world of common sense and reason once more.

  63. Man, that’s dedication! If I’m going to read a 697-page novel, it better be by Tolstoy. I wonder if you’re the only person in the last century to read the whole thing?

  64. David Marjanović says

    Another reason is that perhaps few readers now could swallow the endless stream of melodramatic language and incidents without breaking out laughing. The passage you quoted is not at all typical, being quite sober in tone. Here, for instance, is the beginning of Chapter 67, whose style much better expresses the feeling tone of the whole:

    So much crying. What is this, the Eye of Argon?

    That said, ladies incessantly “emitted light cries” in 18th-century literature.

  65. So much crying.

    That is one of my main takeaways from reading so much 19th-century literature: the default reaction of everyone to any situation involving emotion is to weep, either in streams or rivers. Or, if Russian, like hail.

  66. They were just learning to express emotions without emoticons.

  67. David Marjanović says

    Like hail? Fascinating.

  68. David Marjanović says

    1,160 results!

  69. The earliest citations in the Национальный корпус русского языка are from Karamzin’s Письма русского путешественника (1793): “Она подала мне свою руку, холодную, слабую и дрожащую; грудь ее видимо подымалась и опускалась; слезы катились градом по бледному лицу ― я почти нес ее на руках” and “Кажется, что душа хочет выпрыгнуть из груди; слезы льются градом, тоска несносная…”

  70. There’s definitely some group called Flemings. But whether they are descendants of the Flemish settlers of the Middle Ages, or some other group — perhaps zaelic’s Schwabs — is beyond my ken.

    On the Flemish question, I just ran across this passage in Bartlett’s The Making of Europe:

    The involvement of Flemings in settlement east of the Elbe was so characteristic that one of the two standard forms of peasant holding or mansus there was known as ‘the Flemish mansus‘. […] The first Germanic settlers in Transylvania, the unsettled eastern part of the kingdom of Hungary, who arrived there in the 1140s or 1150s at the invitation of King Geza, were referred to in twelfth-century documents as Flemings. Although some scholars are of the opinion that this term had become generalized and meant only ‘colonist’, others believe, with some plausibility, that it was ethnically specific, and may even have referred to Flemish settlers coming not directly from Flanders, but from the new Flemish villages in eastern Germany.

    (He goes on to discuss the Flemings settled in South Wales by Henry I around 1108. The Flemish impact on Europe awaits its popularizing chronicler!)

  71. And on the subject of Spisz / Spiš / Zips / Szepes, río Wang is doing a tour there — check out the link for photos and maps.

  72. David Marjanović says

    The Flemings have even left linguistic traces in eastern Germany. Unfortunately I don’t know any examples.

  73. The original post is available from the Wayback Machine.

  74. Thanks very much! I’ll add it to the post.

  75. marie-lucie says

    a maniacal and corrupt barf-bag

    I think this phrase will come in handy in some current situations.

  76. That is perhaps the greatest phrase ever uttered on LH. I think of it often.

  77. David Marjanović says

    and the Schwabs, who were given land in the Banat and around Satu Mare by Maria Teresa in the 18th century.

    Can’t believe I missed this previously… the Banater Schwaben are said to be from Salzburg, not from Baden-Württemberg or western Bavaria.

    The Flemings have even left linguistic traces in eastern Germany. Unfortunately I don’t know any examples.

    …said I, living just north of a place called Fläming.

  78. Ha!

  79. David: On the linguistic influence of (actual Dutch-speaking!) Flemings in Eastern Germany, I think I did once consult the following: Teuchert, Hermann. 1972. “Die Sprachreste der niederländischen Siedlungen des 12. Jahrhunderts”. Köln : Böhlau Verlag. It examines Dutch influence upon Brandenburg Low German, so if you are in Berlin it would definitely be pertinent.

  80. The easternmost “Flemings” are probably the “Hollanders” of Eastern Siberia (Irkutsk region, close to Mongolian border).

    The strangest mix of cultures imaginable – older generation spoke mix of Ukrainian and Belarussian (youngsters switched to Russian, of course), they have Polish and German first names and mostly German surnames, Lutherans, but their religious books are written in Polish, now live in Siberia and call themselves Hollanders.

    They are thought to have migrated from the Netherlands or Northern Germany to East Prussia sometime in 16th century, then they settled on Bug river (near current Polish-Belarussian border) and in early 20th century moved to Eastern Siberia.

  81. A road trip around the Siebenbürgen. I suspect that Doomstadt is not really at the Triplex Confinium, the Romanian-Hungarian-Serbian (historically the Venetian-Ottoman-HRE) tripoint, but much further west inside Romania along the E50 road shown on the linked map. Latveria is, by the way, the only Roma-dominated country in the world, the Master being himself Roma.

  82. David Marjanović says

    Siebenbürgen is just another articleless singular; “seven castles” would be sieben Burgen without the somehow derivational umlaut.

  83. Huh. German is even weirder than I suspected.

  84. Then again, formally it looks like the plural of Bürge ‘surety’ (someone who makes himself responsible for someone else’s behavior). Duden points to the verb bürgen, said to be from OHG purigōn ‘appellieren, sich berüfen’, and that’s as much as we get; Wikt does not have this verb. But perhaps Siebenbürgen originally meant ‘Seven Guarantors’ (of Transylvanian Saxon power)?

  85. The German berg/burg words have a lot of complexity to their meanings—which can vary regionally, as well as having a lot of bleed-over from other related words.

  86. David Marjanović says


    …Yes, that would work, but nobody seems to have considered that. It’s always taken for granted that there are seven prominent castles in the area.

    Morphologically, I’d try to compare Mähren “Moravia”.

    But, actually, I have no way to exclude the possibility that there’s a relevant dialect where Burg gets a plural with umlaut, which was then interpreted as derivational when the word spread. Consider Feuchtenbach (upper & lower): “moist creek”? No, eu has merged into ei, so the phonological interpretation behind the spelling is hypercorrect, and the dialects in the area somehow happen to have ei instead of the Standard i in Fichte “spruce”.

  87. Prompted by this, I just looked at the Duden Web site for the first time, and it is not at all what I was expecting. It looks like a free WordPress blog—a simple custom template and color scheme, with ads splashed all around. It looked a lot more like the site of a local newspaper than that of the Oxford English Dictionary. On the other hand, they were giving away the definitions for free, which the OED does not do, so they presumably need to raise revenue to support the hosting somehow.

  88. David Marjanović says

    de.pffft!: the origin of Siebenbürgen “has not been conclusively clarified”; it’s either the seven cities founded by Siebenbürger Sachsen (list below) or perhaps the eight “Seven Chairs” (Șapte Scaune; I can’t find the Hungarian version) – a “main chair” and seven subordinate ones (list below) – each of which had a judge who was subordinate directly to the Hungarian king. Attested forms from the 13th century: septum urbium, terra septem castrorum and the like, and at the end of the century Siebenbuergen (I have great trouble believing the ie at this early date). At that time, it only meant the “Seven Chairs” area, in green on the map at the link.

    There’s no mention of the morphology and no comment on whether urbium is a genitive plural or some kind of collective or plain wrong like septum.

    7 cities:

    Hermannstadt / Sibiu / Nagyszeben
    Kronstadt / Brașov / Brassó… also Orașul Stalin from 1950 to 1960
    Bistritz / Bistrița / Beszterce
    Schäßburg / Sighișoara / Segesvár
    Mühlbach / Sebeș / Szászsebes
    Broos / Orăștie / Szászváros
    Klausenburg / Cluj / Kolozsvár

    7 chairs:
    Hermannstadt / Sibiu / Nagyszeben (main; 0 out of 7)
    Schäßburg / Sighișoara / Segesvár
    Mühlbach / Sebeș / Szászsebes
    Broos / Orăștie / Szászváros
    Reußmarkt / Miercurea Sibiului / Szerdahely
    Leschkirch / Nocrich / Újegyház
    Groß-Schenk / Cincu / Nagysink
    Reps / Rupea / Kőhalom

  89. PlasticPaddy says

    The Latin name of modern Ceuta was also occasionally rendered as Septum (and the long form was “seven brothers” in English). I would guess some kind of late Latin replacement of third declension with first declension, combined with nondeclined ordinals, I. e., (a) seven (of) “burgen”/brothers. As you say, could also be a mistake.

  90. I’ve thought there must be a relation between Sibiu/-szeben and the element Sieben-. I remember looking into it years ago, but not what I found. Probably that better etymologists than me rejected it long ago.

  91. David Marjanović says

    …Oh, so sieben is just folk etymology, and the two divergent lists of seven places are attempts to make it fit?

    I must say I like that.

  92. I do too!

  93. I like it too, but it would be nice if the rest of the word worked as well. I haven’t been able to find my old speculations, but one suggestion could be something like **Siebenburgen “the castles of Sieben (= Hermannstadt et al.)”, a derivation **Siebenbürgener “of the (land of) the castles of Sieben” and a back-formation Siebenbürgen “The land of the castles of Sieben”. A derivation from a singular **Siebenburg “Hermannstadt” is possible too, but I think it requires more irregular steps.

    Ger. bürgen is cognate with Scand. borge “vouch, guarantee” and Eng. borrow. I don’t know how it got the umlaut.

  94. David Marjanović says


    Maybe. But in any case that is in fact the demonym to Siebenbürgen.

    and Eng. borrow

    Ah, but the German cognate of that is borgen, which actually means “borrow”.

    I think bürgen is backformed from Bürge.

  95. in any case that is in fact the demonym to Siebenbürgen.

    Yes. I probably shouldn’t have double-asterisked it, but I did because the derivation is completely hypothetical — meaning that I don’t know if it works at all. If it does, the step from adjective to demonym is probably what made the back-formation possible.

    The element Sieben has to be the river Cibin, Hungarian Szeben, modern German name Zibin. For a moment I thought it might actually be an older Germanic rivername “the seeping”, but Wikipedia says Sibiu is from Latin Cibinium. Maybe the first Saxon settlers brandywined ir to die Siebe. Or left it half-nativized as Sieben. It’s also so close to the Hungarian name that maybe no further explanation is necessary.

  96. The element Sieben has to be the river Cibin

    !!! Brilliant!

    brandywined it

    Thread won.

  97. !!! Brilliant!

    Thanks, but it looks so obvious that it must have been rejected for good reasons.

    Me: a back-formation Siebenbürgen “The land of the castles of Sieben”

    Or would “The Sieben (land) grant” work?

  98. David Marjanović says

    That would surprise me.

    I don’t get brandywined.

  99. January First-of-May says

    I don’t get brandywined.

    [joke-explain] It refers to the river Brandywine, aka Berenduin, in the general vicinity of the Shire. [/joke-explain]

    TL/DR: “of a river, folk-etymologized”.

  100. David Marjanović says

    Ah. I’ve never actually read any Tolkien book, nor even watched the movies apart from a few short scenes.

  101. the German cognate of that is borgen, which actually means “borrow”.

    I wonder if it’s related to Turkish borç (debt). Wiktionary says it’s ultimately from Sogdian pwrč.

    Well, is Sogdian pwrč related to Germanic borgen/borrow then?

    And where did Ukrainian got its “borg” – from German or Turkish?

  102. I don’t know much about Sogdian, but in general, Iranian /p/ corresponds to PIE /p/ => Germanic /f/, so I don’t think that the Sogdian and German words are related.

  103. Here’s Tolkien qua philologist:

    Brandywine. The hobbit-names of this river were alterations of the Elvish Baranduin (accented on and), derived from baran‘golden brown’ and duin ‘(large) river’. Of Baranduin Brandywine seemed a natural corruption in modern times. Actually the older hobbit-name was Branda-nîn ‘border-water’, which would have been more closely rendered by Marchbourn; but by a jest that had become habitual, referring again to its colour, at this time the river was usually called Bralda-hîm ‘heady ale’.

    It must be observed, however, that when the Oldbucks (Zaragamba) [who used to live with the other hobbits in the Shire west of the river, but crossed it long ago and colonized the adjacent empty lands to the east] changed their name to Brandybuck (Brandagamba), the first element meant ‘borderland’, and Marchbuck would have been nearer. Only a very bold hobbit would have ventured to call the Master of Buckland Braldagamba in his hearing.

    Iranian /p/ corresponds to PIE /p/ => Germanic /f/

    Thus explaining the curious Germanic word path as a borrowing from Proto-Iranian, which kept the p and the þ both.

  104. I have always wondered whether Tolkien’s choice of Anduin for “great river” was influenced by the Welsh name Avren/Aewren/Halfren for the Severn—or the Celtic word avon for “river,” as probably a more familiar version. Of course, a couple decades later, Lloyd Alexander used Great Avren as the name of his fictional version of the River Severn.

  105. More likely

    Danu (Irish goddess)
    The etymology of the name has been a matter of much debate since the 19th century, with some earlier scholars favouring a link with the Vedic water goddess Danu, whose name is derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *dʰenh₂- “to run, to flow”, which may also lie behind the ancient name for the river Danube, Danuuius – perhaps of Celtic origin, though it is also possible that it is an early Scythian loanword in Celtic.[3]

    Danube is an Old European river name derived from a Proto-Indo-European *dānu. Other river names from the same root include the Dunaj, Dzvina/Daugava, Don, Donets, Dnieper, Dniestr, Dysna, Tana/Deatnu and Tuoni. In Rigvedic Sanskrit, dānu means “fluid, drop”, and in Avestan, the same word means “river”. In the Rigveda, Dānu once appears as the mother of Vrtra, “a dragon blocking the course of the rivers”. It is possible that dānu in Scythian as in Avestan was a generic word for “river”: Dnieper and Dniestr, from Danapris and Danastius, are presumed to continue Scythian *dānu apara “far river” and *dānu nazdya- “near river”, respectively.[2]

  106. I think both ideas are unlikely, given that Anduin has a transparent etymology and- ‘long’ + duin ‘river of large volume’ (‘river of small volume’ is sîr). The Quenya cognates are anda and nuine, but the river name was the minimally adapted borrowing Anduine. The n/d alternation is regular and reflects a prenasalized stop in the common ancestor. (The digraph ui represents [ui̯], though often pronounced [u̯i] in the Third Age; the circumflex is overlength, non-phonemic but marked in Sindarin monosyllables.)

    So the Anduin was both long and wide, which is why it’s called emphatically “The Great River” in English (in the Hobbit, where the Sindarin name is not used, adding “of Wilderland”).

  107. Have we ever dealt with Eridanus?

  108. January First-of-May says

    Have we ever dealt with Eridanus?

    Not that I know of, but I hadn’t checked. [EDIT: the only Google hit I found was irrelevant.]

    One location that I considered using (probably as an offhand cameo) in my vaguely planned fictional stories is Andreapolis ad Eridanum – a Hellenistic colony in a world where Hellenistic culture lasted long enough to reach that far, corresponding to the OTL town of Andreapol (not actually a -polis, etymologically, but Andrew’s Field).

  109. PlasticPaddy says

    Re the correspondence PIE > Germanic f
    I have never understood the words with initial Sp (excluding borrowings). For instance Spaten is a native word but the PIE reflex has s-mobile. So why is there no doublet with f (compare English smelt/melt)?

  110. Unfortunately, though we know that Tolkien’s universe was drastically changed from flat-earth to round-earth after the Second Age, when the American continents were created, we know little about its naked-eye astronomy. We have the name of the Pleiades, but we don’t even know for sure if “red Borgil” is Antares or Mars.

  111. David Eddyshaw says

    not actually a -polis, etymologically

    Ah, поле! Lightbulb moment, as David M says. Thanks!

    So too, presumably, Frampol, as in Gimpel the Fool.

  112. David Marjanović says

    So why is there no doublet with f

    I’m not sure why you’d expect there to be one?

  113. PlasticPaddy says

    What about
    spalten < OHG spaltan
    falten < OHG faltan
    These look suggestive but what is PIE?

  114. David Marjanović says

    de.Wiktionary says “unclear”, but links to the DWDS, which says *pel- for falten and offers potential Sanskrit and Greek cognates for spalten that would have to come from something that began with */sbʰ/- (allophonically devoiced to *[spʰ] already in PIE) rather than */sp/-.

  115. PlasticPaddy says

    Thanks. As I say, I am puzzled by persistence of sp when p>f and the s is often detachable. So I would be happier if there was a clear example of PIE s-mobile +p > Gmc f ????

  116. I have never understood the words with initial Sp (excluding borrowings). For instance Spaten is a native word but the PIE reflex has s-mobile.

    Grimm’s law doesn’t affect initial s + voiceless stop clusters, whether the s is mobile or stabile. Thus freckle from PIE *prek- and sprinkle from PIE *sprenk- are doublets (the nasal infixation is another story). When it’s stabile, as in *skrībʰ- ‘cut, scratch, write’, nothing happens, because s + historically-voiced stop never occurs in Germanic anyway. High German is a different story, per David M’s explanations of fortis/lenis taking over from voicelessness and aspiration.

  117. Rodger C: Have we ever dealt with Eridanus?

    North Germanic. After j-breaking, umlaut, analogical leveling, syncope, and loss of case endings, it became the Jordan.

  118. {note to self} Epsilon Eridani should be in Jordanian Space

    per “Citizen in Space” by Robert Sheckley

  119. David Marjanović says

    s + historically-voiced stop never occurs in Germanic anyway


    PIE *t- > *tʰ > PGmc *þ-
    PIE *st- > PGmc *st- (development of aspiration blocked by [s])
    PIE */sdʰ/- = *[stʰ]- > PGmc *st- (aspiration lost, or the fricative cluster [sθ] turned back into [st])
    PIE */sd/- = *[zd]- > PGmc *st- (the whole cluster was devoiced by Grimm’s law)

    Fricative clusters, and plosive clusters, were probably banned altogether; all plosive + plosive clusters became fricative + plosive clusters, e.g. *kt, *gd > ktʰ, kt > *xt, xt. The second step is exactly the same as in Greek, where Classical κτ and χθ have both become Modern χτ.

    High German

    In English, plosives following /s/ are generally lenes word-initially, because they’re unaspirated, and fortes word-finally, because they’re unvoiced. In my kinds of German, interestingly, plosives following fricatives in the same morpheme are consistently fortes in all positions – and, unlike in English, they contrast with /s/ + lenis clusters that occur across morpheme boundaries, except that fricatives save the morphemes -t (3sg, past participle) from final lenition.

  120. In English, plosives following /s/ are […] fortes word-finally, because they’re unvoiced

    Really? I know you’re the expert on fortes, but how can a final stop be both fortis and unreleased? I definitely don’t release the /p/ of hasp, for example. If another word follows immediately, as in hasp lock or hasp key, the coda of the first word agrees in voicing with the onset of the next, so that hasp lock turns into hasblock, though the /s/ remains unvoiced.

  121. David Marjanović says

    how can a final stop be both fortis and unreleased?

    Ah, it can’t, but they are released when the next word happens to begin with a vowel! That’s how I got to be surprised when Katy Perry kis[t] a girl.

    turns into hasblock

    Huh. Looks like I’ve underestimated diversity yet again.

  122. PlasticPaddy says

    I think your hasblock is just a variant pronunciation of sp, i.e., I suspect you might hear teaspoon/teasboon ( or even spoon/sboon) from any native speaker anywhere and at different times from the same speaker. It is an imprecisely articulated sound in English.

  123. That’s how I got to be surprised when Katy Perry kis[t] a girl.

    Hmm. That /t/ is the past tense ending, so something unusual may be happening. In baste a turkey, the first /t/ is unaspirated and at least partially voiced (according to introspection, anyway), just like an initial /st-/ or an intervocalic /-t-/. In addition, singing is not speaking.

    I suspect you might hear teaspoon/teasboon ( or even spoon/sboon) from any native speaker anywhere and at different times from the same speaker.

    Oh, absolutely; that’s another way of saying voicing and aspiration are neutralized after /s/.

  124. John Cowan says

    “We Székelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship. Here, in the whirlpool of European races, the Ugric tribe bore down from Iceland the fighting spirit which Thor and Wodin gave them, which their Berserkers displayed to such fell intent on the seaboards of Europe, ay, and of Asia and Africa too, till the peoples thought that the were-wolves themselves had come. Here, too, when they came, they found the Huns, whose warlike fury had swept the earth like a living flame, till the dying peoples held that in their veins ran the blood of those old witches, who, expelled from Scythia had mated with the devils in the desert. Fools, fools! What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?”

    He held up his arms. “Is it a wonder that we were a conquering race; that we were proud; that when the Magyar, the Lombard, the Avar, the Bulgar, or the Turk poured his thousands on our frontiers, we drove them back? Is it strange that when Arpad and his legions swept through the Hungarian fatherland he found us here when he reached the frontier; that the Honfoglalás [Magyar conquest of Carpathia] was completed there? And when the Hungarian flood swept eastward, the Székelys were claimed as kindred by the victorious Magyars, and to us for centuries was trusted the guarding of the frontier of Turkey-land; ay, and more than that, endless duty of the frontier guard, for, as the Turks say, ‘water sleeps, and enemy is sleepless.’

    “Who more gladly than we throughout the Four Nations received the ‘bloody sword,’ or at its warlike call flocked quicker to the standard of the King? When was redeemed that great shame of my nation, the shame of Cassova [the Second Battle of Kosovo], when the flags of the Wallach and the Magyar went down beneath the Crescent? Who was it but one of my own race who as Voivode crossed the Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground? This was a Dracula indeed! Woe was it that his own unworthy brother, when he had fallen, sold his people to the Turk and brought the shame of slavery on them! Was it not this Dracula, indeed, who inspired that other of his race who in a later age again and again brought his forces over the great river into Turkey-land; who, when he was beaten back, came again, and again, and again, though he had to come alone from the bloody field where his troops were being slaughtered, since he knew that he alone could ultimately triumph!

    “They said that he thought only of himself. Bah! what good are peasants without a leader? Where ends the war without a brain and heart to conduct it? Again, when, after the battle of Mohács, we threw off the Hungarian yoke, we of the Dracula blood were amongst their leaders, for our spirit would not brook that we were not free. Ah, young sir, the Székelys — and the Dracula as their heart’s blood, their brains, and their swords—can boast a record that mushroom growths like the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs can never reach. The warlike days are over. Blood is too precious a thing in these days of dishonourable peace; and the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told.”

    —The Count himself (as reported by Jonathan Harker)

  125. John Cowan says

    we don’t even know for sure if “red Borgil” is Antares or Mars

    Actually we do. The astronomer and Tolkienist Kristine Larsen worked out that because Borgil rises after the Netted Stars (the Pleiades) and before the Swordsman (Orion), it has to be Aldebaran. Mars is ruled out by the time of day and by the fact that its Sindarin name is now known to be Carnil and Antares (which she does not mention) by its declination. Betelgeuse is by no means the first visible star in Orion to rise: that would be Bellatrix, which is not red (the star’s name is a compound born-gil ‘red-star’). Her article “A Definitive Identification of Tolkien’s “Borgil”: An Astronomical and Literary Approach” was published in Tolkien Studies volume 2 (2005). As Asimov said, keeping up with the literature is so difficult that the literature on “keeping up with the literature” is so voluminous that one cannot keep up with it.

  126. January First-of-May says

    So too, presumably, Frampol

    As well as Tripolye, of Cucuteni-Tripolye culture fame; there are apparently even some references to “Tripolian culture”, but the only actual etymological relation to Tripoli (< Tripolis) is in the “tri” part.

    (These days apparently spelled Trypillia, which makes it sound like a disease, or at least a bacterium.)

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