I’ve just started Beyond Pure Reason: Ferdinand de Saussure’s Philosophy of Language and Its Early Romantic Antecedents, by Boris Gasparov, and it’s already looking like an excellent read. Saussure was started on the path to linguistics by Adolphe Pictet, a pioneer I must have heard about when I was first learning the history of Indo-European studies but whom I’d long forgotten; since I myself was set on that same path by my fascination with dictionary etymologies, I thought I’d pass along this paragraph from page 20:

When Saussure first met Pictet—during summers in Vufflens, where they were neighbors—he was full of enthusiasm for the “magic” of etymology. According to Saussure’s own account, he caught the etymological fever from his maternal uncle, whose two hobbies—pursued “without a method, but with a wealth of ideas”—were building yachts after a mathematical system of his own devising and making etymologies; as Saussure noted wryly, both tended to sink equally fast (Saussure 1960 [1903]: 16-17). (This healthy irony notwithstanding, Saussure never lost his own passion for venturesome etymologies.)

He goes on to discuss the fifteen-year-old Saussure’s attempt to reduce all Proto-Indo-European syllables to twelve proto-roots (e.g., RAK represented a proto-idea of “violent power,” on the basis of Latin rex ‘king,’ German Rache ‘vengeance,’ etc.); he adds, “It is curious the extent to which this naive exercise recalls Velimir Khlebnikov‘s attempt to create a universal poetic language some forty years later, an intellectual event that (alongside Saussure’s Course) had a major impact on Jakobson‘s theory of phonological universalia,” which shows the value of having a Russian write this book.
One odd toponymic note: on page 16, Gasparov says the Saussure family “originated in Lotharingy”; I had never encountered this anglicized form of Lotharingia [or rather Lorraine] before, and as far as Google Books can tell, this is only the fifth time it’s been used in English (the others being in 1913, 1975, 1999, and 2009).


  1. marie-lucie says

    Saying that the Saussure family was from Lotharingia is almost like saying that my family is from Gaul, or rather Gallia. I doubt that the Saurrure family tree went back a thousand years and more. They must have been from Lorraine, not Lotharingia.

  2. i thought i recall the name,but maybe it was his father a scientist, botanist after who the plants family is named saussurea, snow lotus, one of which is our medicinal plant vansemberuu, i always liked the legend and song about the flower

  3. J.W. Brewer says

    For the majority of Saussure’s own lifetime, it was Lothringen according to the local government (as a result of the Franco-Prussian War), but Lotharingy still seems a weird enough Anglicization that I’m surprised it’s been done four times before.

  4. his father
    great uncle.

  5. marie-lucie says

    Ferdinand de Saussure was Swiss, from a distinguished French-speaking family who (according to the author) had left France for Switzerland centuries earlier, during a time of religious strife. The family would have called the region of their remembered origin la Lorraine, not Lothringen which is/was the German name, let alone Lotharingia, the Latin adaptation of the old Germanic name. But the name Lotharingia may have been used on some older documents written in Latin, relating to the family (in France, Latin was replaced by French as the legal language in 1559, but many other countries continued the use of Latin in legal documents until much later). It would be interesting to know in that contexts the rare word Lotharingy appears in English texts, since the region is normally referred to as Lorraine in English as in French.

  6. thanks, MMcM!
    the translation of the song’s lyrics is good, but not always exact, ochix bailaa is not would carry as a future possibility, but would have carried, as a lost chance, then it sounds a bit different, the lyrics, imo

  7. Huh. “Saxony” and “Picardy” don’t seem comical but “Lotharingy” does. Just what you’re used to, I guess.

  8. Presumably the translator took “Италия = Italy” and “Германия = Germany” as a model for converting Лотарингия to English, then just hoped for the best.

  9. Trond Engen says

    That makes sense, ar least seen from Norwegy.

  10. I found a Czech translation of The Three Musketeers that uses Lotharingy, surely in the sense of ‘Lorraine’ rather than ‘Lotharingia’. However, attempts to find it in Czech elsewhere on the Web are unavailing: I see only Lotharingie ‘Lotharingia’.

  11. this is only the fifth time it’s been used in English (the others being in 1913, 1975, 1999, and 2009)
    My friend used it once in the early 80s.

  12. They must have been from Lorraine, not Lotharingia.
    Yes, reading further it’s clear he’s using it as an equivalent of Lorraine; I’ve amended the post accordingly.
    Presumably the translator took “Италия = Italy” and “Германия = Germany” as a model for converting Лотарингия to English, then just hoped for the best.
    There’s no translator; Gasparov teaches at Columbia and writes in English. I presume “Lotharingy” is something he invented for himself as an equivalent of Лотарингия (Lotaringia, which is what the Russians call Lorraine) at an early age, and he somehow never discovered his mistake. This sort of thing happens to everyone who learns a foreign language, however well, but I’m shocked—or at least disappointed and irritated—that nobody at Columbia University Press noticed or cared.

  13. It would be interesting to know in that contexts the rare word Lotharingy appears in English texts
    1913 (Liverpool School of Architecture. Dept. of Civic Design, The Town Planning Review, Vol. 4, p. 200): “She [Antwerp between 1201 and 1206] took her place as a city amongst those of Lotharingy. The Duke of Brabant favoured her growing commerce and endowed her with numerous privileges and exemption of toll.”
    1975 (Celina Bobińska and Andrzej Pilch, Employment-seeking Emigrations of the Poles World-wide XIX and XX C., p. 91): “Newcomers from Galicia worked mainly as farm help on farms in Lotharingy and Burgundy.”
    1999 (Miguel L. Munguira, Action Plan for Maculinea Butterflies in Europe, p. 41): “Management of habitat with the species in Lotharingy: Since the species recently recolonised some sites in Belgian Lotharingy …”
    2009 (Jean-Denis G. G. Lepage, French Fortifications, 1715-1815: An Illustrated History, p. 215): “Devastated during 4th- and 5th-century invasions, Strasbourg grew again to a prosperous city belonging to the kingdom of Lotharingy and then to the German Empire (870).”
    Note that only the first of these appears to have been written by a native English-speaker. (I can’t find any biographical information on Lepage, who seems to write in English, except that he was born in 1952 and is “Dutch-based,” but with a name like Jean-Denis Gilbert Georges Lepage he’s unlikely to be a native speaker; it is odd that someone with such a very French name would settle on a form like “Lotharingy.”)

  14. John Emerson says
    There was a Sinogist Saussure who wrote a book about ancient Chinese astronomy which I couldn’t read. I seem also to remember an Egyptologist Saussure, but I can’t find him.

  15. We should remember that Gasparov’s source, from which he cribbed the biographical information (the Nekrolog of a German linguistics journal?), may have been writing in the 1870-1918 period, when the place was known as Lothringen. That makes the jump to Lotharingy much smaller.

  16. marie-lucie says

    I agree that “Lotharingy” must have been coined on a Latin (or French) model by non-English speakers who were not aware that many placenames ending in Latin -ia keep this ending in English, and that many other names have been created using this suffix (like Austria, Australia, Beringia and many others). Since the kingdom of Lotharingia has not been in existence for over a millenium, it is not surprising that few people outside of historians of Western Europe have heard about it.
    The 1913 and 2009 texts refer to the distant past, when the kingdom called in Latin Lotharingia (in French Lotharingie), created after the death of Charlemagne and his son, was very much larger than the current French province of Lorraine (which is how the Latin name evolved in French). Saussure’s known ancestors left la Lorraine (a duchy which was basically traded back and forth between France and Germany over the centuries), not la Lotharingie which by that time had long been extinct as a country.
    As to the other two quotations for Lotharingy, which do not refer to ancient history, the authors with Polish names (1975) must have adapted French Lotharingie which they recognized as their Lotaryngia while Lorraine may not have meant anything to them. The other author (1999), who might be Spanish or Portuguese, mentions “Belgian Lotharingy” which is strange: there is no Lotharingie or even Lorraine in the list of Belgian provinces (see map on Wikipedia), and Belgium itself is mentioned in the historical sketch as representing the former region of “Lower Lorraine” (actually Basse-Lotharingie a millennium ago) while the current French Lorraine was “Upper Lorraine”. Spanish, Portuguese and Italian all use Lorena for French Lorraine. Could Lotharingia or Lotharingian have a technical meaning in one of the sciences (like Solutrean or Castelperronian which few people know outside of geologists and prehistorians)?

  17. marie-lucie says

    Gary: the 1870-1918 period, when the place was known as Lothringen
    Indeed this would have been the name in a German journal, not in any French-language publications, which would never have used the German name or the ancient Lotharingie to refer to their Lorraine. That still does not explain the final -y.
    Question: why do the names of some countries or regions end in -y and others in -ia?
    – It must have to do with stress placement: compare ITaly and GERmany with ArmEnia, AustrAlia, AUstria, BerIngia, BolIvia, ColUmbia, LAtvia, LithuAnia, MauritAnia, NigEria, SomAlia, TanzAnia, etc. (ChEchnya also qualifies, since the -ya is due to transliteration from Russian but the sounds are the same as in English).
    Given this apparently unwritten rule, LotharIngia is fine, but “Lotharingy” not only looks strange but leaves one wondering where the stress should be, let alone whether the word should rhyme with “thingy” or “dingy”. This is one more reason to think that “Lotharingy” cannot have been coined by native English speakers.

  18. We should remember that Gasparov’s source, from which he cribbed the biographical information (the Nekrolog of a German linguistics journal?), may have been writing in the 1870-1918 period, when the place was known as Lothringen.
    His sources are much more varied than that, and almost all French or French-Swiss, as you would expect for a scholar who was very much on the French side of the great French/German divide of the time. (He studied at Leipzig, of course, and knew many German scholars, but always played down their influence on him, claiming, for instance, that he knew all about syllabic nasals long before Brugmann published his famous paper on them.)

  19. There are a lot of imaginary countries out there, and one of them is called, in the current English of the universe in which it exists, Scungria. But the English and the Scungrians have known each other for a long time, and back in early modern times, the country was Scungry, a word I have always found strangely haunting since I first heard it.
    My Sprachgefuehl says it’s “LotharINgy” and rhymes with dingy.

  20. Egyptologist Saussure
    Ferdinand’s mother Louise had a sister Isabelle married to Edouard Naville.

  21. With regard to Tanzania, the pronunciation I’m most familiar with is TanzanIa, with the stress on the ‘i’ (TanzanEEa) rather than the ‘a’ (TanzAnia). When I first saw the name of the country I read it TanzAnia but quickly changed after I heard people pronouncing it otherwise. The name Tanzania was created from ‘Tanganyika’ and ‘Zanzibar’ and represents a union of the two territories.
    m-l’s point about the stress is well taken, but it seems to me that this doesn’t explain why a word went one way or the other. For example, GERmany but GerMANia. Both terms are found, one being the country, the other being the name of the area to the Romans. The different stress certainly goes with the ‘y’ ending but doesn’t necessarily determine it. It is pure convention that certain places end in ‘-y’ (mostly under French influence) and others end in ‘-ia’.
    For example, Germany, Lombardy, Sicily, Gascony, Picardy, Brittany, Burgundy, Normandy, Thessaly, Saxony, Muscovy, Tartary, Barbary, Turkey, Araby (limited, archaic), etc.
    Compare French: Germanie (for Germania), Lombardie, Sicilie, Gascogne, Picardie, Bretagne, Bourgogne, Normandie, Thessalie, Saxonie (usually Saxe), Moscovie, Tartarie, Barbarie, Turquie, Arabie. (Note that a few of the French names end in ‘-gne’, not ‘-nie’.)
    Compare also Italian: Germania, Lombardia, Sicilia, Guascogna, Picardia, Bretagna, Borgogna, Normandia, Tessaglia, Sassonia, Moscovia, Tartaria, Barbaria (?), Turchia, Arabia. (Note that stress in Italian Lombardia appears to be on /i/, Lombar’di:a, and also in Turchia?).
    Spanish has: Germania, Lombardía, Sicilia, Gascuña, Picardía, Bretaña, Borgoña, Normandía, Tesalia, Sajonia, Moscovia, Tartaria, Barbaria (Berbería?), Turquía, Arabia. (Note the stress differences at certain names, e.g. Lombardía, which don’t seem to be related in any systematic way to English stress. For example, the stress or length pattern in ‘Lombardía’ doesn’t bear any relation to the stress in English ‘Lombardy’.)

  22. My Sprachgefuel agrees with JC’s.
    But then, I think I’ve always thought and said TanzanIa.

  23. I agree with marie-lucie’s intuitions about stress placement, but I think all of this is variable. For example I pronounce the country name Armenia with the stress on the second syllable (Armènia), as do (I think) all English speakers, but the Who have a song about (I think) a different place, which, though spelled the same, is pronounced Armenìa City in the Sky (with stress on the third syllable)

  24. Shouldn’t the latter be Armonia?

  25. marie-lucie says

    The “unwritten rule” I mentioned may just be a tendency. As to why some countries or regions are found with both endings (alternately), this seems to have to do with the period in which the name is attested. Older names adapted through French tend to have -y (from -ie), as in Araby while those which were coined on the Latin pattern and newer names following the same pattern tend to have -ia, as in Nigeria.
    Older French words in gne come from Latin names in nia, as in Bretagne from Britannia. These are all names of regions within France or just next door (Bretagne, Gascogne, Catalogne), while Saxony is the English word for a region which was never part of France: the normal French name of “Sachsen” is la Saxe, and “Saxonie” could be a once-only calque from Latin. Bourgogne is slightly more complex: it corresponds to Burgundy from Latinized Burgundia, but the ending nd of some Germanic languages often corresponds to nn in others, so it is likely that there was a Latinized form Burgunnia, the ancestor of Bourgogne, besides Burgundia. In Normandy from Normandie, -mand- is an alternate form of -mann ‘man’. The region received its name at a much later date than the others, so there was never a “Normannia” which would have become “Normagne”.

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