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Friday, November 30, 2012

Why Is "German" So Malleable?

Not the language, but the name for the language. Here it is in a few European languages:
German
Allemand
Tedesco
Saksa
Njemački
Deutsch
Vokietijos
Tyska

By comparison, look at the word for Italian in the same languages:
Italian
Italien
Italiano
Itialainen
Talijanski
Italienisch
Italijos
Italienska

Wow, that is a whole heck of a lot less variation... but why?

6 comments:

  1. Geography and politics, and the fact that both made the Germans less centralized and thus less easily denominated in a consistent fashion. That would be my guess, anyway.

    Spain and Italy are peninsular, so even without political centralization, the lands easily lent their names to the inhabitants. France was quicker to consolidate politically, while the Germans were all over the place, adhering to relatively arbitrary geographic designations and identifying themselves by various smaller political units but also, embarrassingly, by that very large political unit the Holy Roman Empire. Even now the Austrians, who are also largely Germans, have a national name that simply means "East Empire."

    Also, because they occupied a central part of Europe, the extreme branches of the German peoples came into contact with many different peoples who didn't have such steady contact with one another. Central location, tribal dispersion, lack of insular or peninsular definition, and feudalism all contributed.

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  2. Here's etymological background courtesy of the Internet, http://linguaphiles.livejournal.com/344988.html

    I'm kicking myself for not realizing that Deutsch and Tedesco are basically the same.

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    Replies
    1. Very interesting. Thanks!

      Here is the etymology for Austria (Österreich). Though Wikipedia translates "Österreich" rather with "Eastern Kingdom". The name originated from "norig" which was used by the Celtic people.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Name_of_Austria

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  3. How vast was the Germanic tribes' empire? How about Italy?

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  4. In Russian, for years the "German" and the "Foreign" was a synonym (Nemcy. Gene here presented similar Slavic Njemački), used till this day in meaning specific to Germany. Reasons? Hanseatic League, most likely.

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  5. What's funny is, when I was learning Japanese (or trying to) I found out that they use almost the closest term for "German" to what Germans call themselves: "doitsu".

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