Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Language of Confusion: Germany

Yes, Germany. Why? Well, I find it interesting to learn about one quarter of my source genetic material (as if the last name isn’t clue enough, my dad’s family is of German extraction, specifically Prussian, pre-unified Germany). Also, I think it’s weird that we call the country “Germany” when in its own language, it’s known as “Deutschland.”

The name isn’t entirely out of the blue. Germany (the word) first showed up in the fourteenth century from the Latin Germania. There was a region called Germania in the third century BCE, the name stemming from Gallic. The exact translation isn’t known, but it’s thought to be neighbor or men with spears.

So, English takes the name from Latin. If you translate the name into other languages, you can see that many other countries call it the same thing, most of them outside of Europe (except for Italy, there aren’t any in western Europe at all). Germany itself as well as Scandinavian and many Asian countries, refer to it as some variation of Deutschland, which comes from the Proto Germanic (the language ancestor of the Germanic languages) theudo (popular, national), which goes further back to Proto-Indo-European teuta, or people. Deutsch as a language name (not this particular language name) was first used in the eighth century CE by Charlemange and a few years later, the language we know today took it as a name. At least in their country. It took five more centuries for it to refer to the people as well, but the reason for that is more because the mindset during the middle ages was that people belonged (like property) to their lord/king/emperor and thus did not have a national identity (no actual citation for this since it’s just something I remember from my college history class).

Other variations include Alamanni, the name of a tribe that lived in the region, given to them by yet another Roman emperor in the third century CE and coming from Alamanniz, a proto-Germanic word for all-men or foreigners. It is used in several European countries, some Middle Eastern and African languages. Next we have variants of the word Saxon, used in a few Baltic nations and possible derivations from the Germanic volk used in a few others. Popular in Slavic countries is variations on nemtsy, although the origin of this particular moniker is even more murky than volk.

This time, I’m afraid I had to use Wikipedia for some of this information, which means its accuracy is in question. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find many online sources for the origin of its name and I couldn’t get to the library : (. Boo, I know, but most of these were cited. Small comfort, I know. I hate not being able to look at primary sources. The first thing I learned in college was not to use Wikipedia as a source ever. You can use it as a starting place, but never, ever as a source. And I don’t blame them. Luckily, the Online Etymology dictionary was able to confirm the stuff about Alamanni, Germany, Deutsch and Saxons.

Thanks to the Online Etymology Dictionary, Google Translate and, I suppose, Wikipedia.

I really loathe writing that.


  1. This is one of those things I've wondered about, but never bothered to look up. Very cool! And I think you're allowed one Wikipedia use per month once you're out of college, or something like that. ;)

  2. I use Wikipedia all the time. Please don't tell my students.

  3. Bribes about not telling students will be expected.


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