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Excuse me if this is off-topic.

When I'm learning other languages, I usually (99% of the time) find that "England" is either the same or very similar in the other language. However, I know at least five different names now for Germany in the other languages that I know... Deutschland (German), Germany (English), Tyskland (Swedish), Allemagne (French), Niemcy (Poland), Saksa (Finnish). I was wondering if there was some particular reason why this is so.

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I guess you meant that "Germany" is English, fixed that for you. @RegDwight (and others): If the answer is the same as on ELU, would it be redundant or should it be copied to GL&U? –  OregonGhost Aug 5 '11 at 8:11
The most ironic thing is that in contrast, the Germans themselves add a tendency to name all foreign countries and people with very similar names... To quote wikipedia :"The Germanic invaders of the Roman Empire applied the word "Walha" to foreigners they encountered and this evolved in West Germanic languages as a generic name for all non-Germanic speakers; thence, the names Wallachia, Vlachs, Wallonia, Walloons, Wales, Wallasey, and even the Polish name for Italy, Włochy." –  Alain Pannetier Aug 5 '11 at 21:46
This is an absolutely fascinating topic. Needless to say that it has already attracted the attention of many scholars. To refer to Wikipedia again, there is a dedicated article which summarises the most widely accepted theories. Time permitting I'll add my 2 cents. –  Alain Pannetier Aug 5 '11 at 22:00

3 Answers 3

There were different Germanic tribes and thus the people living in the Germanic territory were called differently by the peoples around them.

In English it was chosen the overall expression for all Germanic tribes: German. In French and Spanish the "Alemannen" a south western tribe (and therefore locally closer to France and Spain) seemed to have left an impression: allemand, alemán.

For me, Saksa seems to follow the same pattern: the "Saxons" where the tribe in the North East, and therefore close to Finland.

The words deutsch, tedesco (ital.) and I suppose Tyskland as well derive from the Old High German word diutisc, "belonging to the people/of the people".

An addition: "deutsch" derives from the Proto-Germanic stem *þeodisk- ('*' indicates reconstruction), meaning "of the people" or "popular". It invaded (Late?) Latin via some Germanic dialect as "theodiscus" and was used in legal documents to refer to regional languages in contrast to Latin. At that time its use wasn't restricted to the languages of Germanic tribes nor the ones in modern Germany, Austria, etc.. It was instead used to refer to all popular languages.

The first attested usage of "deutsch" (or rather "diutisc") is from a Middle High German poem called "Annolied" composed in the late 11th century. Here, "diutisc" is used as an umbrella term for Franconians, Saxons and Bavarians.

The words related to Niemcy in the Slavonic languages mean something like "mute", nie meaning "not" and m being a root for "to speak", like mówić in Polish for example. This is due to the fact that Slavonic languages are on a basic level mutually understandable, so the Polish tribes could talk to all their neighbours which were other Slavonic tribes, except the Germans.

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Your supposition about Tyskland is correct. Tysk stems from the pre-nordic þýdisker which is a cognate of the High German diutisc. –  Stovner Aug 31 '11 at 13:03

Germany is a central European country. Because of that fact, it attracts attention from widely disparate countries on all sides.This reminds me of the story of the six blind man and the elephant, where each blind man grabbed a different part of the animal, and therefore had a different view.

I consider the Swedish "Tyskland" a variation of "Deutschland," after allowing for the differences in language. The word Deutschland itself seems to resemble "Dutch," and may be a reference to the North Sea area. That's particularly true in Canada and USA, where "Dutch" often refers to "German," as opposed to "Netherlands."

Germany seems to stem from the Roman Germania, specifically a reference to the east bank of the Rhine. Allemagne also probably originated in Roman times, and was, I believe, a Gallic (French) reference.

The Finnish Saksa seems to be a reference to Saxons, a particular GrOUP of Germans that the Finns may have come into contact with.

Niemcy in Polish seems to be derived from "Nie" (not) something, apparently the way the Poles felt about the Germans.

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Without having done research on this, I'm quite sure that "Deutschland, deutsch" comes from the people of "Teutonen". –  Deve Aug 5 '11 at 17:47
@Dave: An interesting idea. –  Tom Au Aug 5 '11 at 20:01
I've read that Russian немец meaning German (and similarly other Slavic languages like Polish) derives from немой meaning mute. It used to mean simply foreigner, but came to mean German. However, Russians call the country itself Германия. –  z7sg Ѫ Aug 6 '11 at 13:08
@z7sg, the meaning of mute has to be compared to "one of the the more prominent theories regarding the origin of the term "Slav" suggests that it comes from the Slavic root slovo (hence "Slovenia," "Slovakia"), meaning "word" or "speech." In this context, the Slavs describing Germanic people as "mutes" — in contrast to themselves, "the speaking ones"." excerpt cited from wikipedia. –  Alain Pannetier Aug 6 '11 at 16:38
@z7sg: Good to know. I "sort of" knew that, but "sort of" isn't the same as actually knowing. –  Tom Au Aug 6 '11 at 22:13

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