88

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.

  • 10
  • 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
  • 9
    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
  • 6
    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
  • In Italian "German" is "tedesco". Sometimes people would say that using this word was convenient cuz Germans would have no idea that you are talking about them. That must just be a joke anyways.. – E.V. Oct 18 '15 at 13:08
73

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.

  • 2
    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
  • 6
    In short, with different emphasis: Germany was very late to become a nation. Unlike most other big European nations, it lacked most criteria for a nation before the period of nation building caused by the French revolution (1789). Deutsch was just a common language and until about the midd-16th century it wasn't even that. (It was a continuum of dialects.) Consequently, neighbours referred to the individual tribes/peoples that were most relevant to them and generalised their established term to include the others as well. – Hans Adler Sep 12 '15 at 8:11
  • 1
    @HansAdler: Just about the continuum of dialects: This continuum still exists. For most German native speakers Standard German is some kind of foreign language, because most of them do not learn Standard German as their first language, but a dialect. Take me as example: I learned the dialect spoken in the south-east region of Steiermark. This dialect uses a pronunciation with many diphthongs, often uses other words then Standard German and has a different grammar (there is no genitive in my native dialect, but beside singular and plural there is also a rudimentary dual) – Hubert Schölnast Oct 14 '15 at 9:01
  • 1
    Yes, of course the continuum of dialects still exists. But it received a supraregional written standard, and that makes a big difference because such a standard has a huge influence on the dialects in a continuum. We tend to notice how English is affecting German at the moment; the influence of standard German on the dialects is much greater. It doesn't just make it possible for people from Flensburg and people from Steiermark to communicate without effort using a common almost-foreign language. It also makes their dialects converge, or at least diverge slower. – Hans Adler Oct 14 '15 at 16:57
8

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 men 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 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.

  • 1
    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
  • 2
    @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
  • 1
    The similarity of deutsch and Teutonen is compelling but accidental. Deutsch started as a Germanic word for the 'popular languages', i.e. all languages other than Latin, even Slavic ones. The Teutons were just one of many Germanic-speaking tribes that slowly developed a common dialect continuum, and much later a common standard language and a national identity. But the wide-spread assumption of an etymological connection has left some real traces in German and even more in English, similar to a self-fulfilling prophecy. – Hans Adler Sep 12 '15 at 8:03
  • 1
    You speculate about things that you could easily have looked up. – Carsten S Jul 18 '18 at 7:48
4

slavonic "Niemcy" (read: n-yem-tsi|) derives form "niemy" or "niemowa" (nie = no, mowa = speech) - due to the reason they were the only relevant neighbor (form poinf of viev of early middle ages slavic tribes) which whom they couldn't talk to. The opposite term for that is the word "a slav" itself - slovianin - from word "slovo" - "a word" - due to the fact each slavic languages are fair enough to say mutually understandable to some degree

  • 1
    plus, "Niemcy" means "the German People" in more language than just Polish, but i Polish it is also the name of a country. – efefef Jun 16 '16 at 9:43
  • This does not answer the question, and the information is already contained in one of the answers; maybe with less detail, but then this could have been a comment, or possibly an edit, there. – Carsten S Jun 16 '16 at 11:36
4

In addition to what others already said, you may expect this to be a common situation, actually. A nation's neighbors often call it by the closes tribe to each particular neighbor. The problem here is that nations often expand and conquer each other, so the fact that Germany has so many names just mean that they were unable to conquer/eliminate their neighboring nations (which happen to be relatively powerful, as we know now). Or, as others said, they appeared pretty lately and faced strong competitors around them.

If you look closely, you will see that smaller countries/nations surrounding some big one often give that big one different names. Being Russian I can give my homeland as an example. In most countries, its names are similar: Russia, Ryssland, Russie, etc. But if you look to our smaller neighbors, you'll see Finish Venäjä and Estonian Venemaa (both named after Slavonic tribe of Viatichi), Latvian Krievija (after the tribe Krivichs or Krivichi). Smaller ethic groups in Russia can present even more names, for example Udmurts call Russian "Dzhootch" (I've no idea where could this name came from. After the tribe Drevliane? Not sure.).

2

Germany itself had many names in its history and its own language.

  • Germanien
  • Heiliges Römisches Reich (Deutscher Nation) = Holy Roman Empire (of the German Nation)
    • Regnum Teutonicum = Kingdom of the Teutonics/Germans (northern parth of the Holy Roman Empire)
  • Deutscher Bund/Deutsches Kaiserreich = German Confederation/German Empire
  • Weimarer Republik
  • Deutsches Reich = Nazi Germany
  • West-Deutschland = Federal Republic of Germany / Ost-Deutschland = German Democratic Republic

Additional to that, "Dutch" was already given to the language spoken in the Netherlands in 16th and 17th centuries (In both Belgium and the Netherlands, the native official name for Dutch is Nederlands). It first described people speaking the language used in the vague region somewhere in between the Netherlands and Germany when people came from the Netherlands to America. All these settlers influenced the development of the dutch language and the two languages happened to have less in common. So for German they had to use another term to differentiate it from Dutch.

1

According to a comment at https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/29028/why-are-germans-referred-to-so-differently-in-different-languages

"The Koreans ended up with dogil because it's the Sino-Korean reading of the Japanese 独逸/ ドイツ doitsu, which is more clearly a loan of Deutsch."

0

I think the answer can be given very briefly:

As initially there was no such thing as "the Germans" but the area was inhabited by various tribes with different names, and their respective neighbours used either those names or names they made up for them (as the Slavonic "nemec" for "not speaking", meaning: "not speaking our language"), and a nation state comprising most of them was created late, it is quite logical that there are different names around.

0

This is not only Germany which is called by different names. I can tell you many more countries/regions which are called with different names.

1. Iran is also called Persia, Arya, Iranshahr,Iranzamin and Aryānām.
2. India is also called, Bharat, Hindustan,Nabhivarsha,Tianzhu,Al-Hind, Hidush etc
3. Turkey is also called Ottoman Empire, Turquie,Turchia,Turkye,and Torke. 

This question is regarding the evolution of country names. In different parts of the world names could be different for the same country. Therefore multiple naming of a country should not be confused with other things.

  • Most of your names are simply local variations sharing the same root. Whether you call it England, Inglaterra or Англия, the name means land of the Angles. Turquie, Turchia, Turkye and Torke simply reflect the different pronunciation in different languages.And Ottoman Empire is as much a name for Turkey as East Francia, Holy Roman Empire or Confederation of the Rhine is for Germany. In addition to your valid examples (Persia/Iran, India/Bharat/...) one could also mention Japan/Nippon or Greece/Hellas. – Frank from Frankfurt Aug 13 at 20:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.