Monday, 5 October 2009

Welsh and walnut

Proto-Germanic *walho-z "foreigner" shows up in Old English wealh "Celt, Briton", Old Norse Valir "Gauls", French Wallon. It was borrowed into Slavic, for instance Czech vlach, apparently meaning "Italian". The Anglo-French Waleis shows up in the name Wallace. With the adjectival -ish suffix, *walho-z became English Welisc, then Welsh.

Old English walhhnutu is wealh plus hnutu "nut". Etymologically it "meant the nut of the Roman lands (Gaul and Italy) as distinguished from the native hazel" according to the OED.

According to Skeats, wealh in the plural was wealas "foreigners", which became Wales.

8 comments :

bulbul said...

Czech vlach, apparently meaning "Italian"
Used to be, now it's really archaic. There is, however, a region in the Czech Republic called Valašsko. Polish still has "Włochy" for Italy.
See also Wallachia in present-day Romania and this.

Glen Gordon said...

You know me but I'm a stickler for linguistic accuracy. The *o in your Germanic form should be long (*walxōz) and just for everyone's information another variant exists, *walxaz. (see link).

Being obsessed with language prehistory, I wanted to know for myself where *walxaz ~ *walxōz comes from only to discover that, as the story goes, this term was taken from the name of a tribe of neighbouring 'foreign' Celts whose name appears in Latin as Volcae. I have yet to know what this Celtic name is from however. I suspect that more intriguing and foreign factoids lurk in the darkness for me to uncover...

Glen Gordon said...

Eureka! I think I found something on the Celtic Volcae. It simply means 'wolves' (Ó Hógáin, The Celts: A history (2003), p.50) based on Celtic *ulkʷo- from the familiar PIE root *wĺ̥kʷo-. West explains that the term 'wolf' is commonly applied in Indo-European cultures for 'brigands' and 'outlaws' who 'live in the wild' (West, Indo-European poetry and myth (2007), p.450).

Andy said...

Nifty. I guess this is the first element of Wealhþeow's name, then. I'm not really up on Old English... does anyone know the second half of her name?

goofy said...

Glen, I got that info from the OED; I guess it's out of date.

goofy said...

I believe "þēow" is "servant, slave"

vp said...

Could *walxaz be a cognate of Sanskrit वर्ष (varṣa) "division of the world"? Seems possible if there is a *PIE root something like welḱ-

John Cowan said...

Tolkien wrote about this in his essay "English and Welsh" (sorry for the bad formatting: copy and paste the whole thing into Notepad or a similar text editor), and so far as I know his conclusions have not been contradicted. A connection with wolf does not make semantic sense: the Italic-speakers (the Romans and their successors) to whom the word was applied by Germanics, far from bearing the wolf's head (being outlaws), were the most civilized bunch around.

It's not 100% clear whether it was first applied to Celtic- or Italic-speakers, but the appearances in Slavic are clearly borrowings from Germanic langs. In OE it came to mean 'slave', but we also get OE-specific compounds like wælhstod 'interpreter', clearly originally one who spoke both Welsh and English, later generalized.