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German, Dutch, Deutsch, Teuton, Almain: A Germanic Etymology

German, Dutch, Deutsch, Teuton, Almain: A Germanic Etymology

What do the words German, Dutch, Deutsch, Teuton, and Almain have in common? I recently learned the Norwegian word tysk, which translates to “German, of or relating to the German people.” The word tysk comes from Old Norse þýðverskr, þýzkr, which comes from Proto-Germanic *þiudiskaz meaning “of or relating to a people.”

The English cognate of the Norwegian tysk is Dutch, which means “German” rather than “of or relating to the Netherlands and Belgium.” The word Dutch meaning “of or relating to the Netherlands and Belgium” is basically the same word as Dutch meaning “German.” Both forms developed from the same Proto-Germanic meaning “of or relating to a people.” Both refer to modern peoples descended from Germanic tribes. The Dutch meaning “Germanic” is largely archaic, with the Dutch referring to the Netherland and Belgium the largely default meaning.

However, the English Dutch meaning “German” is preserved in the American English Pennsylvania Dutch, which refers to the people (and their language) who came from the Palatinate region of Germany during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The Pennsylvania Dutch word for Pennsylvania Dutch is Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch. The Deitsch comes from the Middle High German diutsc, from Old High German diutisc, diutisk, from Proto-West Germanic *þiudisk, from Proto-Germanic *þiudiskaz, and is thus a cognate of tysk and Dutch. All three words (Deitsch, tysk, and Dutch) come from the same Proto-Germanic and mean “of or relating to a people.” Words that refer to “of or relating to a people” often develop into words for countries, peoples, and languages.

Moving across Europe into another country descended from the Germanic tribes, the German word for “German” is Deutsch, which also ultimately comes from Proto-Germanic *þiudiskaz. The German word for “Germany” is Deutschland, or literally “German country.” That land is related to the English land as in England, Scotland, and Finland. The Norwegian word for Germany is Tyskland, a cognate of Deutschland.

Other cognates of Tysk, Dutch, and Deutsch are the Scots Dutch, Icelandic þýskur, Swedish tysk, and Danish tysk.

The English word Germany ultimately comes from Latin Germānia meaning “land of the Germans”, from Germānī. The Irish word is the cognate Gearmáin. The Romans invaded the areas now known as Ireland and England, giving both languages the Latin word. (Latin also gave English the word Britain, from Latin Brittannia, a variant of Latin Britannia, from Britannī, which was reinforced by native Old English Breten, which also came from the same Latin Britannia.)

Latin also gave English another word for Germany: Almain. Almain is a historical and archaic word for “German.” English Almain comes from Latin from Alemannī, Allemannī. The Latin Alemannī means “a confederation of German tribes.” Descendants include the Catalan Alemanya, French Allemagne, Portuguese Alemanha, Spanish Alemania, and Turkish Almanya, all of which refer to Germany. From my studies of the Romance languages, I know the Spanish “alemán/alemana” and French “allemand/allemande,” all of which mean “German.”

The word Germanic, referring to the peoples and languages, comes from Latin germānicus, from Latin Germānus. Germanic differs from modern German, which refers to the people and language of modern-day Germany. The Latins used Germanic to refer to the tribes distinct from the Gauls and originally from the east of the Rhine. Modern descendants of the Germanic tribes include the Danish, Dutch, Frisian, English, German, Faroese, Icelandic, Yiddish, Norwegian, and Swedish peoples. Modern descendants of the Germanic languages include the above as well as Afrikaans.

Another related Latin word is Teutonic, from Latin Teutonicus, from Teutonēs, Teutonī meaning “the Teutons”, which was the Latin name for a Germanic or Celtic tribe that inhabited coastal Germany and devastated Gaul between 113-101 BCE. Teuton is likely related to English Dutch and German Deutsch through an even older Proto-Indo-European word *tewtéh meaning “people.” The English Teutonic is an archaic word that refers to the “Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family.” The Teutons were also a specific group of ancient Germanic peoples. (Other Germanic tribes include the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Frisians, Franks, Goths, and Vandals.)

So, what do the words German, Dutch, Deutsch, Teuton, and Almain have in common? All five developed from words describing various Germanic peoples whose contemporary ancestors include the Danish, Dutch, Frisian, English, German, Faroese, Icelandic, Yiddish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

For more information about influences on English, see Viking and Norman Influences on the English Language and A Short History of the English Language.

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Learning Norwegian as an English Speaker: Learn, Teach, Why, Live, Nearby

Learning Norwegian as an English Speaker: Learn, Teach, Why, Live, Nearby