Is there a reason why Germany (Deutschland) is called so many different things in other European languages?

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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.

victoriah

Posted 2011-08-04T23:38:06.270

Reputation: 551

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 – 2011-08-05T08:11:17.077

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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 – 2011-08-05T21:46:18.883

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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 – 2011-08-05T22:00:36.547

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. – 2015-10-18T13:08:17.530

Related question on [history.se]: Why are Germans referred to so differently in different languages?

– unor – 2016-05-27T22:29:33.560

One can add yet another differently looking word for Germany: Vokietija in Lithuanian – bli – 2017-01-12T14:35:54.177

Answers

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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.

annalphabetin

Posted 2011-08-04T23:38:06.270

Reputation: 759

1Your supposition about Tyskland is correct. Tysk stems from the pre-nordic þýdisker which is a cognate of the High German diutisc. – Stovner – 2011-08-31T13:03:35.073

4In 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 – 2015-09-12T08:11:10.713

@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 – 2015-10-14T09:01:34.057

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 – 2015-10-14T16:57:09.333

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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 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.

Tom Au

Posted 2011-08-04T23:38:06.270

Reputation: 8 562

1Without having done research on this, I'm quite sure that "Deutschland, deutsch" comes from the people of "Teutonen". – Deve – 2011-08-05T17:47:52.253

@Dave: An interesting idea. – Tom Au – 2011-08-05T20:01:11.610

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 – 2011-08-06T13:08:35.893

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@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 – 2011-08-06T16:38:43.247

@z7sg: Good to know. I "sort of" knew that, but "sort of" isn't the same as actually knowing. – Tom Au – 2011-08-06T22:13:52.977

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 – 2015-09-12T08:03:31.107

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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

efefef

Posted 2011-08-04T23:38:06.270

Reputation: 31

1plus, "Niemcy" means "the German People" in more language than just Polish, but i Polish it is also the name of a country. – efefef – 2016-06-16T09:43:39.710

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 – 2016-06-16T11:36:32.450