Names for the German language

Names for the German language

The origin of the name for the German language varies between languages, in a similar way to the various names for Germany.



In Italian the sole name for German is still tedesco, from the Latin theodiscus, meaning "vernacular".


A possible explanation for the use of words meaning "mute" (e.g., nemoj in Russian, němý in Czech, nem/nijem in Serbian) to refer to German (and also to Germans) in Slavic languages is that Germans were the first people Slavic tribes encountered with whom they could not communicate.

Romanian used to use the Slavonic term "nemţeşte", but "germană" is now widely used. Hungarian "német" is also of Slavonic origin. The Arabic name for Austria, النمسا ("an-namsa"), is derived from the Slavonic term.

Note also that though the Russian term for the language is немецкий (nemetskij), the country is Германия (Germania). However, in certain other Slavic languages, such as Czech, the country name (Německo [ɲɛmɛt͡sko]) is similar to the name of the language, německy ([ɲɛmɛt͡skɪ]).

Finnish and Estonian

Finns and Estonians use the term saksa, originally from the Saxon tribe.

North Germanic languages

Scandinavians use derivatives of the word Tyskland/Þýskaland (from Theodisca) for the country and tysk(a)/þýska for the language.


Hebrew traditionally (nowadays this is not the case) used the Biblical term אַשְׁכֲּנָז (Ashkenaz) (Genesis 10:3) to refer to Germany, or to certain parts of it, and the Ashkenazi Jews are those who originate from Germany and Eastern Europe and formerly spoke Yiddish as their native language, derived from Middle High German. Modern Hebrew uses גֶּרְמָנִי germaní (Or גֶּרְמָנִית germanít for the language).

Other Romance languages

The French term is allemand, the Spanish term is alemán, the Welsh term is almaeneg, the Catalan term is alemany, and the Portuguese term is alemão; all derive from the ancient Alamanni tribal alliance, meaning literally "All Men".


The Latvian term vācu possibly comes from the German word Volk (folk, people).


Lithuanian term for the German language is "Vokiškai" or "Vokiečių kalba" for the German language.


The Scottish Gaelic term for the German language, Gearmailtis, is formed in the standard way of adding -(a)is to the end of the country name.

See also

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