Slovak: Place names including the sound [g] in Slovakia

Panceltic

Senior Member
Slovenščina
I have noticed that there is a number of towns/villages in Slovakia including the letter <g> and sound [g] which is supposedly absent from native Slovak phonology (having evolved into [ɦ] written as <h>).

Some examples: Galanta, Gelnica, Gabčíkovo, Gbely, Graltovce

Any reason/explanation how these names came to be? And is there a similar phenomenon in the Czech republic? I only found Golčův Jeníkov as an example in Czech.

Thanks!
 
  • jasio

    Senior Member
    I have only a vague knowledge of the Slovak language, so take my words with a grain of salt, but as far as I am aware, even though an etymological [g] had evolved into [ɦ], the Slovaks still pronounce the [g] consonant:
    etc. Perhaps it was a result of Hungarian or German influence, but it's just a guess. Retaining or re-gaining a consonant after such a shift is not quite obvious though, compare for example Ukrainian, in which [ɦ] in place of [g] seems to be consistently pronounced, even in the loanwords:
    So apparently, in Slovak [g] and [ɦ] are two functional and distinct phonems, while in Ukrainian they are not - perhaps save for some dialects.

    At least one of the names you mentioned - Gabčíkovo - is pretty modern, to commemorate Jozef Gabčík – Wikipedia, wolna encyklopedia, so in a sense it does not count (except that he was a Slovak by birth and nationality). Two other locations are in the region of Trnava, close to Austrian-Hungarian border, so one might suspect Hungarian or German influence, but it's just a guess. According to English and Polish Wikipedia, the name of Gelnica - Wikipedia was adopted from its German form, Göllnitz, which apparently was loaned from Slovak before the [g] -> [ɦ] shift (the near-by river is called Hnilec, though, with the same roots).

    Giraltovce - Wikipedia is said to have been named after the founder, Geralth.

    So, considering the presence of the [g] sound in the modern language I'm not surprised that it's used also in the names of locations. Considering past German and Hungarian influence - and in the eastern Slovakia also of the Karpatorusyn language - each name should perhaps be traced individually.
     

    le.magicien.bergier

    New Member
    Slovak
    I have noticed that there is a number of towns/villages in Slovakia including the letter <g> and sound [g] which is supposedly absent from native Slovak phonology (having evolved into [ɦ] written as <h>).

    Some examples: Galanta, Gelnica, Gabčíkovo, Gbely, Graltovce

    Any reason/explanation how these names came to be? And is there a similar phenomenon in the Czech republic? I only found Golčův Jeníkov as an example in Czech.

    Thanks!
    We pronounce "g" like "g". Not absent at all. Exists not only in names but in common words as well. In the beginning, in the middle and at the end also. dict.cc | English-Slovak dictionary | Anglicko-slovenský slovník - Letter G - Page -4
     

    francisgranada

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    According with what has been written before, I'd like to add that phonetic changements or soundshifts in languages typically do start in a certain "moment", but they do/may also finish after some period .... Thus, meanwhile in Ukrainian or Russian there is still no difference between the consonants g and h, in Slovak and Czech they are now two separate sounds.

    The Slovak (and Czech) words inherited from Proto-Slavic, necessarily can contain only the sound "h", as result of the evolution of the original Slavic "g". The words now containing "g" are de facto loanwords, whatever be their origin or etymology.

    As to the Slovak toponyms, the situation is a bit more complex:
    - there are toponyms, phonetically of clear Slavic origin (Hnilec, Hron, .....)
    - there are Slavic toponyms "reborrowed" mostly from Hungarian that still maintain the original Slavic "g" (Gelnica < hu. Gölnic, germ. Göllnitz < *Hnilec ?)
    - there are spontaneousely "slovakized" toponyms of Hungarian (or German) origin (Prešov < hu. Eperjes, Spiš < hu. Szepes, Šariš < hu. Sáros, Kežmarok < hu. Kézsmárk < germ. Käsemarkt)
    - there are toponyms whose names were artificially changed/replaced/slovakized for political or nationalist reasons in the 20th century (Gabčíkovo- originally hu. Bős; Hurbanovo - originally hu. Ógyalla .....)
     
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    jasio

    Senior Member
    As to the Slovak toponyms, the situation is a bit more complex:
    (...)
    - there are spontaneousely "slovakized" toponyms of Hungarian (or German) origin (Prešov < hu. Eperjes, Spiš < hu. Szepes, Šariš < hu. Sáros, Kežmarok < hu. Kézsmárk < germ. Käsemarkt)
    Situation with toponyms is often even more complex than that. For example, as far as I am aware, when Hungarians arrived in Spiš/Spisz in late 11th century, the name had already been there - perhaps even from a pre-Slavic age..
     

    francisgranada

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Situation with toponyms is often even more complex than that ....
    Of course.
    For example, as far as I am aware, when Hungarians arrived in Spiš/Spisz in late 11th century, the name had already been there - perhaps even from a pre-Slavic age..
    The etymology I know is szepes < szép + es, where szép means "nice, beautiful" and -es is a common suffix for creating adjectives (of Finno-Ugric origin). This explanation seems to me plausible because historically the name Szepes county appears as the name of an administrative unit, i.e. not a settlement, river, mountain, etc .... Further more, the Szepes region was sparsely or not inhabited in those times, thus it seems probable that this name is rather a later Hungarian creation, like e.g. Sáros, Borsod, Abaúj and other county names.

    The medieval Latin name was Zepus, which perfectly corresponds to Hungarian szepüs, taking in consideration the medieval Hungarian orthography. The vowel ü in Szepüs instead of e in Szepes is a regional/dialectal variant, often present in medieval manuscripts.

    However, there exist other etymolgies as well, so everything is possible .... I suppose the pre-Slavic/pre-Hungarian/pre-German/etc .... names are typical or probable rather for more "stable" toponyms like rivers and mountains (Dunaj, Tatry, ....)
     
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    Eirwyn

    Senior Member
    Russian
    According with what has been written before, I'd like to add that phonetic changements or soundshifts in languages typically do start in a certain "moment", but they do/may also finish after some period ....
    I doubt anyone can even have a synchronical rule about "g" changing to "ɦ" without a cultural background telling that these two sounds are related. They just seem too distant from each other acoustically: [g] is close to [ɣ] and [ɣ] is close to [ɦ], but the outermost sounds are not. Even if Czech and Slovak (as well as many Ukrainian dialects including the literary language, by the way) didn't acquire [g] as a separate phoneme, it would probably be substituted with [k] rather than [ɦ].
     

    jasio

    Senior Member
    The etymology I know is szepes < szép + es, where szép means "nice, beautiful" and -es is a common suffix for creating adjectives (of Finno-Ugric origin).
    Indeed, since we're discussing a name of the region, I find it quite plausible that it was established by an external administrative power, perhaps extending an existing name of a specific location to the whole region. If this is really the case, density (and ethnicity) of the pre-existing local population is not very much relevant.

    However Ondruš argues that the pattern of the sonants in the Hungarian name of Szepes does not violate Slavic phonotactics, so there would be no reason to modify it to sound well (after all, it's not Székesfehérvár, which is fairly impossible to remember and pronounce by non-Hungarians.;)). On the other hand, loaning an existing Slavic name of Spiš to the Hungarian language would require breaking the consonant cluster and a vowel harmonisation, which are attested with other toponyms in Slovakia as well. So, according to his reasoning, it's more likely that it had been a Slavic name loaned into Hungarian rather than the other way round. If this is the case, resemblance to a common (and quite fitting, indeed) Hungarian word would only have helped accepting the name.

    Ondruš derives the name of Spiš from the word which would have meant "a cut forest". However, considering that the area was inhabited since the Celtic times, conquered by Great Moravians (9th century from the West or the North), Poles (in early 11th century from the North, probably along the rivers) and then by the Hungarians (late 11th century and onwards, gradually from the South), and each of them established their own administration, I tend to think that the name itself may be in fact older, and was only adapted to the subsequent languages.

    It was a side topic anyway.


    EDIT: I added the actual names here and there to make it easier for other followers
     
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    francisgranada

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    .... (after all, it's not Székesfehérvár, which is fairly impossible to remember and pronounce by non-Hungarians ;)).
    Yes :) .... Only for curiosity: this is a pure orthographic convention, or better a "rule" invented in the 19th century, i.e. the components of a place name have to be written together. As if e.g. Rio de Janeiro should have to be written Riodejaneiro .... "Normally" it is székes fehér vár (= approx. "residential white castle", as once it was the seat of the king, i.e. the capital of the Kindom of Hungary).
    ..... Ondruš argues that the pattern of the sonants in the Hungarian name does not violate Slavic phonotactics, so there would be no reason to adapt the Hungarian name at all .....
    I know this etymology, as well. However, you are right: it's only a side topic here, so I shall not continue arguing. Perhaps, we can start a new topic in future if we find it interesting or relevant enough .....
     
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