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Brass replica of the Tjurkö Bracteate showing the word walhakurne ('Roman coin')

*Walhaz (ᚹᚨᛚᚺᚨᛉ) is a reconstructed Proto-Germanic word, meaning "foreigner", "stranger", "Roman", "Romance-speaker", or "Celtic-speaker". The term was used by the ancient Germanic peoples to describe inhabitants of the former Roman Empire, who were largely romanised and spoke Latin or Celtic languages. The adjectival form is attested in Old Norse valskr, meaning "French", Old High German walhisk, meaning "Romance", Modern German welsch, used in Switzerland and South Tyrol for Romance-speakers, Dutch Waals "Walloon", Old English welisċ, wælisċ, wilisċ, meaning "Romano-British", and Modern English Welsh. The form of these words imply that they are descended from a Proto-Germanic form *walhiska-.[1] It is attested in the Roman Iron Age Tjurkö Bracteate inscription as walhakurne "Roman/Gallic grain", apparently a kenning for "gold" (referring to the "bracteate" itself).

From *Walhaz to welsch[edit]

Walh is almost certainly derived from the name of the tribe which was known to the Romans as Volcae (in the writings of Julius Caesar) and to the Greeks as Ouólkai (Strabo and Ptolemy).[2] This tribe occupied territory neighbouring that of the Germanic people and seem to have been referred to by the Old Germanic name *Walhaz (plural *Walhôz, adjectival form *walhiska-). It is assumed that this term specifically referred to the Celtic Volcae, because application of the first Germanic sound change to that word produces the form *Walh-. Subsequently, this term Walhôz was applied rather indiscriminately to the southern neighbours of the Germanic people, as evidenced in geographic names such as Walchgau and Walchensee in Bavaria.[1] These southern neighbours, however, were then already completely Romanised. Thus, Germanic speakers generalized this name first to all Celts, and later to all Romans. The Old High German Walh became Walch in Middle High German, and adjectival OHG walhisk became MHG welsch, e.g. in the Romance of Alexander by Rudolf von Ems-–resulting in Welsche in Early New High German and Modern German as the exonym for all Romance speakers.

Today, Welsch is not in standard German usage except in Switzerland. This term is used there not only in a historical context, but also as a somewhat pejorative word to describe to Swiss speakers of Italian and French.

From *Walhaz to Vlach[edit]

Main article: Vlachs

In Central and Eastern Europe, the word for Romanic people was borrowed from the Germanic Goths (as *walhs) into Proto-Slavic some time before the 7th century.[citation needed] The first source using the word was the writings of Byzantine historian Kedrenos, from the mid-11th century.

From the Slavs the term passed to other peoples, such as the Hungarians ("oláh", referring to Vlachs, more specifically Romanians, "olasz", referring to Italians) and Byzantines ("Βλάχοι", "Vláhi") and was used for all Latin people of the Balkans.[3]

Over time, the term Vlach (and its different forms) also acquired different meanings, like "shepherd" – from the occupation of many of the Vlachs throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

The Polish words Włoch (pl. Włosi), "Italian", and Włochy, "Italy", and the Slovenian lah, a mildly derogatory word for "Italian", can also be mentioned.

Toponyms and exonyms[edit]

Numerous names of non-Germanic, and in particular Romance-speaking, European regions derive from the word Walh, in particular the exonyms

Consider the following terms historically present in several Central and Eastern European, and other neighbouring languages:

  • in Polish: Włochy, the name of Italy, and Wołoch, referring to Vlachs and historically Romanians.
  • in Hungarian: "Oláh", referring to Romanians, "Vlachok" referring to Romanians/Vlachs, generally; "Olasz", referring to Italians.
  • in Serbo-Croatian and Bulgarian: Vlah (влах) - to Romanians or other Romanian/Vlach subgroup.
  • in Ukrainian: Voloh (волох) - to Romanians.
  • in Russian: Valah (валах) - to Romanians.
  • in Greek: Vlahi/Vlakhi (Βλάχοι) - to Romanians or other Romanian/Vlach subgroup (e.g. Macedo-Romanians, Megleno-Romanians, etc.)
  • in German: Wlachen or Walachen - to Romanians of other Romanian/Vlach subgroups; Wallach - a Romanian horse, i.e. a horse that has been gelded, as the Romanians gelded their war horses for practical reasons.
  • in Czech and Slovak: Valach - to Romanians or to their Slavic-speaking descendants inhabiting Moravian Wallachia; a gelded horse.
  • in Turkish: Eflak - to Romanians or other Romanian/Vlach subgroup.
  • In Slovene: Laški, archaic name referring to Italians; it is also the name of several settlements in Slovenia, like Laško near Celje, or Laški Rovt near Bohinj. Laško is also the old Slovene name for the area around Monfalcone and Ronchi in Italy, on the border with Slovenia. These names are linked to the presence of larger nuclei of Romance-speaking populations at the time where the Slavs settled the area in the 6th century.

In Western European languages:

  • in English:
    • Wales, Welsh
    • Cornwall
    • The names of many towns and villages throughout the North and West of England such as Walsden in West Yorkshire.
    • In English usage the words Gaul and Gaulish are used synonymously with Latin Gallia, Gallus and Gallicus. However the similarity of the names is probably coincidental: the English words are borrowed from French Gaule and Gaulois, which appear to have been borrowed themselves from walha-. Germanic w is regularly rendered with French gu / g (cf. guerre = war, garder = ward), and the diphthong au is the regular outcome of al before a following consonant (cf. cheval ~ chevaux). Gaule or Gaulle can hardly be derived from Latin Gallia, since g would become j before a (cf. gamba > jambe), so the regular outcome of Latin Gallia would have been *Jaille in French.[4][5] This also applies to the French name for Wales, which is le pays de Galles.
    • waledich or wallditch, (weahl + ditch) was the pre-Victorian name of Avebury stone circle, in Avebury, Wiltshire [6]
    • Walnut, from Old English walhnutu (wealh+ hnutu) meaning "Roman nut", as it was introduced from Gallia ("Gaul") and Italy.[7]
    • Galwalas, Old English name for people of Gaul or France

See also de:Welsche

  • In most Oïl languages[9] and Irish, walhaz was borrowed and altered by changing the initial w to g (cf. English "war" French guerre, English "William" vs. French Guillaume or even English "ward" vs. "guard", borrowed into English from French) resulting in Gaul- : Gaule "Gaul", Gaulois "Gaulish". (These terms are not related to the terms Gallic or Gaelic — which are likewise etymologically unrelated to each other — despite the similarity in form and meaning. See Names of the Celts for more information.)
    • French (pays de) Galles, gallois > Italian Galles, gallese "Wales", "Welsh".
    • The traditional Irish term Galltacht[dubious ], "region of Ireland where a foreign language is spoken" (in this case, English), as opposed to the Gaeltacht, where Irish is spoken.

Pennsylvania German[edit]

In Pennsylvania German language, "Welsch" generally means "strange" as well as "Welsh," and is sometimes, although with a more restricted meaning, compounded with other words. For example, the words in Pennsylvania German for "turkey" is "Welschhaahne" and "Welschhinkel," which literally mean "French (or Romanic) chicken". "Welschkann" is the word for maize and literally translates to "French (or Romanic) grain." The verb "welsche" means "to jabber".


The Yiddish term "Velsh" or "Veilish" is used of Jews of Spanish and Italian origins, and in particular of their Hebrew script.

Welsch/Walsch in family names[edit]

The element Wels(c)h/Wals(c)h also shows up in family names:

Historic persons[edit]

Other words[edit]

  • The walnut was originally known as the Welsh nut, i.e. it came through France and/or Italy to Germanic speakers (German: Walnuss, Dutch okkernoot or walnoot, Danish valnød, Swedish valnöt). In polish "orzechy wloskie" translates to italian nuts (wloskie being adjective of "Wlochy")[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Arend Quak (2005). "Van Ad Welschen naar Ad Waalsen of toch maar niet?" (PDF) (in Dutch). Retrieved 7 January 2015. 
  2. ^ Ringe, Don. "Inheritance versus lexical borrowing: a case with decisive sound-change evidence." Language Log, January 2009.
  3. ^ Kelley L. Ross (2003). "Decadence, Rome and Romania, the Emperors Who Weren't, and Other Reflections on Roman History". The Proceedings of the Friesian School. Retrieved 2008-01-13. Note: The Vlach Connection 
  4. ^ Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (OUP 1966), p. 391.
  5. ^ Nouveau dictionnaire étymologique et historique (Larousse 1990), p. 336.
  6. ^ "Avebury Concise History". Wiltshire County Council. Retrieved 2009-04-01. 
  7. ^ a b "Online Etymology Dictionary". Etymonline.com. Retrieved 7 January 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Ad Welschen: 'Herkomst en geschiedenis van de familie Welschen en de geografische verspreiding van deze familienaam.' part II, in: Limburgs Tijdschrift voor Genealogie 30 (2002), 68-81; separate bibliography in: Limburgs Tijdschrift voor Genealogie 31 (2003), 34-35 (nl).
  9. ^ The Northern French Oïl dialects (Northern Norman, Picard, Champenois, Burgundian, Bas-Lorrain and Walloon) retain w as [w] or as [v ] cf. la Plaine des Vaulois "the Plain of the Gauls" (pays de Caux)
  10. ^ "Surname Database: Wallace Last Name Origin". The Internet Surname Database. Retrieved 7 January 2015. 
  11. ^ "Surname Database: Waugh Last Name Origin". The Internet Surname Database. Retrieved 7 January 2015. 
  12. ^ Konrad Kunze: dtv-Atlas Namenkunde, dtv 2004, p. 89, ISBN 3-423-03266-9