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March 14, 2005


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And Romanian also sounds very cool, don't you think? Unfortunatly, very often it also sounds incomprehensible to me :-( Ah well, i just have to study a bit more :-D


Wouldn't lingura 'spoon' have to be a later borrowing from Romance, since earlier Latin words with -ng- underwent a sound shift? Including lingua itself: Latin lingua to Romanian limba, with the same meanings of 'tongue, language'.


Hi Doug.

I'm not 100 pc sure I'm right, but it seems much more likely to me that LINGURA (spoon, or its diminutive LINGURITA) is derived from LINGE, to lick, and possibly contaminated with GURA (mouth - same word as the French GUEULE). You get the Latin root that gave the Romanian LINGE in the English LINCTUS and, much more recognisably (and naughtily), in CUNNILINGUS.

It's quite possible that -ITA (pronounced -ITSA) is a Slavic suffix in Romanian (and for all I know that may be the orthodox etymology), but it's not dissimilar to the Spanish -ITA, the Italian -ETTA, the French -ETTE. It may be that versions of all these suffixes, which clearly have a common thread, were sloshing around in the Indo-European substratum long before the Romans and the Slavs. Intriguingly, this suffix is stressed in Romanian, while it never is, to my knowledge, in Slavic languages. And most Romanian words that are direct Slavic borrowings (of which there are squillions), such as VEVERITA (squirrel), follow the traditional Slavic stress pattern (ie, the first syllable is stressed). All in all, LINGURITA may be more complex than it looks.

Anyway, this is my two pennies' worth of pedantry. Bear in mind that the official etymological dictionary for Romanian, commonly known as the DEX, is old and often full of shit, so its entries are to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Enjoy exploring Romanian.



Actually the original "lingula" meant "little tongue", so "linguria" actually has two diminutive suffixes. :-)

Carlos is partially right: if it had followed the regular phonetical changes, it should look "lembur". But Romanian was among the first languages to split from the Latin tree. (the only one that was earlier was Sardinian, but that's another story)

Andre is also partially right: this is an example of folk etymology: people assumed that "lingula" is related to "lingere". Now if you're wondering why "linge" never ng->mb change, it's because of the soft "g".


So you're saying that Romanian split off early, the ng -> mb sound change took place (producing limba), and then it borrowed lingula 'little tongue' from Late Latin? That makes sense. It's a little like how English picked up both 'chair' and 'chaise' from French.


Bogdan, that's very interesting. Would it be confusing things too much to note the existence of Latin lingulatus, "tongue-shaped, lingulate"?

Andre, I'd already started to wonder about the DEX. To give just one example, it insisted that the Romanian word for father, tata, was derived from Latin. Now, this is not altogether ridiculous -- there are several examples of "tata" used in Latin to mean, roughly, "daddy" or "papa", a childish corruption of the correct word pater. But tata is also used in Serbian and Russian to mean "father", where it sits in the middle of a cluster of related words (like Serbian otats, "father [respectful]"). Which was more likely -- that the ur-Romanians borrowed the precise word from their neighbors, or that they back-converted the old Latin word for "daddy"? The DEX solemnly insists that it's Latin, period.

I won't even go into the Balkan sprachbund, except to say that nobody I've met wants to hear about it.

Doug M.


Carlos: No. Romanians had both the words lingula and lingua when they split off. In fact, there was no direct Latin influence afterwards. But there were Latin words borrowed from the Slavs (!!!), such as "oet" (tata: it is indeed attested in Latin and is also used in many Italian dialects. It is also present in Dalmatian (Vegliot) as the word "tuota" (same meaning), which shows the characteristic sound change "a -> uo".

About the Balkan sprachbund: it's interesting that every language which took part in it (Slavs, Latins, Greeks, Albanians) also shared some of its more interesting features: vocabulary, grammar rules, morphology, phonology, etc.

For example one of the goodies the Slavs brought was "-ia"/"-itza" suffix (now used in Romanian, Albanian and Greek).

You know about the Bulgarian influence over Romanian, but did you knew that also Romanian influenced Bulgarian, including the exchange of words such as "kta" (from Rom. casa, house) and "masa" (from Rom. masa, table).


Bogdan, I guess I am not seeing why lingua would undergo the ng -> mb shift while lingula would not. Did the diminutive change the value of the following vowel?


Carlos, "folk etymology" is when people associate two unrelated words and think they have a common root. In this case, it's "linge" (to lick) and "lingura" (spoon).

"Linge" (pronounced "lin-dje", with "dj" as in French) did not undergo the ng -> mb because of the soft "g". "Lingura", had a hard "g" and ought to follow the phonetic change, but since it was thought to be related to "linge", it followed the example of "linge".


Bogdan, I guess I am still confused. Before the sound shift, wouldn't lingura be considered similar to lingua, especially if the -ura/-ula diminutive suffix was still productive? Since sound shifts are 99+% regular, I am not quite seeing how lingura escaped the process.

For that matter, why didn't folk etymology preserve lingua through contamination with linge? After all, tongues lick.



Just a query: LINGERE doesn't have a soft G, except in the conventional Romanian (or Italian, I guess) pronunciation of Latin: if you study Latin coming from any other language, LINGERE will be pronounced with a hard G, as the Romans pronounced it -- ie (using Romanian or Italian spelling) LINGHERE, not LINGERE. (By the same token, Romanians read the Latin QU- as KF (ex: QUORUM read as KFORUM), which is untrue to the actual Latin pronunciation (as KW) and is probably nothing more than an import from the practice of Latin studies in Germany.)

But that's by he by. In any case, the root is LING-, which would have served as the stem, no? And there's no suggestion of a soft G there.

Doug, re: TATA -- the Poles also have it. I suppose, once again, it must have been knocking around way back. As must have BABBO/BABA for GRANDPARENT, which is alive and kicking from Italy to Russia. So DEX must die!



Andre, Classical Latin had indeed hard G, but this was not true for Vernacular (Vulgar) Latin.

All current Romance languages split from Vulgar Latin after the the softening of "G" and "C". See for example: Cer, Ciello, Ciel, Cielo, etc, but no "Kel-".

About the Latin "QU", indeed, the Romanians had their early contacts with Classical Latin from the Germans (in Transylvania) or Poles (in Moldavia).



actually "kyshta" () is considered to be of non-Slavic origin but it has allegedly entered modern Bulgarian language from the language of the old Bulgars. There are other Bulgarian words in circulation which sound in a similar way and are related to home and family (also coming from the language of the old Bulgars), e.g. "bashta" ( - father). There might be Romanian influence on Bulgarian language but I doubt about this particular word.


English daddy, Irish daidn, daid, Middle Irish datn, foster-father, datnait, foster-mother, Welsh tad, Cornish tat


Doug, Carlos,

It's simple : the transformation is not ng > mb

the transformation is:

gua > b that's all

Let's Try NOW:

lingula > lingura [-l- > -r-] > lingura
lingua > [gua > b] > linba > [nb > mb] > limba

It's oK. Isn't it????


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