*Walhaz is a reconstructed Proto-Germanic word meaning "Roman", "Romance-speaker", or "Celtic-speaker". The term was used by the ancient Germanic peoples to describe inhabitants of the former Western Roman Empire, who were largely romanised and spoke Latin or Celtic languages (cf. Valland in Old Norse). The adjectival form is attested in Old Norse valskr, meaning "French"; Old High German walhisk, meaning "Romance"; New High German welsch, used in Switzerland and South Tyrol for Romance speakers; Dutch Waals "Walloon"; Old English welisċ, wælisċ, wilisċ, meaning "Romano-British". 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 from an inscription on one of the Tjurkö bracteates, where walhakurne "Roman/Gallic grain" is apparently a kenning for "gold" (referring to the bracteate itself).

From *Walhaz to welsch

*Walhaz 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 Οὐόλκαι / Ouólkai (Strabo and Ptolemy).[2] This tribe occupied territory neighbouring that of the Germanic people and seem to have been referred to by the proto-Germanic name *Walhaz (plural *Walhōz, adjectival form *walhiska-). It is assumed that this term specifically referred to the Celtic Volcae, because application of Grimm's law to that word produces the form *Walh-. Subsequently, this term *Walhōz 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 generalised this name first to all Celts, and later to all Romans and Romanised peoples. Old High German Walh became Walch in Middle High German, and the adjective OHG walhisk became MHG welsch, e.g. in the 1240 Alexander romance by Rudolf von Ems – resulting in Welsche in Early New High German and modern Swiss German as the exonym for all Romance speakers. For instance, the historical German name for Trentino, the part of Tyrol with a Romance speaking majority, is Welschtirol, and the historical German name for Verona is Welschbern.

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

From *Walhaz to Vlach

In Central and Eastern Europe, the word for Romance peoples was borrowed from the Goths (as *walhs) into Proto-Slavic some time before the 7th century. The first source using the word was the writings of Byzantine historian George Kedrenos in 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), Turks ("Ulahlar") 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. Ottoman Turks in the Balkans commonly used the term to denote native Balkan Christians (possibly due to the cultural link between Christianity and Roman culture), and in parts of the Balkans the term came to denote "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

Numerous names of non-Germanic, and in particular Romance-speaking, European and near-Asian 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 [ˈvwɔxɨ], the name of Italy, and Wołoch, referring to Vlachs and historically Romanians.
  • in Hungarian: "Oláh", referring to Romanians, Oláhország to Wallachia; "Vlachok" referring to Romanians/Vlachs, generally; "Olasz", referring to Italians.
  • in Serbo-Croatian and Bulgarian: Vlah (влах) – to Romanians or other Romanian/Vlach subgroup. Also in Vlašić, the mountain in Bosnia and Herzegovina named after the Vlach shepherds that inhabited it.
  • in Ukrainian: Voloh (волох) – to Romanians.
  • in Russian: Valah/Valakh (валах) – to Romanians.
  • in Greek: Vlahi/Vlakhi (Βλάχοι) – to Romanians or other Romanian/Vlach subgroup (e.g. Aromanians, 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; Walachei – to any land inhabited by Vlachs, as well as "remote and rough lands", "boondocks";
  • in Czech and Slovak: VlachOld Czech for an Italian,[4] Valach – to Romanians or to their Slavic-speaking descendants inhabiting Moravian Wallachia; a gelded horse.
  • in Turkish: Eflak – to Wallachia and "Ulahlar" 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 and Wallasey, near Liverpool.
    • Waledich or wallditch (weahl + ditch) was the pre-Victorian name of Avebury stone circle in Avebury, Wiltshire[5]
    • Galwalas, Old English name for people of Gaul or France
  • Numerous attestations in German (see also de:Welsche):
    • in village names ending in -walchen, such as Straßwalchen or Seewalchen am Attersee, mostly located in the Salzkammergut region and indicating Roman settlement
    • The name of the German village Wallstadt, today a part of the city of Mannheim, originates from the Germanic Walahastath
    • In German Welsch or Walsch, outdated for "Romance", and still in use in Swiss Standard German for Romands.
    • in numerous placenames, for instance Walensee and Walenstadt, as well as Welschbern and Welschtirol (now almost always Verona and Trentino), also in:
    • in Walser German, Wailschu refers to Italian/Piedmontese
    • There is a street in Regensburg named Wahlenstrasse, seemingly once inhabited by Italian merchants. In other German places like Duisburg one can find a Welschengasse, or an Am Welschenkamp, referring to French speaking inhabitants[6]
    • In Southern Austria, "welsch" is a prefix that generally means Italian. E.g. the wine variety "Welschriesling", common in Styria, Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary (actually not related to the white Riesling variety). It is often used as a rather sweeping, pejorative word for the nearest people of Latin/Romanic origin (the remaining neighbours of Austria being "Tschuschen" – Slavs – and "Piefke" (Germans).
    • Kauderwelsch (Danish: kaudervælsk, Norwegian: kaudervelsk, Dutch: koeterwaals) is a German word for gibberish and derives from the Rhaetoroman dialect of Chur in Switzerland.
    • Welche, the French spelling of Welsch, refers to an historical Romance dialect in Alsace bordering German-speaking Alsace
    • Rotwelsch is the language of traveller communities in Germany.
  • In Dutch:
    • The Belgian region of Wallonia, cf. Dutch Waals Walloon, Walenland, Wallonië
    • The former island of Walcheren
    • The Calvinistic Walloon church in the Netherlands, whose native language is French
  • In most langues d'oïl, 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".

Pennsylvania German

In the 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 for "turkey" are Welschhaahne and Welschhinkel, which literally mean "French (or Roman) chicken". "Welschkann" is the word for maize and literally translates to "French (or Roman) grain." The verb welsche means "to jabber".


The Yiddish term "Velsh" or "Veilish" is used for Sephardi Jews and the Rashi script.

Family names

The element also shows up in family names:

  • in Dutch:
  • in English:
  • in German:
    • Welsch, Welschen, Welzen,[6] Welches, Wälsch, Walech, Walch, Wahl, Wahle, Wahlen, Wahlens, Wahlich, Wälke (in part indirectly through forenames such as Walcho)[9]
  • in Greek:
  • in Hungarian:
  • In Irish: (all derived from Gall)
    • Mac Diarmada Gall, Dubhghall, Gallbhreatnach, Ó Gallchobhair, Mac an Ghallóglaigh
  • Jewish-Polish:
    • Bloch, a Jewish family name, that derives from Polish Włochy
  • in Polish:
    • Włoch, Wołoch, Wołos, Wołoszyn, Wołoszek, Wołoszczak, Wołoszczuk, Bołoch, Bołoz
  • in Romanian
    • Olah, Olahu, Vlah, Vlahu, Valahu, Vlahuță, Vlahovici, Vlahopol, Vlas, Vlasici, Vlăsianu, Vlăsceanu, Vlaș, Vlașcu
  • Slavic:
    • Vlach, Vlah (cyr. Влах) (forename, also for Blaise)

Historic persons

  • Ieremia Valahul (Italian: Geremia da Valacchia) (Jon Stoika, 1556–1625), Capuchin priest, b. in Tzazo, Moldavia ("Vallachia Minor" or "Piccola Valacchia", i.e. Small Wallachia) Romania, beatified in 1983
  • Saint Blaise (Croatian: Sveti Vlaho, Greek: Agios Vlasios), patron saint of Dubrovnik, an Armenian martyr
  • Nicolaus Olahus (Latin for Nicholas, the Vlach; Hungarian: Oláh Miklós, Romanian: Nicolae Valahul) (1493–1568), Archbishop of Esztergom

Other words

  • 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 włoskie translates to ‘Italian nuts’ (włoskie being the adjectival form of Włochy).[10]
  • Several German compound words, such as Welschkohl, Welschkorn, Welschkraut, literally mean "Welsh/Italian cabbage" (referring to Savoy cabbage) and "Welsh/Italian corn" (referring to either maize or buckwheat).[6]

See also


  1. Arend Quak (2005). "Van Ad Welschen naar Ad Waalsen of toch maar niet?" (PDF) (in Dutch). Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 February 2012. 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 13 January 2008. Note: The Vlach Connection
  4. http://nase-rec.ujc.cas.cz/archiv.php?art=3323
  5. "Avebury Concise History". Wiltshire County Council. Retrieved 1 April 2009.
  6. 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).
  7. "Surname Database: Wallace Last Name Origin". The Internet Surname Database. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  8. "Surname Database: Waugh Last Name Origin". The Internet Surname Database. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  9. Konrad Kunze: dtv-Atlas Namenkunde, dtv 2004, p. 89, ISBN 3-423-03266-9
  10. "Online Etymology Dictionary". Etymonline.com. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
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