Cultural and Language Connections of the Slavs

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Cultural and Language Connections of the SlavsNearest neighbors of the Slavs on their Urheimat were the ancient Germanic tribes of Goths and the ancestors of the modern Dutch which areas were located to the south. This is supported by borrowings from these languages into Proto-Slavic. The borrowings from the Gothic are numerous and well known, but the Dutch language preserved signs of an old neighborhood with the Slavs too. Slavic word verva “a willow” has a good match only in Dutch werf “the same”. Slavic words zvon “ringing” and maly “small” has good correspondences in the Dutch language, while similar words of other Germanic languages stay phonetically farther. Occupying the area around the Masurian marshes on Kashubian upland and along the Baltic coast, away from the powerful centers of civilization, the Slavs carried out patriarchal life as hunters and fishers for a long time. They were undoubtedly aware of live-stock, but arable farming, if existed, had very primitive forms. It is known that the folk exorcism keeps deep depths of popular culture and reveals that "agrarian magic of the Slavs was deposited in known us exorcising idioms only in a minor extent," while "the fish is represented in a very archaic view of the world" . Evidence that the Slavs did not know many cultivated plants are their names borrowed from the later neighbors. None of the names of the cultural cereal has satisfactory etymology in Slavic basis, not to mention vegetables and fruits. Contrariwise, Slavic loan-words in German for the names of fish confirm the thought about the great importance of fishery in Slavic economy. Giving example of such names as Ukelei, Plötze, Peissker, Sandart, Güster, Barsch etc, A. Popov points out that adoption of these word occurred during the process of the Germanization of the Slavs Slavs in Central and Eastern Germany, "and the Slavic fishermen longest resisted this process" .

There were on the territory occupied by the Slavs many lakes and small rivers therefore the population had no problems with nourishment especially since fish products after simple processing lend themselves well to storage. The sufficient feed inevitably resulted rapid population growth and the Slavs left their home land for a long time because fisheries provide much greater opportunities for food than hunting. Information for North America evidences that the density of the population engaged in fishing is 3-4 times higher than that of hunters . So when the Slavs had reached the level of "maximum economic function" their number was very large. This explains the fact that the Slavs settled eventually a vast area from the Vistula River to the headwaters of the Oka.

There is documentary evidence of fish abundance on Slavic territory, although at more recent times, although there is no reason to think that the fish were less before:

“The abundance of fish in the sea, rivers, lakes and ponds is so great that it seems just incredible. One denarius can buy the whole cart of fresh herrings, which are so good that if I were to tell everything I know about their smell and thickness, it would risk being accused of gluttony”

The preferential occupation of fishing in the terrain rich of different water basins shaped largely the distinctive psychological features of the Slavs. Fishing does not require the combined efforts of large groups, and abundant fish stocks of rivers and lakes precluded a brutal struggle for land, as it was, say, among the nomads. Accordingly, unlike their contemporary nomadic folks Slavs were more peaceful, but at the same time independent and democratic, that was more disadvantage as advantage at that time. These features of the Slavic were noted by Byzantine historians, describing the Slavs as follows:

“These tribes, the Slavs and the Antes are not managed by one person, but living in old, popular sovereignty, and so they have happiness and unhappiness in life is a matter of common ... Their life way is, like Massagetae, rude .. but in fact they are not bad and not evil”
“The tribes of Slavs and Antes are similar in their way of life, in their manners, by his love for freedom, they can never be persuaded to slavery or the subjugation in their country. They are numerous, hardy, tolerate easy heat, cold, rain, nakedness, lack of food ... Not having a head over and quarrel with each other, they do not recognize the military order, can not fight in the battle proper, appear in the open and level ground”
Another business of the Slavs was, apparently, bee-keeping, what was already pointed out by M. Pokrovsky paying attention to the common Slavc names of bees, honey and hive . These words were inherited by the Slavs from Indo-European roots, which may indicate old and long times of their beekeeping engagement. This kind of business made it possible in the forest zone to provide large amounts of nutritious product for the long winter . Bee-keeping is also a purely individual and especially peaceful occupation and also influenced the formation of the psychology of the Slavs, about which certain features are been talking a little now but two centuries ago one talked about them without hesitation:
“They (the Slavs – V.S.) were kind-hearted, prodigal till extravagance, lovers of village liberty, but submissive and obedient, alien to robbery”
Settling the peripheral areas of common Indo-European territory for a long time, the Slavs stayed almost without cultural influences of the civilized world, which was generally located further south from their settlements. This point of view was held by scientists who seriously studied the culture of the Slavs on the basis of historical, archaeological, ethnographic, and linguistic sources, such as Lyubor Niederle. This Czech Slavist concluded that "the Slavic culture has never reached the level of the adjacent ones, could not equalize with them on wealth and has always been poorer than eastern cultures, as well as the Roman, Byzantine, and even German cultures" . We will return to the problem of the backwardness of Slavic material culture later, but now even indicate that the spiritual culture of the ancient Slavs, respectively, was very low, as it is evidenced by custom to kill children and the elderly, by the remains of phallic worship, promiscuity, polygamy, polyandry. The remnants of such customs long preserved in Russia, Ukraine, and the Balkans . According to some sources cannibalism was also not uncommon, although this was denied by L. Niederle .

Low cultural level of the ancient Slavs is reflected not only by the findings of objects of material culture or customs, but also by lexical structure of their language. For an example, the Proto-Slavic language had no words to express the gratitude and obligation. Only when the Slavs migrated into the basin of the middle Dnepr, their western, right-bank branch borrowed these words from the Germans. The Ukrainian words diakuvaty “to thank” and musyty “to must”, which to like have all West Slavic languages, as well as Belarusian, have Germanic origin. The astern, left-bank branch of the Slavs has no common words of similar sense. They appear in the South-Slavic and Russian languages much later, in historical times after spreading this Slavic branch over wide area. All scholars are agree that the Slavic words like diakuvaty and musyty have the Germanic origin, but the Soviet times it was believed that they came to the Ukrainian language through Polish . However, the presence of these words in the Trans Carpathian dialects contradict such an explanation and, therefore, Ukrainian scientists tactfully avoided to discuss this question. For example, these words are not mentioned at all in the substantial book on the history of the Ukrainian language, despite that the origin of less common words is considered . A Polish linguist A. Brückner, speaking about Germanic origin of Pol. musić, wrote: "The anarchic Slavs have no own word for duty, they borrowed it (e.g. Old. Cz. dyrbjeti from Germ. dürfen )". Thou he and other scholars believed that these borrowings occurred around the 14th century, and the Ukrainian and Belarus words were loaned from Polish dziękować and musić. However Ukr. diakuvaty and a Pol. dziękować are clearly different phonetically, therefore the Ukrainian word could not be borrowed at later time. Usually such Polish loan-words in Ukrainian keep predominantly Polish phonetics. In the paper, specially devoted to the mutual borrowing of Polish and Ukrainian languages, there is no mention of or the word diakuvati, nor the word musyty, perhaps, the author did not consider them as Polish borrowings
Meanwhile, the Ukrainin word djakuvaty is a perfect example of historical development of Slavic vocalism well researched by scholars . Considering the laws of this development, we can easily ascertain that this word was derived from Old Germ. *þanka. A diphthong -an in the borrowed Germanic word, according with the law of an open syllable, based on the principle of increasing sonority, had turned in Slavic language in a some nasal vowel reflected by the letter “jus small” in Church Slavonic. This sound exists in Polish till now being conveyed by the letter ę. The old Germanic þ was reflected in Slavic languages as palatalized d’ (in German, by the way, - in d, and in English - in θ). Accordingly, we have now such Polish form dziękować, and similar Old Ukrainian word had the form *d'ękowatь. It is known, that nasal vowels have disappeared in the Ukrainian language, as well as in many other Slavic languages, and the “jus small” has coincided with ja, and the form djakuvaty occurred. A. Brückner explained Pol. dziękować as a derivative from Cz. dik, dieka. The borrowing, on his opinion, occurred in the 14th century. To explain Polish nasal ę, he supposes existence for that time nasal vowels in the Czech language . However any evidences about existence the nasals in the Czech language at that time are not found, and they have disappeared in East-Slavic languages, e.g. in the middle of the 10th century . The processes, which passed in Slavic vocalism according the tendency of growing sonority, have ended during disintegration Proto-Slavic language unity . Thus, the borrowing of Ukr. djakuvaty and other similar west Slavic words has taken place approximately in those days when the Slavs have settled on the former lands of Germen. Obviously, it was substratum Baltic word as the Balts lived here befor the Slavs and have adopted the German word. The establishment of the time of borrowing word musyty is impossible for the present, as it has no specific phonetic features. However by analogy we may assume, that its borrowing occurred at the same time.
The origin of the Ukrainian words bešket “roistering”, bešketnyk “a brawler” is interesting too as analogues to them are not present in any other Slavic languages. The more so that, they are been presented mainly in the East Ukraine. However, before looking for the origin of the word bešket we have to remember that typical for the Western Slavic languages the word škoda was borrowed from Germ *skaþуn which has match in modern German Schaden. This borrowing happened till the time when Old Germ. sk began to be spelled as š. Ukr. skyba (Germanic *skábó(n), German Scheibe) has been borrowed at that time too, while in contrary Ukr. words šyba, šybka having the same Germanic root were borrowed through Polish from German at later time, after the transition sk in š. The transition sk in š in the German language has taken place in the 5th – 6th centuries AD . Thus, Ukrainian šk/sk in ancient Germanic loan-words corresponds sch of modern-day German. Let us return now to the word bešket. A. Potebnia believed that this word is borrowed from Germ. Beschiss “cunning, lie”. M. Vasmer, doubting this, believed the word was borrowed from Middle Upper German where beschitten "to deceive" is present . Return transition š in sk in loan-words in the Ukrainian language is poorly probable, besides the senses of the German and Ukrainian words are remote enough. Most likely Ukr. bešket is verbalized noun from the verb bešketuvaty “to roister” which has good phonetically and semantic match in Germ. beschädigen "to damage, spoil" and, thus was asrisen from the same German root as the word škoda.
Except for substratum, language influences on Proto-Slavic were made by the languages of the adjacent to the Slavs population. Now we know that steppes of the Right-side Ukraine were being occupied by Bulgars at the time of arrival of the Slavs here. The Cimmerian-Kurds stayed in the adjacency with the Bulgars certain time too. The language influences of the descendants of Scythians and ancient Kurds can be seen in not explained loan-words in the West Slavic languages. Slavic-Kurdish language connections are considered in the chapter Cimmerians. Here we will consider some Slavic-Bulgarish language connections. The Slavic-Turkic connection were noted for the first time by Czech researcher J. Peisker who has created the original theory of Slavic-Turkic relation which has been described in his paper “Die ältesten Beziehungen der Slawen zu Turkotataren und Germanen” . His sights have been criticized, in particular by L.Niederle, as they supposed that Slavic-Turkic contacts could not exist if to be saying about some “Turan approach”. Now we know that contacts of the Western Slavs with Turkic Scythians have real basis and explanation. Certainly, Turkic language influences on the Slavs cover very wide period and it is difficult to separate old and latest loan-words which are widely present both in South-Slavic, and in East-Slavic languages. But the presence of Turkic words in West Slavic languages is very indicative. Really, Turkic words could infiltrate into the Polish language through Ukrainian, and into Slovak and Czech through Hungarian. For example, Slvk. čakan "a mattock" of obviously Turkic origin (Chagat. čakan "a fighting axe"), but as Hung. Csakany exist this word cannot be taken in attention. The same is to say about Slvk., Cz. salaš, Rus. šalaš "a hut" which has matches both in the Turkic, and in Hungarian languages. Such words are numerous, however, V. Machek’s etymological dictionary encloses examples of Turkism which ways of infiltration to the Czech and Slovak languages remain enigmatical . In this situation, special attention should be paid to the linguistic (mainly lexical) matching between the Chuvash and the West Slavic languages. Just Slavic matches to Chuvash words will be considered in this Study. Borrowing could be mutual.
Let's consider some Slavic-Chuvash matches which can be very interesting. For example, Slvk., Cz. koberec, Pol. kobierzec "a carpet" reminds Rus. kover “a carpet” but it is well visible that West-Slavic words are borrowed not from Russian. M. Vasmer believed, that a source of the borrowing of the Russian word can be Old. Chuv. *kavêr ← *kabir . It is possible, that Slovak and Czech words have been borrowed from Bulgarian even earlier but it is impossible to tell about Polish word confidently. However, another version is possible too. Restored by M. Vasmer Old Chuvashian form is very like Eng. cover. Hence, the Slovak word can be also an Old English substratum since the Slovaks had the same Urheimat as the Anglo-Saxes had.. Lonely among Slavic languages Slvk. sanka "the bottom jaw" can have Bulgarian origin as the word sanka "a frontal bone" is present in Chuvash stemming from Old. Turk. čana "a sledge", "a jaw" but ending -k is characteristically only for Chuvash and Slovak. Slovak loša "a horse", Ukr. loša “a foal” are considered to be borrowed from Turkic languages as alaša "a horse" is present in Turkmen and Tatar, but the falling initial a is not clear there. At borrowing this word from Bulgarian (Chuv. laša "horse") disappears necessity of an explanation of this falling. Other name of a horse kobyla which has matches only in Latin (caballus), in Machek’s opinion, also has a Turkic origin. A source of loan both in Italic, and in Slavic languages can be Old. Bulgarian.

As Turkis were engaged in horse breeding long since, Slavic khomut and Germ. Kummet “horse-collar”, which origin is unclear, can also stem from Bulgarian (cf. Chuv. khomyt). Some researchers consider, that Slvk., Cz. kolmaha, Pol. kolimaga, Ukr. kolimaha, Rus. kolymaga (all – “a cart”) are ancient loan-words from the Mongolian language (Mong. xalimag “high carts - tents”) through Turkic intermediary . At such assumption the Mongolian word should pass through the whole chain of Turkic languages. It is improbable, that it has disappeared in all them without any track. Most likely, Slavic kolimaga can be explained as “harnessed horse”, having taken into account Chuv. kül "to harness" and widespread in many Turkic languages jabak “a horse, foal”. The same origin can have also unclear Ukr. kulbaka "a saddle" and similar words in other Slavic languages. As we already know, ancient Turks had advanced vocabulary in hydraulic engineering constructions and floating means. Therefore the Slavic word gat’ “a dam” is borrowed from Old Bulgarian, as Chuv. kat has the same sense.

The origin of Slvk., Cz. kahan, Ukr. "kahanets" (a primitive lamp with handle) is not clear too. This word can be compared with Chuv. kăкan "a handle". The Slavic word kniga “a book” is usually compared with Hung. könyv, but on the warrant of phonetic discrepancy this word could not be borrowed by Slavs. The Hungarian word can be derived, as M. Vasmer and V.Machek specified, from Old Chuv. *koniv ← *konig. Slavic words can origin from the last form. Czech klobouk, Old Slvk. klobúk, koblúk, Rus. Kolpak, and other similar Slavic words meaning "a hat, a cap“ have certainly Turkic origin, but ways and time of borrowing are different. Czech and Slovak words can stem from Bulgarian. It is interesting to compare Old. Cz. maňas “a dandy, a fool” with Chuv. mănaç "proud". V. Machek asserted that the ancient Slovaks borrowed the word osoh "benefit" from the Bulgars, but when? M. Vasmer, both V. Machek, and A. Brückner consider Slavic “proso” millet of a "dark" origin, probably, even "the Pre-European". Most likely, this word may to be connected with Chuv. părça "peas"? Considering Chuv. yasmăkh "lentil", Slavic name of barley (PSl. jačmy) can also have the Chuvash origin, as well as Sl pirey “wheat grass” can (Chuv. pări "spelt"). M. Vasmer supposed that Slav. pšeno “millet meal” and pšenica “wheat”are derived from pkahti “to push”, what is not convincing. Most likely, an Psl. pьšeno has the same origin as Chuv. piçen "sow-thistle". Seeds of this plant could be used as food before spreading of cultural grain crops and its name borrowed from Bulgars could be extended by the Slavs on the millet and wheat. Slavic names of cottage cheese (Cz., Slvk. tvaroh, etc.) is also considered to be of dark origin. Hungarian túró stay phonetically far, therefore Hungarian cannot be a source of borrowing, but Chuv. turăkh (fermented baked milk) meets all requirements.
M. Vasmer assumed that Slav iriy (the southern country where birds fly away in the autumn, warm countries) has Iranian origin but its Bulgarish root is more probable. The words ir "morning" and uy "a field, steppe" are present Chuvash language, words "spring" existed in the Greek language. M. Vasmer thought the initial form of Ukrainian word was *vyroy. Hence, Old Bulg. *eroy could mean "morning (eastern, southern) steppe". When the Slavs still occupied a wood zone saw birds flying somewhere southward, in steppe in the autumn, they spoke then they fly in "iriy".
V. Machek referred Slvk., Cz. čiperný “alive, mobile” to South-Slavic languages without further explanations. Really, čeperan 1) “brisk, mobile”, 2) "swagger" is present in Serbian. But all these words together with Ukr. čepurnyj „beautiful, smartened up ” have Turkic origin (cf. Chuv. čiper "good", Tat. čiber "good"). A. Rona Tas said that mentioned Turkic words were borrowed from Middle-Mongolian which has čeber "clean, neat" but the Slavic words are phonetically closer just to the Chuvash word. The Slovak and Czech languages have more words which also can have Turkic origin, but scholar has contradictory opinions about their origin: tabor, taliga, topor, šator, šuvar, šupa.

Karl Menges gives three possible variants of Turkic origin for word Slav kovyl “feather grass” . All three variants are far phonetically and semantically from this word (cf 1. Old. Uigur. qomy “to be in movement”, 2. Alt. gomyrgaj “a plant with an empty stalk”, 3. Tur. qavla “to shed bark, leaves”). The Bulgarian language as a source of borrowing suits more as Chuv. khămăl “a stalk, eddish” is more like to the word kovyl after the form and sense. For the present a similar word is revealed only in one another Turkic language (Tat. kamly). It is significant that, according K. Menges, C. Uhlenbek, K Brugmann, W. Lehmann, S. Berneker connected this "dark" word with Lat. caulis "a stalk" and with in other Indo-European words . If remember that ancient Bulgars had their habitat near to ancient Italiks, Greeks and Germen for long time, Bulgarian pre-form can be restored as *kavul which has been reflected in Old Russian as kavyl already at prehistoric times. Other Ukrainian name of a feather grass tyrsa has Bulgarish origin too. The similar word of the same sense is present in the Chuvash language.

If to look through Vasmer’s Etymological dictionary of Russian one can find out that plenty of Russian and Ukrainian words are considered as having matches in the Chuvash language. They can have Bulgarisg origin (for example, Ukr. braha, Rus. braga “home-made beer”, vataga” “band, group”, pirog “pie”, khmel “hop”) . M. Vasmer connects the word braga/braha with Chuvash word peraga "residue, marc" (earlier „half-beer, liquid beer”) which has matches Turkic names of weak alcoholic drinks boz/buz. One can also pay attention to certain consonance of Turkic words not only with the Slavic, but also with the German names of beverages (cf. N.Gmc bjorr, Ger. Bier, Eng. beer) of unclear origin. Taking into account the phenomenon of the rhotacism in Turkic languages, the proto-form of the name of such beverages should sound something like *borz-, and this explains the form of North German words (correspondence rz - rr is known in Indo-European languages). Consonant words meaning hops ( Rus, Bolg khmel, Ukr. khmіl, Cz, Slvk chmel, etc.) are widespread in many Indo-European and Finno-Ugric languages. Scientists believe that the ways of their spread is very complicated, but agree that one common source of borrowing should exist. Somebody sees it in the language of the Bulgars (cf Chuv. xămla “hops’), others doubt the possibility of penetration of the Bulgar word far in Europe (Latin humulus, OE hymele, N.Gmc humli). Of course, the reason for doubt gives a notion about late appearance of the Bulgars in Europe. However, discovered close proximity Indo-European and Bulgarish habitats can explain the origin of the names of both hops and beer in many modern European languages. You can also pay also attention to the Ukrainian word korchma “inn” which has matches in some modern Slavic languages and is considered to be of dark origin. If we take into account O.C.S krъchьma "strong drink" , this word can also occur from Bulgar (Chuv. kărchama "home-brewed beer," Еat. kärchemä "sour katyk" (the national drink).

Russian word sigat’ "to jump" has obscure origin. A.M. Räsänen supposed the possibility of its borrowing from Chuv. sik "to jump", but Vasmer objected to it, referring Belarus sihac’. However this word was present as well in Mazovian dialect of Polish language and Ukr dial. sihaty widespread in the Eastern Ukraine is not necessarily borrowed from Russian. Hence, and this word can be also borrowed from ancient Bulgars. M. Vasmer brings together dialect Rus., Ukr., puga/puha "a whip" with a word pugat’ “to frighten”, which originally had the form pužat’. In such case the word can be borrowed from Old Bulgarian (Chuv. puša "a whip"). Such assumption is especially verisimilar as the Ukrainian has a word pužalno “handle a whip”.
The number of such discoveries is increasing and they are all placed in the list of ancient Turkic-Slavic Language Connections.
If talking about the existence of ancient Bulgar-Slavic lexical correspondences, we should pay attention that they were found in both East- and West Slavic languages. This fact not only automatically precludes their explanation as borrowed from Chuvash but also determines the time and place of the Bulgari-Slavic contacts reflected lexical parallels. The Slavs settled in the basin of the Pripyat in the early 2nd century BC and from that moment they could live in close proximity to the Bulgars. This suggests that only a certain part of the Bulgars moved from their old settlements in the Western Ukraine to the steppe was, while a significant number of them had to remain and not take part in the later migrations of the Bulgars in the Sea of Azov and the Caucasus, and then to the Middle Volga. In this connection, we can assume that ancient Slavic influences on the today's Chuvash language should not be, and the Bulgar-Slavic lexical correspondences should be explained only by borrowings from the Bulgars. This conclusion is contradicted by Cuv. mixě "a bag" which corresponds to OSl. mѣx “a fur bag”. The presence of the reduced sound at the end of the word suggests borrowing before the fall of the reduced sounds, ie till the 10th-11th century. On the other hand, the word should have been borrowed from the Ukrainian language, where the sound of "yat" (ѣ) was reflected by i, but not from Russian, where it was reflected by e (Ukr. mіkh, Rus. mekh "a bag"). The same example of borrowing from the Ukrainian may be Chuv nimeç "a German" (Ukr nіmets, Rus niemiets). Obviously, we should admit that the linguistic connections of the gone to the steppe Bulgars with the Slavs connected during the first millennium though being weaker. Later, the Slavs expanded their territory and assimilated the remaining Bulgars at some time, as it is evidenced also place names.
One can also assume that between the Bulgars and Slavs was also cultural interaction, as was the case between the Bulgars and Germans. Chuvash idiom çăkăr tăvar "bread and salt" because of its rhyming should be considered as primary in relation to the similar Slavic one. Since such idiom is many in many Slavic languages, the borrowing occurred from the Bulgars. The Slavic cultural influence on the Bulgars, who also had to be is not easy to detect because they hide among the later Chuvash borrowings from Russian.
Cultural connections of the ancestors of the Chuvash and Ukrainians are treated separately on a personal website in the section Cultural substratum.

Valentin Stetsyuk

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  28. Ibid: 107.
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  30. MELNYCHUK O.S., Ed. (1982-2004): Etimologіchniy slovnik ukraїns’koї movi. K. – (In Ukrainian) – Etymological Dictionary of Ukrainian Language. K.
  31. BRÜKNER ALEKSANDER. 1957. Słownik etymologiczny języka polskiego. Warszawa. – (In Polish) – Etymological Dictionary of the Polish Language. Warsaw.