All About Carpathian Mountains: Puzzling Words, History and Musical Bonus

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All About Carpathian Mountains: Puzzling Words, History and Musical Bonus
Created On: Jan 30, 2010
Last Edited On: Feb 21, 2018

What & Why

All this would be far poorer had I not exchanged countless Carpathian messages – in English - with Peterbud who lives on the other side of the Carpathian Arc, whose 'character' page has proven to be a tool of great help that I took advantage of all along the way, along with his critical remarks and the links he has provided me with.

It's not all about climbing, it's about mountains!

S Carpathians: Romania
- the Goths are back! :)

This article, along with the attached "child" page, is aimed at people thinking of backpacking, hiking and/or climbing in the Carpathians. It is supposed to make you feel more comfortable while reading the non-English maps/guidebooks/TR's (with or without the assistance of the Google translator), not to mention being able to understand/use the words listed. Nearly all of these words fall into the following categories: what is usually in the map key, words that often form part of the name of a landform (e.g. window), the most basic gear, emblematic animals and plants, cardinal directions, colours, weather, seasons, pastoral life and "hi/thanks!" The words are given in English and the official languages of the seven countries the Carpathians are divided among. NB The languages/dialects of the stateless peoples/ethnic groups - such as the Rusyns - have not been included. The same goes for the languages of the other minorities, much more numerous before World War II, whose settlements/homes are scattered throughout the Carpathians: the Roma (Gypsies), Jews (who before World War II were a majority of town residents in many places, especially in the north-east), Armenians, and others. If you would like to taste the ambience, please click the Musical chapter. Talking of the attached dictionary/album (see para. 3), I hope it will be polished over a long time since polishing things happens to be a job I've always liked, which may result from my native language being Polish.LOL

Looking down from Egyeskő/Piatra Singuratică
E Carpathians:
eastern walls

I hope this article will also be interesting for anybody feeling like learning a little about the history of the area as well as its characteristic toponyms. For years, I just enjoyed wandering through the Carpathian Mountains, but recently I got interested in the land's human history also. As the Internet has made it possible to access information that used to be hard to find, I have spent quite a while studying TR's and other pages about both the mountain ranges of the Carpathians I have been to and those I have always dreamt of visiting. Meanwhile, I have also read contemporary works on the history of the Carpathian countries and the nearby Balkans, these days often written at American, Canadian or British universities. The history is complicated indeed and just a few words is obviously not enough to understand it, but some of the rows of the dictionary do manifest the common - often forgotten as is the Poland-Ukraine case - past. (In fact just a glance at the very last row can tell you a lot.) Surely, the history has been subject to both political manipulation and folk's imagination for dozens of decades, which results in the Internet pages as well as history books being packed with the most laughable myths. It does take time to sort the wheat from the chaff, and sometimes this is plain impossible. I am far from saying I have studied everything that is to be found by clicking the history-related links I have gleaned. I can just say that I believe I have learnt the basics by reading the stuff and I would recommend it to the intrigued.

The Tatras from Spišská Magura
NW Carpathians: Slovakia,
Carpathian "Switzerland"
between Poland and Hungary
Last but not least, a Carpathian Picture Dictionary has been attached to this article as a child page.

Here man's imprint on landscape is just as natural as that of its flora or fauna; we have after all, been here just as long. The cultivated valley floors and villages of Switzerland are not part of a "designed wilderness", but are part of man's interaction with his environment, a process which has been ongoing since the Palaeolithic.
Nanuls (commenting on In Defense of the Wild)
despite this not being a true wilderness it is possible to escape the entrapments of 'civilisation', and be forced to rely on one's fitness, ability to navigate, and if need be, survive.

Summit of Hoverla On top of NE Carpathians: Ukraine, Hungary and Romania within sight

Puzzling Languages

Hello Greeting Britons in Transylvania
Székelykő from the Szentgyörgy castle The brave Szeklers in SW Carpathians
Romanian trek Romanian village in SW Carpathians

Today nearly all of the area of the Carpathian Mountains belongs to Romania and several Slavic states: Ukraine, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic in the north; and Serbia at the southern end (if we count the mountains of the north of eastern Serbia among the Carpathians). But for several hundred years, until the First World War, the great Carpathian arc formed the frontier of a multi-ethnic kingdom of Hungary, which occupied all of the land inside it. (From 1867 to 1918, Hungary was part of Austria-Hungary, where 12 languagues were oficially recognised.) The very heart of what is now Romania, namely eastern Transylvania (which translates as "the land beyond the forest") is still inhabited by the Szeklers, who speak Hungarian, and is dotted with Medieval towns and fortified villages built by the "Saxons". On the other hand, virtually all ranges of the Carpathian Mountains have at least for a while been home to the shepherds who spoke Romanian (or whose forefathers spoke Romanian) and migrated west as far as the Czech lands, utilising the least hospitable terrain, including the highest ridges. Outside Romania they were usually known as Vlachs (the name derives from an old Germanic word for speakers of diverse languages; e.g. in Polish the "Vlachs" translates as "Wołosi"; similarly, the Italians are called "Włosi").

While the Slavic languages are mutually intelligible (the tough bit can be the Cyrillic alphabet, which is still used in Ukraine and Serbia), Romanian is a Latin-based language which has the same Roman roots as those of languages such as Italian, French or Catalonian. But Hungarian is completely different and belongs to the Finno-Ugric (Uralic) family despite sharing very few, the most ancient words with the Finnish language.
Call It Backpacking In 1981
in East Carpathians
On the ridge The tough shepherds in S Carpathians, Romania
Hostýnské vrchy By Valašská Bystřice in Czech Republic

Carpathian Blend & History Behind It

Valea Albă (White Valley) - Bucegi mountains
20 years ago
Despite two languages being originally diverse, several centuries of sharing territory will lead to borrowing plenty of words from each other. A case in point can be the Romanian language, which by a renowned Romanian linguist of the 19th century was classified as Slavic since - according to his estimate – up to forty percent of its words had been borrowed from Slavic languages (see pages 53-54 here), such as Bulgarian, Serbian and Ukrainian. As modern Romanian was created, the number of its non-Latin-sounding words decreased dramatically but many are still alive as you can tell by looking at the rows of words in the attached dictionary.Similarly, the common past of Poland and Ukraine shows clearly through the dictionary although diverse spelling systems mask the fact. Perhaps the best preserved legacy of the multi-ethnic Carpathians is the language of the Rusyns who live on the inner, southwestern side of the Carpathian arc, within the political borders of present-day Ukraine.

The ridges of the Northwestern Carpathians - a long way away from Romania – contain toponyms that sound Romanian. One of the most common, easily recognizable Romanian words is măgură, i.e. "hill". In Slovakia and Poland, magura is used to name both single mountains and groups of hills, such as Magura Spišská. In the Beskid Niski, there is a mountain named Piotruś. This word is a Polish diminutive for Piotr (i.e. Peter) and was probably created a couple of centuries ago from the original name of the hill - Pietros. Many a Carpathian summit bears the name of Pietros since this is the Romanian word for "rocky". Bryndza - a kind of salty cottage cheese made of ewe milk in all of the Carpathian countries is simply the Romanian word for "cheese".

Shepherd village in ChornohoraShepherds' settlement
in Chornohora
Mount Piotrus ( 728m )
Modest Piotruś
in Low Beskid
Pietrosul, view from meadow...
Proud Pietros
in Rodnei Mountains

Old-time climbers in the High Tatras
100 years ago

German speaking people arrived in the south of Transylvania in the 12th century. (Without doubt, some of the several peoples inhabiting the area between the time that the Romans left and the Slavs, Turkic peoples and Hungarians arrived were Germanic tribes like the Goths or the Gepids but they disappeared without much trace.) The German settlers - usually called "Saxons" by the others - were invited by the kings of medieval Hungary in order to develop the sparsely populated areas at the foot of the Carpathian ranges. After the Mongol invasion which had ravaged most of Central Eastern Europe in the first half of C13, the numbers of the German settlers in Transylvania increased, and others found their new home around the opposite high end of the Carpathians, i.e. the Tatra Mountains, and in many other locations. The names of the towns such as Kežmarok (once Käsemarkt) in the historic land of Spiš attest to this. Sadly, most of Transylvania's Saxons left for Germany towards the end of the communist era.
Polski Grzebien lost equipment Polish Crest inside Slovakia
Long tarn and Polish saddle Polish Crest in C19 from the South
From Niznie Rysy to the East Polish Crest from the "Polish" side

Folkloric costumes of the region of Gorce

Contrary to the widespread stereotype, not all of the "exotic" - i.e. strange to the ear of the lowland citizen of a given country - words used by the local mountain folk are Romanian or German. Vatra (PL spelling: watra) does translate as "fireplace" in Romanian (and Albanian), but juhas (Polish spelling) turns out to stem from the Hungarian word for "sheep", baca/bača (Polish/Slovak for "chief shepherd") seem to derive from the Hungarian bácsi ("uncle"), and gazda - to Polish people known to mean the owner of a farm in the Carpathians - literally means "farm owner/householder" in Hungarian. The embroidered ornament on the highlander's trousers - known as parzenica in Poland and commonly identified as native to the mountain folk - is actually a copy of the pattern found on the trousers of Hungarian soldiers or policemen (another interesting question is where the army took it from).

When I see a picture of the bizarre "Transylvanian wooden washing machine" (below) called either vâltoare or ştează by the Romanians, my native Polish makes me think of a kind of "water path" and my speculation seems to be confirmed by the Serbian word for "path". Coincidence? Perhaps (just have a look at the first three letters of the Czech, Slovak and Polish words for "fog" and apart from having a laugh you'll see how easily and unpredictably letters wander through languages), but anyway Romanian potecă for "footpath" is a copy of its Bulgarian counterpart - no wonder given the fact that the so called second Bulgaria - founded towards the end of C12 by Peter and Asen, who may have been Romanian (then called Wallachian/Vlach) - was defined as the country of the Slavs, Wallachians and Cumans.
Piatra Craiului - South Ridge The Iezer in the background
Hoverla Mysterious Hoverla, NE Carpathians

One of the highest massifs of the South Carpatians is called the Iezer - for a good reason as there's only one decent lake in these mountains (see the "lake" row in the attached picture dictionary). The name of the highest summit of the Căpăţînii Mountains is Nedeia. I climbed it over thirty years ago but only recently did I realize that this word, which has always sounded familiar to me, must have originated from a Slavic word for Sunday (nedelya). The origin and meaning of the name of the highest peak in Ukraine, Hoverla, is not known, it's usually thought to derive from some Romanian as many summits nearby bear Romanian names. But not so long ago Hoverla rose on the Hungary-Poland/Galicia border, and the Hungarian name of the peak is Hóvár, which can be easily translated as "snow castle/fort", however, this name doesn't appear until the first half of the last century. More about the mystery and my recent attempts to sort it out: here.

Anyway, within the Carpathians, most of the time it is impossible to answer the question who has borrowed what, how much and who from. The only reasonable assertion can be that it all comes down to centuries of sharing the beautiful mountainous land. A very personal example of the people having migrated and mingled around the Carpathian Mountains is my surname, which is Hungarian despite containing a "w" where a "v" was, and which literally means a native of one of the countries bordering on Hungary, although the country in question is neither Poland nor Ukraine, where my parents were born.
Ieud, Maramureş Romanian folk in Maramureş
Valtoare  rustic wash More "modern" model of ştează
Folkloric party in Ponice, Gorce Polish Górale, Gorce Mountains

Spellings and Sounds

This is a real pain. The problem is that the Carpathian languages use diverse characters - mostly diacritics - to represent the same, or similar, sounds in writing. For instance, the Hungarian "a" - unlike "á" - sounds more or less like Slavic "o", which is close to the British "o" sound in "pot". I must admit not until I saw the Hungarian alphabet did I realize the Hungarian word for a mountain stream - patak - is the same word as my native Polish, or rather Slavic, potok. The following little table displays some of the most common sound-versus-spelling problems.

ch (church)
c before e/i
y (yep)

  • The ways the sounds are spelt can also change. Throughout most of the second half of the 20th century the last vowel in the name of the second highest mountains in Romania was represented by "î" but now it has been replaced by the previously used "â" Still, many Romanians prefer to use the former character for the sound which - in fact - is close to the French "u", German "ü" or Greek "upsilon/ypsilon".

  • The Ukrainian script is a transliteration from Cyrillic, therefore a speaker of English will find it very easy to pronounce the Ukrainian words listed below:), except for the "l" which most of the time sounds like the Polish "ł" or the English "w". The "yy" represents a cluster which is similar in sound to "ey" in "key".

  • There's often an "unexpected" ending to a Romanian noun, e.g. an "-ul" for masculine nouns. Here's an explanation of the mystery.

  • The Slavic adjectives are normally listed in their masculine form, whose last letter is an "y"or "i" (pronounced more or less like "y" in "happy"), whereas the feminine ending is an "a".

Lake Călţun and shelter Călţun
Lake Călţun, Făgăraş Mountains, South Carpathians

External Links Outside Text

Orthodox Church in Banica
Church in the Low Beskid built in C18 by the Lemkos

YouTube Musical Videos

Silene and Aconitum species on the shore of Mija lake
Silene and Aconitum by Lake Mija, Parâng Mountains, South Carpathians

Online Dictionaries

Sunset, Gorce.
Gorce Mountains, Northwestern Carpathians


Post a Comment
Viewing: 21-40 of 56

yatsek - Feb 1, 2010 8:09 am - Hasn't voted

Re: *******

Dzieki Romku,
Jacek aka Yatsek:-)

Dmitry Pruss

Dmitry Pruss - Feb 1, 2010 2:57 pm - Voted 10/10

Nice job, Jacek

I am bit surprised that you were able to wade into this morass of the ethnic claims and counterclaims - and to make it out alive :) I guess the SP community is a lot more forgiving to the ones who pinch other's feelings of ethnic pride and superiority? Like no Ukrainians or Serbs reprimanded you for writing that they "still" use Cyrillic alphabet LOL (BTW the very first Carpathian alphabet must have been the Moravian Glagolic, no longer used for like a millenium?)

Three more minor ethno-historical points.

Red Rus aka Galich-Volyn, a pre-Mongol Duchy on the Carpathian's North-East, with its complex dealings with both Hungarian and Polish kingdoms, before it has been annexed by Lithuania in the XIII century => must be directly connected to the modern-day Rusyns? And their Chronicles use of a word "Ugorsko" = "Hungarian" means, at a 1st glance, a nation located "near mountains"?

Southern foothills - Danube corridor was of course the steppe nomad's gateway into Pannonia and the Balkans. Of the modern people of the region, the Hungarians came that way, as well as the lesser-known Turkic-speaking Gagauz. But many others invaded along the same route. The Hunns are perhaps the most famous. The original Bulgars (Turkic-speaking ones from the Volga Basin), too. You can be sure that many waves of these migrations washed over the South Carpathians, leaving some people in the mountains.

Fate of the Germans in Transylvania - but of course they suffered the same fate all over the region, in the North too. And so did many other groups, including of course the Poles of Lwow area after WWII. What was the accepted rule of nation-building at the time has only later been condemned as the scourge of ethnic cleansing...


lcarreau - Feb 1, 2010 6:51 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Nice job ...

Welcome back, Dmitry !!! : )))


yatsek - Feb 2, 2010 3:50 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice job, Jacek

Hi Dmitry,

Lovely to see you back here while you're not in your High Uintas. Well, I'm still surviving:), some of us are tougher than Moskwa can ever imagine, although most have left for the US or UK :) In seriousness, I do claim the rights to enjoy all things mountainous, to sort out fact from myth, and to share the mountains with bears. As for the Ukrainians, sadly they've got 0 SP power, which results in there being only one SP page about the NE Carpathians. (BTW AFAIK Glagolic was already dying but still in use in some monasteries around Moravia as late as C15).

1 Galich Rus is a fascinating area (may be a biased opinion:)), have a look at e.g. this hobbit city. As to the Slavs in the Carpathians, IMHO/AFAIK (both acronyms apply throughout ) it seems the 1st wave was the then-Croats or Southern Slavs, 2nd W Slavs, 3rd E Slavs. If there were any Carpathian "Rusyns" 1000 years ago, they would have been distinguishable from the others - like the modern day Rusyns - by their Orthodox religion. To see the Rusyn version of their history you can click the link embedded in the article. Lastly, "near mountains" may mean either side of the mts.

2 The Hungarians are usually said to have arrived through the passes in the NE Carpathians although they may have come through any of the gateways. Talking of ancient peoples having survived in the mts, an interesting example can be the Mots (BTW The author's statement about the "most probable and accepted theory" is just his belief). With reference to those countless, both ancient and recent arrivals in the Carpathian Basin, the genetic make-up of modern day Hungarians, Slovaks and other peoples in the area is virtually the same. What's different is usually the language or religion/culture. The Czech and Slovak languages are almost identical (see attached dictionary) but most Czechs are atheists (used to be Protestant) while most Slovaks are Catholic (and some Reformed) like their Magyar neighbours. Czechs and Slovaks seem to prefer beer whereas Hungarians and Romanians prefer wine. Where my parents were born, a child of the typical Ukrainian-Polish (surely you know this but others, like Larry of Az may feel lost - that's why this map) couple became either a Roman-Catholic Pole or Greek-Catholic (less often Orthodox) Ukrainian, depending on which sex the kid was.

3 Talking of the Germans (and Czechs, and Poles), yep, have you seen the Sudetes page?


lcarreau - Feb 2, 2010 8:35 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Nice job, Jacek...

You're right, Mister Yatsek. I feel very LOST ...

But, I very much understand the "three-letter" word you used toward the ending of paragraph number '2' above! : )))

(And yes, everybody on my mother's side of the family, i.e., the
one's who immigrated here from Czechoslovakia were Protestant.

But then, nobody's PERFECT !!! : )) )

Hey, what if I mix some wine in with my stein of Czech beer ?????


yatsek - Feb 3, 2010 4:57 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice job, Jacek...

"three-letter" is not PC, you should know better - I guess you mean you're a pre-schooler. As for wine & Czech beer, your close (as seen from across the Pond) neighbour and expert is Liba.


EricChu - Feb 1, 2010 6:03 pm - Voted 10/10

Congratulations, Yatsek!!

This is really a fascinating article you wrote!

Some friends of mine are germans originating from the Banat. They told me that the largest part of german settlers came from the part of Swabia, or Schwaben, surrounding the city of Ulm, which is also on the banks of the Danube. From someone else I heard that most of the Transsilvanian saxons - or Siebenbürger Sachsen - originate from what is nowadays Luxemburg. Is this something you would confirm?
Cheers and again thanks for posting this article upon what I consider a not only interesting, but also vital topic,


peterbud - Feb 2, 2010 2:13 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Congratulations, Yatsek!!

Yes, most of the Siebenbürger Sachsen (at least of the "Altland") came from the area of Luxemburg, Belgium and Western Germany.


yatsek - Feb 2, 2010 4:02 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Congratulations, Yatsek!!

Glad you like it, Eric. Peterbud knows more about the "Saxons" than I do so I can confirm as well. :)


peterbud - Feb 9, 2010 3:18 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Congratulations, Yatsek!!

My German is limited, but I guess this site may provide you with ample information.


Marcsoltan - Feb 2, 2010 10:47 pm - Voted 10/10

I am bookmarking this page

There is so much to absorb it cannot be done in one time reading. But, from what I've seen so far, I'm amazed. Thank you for all the work you have put into this project.


yatsek - Feb 3, 2010 4:37 am - Hasn't voted

Re: I am bookmarking this page

Pleased you like it, Marc. Actually, it started out as a plain dictionary after I'd spotted this Big Sister:) site. Then I thought a word plus picture lets us get closer to the meaning as well as providing the pleasure of Rock'n'Wood and/or Snow'n'Ice gazing. But – as your comment on the roots of the "shepherd's walking axe" points out – there's often a long and interesting story behind just a wooden tool; no doubt the same goes for the names of the mountains and the history of the mountainous lands. So that's a more accurate version of the How Come.


visentin - Feb 3, 2010 2:54 am - Voted 5/10


I was told by my Polish teacher that W?ochy comes from the ancient German name given to Italy, Wahlen.
Unless "Walach" comes from "Wahlen", as the Romans with Trajan colonized this kingdom.
btw am I cold or warm concerning the surname enigm ? :)


yatsek - Feb 3, 2010 4:40 am - Hasn't voted


Italian roots, ha? Here you are.
As for my family name, I'd stop running around all the time, take a deep breath, and focus on the meaning of the sentence about it included in the article.


peterbud - Feb 3, 2010 7:22 am - Voted 10/10


heh, a couple of times I've been wondering where the hell "olasz" comes from, despite the fact that I knew well the historic name for Romanians is "oláh". What still interesting is, that the historic (medieval) name for Italians in Hungarian is "talján", which clearly comes from "Italiano". A nice timeline puzzle... Eric, Jacek - who'll solve it? :-D


yatsek - Feb 3, 2010 7:46 am - Hasn't voted


Ha ha - I already know that the Magyars just had to add an i before an s so that a Polish Stefan is a Hungarian István and 'school' is 'iskola' (PL: szko?a) but now it looks like you felt like getting rid of some i's - perhaps at some point there seemed to be too many! LOL


visentin - Feb 3, 2010 8:01 am - Voted 5/10


For me the worse is to be followed by "Rend?rség" without being able to sort out if it's an ambulance, firemen or the police :) Still talking Finno-Ougrian languages, I particularly enjoy the Finn version of our country name, "Ranska" :)


yatsek - Feb 3, 2010 8:09 am - Hasn't voted


Finnish has just a few words in common with Hungarian, e.g. spruce and fir AFAIR


peterbud - Feb 3, 2010 8:31 am - Voted 10/10


Come on, it's easy: rend=order őr=guard ;)
I bet you'll be curious about what the heck is tűzoltóság, then :D


visentin - Feb 3, 2010 8:57 am - Voted 5/10


Did you know that Basque language has common words with Slavic ones ? Not joking :)
Ex: Gora = Gura, Rzeka = Ereka
Some scientists tried to dig the topic but it's difficult...

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All About Carpathian Mountains: Puzzling Words, History and Musical Bonus

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