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: 41-56 of 56

yatsek - Feb 3, 2010 10:11 am - Hasn't voted


To Eric,
I didn't but just the other day I read that as far as the genetic make-up is concerned the Britons have more in common with the Basques than with the Germanic peoples.


yatsek - Feb 3, 2010 10:17 am - Hasn't voted


To Peter,
I was, and sorted it out within a few seconds :) by clicking one of the links in the Online Dictionaries chapter.:D


visentin - Feb 3, 2010 10:55 am - Voted 5/10



yatsek - Feb 3, 2010 1:51 pm - Hasn't voted


That's interesting - at least to some, like myself :) - but none of this is/can be proved. And letter combinations are countless and lots of them look like lots of the others. I used to think the Sto?y (pasture in W Tatras) just meant "tables" but there are holes in the mtn under the meadow plus written evidence of mining activity, so the name seems to be a deformed "sztolnia" (PL for "mining shaft") but if one doesn't know that but knows some words of the other Carpathian languages, he can come to think the name is Romanian ("stol" = flock of sheep).


visentin - Feb 3, 2010 3:19 pm - Voted 5/10


Sure, but having "Gora" and "Reka"/"Ereka" for both is a bit puzzling, isn't it ? If "mountain" was "Rendorseg" in Basque I would say OK, but ...:) From this to conclude the Basques were polish nomades established long ago, I'd say it's too much (however both races are extremely stubborn :). But we can reasonnably conclude these pre-latin languages had probably a bit of common stuff. Having lived in Scotland during one year and hiked mountains whose gaelic names and meaning I still remember by heart, sometimes I also feel that there are some kind of similarities with slavic languages too.


yatsek - Feb 3, 2010 4:59 pm - Hasn't voted


Something about the Basques and the non-Carpathian myths, namely about the genetic make-up of the UK and Ireland.


yatsek - Feb 6, 2010 3:44 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: gura

I hope "magura" does mean "hill/hills/mtn". BTW What does "Gura" mean as part of the name of a village/town, such as Gura Humorului ?


yatsek - Feb 6, 2010 5:46 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Gura Humorului

Thanks Mihai! I knew a bit about the Magura Codlei but couldn't understand that "gura" for place names at all.


peterbud - Feb 8, 2010 6:04 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Gura Humorului

There are several further examples. What comes to mind right now: Gura Fântâna (old name of Complex Turistic Borsa) and Gura Lalei in M. Rodnei, Gura Bucurei and Gura Apei in Retezat.


nartreb - Aug 24, 2016 3:59 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: gura

"Gura" in a place-name (and in everyday Romanian) may mean "mouth" or "throat" (cognate of French "gueule") - Gura Humorului for example is at the mouth of the river Humor.

Interesting that your two examples of Romanian words - magura and brunze - do not seem to be of Latin origin (no cognates in French, Spanish, etc.). I'd have thought the Romanians borrowed them from Slavs, not vice versa. Though they could be Dacian for all I know.


yatsek - Aug 27, 2016 6:55 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: gura

Thanks, you've actually restored the comment Mihai (who is a Romanian climber living in France) made a few years ago.

'Magura' and 'brânză' are definitely not Latin, the former is said to be an altered Slavic word that means 'burial mound'. The Vlachs borrowed the words south of the Carpathians and spread them north as far as the Northwestern Carpathians. Dacian? No chance, when the Romanians (then called Vlachs) crossed the Danube, Dacians were long gone.

Liba Kopeckova

Liba Kopeckova - Feb 5, 2010 10:41 am - Voted 10/10


what an amazing page...
I hope that Americans will be able to understand it, he?


yatsek - Feb 5, 2010 11:01 am - Hasn't voted

Re: wow...

Done with great polish, hah? I've even managed to find some Moravian/Czech non-polka highlander tune although it seems much less fast than you are! :)


ArankaP - Jun 3, 2010 8:19 am - Voted 10/10

This should be a website by itself

Amazing work! I don't think I'm even competent enough to judge it! Thank you!


yatsek - Jun 6, 2010 7:29 am - Hasn't voted

Diky Aranko!

I'm really happy people of different nationalities like this page. And I hope you visit the Carpathians again one day.


Porto - Nov 2, 2010 10:40 am - Hasn't voted

Ukrainian Carpathians

hi! I'd like to suggest a web-site about Ukrainian Carpathians How can I submit this site?

Viewing: 41-56 of 56

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

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