Can someone cite reliable source about Serbo-Croatian (Proto-Slavic) etymology of Arabic word for Austria نمسا (nimsa)? It's sounds very dubious for me. I suppose that we have no evidence of intensive contacts between Arabic world and Slavic.

EDIT: I'm gonna make it not that sensational like in the title. The Arabic word was borrowed not directly from Proto-Slavic, but (most likely) through Ottoman Turkish through some of Slavic language (according to wiktionary).

  • It seems plausible to me. The Slavic root is used to refer to neighboring non-Slavic languages especially German; some form of South Slavic would have been in contact with Turkish when the Ottoman Empire was in charge, Не́мац is Serbian for "German", and it's reasonable to assume that the Ottoman Turkish word was taken into Arabic. But I agree that documentary evidence would be desirable.
    – user6726
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 1:26
  • No word was borrowed from Proto-Slavic into Arabic, there were no contact between them.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 3:02
  • @YellowSky That sounds like something that's going to be very hard to prove
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 3:15
  • Nobody claimed that anything was borrowed from proto-Slavic into Arabic. That Slavic root is present in many Slavic languages (i.e. need not specifically come from Serbian), and need not have gone directly from Slavic into Arabic (since it's known to have gone into Turkish, anyhow).
    – user6726
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 4:55

2 Answers 2


The letter of Hasdai ibn Shaprut to the king of Khazaria (sometime around 950-960) refers to a Jewish emissary from "N(y)emetz" (נמץ in the Hebrew original) who carried the letter. Hasdai was a minister to Abd-al-Rahman III of the Umayyad dynasty of Spain, and a native Arabic speaker; most likely, then, that name was used in contemporary Arabic.

This article in the Jewish Encyclopedia identifies "Nyemetz" as Germany (and it's not much of a stretch for a name for Germany to be reapplied to German-speaking Austria, especially given user6726's point mentioning the Ottoman empire - they were much closer neighbors). There were Slavic slaves, mercenaries, etc., in Muslim Spain, so the Arabs may well have borrowed the name "Nyemetz" from them.

  • Do we have some "official" Arabic etymological dictionaries (besides wiktionary), that support this version? It sounds very plausible to me Arabic < Turkish < Proto-Slavic. But i wondering if i can find this in offline dictionaries (digitized or online). I'm not studiyng Arabic, so i don't even know when to search. Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 10:50
  • 1
    @prostuda1377: it's hardly likely that Arabic got the term from Turkish, since in the mid-tenth century (the date of Hasdai's letter) the Turks were just another little-known Central Asian people. So Turkish either borrowed it from Arabic, or independently from one or another of the Slavic languages.
    – user438
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 22:59

The linked Wikipedia article (for what little it may be worth) does not claim that the Arabic word is borrowed directly form proto-Slavic. It says that it is “from Ottoman Turkish نمسه (nemse) or نمچه (nemçe), from Serbo-Croatian Nemac, from Proto-Slavic *němьcь” that is: from Turkish, which has it from Serbo-Croat, which derives ultimately from Proto-Slavic. The Arabic < Turkish < Slavic part of this is probably correct. Whether it goes all the way back to proto-Slavic can be debated. Of course, Arabic speakers never had contact with proto-Slavs.

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