Saturday, December 08, 2007


Walled-In Pond and Walnuts

In my post on the etymology of Walden, I neglected to mention Thoreau's derivation, found in chapter 9 (The Ponds) of Walden:
As for the stones, many still think that they are hardly to be accounted for by the action of the waves on these hills; but I observe that the surrounding hills are remarkably full of the same kind of stones, so that they have been obliged to pile them up in walls on both sides of the railroad cut nearest the pond; and, moreover, there are most stones where the shore is most abrupt; so that, unfortunately, it is no longer a mystery to me. I detect the paver. If the name was not derived from that of some English locality — Saffron Walden, for instance — one might suppose that it was called originally Walled-in Pond.
I did cite W.W. Skeat's derivation of Walden from Old English wealh (stranger) and denu (valley). Eric Thomson now draws my attention to the discussion of wealh in J.R.R. Tolkien's English and Welsh, an O'Donnell Lecture delivered at Oxford on Oct. 21, 1955 and originally publshed in a collection entitled Angles and Britons: O'Donnell Lectures (University of Wales Press, 1963). I quote the following from the reprinting of the lecture in J.R.R. Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays (1983; rpt. Hammersmith: Harper/Collins, 2006), pp. 183-184:
It seems clear that the word walh, wealh which the English brought with them was a common Germanic name for a man of what we would call Celtic speech. But in all the recorded Germanic languages in which it appears it was also applied to the speakers of Latin. That may be due, as is usually assumed, to the fact that Latin eventually occupied most of the areas of Celtic speech within the knowledge of Germanic peoples. But it is, I think, also in part a linguistic judgement, reflecting that very similarity in style of Latin and Gallo-Brittonic that I have already mentioned. It did not occur to anyone to call a Goth a wealh even if he was long settled in Italy or in Gaul. Though 'foreigner' is often given as the first gloss on wealh in Anglo-Saxon dictionaries this is misleading. The word was not applied to foreigners of Germanic speech, nor to those of alien tongues, Lapps, Finns, Esthonians, Lithuanians, Slavs, or Huns, with whom the Germanic peoples came into contact in early times. (But borrowed in Old Slavonic in the form vlachŭ it was applied to the Roumanians.) It was, therefore, basically a word of linguistic import; and in itself implied in its users more linguistic curiosity and discrimination than the simple stupidity of the Greek barbaros.


This is a controversial point, and I do not deal with the question of place-names, such as Walton, Walcot, and Walsworth, that may be supposed to contain this old word walh.
In a footnote (n. 19, p. 196) Tolkien says of those place-names:
They were generally supposed to do so; but it has been shown that in fact many contain either weall 'wall' or weald 'forest'. But scepticism has swung too far. In any case a number of these names must still be allowed to contain walh, among them several in the east far from Wales: Surrey, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk. When these names were first made they must have referred to groups of people who were not regarded as English, but were recognized as British; and language must have been the principal characteristic by which this was judged. But how long that situation lasted is a different matter.
It is not clear whether Tolkien would have included Walden among those place-names derived from walh, wealh. In another footnote (n. 17, p. 196) he refers to the theory that walh, wealh is related to the "Celtic tribal name represented in Latin sources as Volcae."

We also see wealh in the common word walnut, whose origin the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language explains as follows:
Middle English walnot, Old English wealhhnutu (translation of Latin nux gallia, "Gaulish or foreign nut"). See Volcae in Appendix.
Should nux gallia be nux gallica? The "Appendix" is Calvert Watkins' valuable Indo-European Roots, which has this entry for Volcae:
Celtic tribal name. Latin noun akin to the unknown source of Germanic *walkhaz. Germanic *walkhaz in: a. Old English wealh, Wealh, foreigner, Welshman, Celt: WALES, WALNUT, WELSH; b. Medieval Latin wallō, a foreigner: WALLOON; c. Irish Gaelic gall, foreigner: GALLOGLASS, GALLOWAY.
For more on the Volcae, see Oskar Bandle et al., The Nordic Languages: An International Handbook of the History of the North Germanic Languages, vol. 1 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2002), starting on p. 578. Only p. 578 is visible from Google Books.

There were walnut trees growing near Walden Pond, as Thoreau indicates, e.g. in Walden, chapter 5 (Solitude):
When I return to my house I find that visitors have been there and left their cards, either a bunch of flowers, or a wreath of evergreen, or a name in pencil on a yellow walnut leaf or a chip.

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