The Society of Folk Dance Historians

Search Site The Web

Balkan Words from Turkish

Other Balkan information


From: (Michael Kuharski)

Date: Wed, 21 Jan 1998 07:59:54 -0600

Message-ID: <>

(1) The Rom language borrows readily from other tongues, but the reverse is rarely true. I would be very interested to hear of any words in common parlance in South Slavic which are Rom in origin. There must surely be some, but I cannot name one off the top of my head. This may be because I have (provisionally) misidentified as Turkish or Greek exotic lexical items from Rom, or because I know only "standard" words, or whatever. Language gurus, help ye my unbelief! Give us examples!

(2) When seeking the source of an exotic lexical item in the Balkans, the a priori suspect is always Turkish (possibly as intermediary for Arabic or Persian). If the initial phoneme is "ch" this intensifies to "guilty until proven innocent" (examples: "chochek", "charshi(ja)"=market, "chaj"=tea, "chorap/charap"=stocking, "chizme/chizma"=boot, "chelik"=steel, "chardak"=porch, "chad'r"=umbrella(Bulg), "choban"=shepherd, "chaush"=sergeant,wedding-marshal, "chekich"=hammer, "chesma/cheshma"=fountain, "chorba"=stew,...).

In the case of "chaiz," the perpetrator almost escaped our dragnet by means of a clever disguise. I had to back-distort "chaiz" to Turkish "cehiz" to get an indicting cross-reference to:
"cihaz" = "Apparatus, outfit, equipment, trousseau, funeral equipment." ["A Turkish-English Dictionary (2nd Ed.), by H.C.Hony (Oxford, 1976)].

Our Kosova Albanian friends call the bride's trousseau "paja", and its display, both in her family's home & publicly at the time of her transfer to the groom's family home, provides major episodes of pageantry at village weddings. Sometimes the trousseau items are mounted on a huge length of cloth for the home display, creating a gigantic piece of folk sculpture draping the walls as dramatic backdrop to the intense socializing in the foreground. Traditionally, a large floor carpet woven by the bride was a central trousseau item. We understand that since the dyer's trade is no longer practiced in Prizren the making of such carpets has generally ceased, & manufactured carpets have replaced them. As part of the festive procession, accompanied by zurnas & tupan, when the bride is removed to her new home, one often sees several young men trotting along with a rolled carpet on their shoulders!

It is my conjecture that the importance of the paja as a demonstration of personal domestic competence, if not virtuosity, is a major factor in the exceptionally strong persistence of traditional textile skills among more conservative Kosovar Albanians. While purchased items are now commonly part of the paja, it is expected that many items, especially those given as gifts during the extended formalities of the wedding process, will be made by the bride.

We observed through periodic visits over many years as our personal "longitudinal study" subject, Drita Susuri of village Zhur, Prizren district, learned weaving, knitting, tatting (?), embroidery of several styles, possibly spinning (the equipment was demonstrated to us by an older woman), and heaven knows what else, while creating her paja. Her loom, weighted down with concrete blocks, dominated the sunny enclosed porch overlooking the courtyard for goodness knows how long. We are delighted to report that this paid off handsomely with a happy marriage into the charming family of the village hodja, which has now produced several lively children.

Incidentally, among people you already know fairly well, the topic of the trousseau is a great way to segue into discussions of textile arts & the old ways of doing such things. And it can be a refreshing conversation-balancer, since the trousseau is in female domain, while the milieu of conversation with Honored Guests (that's you, like it or not!) is in the male domain, so that visits tend to have disproportionate male input, by our standards. Another excellent conversation-starter for those seeking anecdotal riches, and a ploy often appropriate even with folks you know only superficially, is to ask about family history. "Where does your family come from?" & a followup query or two may be enough to start a cascade of local-history stories which can give you real insight into their personal & community dynamics. It also offers opportunities for you to share analogies in your own family history & personal experience, which makes you less foreign to your new acquaintances.