Skip to main content

Of Names, Loanwords, and Curses: What Language History Can Teach Historians

Of Names, Loanwords, and Curses
Wednesday, March 6, 2024, 5:40 pm – 7:00 pm

This lecture has been rescheduled from Feb. 14.


Can language be used as a historical source? In what conditions and with what tools should historians use present and past linguistic data to (re)/(de)construct the past? Is linguistic memory a reliable witness to historical transformations? And, if so, how far back does such memory stretch?

These are just a few of the questions to which I will try to provide some answers by looking at how history may become sedimented in language, and explore the complex relationship between layered linguistic memory and historical transformations that have resulted in the creation of various modern social, ethnic, regional, and confessional identities.

My linguistic exploration will focus mainly on Banat, a geographic space shared today by Romania, Serbia, and Hungary, which has acquired an increasingly distinct regional identity ever since the Habsburg authorities (re)defined its borders and institutions following its reconquest from the Ottomans in 1716. A good example of historical multilingualism, the Banat provides ample opportunities for exploring the interplay between various linguistic varieties and the identities they helped create and express. By looking at a few choice items, such as proper names, institutional and everyday vocabulary, and swearwords, I will try to illustrate how “linguistic archaeology” can help illuminate a complex and multi-layered history in a space where several languages of power (Latin, Hungarian, Serbian, Bosnian, Ottoman Turkish, German, Romanian) competed with and eventually supplanted each other.


Cristian Gaşpar. Classicist, linguist, medievalist. BA in Classics (Faculty of Letters, University of Timișoara, 1997), MA & PhD in Medieval Studies (Central European University, Budapest, 1998 & 2006). Lecturer at the Department of Medieval Studies, Central European University, Vienna. Author of various studies and articles on topics such as early medieval hagiography in Central Europe, late antique hagiography and intellectual history, history of sexualities, language and heritage, toponomastics and medieval documents from Banat. Currently working on a monograph about the emergence of regional varieties of Romanian in Banat during the Later Middle Ages and preparing the first synoptic critical edition of the 17th-century Romanian translation of the Calvinist versified Psalter.