"Gunsel" thread: loose end

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Thu Jan 31 14:16:18 UTC 2002

>At 9:52 AM -0800 1/30/02, Peter A. McGraw wrote:
>>Sorry if this reply is a bit stale by now, but I'm slowly digging
>>myself out of a mountain of e-mail that has piled up over the last
>>couple of weeks
>>when I had no time to read it.  Just in case anybody cares:
>>I-umlaut is strongest in the north of the German-speaking area and
>>it weakens to the south.  The situation in the dialects is reflected
>>in place names such as Innsbruck (cf. standard German Bruecke) and
>>in some words in colloquial Austrian standard.  The combination of
>>this with the fact that the -l diminutive is a southern phenomenon
>>accounts for dialectal and colloquial Austrian forms like madl (cf.
>>standard German Maedchen), 'girl'.
>>("Sauberes Madl," says an Austrian officer approvingly of the main
>>character's lover in J. Strauss's "Gypsy Baron.")
>>So the step from a southern-derived gansl to gunsel (if the u is pronounced
>>as a mid central vowel) would not be a big one.
>And since the immediate source was the (cited) Yiddish form "gantzel"
>(and not "gentzel"), it's plausible that the diminutive crossed the
>Atlantic with a back vowel in place, before the (minor)
>folk-etymologized adjustment to "gunsel" (with a wedge/carat/schwa).

That's about what I would have thought, although I wouldn't have known
north/south from east/west. BTW "M├Ądel" (i.e., "Maedel" I guess) seems
natural enough to me from my slight acquaintance with standard German. My
ignorance of Yiddish (also Swiss, Austrian, etc.) is somewhat more
profound. Let me ask another two questions. (1) In this case [and in other
similar ones] where a Yiddish origin is cited, is it known that the origin
is Yiddish as opposed to general [or (say) southern] German, or is it just
a guess? (2) Do northern and southern Yiddish varieties have the same
variations/relations as do northern and southern German varieties in
general, or does the designation "Yiddish" narrow things down in this respect?

M-W (Web), AHD4 (Web), and Lighter's HDAS show the putative Yiddish
ancestor as "gendzl"; my OED and RHUD show it as "genzel".

-- Doug Wilson

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