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Windish / Slovenes in Hungary

by Kevin Zwar

In July, 2016 I received the following query from Tibor Hoat and Joël Gerber of Germany:

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen

While searching for Windish/Slovene communities and people dealing with Windish/Slovene language, culture and history, we came across your great website.

Ten years ago, we created a website both in English and German about the history, culture and traditions of the Slovene minority in Hungary, the goal of which is to inform the descendants of the Hungarian Slovenes around the world (who do not speak Porabian/Windish (Slovenian dialect in Hungary) anymore) about their roots and also to make the Slovene Raba Region/Vendvidek/Windish region known all over the world.

We thought you and perhaps also readers and the members of your website might be interested in our website:

We are aware that the Wendish people (in Germany also called: Wenden/Sorben/Serbski) are Western-Slavic people in Europe and the Windish people (in Hungary also often called: Vendek/Slovenes and in the USA Windish) are Southern-Slavic people in Europe. But both Slavic groups are near German-speaking areas in Europe and when they migrated they brought the terms Wenden and Vendek respectively with them and both groups called their communities abroad, in English, Wendish and Windish.

When Tibor’s father speaks Windish, he uses the term “Slovenski” for Windish. But when he speaks Hungarian, he uses the term “Vend/Vendül” for Windish. The term “vend” does not exist in the Windish language.

We are wondering if the term Wendish exists in the Wendish language. Do the Wendish people call themselves Wendish, when speaking in Wendish language, or is there another expression for it?

We met Windish people in the USA (descendants of immigrants from the Raba Region in Hungary). When they spoke English, they used the term Windish (we are Windish), but when they spoke Windish they used the term Slovenci (Mi smo slovenci). Is this similar with the Wendish language too? Thank you very much for your help!

Yours sincerely,
Tibor Hoat
Joël Gerber

The following is my response:

Hello Tibor and Joël,

It was a wonderful surprise to receive your email. It raises an interesting point that I have sometimes tried to make: The Wends in Germany are called ‘Sorbs’ by the German writers and speakers, (and most of the Wendish literature etc is written in Germany by Germans).

In the 1800’s and later the English term for the Wends has been ‘Wends’. Some Australians call the Wends ‘Sorbs’, copying the Germans (but they don’t say that the Germans speak ‘Deutsch’, or that they live in Deutschland – as the Germans do!).

However the Wends in Germany, when speaking about themselves, do not call themselves ‘Sorbs’ or ‘Wends’. Like the ‘Windish’ writer, I am not clear what the Wends call themselves in their own Wendish language. I look forward to hearing from you again.

Wendish Greetings,
Kevin P Zwar

Tibor and Joël responded with the following explanation:

Hello Kevin,

Thank you very much for your email!

The Windish people and Slovene people are the same ethnic group. The territory where Slovenes live belonged for centuries to Austria and Hungary. In the past the German speaking people used the term “Wenden” for Slavic speaking people living in the eastern part of the German speaking area and “Welsch” for Romance speaking people living in the western part of the German-speaking area. The Hungarians copied the term “Wenden” and used the term” “Vendek” for the Slovenes. The term “Vendek/Wenden/Windisch”, also “Welsch” actually means “stranger”, people who do not speak German.

At the end of the 19th century, when the South Slavic nations (Slovenes, Croats, Serbs etc.) planned to create a South Slavic nation, the Hungarians and Austrians used the term “Vendek/Windisch” to say that the Slovenes are not Slavic people, but that they only speak a Slavic language. So it was a political issue too.

And at the time when a lot of Slovenes from Hungary (at the beginning of the 20th century) emigrated abroad, especially to the USA, they brought this term “Vendek/Windisch” with them and created an English way of spelling it: “Windish”. But in their own Windish language they called themselves “Slovenci” (Slovenes).

After WWI the South Slavic nations created the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later called Yugoslavia. And after the Cold War an independent State, Slovenia, was created in 1991.

Of course a lot of descendants of Slovenes living abroad and not speaking Slovenian any more, especially in the USA, were and still are confused, as to why they are now called Slovenes and not Windish. As these descendants do not speak Windish/Slovenian, they do not know what they are called in the Windish language.

You write that the Germans call the Wendish people “Sorben”. But in the past, the Germans termed them “Wenden”. We assume that the Wendish people and the Windish people share a similar past.

1. Both are Slavic people who lived and still live bordering a German-speaking area.

2. Both were called Wendish and Windish respectively (strangers) by German-speaking people.

3. When they migrated overseas, they called themselves Wendish and Windish in English, but mostly spoke their Slavic mother tongue (at least in the first and second generations).

4. During the 20th century, a lot of national states were created in Europe and therefore, the Wendish and Windish people emancipated themselves and generated a national identity. They reflected on how they could term themselves as an ethnic group in their own language.

5. The people who had emigrated overseas had already lost the language of their ancestors and therefore didn’t know that they are called “Slovenci” in their Slavic mother tongue.

Could it be that the Wendish emigrants in the 19th century called themselves “Serbski” in their own Slavic mother tongue? The word “Sorben” is only a German translation of the word “Serbski”, so we assume that the Wendish people called themselves “Serby” and in their mother tongue their language “serbsky” or” serbscina”, but not “Wendish”.

The only difference between Windish / Slovene and the Wendish / Serby is that since 1991 the Slovenes have had a country of their own, Slovenia. Because of this the Windish people outside of Slovenia now have a mother country. Since 1991 the Windish communities have had a Slovenian ambassador in the USA. The Serby (in German: Sorben) do not have their own country; they are an acknowledged ethnic minority in Germany.

Tibor and Joël

Thanks to Tibor Hoat, Joël Gerber and Kevin Zwar for this information, which adds to our knowledge of the Slavic peoples.