2020, Volume 17, Issue 2

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Elena L. Berezovich*
Irina T. Demkina**
Dmitry V. Spiridonov**

*Ural Federal University
*Perm State University
**Ural Federal University
Ekaterinburg, Russia

The Name from the Wörter und Sachen Perspective: Mary’s Glass in the Russian and Western European Languages

Voprosy onomastiki, 2020, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp. 135–165 (in Russian)
DOI: 10.15826/vopr_onom.2020.17.2.021

Received on 15 April 2020

Abstract: The paper discusses the Russian deanthroponymic gemstone name Maryino steklo (Maria’s glass) which refers to mica (more often), leafy Gypsum (less often), or fulgurite (in isolated cases) and has a dubious origin. Subject to a historical-lexicological and semantic-motivational analysis, this name happens to have multiple equivalents: Lat. glacies Mariae, Ger. Marienglas, Frauenglas, Fr. glace de Marie, Eng. (St.) Mary’s glass, and others. In Western European languages, the corresponding terms can also refer both to gypsum, usually of the fibrous type (selenite), and mica, and likewise to talc. It is also noted that there is another term, the “stone of Jesus” (Fr. pierre à Jésus), that forms a binomial with the “Mary’s glass.” The authors conclude that the studied lexical group should have originated from a gemstone name related to selenite, with an internal form “the glass of Mary” or “ice of the Virgin,” which appeared in Germany before the mid-15th century. The motivation is probably due to the special properties of the stone (purity, transparency), making it either “pleasing to the Virgin,” “created by the Virgin,” or “protected by the Virgin”. Further, the internal form has changed in line with the cultural practice of using selenite: it served as a replacement for glass in front of icons and in reliquaries. From the 18th century, the “glass of Mary” is mentioned in Russian-language literature: first as a German and/or Latin “quote,” and then as a calque. The Russian tradition gave two major shifts as compared to the West European: 1) a “cultural” shift (Russian religious practices, similar to those of Western Europe, focused mainly on mica which was an important export item to Europe), and 2) a “linguistic” shift (in Europe, people often used the same nomenclature for Russian mica and gypsum). With the named object exported from Russia to Western Europe, the “Russian bias” anchored in some European languages, leading to the “cultural remotivation” of the loan word.

Keywords: gemstone names, deanthroponymic derivation, Wörter und Sachen approach, motivational analysis, historical lexicology, language contacts, loan translation.


The study was carried out with grant support from the Russian Science Foundation, project No. 20-18-00269 “Mining and Early Plant Culture in the Language, Folk Writing and Folklore of the Urals” (Perm State National Research University). The authors are grateful to Elena D. Bondarenko, Vasily A. Volosatov, Dmitry V. Voroshchuk, Elena Sh. Galimova, Gleb Donskoy, Elena E. Ivanova, Galina I. Kabakova, Irina A. Letova, Ilona Janyšková for their valuable advice in preparing the article.


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