Saturday 13 February 2016


If you have ever looked up during the summer months, you probably would have seen swallows zooming around chasing insects. This is a great video showing swallows in flight. 

Swallows flying

Swallows are a group of birds in the family Hirundinidae that are characterized by their adaptation to aerial feeding. They generally forage for prey that is flying, but they will on occasion snap prey off branches or on the ground. The flight may be fast and involve a rapid succession of turns and banks when actively chasing fast moving prey; less agile prey may be caught with a slower more leisurely flight that includes flying in circles and bursts of flapping mixed with gliding. Swallows have evolved these highly acrobatic flying skills to capture some of nature’s most elusive prey: flies. According to the scientists who studied their flying abilities, "swallows are the absolute extreme when it comes to flight performance. They're at the cutting edge for what can happen with an avian body plan in terms of flight."

So if you had to use one word to describe swallows in a way to distinguish them instantly from all the other birds, that word would probably be "fast".

Now here is a funny thing. 

In Serbian the word for swallow is "lasta" and "lastavica". Official etymology says that this word comes from Proto-Slavic *lasta. Cognates include:  Church Slavonic: ластунъ, ластуна, ластовица, Russian: ла́стка, ла́стовка, ла́стушка, ла́стица, Ukrainian: ластови́ця, ла́стiвка, Bulgarian: ла́стовица, ла́ставица, Slovenian: lástovica, lástovka, Czech: lаštоviсе, Slovakian: lastovička, Polish: łastówka, łastawka, Lusatian Serbian: łаstоjса, Polabian: lostövéica.

The meaning of the Proto-Slavic *lasta is not given. 

In Irish, one of the lesser known meanings of the word "lasta" is "to move at high speed"...

So... Is this the root of all the Slavic words for swallow, "the bird that moves at high speed"? Or did this (obscure) word in Irish meaning "moving at high speed" come from Slavic word for swallow?

One more interesting thing. In many Slavic languages, including Serbian, there are two words for swallow: "lasta" and "lastavica". Lasta means fast. But where does the "vic" (pronounced vits) comes from. Well it could be a diminutive. But there is also another possibility. 

These are three videos in which you can clearly hear the sounds swallows make. It sounds like: 


Sound of swallows 1
Sound of swallows 2
Sound of swallows 3

So lastavica is lasta (fast moving bird) which says "vic"...

Interesting don't you think? And the most interesting is the question: where and when did this borrowing occur? Considering that the word lasta is present in all the Slavic languages, the borrowing, if the word was borrowed from Gaelic to Slavic languages, had to occur during the Iron or Bronze Age. But where? Central Europe? Balkans? And if the word was borrowed from Slavic languages into Gaelic, when and where did this happen? 

Lots to think about :)

1 comment:

  1. ne znam kako lasta može biti pozajmljena reč kad imamo pridev lastan - lak kojeg navodi skok. laste lete brzo i lako pa je odatle verovatno i veza; čiopa (apus apus), koja je slična lasti, na eng. je swift a ista reč znači brzo i lako). kognati su sans. लस्त (lasta) - vešt kao i litv. lakstyti - trčati. ljujati se. tu su i šved. lätt, dan. let, norv. lett, nem. leicht kao i alb. lehtë - lako.