Kosovo or Kosova? What's in a Name?
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"Kosovo" or "Kosova"?
What's in a Name
By John Peter Maher
Professor of Linguistics, Emeritus
Northeastern Illinois University

[Originally posted summer of 1999
Reposted 27 September 2002]


"Kosovo" is a Serbian place name, more fully "kosovo polje", meaning the 'field (or plain) of blackbirds'. "Kosovo Polje" lies just outside the city of Prishtina.

Ornithology lesson: Among North Americans, Australians, and South Africans, only ornithologists can identify the species in question. Kosovo's "black bird" is no crow, nor raven, no starling nor grackle, but "turdus merula", European cousin of the North American rusty-bellied thrush ("turdus migratorius"), which Yanks call the "robin".

In Britain and Ireland "robin" is the name of another species, "erithacus rubecula".
(The "four and twenty 'blackbirds' baked in a pie", of the English rhyme, were of the species "merula", in Serbian called "kos". From this term "kosovo" is the derived possessive adjective.

Like America's harbinger of spring, the black bird called "kos" in Serbian language sings sweetly in the springtime and early summer.

For North Americans the feel of the Serbo-Croatian place name "Kosovo" can only be had from a free translation, "Field of Robins".

Albanians have borrowed the word from the Serbs, whose once overwhelming majority was driven down, especially since the Congress of Berlin, by savage aggression from Albanians incited then and in WW I by Austria-Hungary and Germany, in World War II by Mussolini's puppet Albanians, and after WW II by the discriminatory ethnic cleansing of the Stalinist dictator Josip Broz.

Native Indian place names in America have no meaning in English: e.g. "Michigan" means nothing in English. In Ojibwa "mishshikamaa" means "it is a big lake".

Just so the place names of Ireland have transparent meaning in Gaelic but are meaningless tags in the colonialist English, e.g. "Dublin" is Gaelic "dubh lin" 'black pool', and "Kildare" is "cil dara" 'church of the oak'. Just so the names of the Serbian province of Kosovo are clear Serbian formations, but have no meaning in the Albanian language.

Proof of the Serbian origin of the name and the loanword status of the immigrant Albanian term is that the word "Kosovo" has a clear etymology to anyone who knows a Slavic language, while Albanian "Kosova" is an opaque, meaningless place name in the Albanian language.

Kosovo is Serbian.

-- Peter Maher

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