Dialect Terminology for Corn and Corn-related Tasks

Dialect Terminology for Corn and Corn-related Tasks

The arrival of corn to the region

Corn is a cereal crop introduced from the Americas to Europe (more specifically to Spain) at the end of the 15th century. Corn arrived in the region inhabited by Slovenes in the 17th century, when it was passed on by the Italians in Friuli, Gorizia and the Zilja Valley. In Dolenjska, Styria (Sln. Štajerska) and the eastern part of Carinthia (Sln. Koroška), it was passed on by the Turks via Hungary (Valenčič 1970: 258–259; SEL 2004: 236).

Fig. 1. Corn field in Žabnica, Sorško polje. Photo by Ana Šifrer, June 15th 2023.

It was not until the end of the 17th century that farmers in Slovenia began to plant corn more intensively, but it has since become well-established in the diets of southern Europe and the Balkan Peninsula. In areas where corn thrived, it was grown on almost every farm, although it was only planted in large quantities mainly in south-eastern and western Slovenia. Ripe corn cobs were harvested, i.e. broken or reaped, in the field (see Makarovič 1978: 68) and brought home in carts.

This process was followed by husking, which was largely carried out in groups. This was the case in Slovenia until the 1960s, when manual husking was replaced by machine husking. Smaller quantities of corn were husked in the house and larger quantities in front of the house, in the yard or on the floor (after SEL 2004: 284). We should point out that a distinction is made here between (1) husking as a task and (2) husking/husks as a material (the outer leaves removed from the corn cobs and used as a filler, for weaving or as material for the manufacture of various products).

Huskers usually sit in a circle around a large pile, on low stools, tablecloths, benches, boxes, etc. In Slovenia they usually retain three or four leaves on the cobs when husking so that they can then tie two corn cobs together and throw them onto the nearby pile (Makarovič 1978: 68–69).

Tasks etched into the memories of local people

In the past, tasks such as husking and hulling were considered to be more important group tasks on the farm. In her doctoral dissertation (2012: 101–102), Saša Poljak Istenič relates that older narrators recall that mowing, reaping and threshing were carried out manually mostly until the 1960s and, in some cases, until the 1970s.

Husking (2012: 131–132) was group work that people considered more as a social event than as work and one to which they frequently invited their neighbours. They would do the husking on the floor or in the house, leaving only as many leaves as were required to tie the cobs together and enable them to be hung on the hayrack or in the attic. In addition to the husks, which were used to stuff mattresses and for the making of mats (the husks were sewn together in a braid or hatching), they also used corn husks, which were given to the livestock as food. From the 1980s on, corn was grown only for silage, but this too was abandoned because of predation by game animals.

Q: What about husking?
A: It used to be like that, people would come to help.
Q: Where did you usually husk the corn?
A: Wherever. Sometimes inside the house, in the living room, and sometimes on the floor.
Q: Did about the same people come as for the millet throw?
A: Yes, the same people.
Q: And it wasn’t for payment either, it was more for socialising?
A: Yes.
Q: How did you go about it?
A: They brought the corn in and then they husked it.
Q: Did you leave any leaves on the corn?
A: Yes.
Q: How many did you leave?
A: Some of them. This was so we could hang them up.
Q: Where did you hang them?
A: On the hayrack or in the attic, on poles.
Q: How long did the corn hang there for?
A: It varied. A few months.
Q: What did you use the corn for?
A: Most of it for livestock, and for cornflour.

Interview with Anton Birk.

Dialect terminology

Slovenian linguists (mainly dialectologists) have, since 1946, been collecting terms for this traditional rural task in all its geographical variants (i.e. in all Slovenian dialects) for the Slovenian Linguistic Atlas (SLA). The material for the dialectal names of tasks (ličkati and ružiti) is also discussed in SLA 3: Farming (2023) and in an article in the journal Hrvatski dialektologški zbornik (Jakop 2022)). In the present paper, the transcription of dialectal forms is phonetically unified or simplified, and dialectal forms have been converted into a form acceptable to the standard (literary) form of the language (e.g. turščica for turšca in the Gorenjska dialect).

Words for corn

In the Dictionary of Standard Slovene Language (SSKJ), the noun korúza ‘corn’ means ‘an annual plant with a knobby stem and large cones, or its seed’. There are 18 different names for this in Slovenian dialects.

The most common dialectal lexeme is turščica (← Turek or Turčija), which is found in the Gorenjska and Styria dialect groups; turka and turkinja in the Koroška dialect group; turščak in the Notranjska dialect; and turkin in the Istrian dialect of the Primorska dialect group. Slovenian etymological dictionaries (ESSJ, SES) indicate two possible sources of acquisition: 1) from the Italian grano turco ‘corn’ and 2) from the Old and/or dialectal German Türkisch Korn ‘corn’ or Türkischer Weizen ‘corn’ (as e.g. Czech turkyně ‘corn’). It is assumed that corn is named after Turkey because it was introduced to the Balkans in the 17th century through Turkish intervention; another possible explanation is that the adjective ‘Turkish’ means ‘American’ or ‘Mexican’, as Turkey was regarded as the border with the rest of the world for Europe at that time (see also Karničar-Žejn (after Kisch 1946) 2009: 578).

The lexeme koruza (< via Croatian kukuruz) is most widespread in the east, but it also appears as a dual in other dialects (as a literary term for the dialect expressions turščica, frmentin, etc.), especially in areas where corn could not be sown because the high altitude meant that it would not ripen (e.g. in the Rož [Germ. Rosental] and Obir [Germ. Hochobir] dialects of the Koroška dialect group, or in the Soča dialect of the Primorska dialect group).

The lexeme kukorica (< Hungarian kukorica < South Slavic kukurica) is typical of the Prekmurje dialect. The lexemes kuruz and kukuruz (← Croatian kukuruz) are used in the South Bela Krajina dialect alongside the less common names debelača and debelka. In the Istrian dialect, as well as in part of the Notranjska dialect, the predominant lexemes borrowed from Romance languages are frmentin or frmenton (← Italian formentone ‘corn’, Triestine Italian formenton ‘corn’, Friulian formenton ‘corn’; Pirona 2001: 336, Doria 1987: 244) and frmenta (← Friulian forment ‘corn’; Pirona 2001: 336).

In the west (e.g. in the Zilja dialect of the Koroška dialect group and in the Tersko, Obsoško, Nadiško, Briško, Kraško and Tolminsko dialects of the Primorska dialect group), we find the lexeme sirek, which indicates that this variety of cereal grew here before the arrival of corn and that the name was transferred to a new plant similar to it.

Words for corn husking and corn hulling

In the Dictionary of Standard Slovene Language (SSKJ), the verb líčkati means ‘to remove the outer leaves from a corn cob’ (i.e. husking). In Slovenian dialects, the most frequent are inherited (i.e. Slavic) lexemes, e.g. ličkati in the Dolenjska and Eastern Gorenjska dialects and likati in the Slovenske Gorice and Prlekija dialects of the Pannonian dialect group. In the Styrian dialects (e.g. Savinjska Dolina, Kozjansko, Slovenske Gorice), the most frequent lexeme is kožuhati. Other common expressions are slačiti in the Primorska and Notranjska dialects (e.g. Brkini) and majiti in the Rovte and some Gorenjska dialects. The lexeme lupiti is found in Istrian dialects and the variant lupati in Pannonian dialects (e.g. in Prekmurje, Prlekija and Porabje).

In the Dictionary of Standard Slovene Language (1975), the verb luščíti or lúščiti has the meaning ‘to remove the kernels from a corn cob’ (i.e. hulling). In Slovenian dialects, the most frequently used lexeme is luščiti in the Štajerska dialect group, some Koroška dialects and the Prekmurje dialect. The second most frequent lexeme is ružiti (Dolenjska and Notranjska dialects) and the third most frequent lexeme is robkati (Gorenjska and Rovte dialect groups, with phonetic variants such as rofkati or rohkati). The morphological variants robiti and robati also appear in the Koroška dialects. The lexeme mrviti, which is typical of the Primorska dialect group (e.g. Brkini), is less frequent, and the verb mencati is used in the Obsoško dialect (River Soča area).

Heritagisation of the tasks associated with harvesting corn: the use of dialect lexicon in contemporary heritage material

In 2015 the first entry of a language or dialect system as a heritage unit in the Slovenian Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage was made (these were the languages of the Čabranka and the Upper Kolpa, later joined by Prekmurje, Solčava, Bovec and Istrian-Venetian in Slovenian Istria, and finally Sorica). Dialects have been part of Slovenian heritage classification from the very beginning: in 2008 they were included in the first version of the Register of Intangible Heritage as part of the unified cultural heritage register.

Tourism and cultural heritage are interdependent: just as cultural heritage is a valuable resource for tourism, tourism is an excellent opportunity to promote and facilitate access to cultural heritage. Today, while the variety of available cultural heritage texts (both online and on paper, from tourist guides to museum websites) is growing, we do not yet have a universal dialect manual for the simplified recording of dialect terms (i.e. for the use of dialect lexicon for tourism purposes); there are, however, instructions and even a manual for the simplified recording of dialect forms entitled ‘Methods for collecting house and family names’ (Klinar et al. 2012), published as part of the FLU-LED project (https://www.ragor.si/projekt/metode-zbiranja-hisnih-in-ledinskih-imen/).

A few decades ago, husking (ličkanje, slačenje, lupanje or kožuhanje koruze, as it is called in various Slovenian dialects) was considered one of the most important autumn tasks on the farm; today, it is mostly just a pleasant task related to the preservation or revival of tradition. In recent years, various local communities have begun to recognise the tasks associated with harvesting and processing corn as intangible cultural heritage, and to revive them. In turn, in recent decades dialect expressions have also been increasingly used for tourism purposes, e.g. in local brochures and other promotional materials, and on websites. This gives us the opportunity to observe the use of dialect lexicon in materials promoting tourist, local, traditional and other heritage events in which corn is husked or hulled.

The Gorenjska people invite you to majenje turšce (https://www.mojaobcina.si/bohinj/dogodki/majenje-tursce-1.html) and a rofkanje turšce (https://www.tnp.si/sl/obiscite/koledar-dogodkov/rofkanje-tursce-in-turscni-zganci/). Also in Vrhnika, a social event involving corn-husking entitled ‘Grema turšca slačt’ (https://nauportus.wordpress.com/2021/10/15/1347/).

The Koroška region invites people to flincarija (i.e. corn-husking); the members of the St Vid Sports Tourist Board strive to preserve the old folk customs and traditions of their home region and therefore pass them on to the younger generation (http://www.sv-vid.si/Domov/Branjenovic/CBModuleId/429/ArticleID/93/VABILO-NA-FLINCARIJO–v-petek-510-ob-20h.aspx). For several years now, the Šempas Tourist Board in Goriška has been preserving an old tradition, from planting corn in the field to making corn flour for polenta. Every year it invites people to žurjenje sirka and mencanje sirka ‘a corn-husking and a corn- hulling’ (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.498021433731940&type=3).

In Prlekija they call the event Kožühaje na Cvenu ‘a corn-husking in Cven’ (http://td-cven.si/kozuhaje/), while people in Prekmurje, for example, invite people to lüjpanje kukorce, an early autumn event with a demonstration of manual corn-husking, which is organised every year by the Rdeči Zvonček Nedelica Cultural Association (https://vestnik.si/index.php/clanek/aktualno/v-nedelici-so-rocno-lujpali-kukorco-732886).

Uses of dialect terminology for product branding and in literature

Dialectal lexicon can appear in product naming, e.g. moka iz bohinjske turšce (https://www.bohinj.si/izdelek/moka-iz-bohinjske-tursce/) or as Prekmurje lejko mlejko, but dialect also ‘penetrates’ the field of the literary in advertisements, which may use dialect lexicon or be read or spoken entirely in dialect (e.g. for tomatoes: paradajz (Slovenian paradižnik) Lušt: dialectal ‘Tou san ges, paradajz iz Prekmurja’ (‘It’s me, a tomato from Prekmurje’).

Dialectal words also appear in literature, e.g. in the title of Tomšič’s well-known novel Zrno od frmntona ‘The Grain of Corn’ (https://beletrina.si/knjiga/zrno-od-frmntona) or in the title of a book of Slovenian folklore tales Svi šle wakapavat turšca na Mah: pripovedi z jugozahodnega dela Ljubljanskega barja (‘Svi šle wakapavat turšca na Mah: Tales from the South-Western Part of the Ljubljana Marshes’) by Tatjana Oblak Milčinski, published in 2006 in the Glasovi collection. The book is based on the opening line: ‘Turšca z wagna rase!’ said my mother, ‘k swi šle wakapavat turšca na Mah’ (Oblak Milčinski 2006: 4).



In the past, tasks such as husking, skinning or corn-hulling were considered to be among the more important group tasks on the farm; today, however, they mostly remain a pleasant way of preserving or reviving tradition, while the dialect terminology associated with manual tasks and processing methods, which some informants still remember today, is fading into oblivion because of modern cultivation methods. With this and similar contributions, linguists, dialectologists, ethnologists, folklorists and the like are keen to contribute to the preservation of lexical diversity.

As a relatively young science (dialectology as an independent science has existed only since the 19th century), dialectologists research, collect, register, and analyse more than 40 Slovenian dialects. In addition, lay representatives of local communities use their local dialect for tourist and/or cultural activities and presentations, relying more or less on the professional work of dialectologists and other related disciplines, using their own resources and trying to preserve local dialectal features. I conclude this paper with the hope and wish (from my professional linguistic perspective) that we can come together as often as possible: that there will be less divergence and more synergy between professionals and non-professionals in the heritage-making.

  1. Doria, M. (1987). Grande dizionario del dialetto triestino: storico etimologico fraseologico, con la collaborazione di Claudio Noliani. Edizioni »Italo Svevo« – Edizioni »Il Meridiano«.
  2. Bezlaj, F. (1976, 1982, 1995, 2005, 2007). Etimološki slovar slovenskega jezika I–V. SAZU, Inštitut za slovenski jezik, Mladinska knjiga.
  3. Jakop, T. (2022). Koruzništvo na Slovenskem: narečna poimenovanja za koruzo in z njo povezana opravila. Hrvatski dijalektološki zbornik 26, 49–60.
  4. Karničar, L. in Žejn, A. (2009). Poimenovanja za koruzo v slovenskih narečjih na avstrijskem Koroškem: ob nadaljevanju dolgoročnega projekta o leksikalni inventarizaciji koroških govorov. V Vera Smole (ur.), Slovenska narečja med sistemom in rabo. Znanstvena založba Filozofske fakultete, Obdobja 26, 575–588.
  5. Klinar, K. (2012). Metode zbiranja hišnih in ledinskih imen. KLINAR, Klemen (avtor, urednik) idr. Jesenice‒Celovec: Gornjesavski muzej Jesenice.
  6. Makarovič, M. (1978). Kmečko gospodarstvo na Slovenskem. Mladinska knjiga.
  7. Pirona, G. A., Carletti, E. in Corgnali G. B. (2001). Il Nuovo Pirona: vocabolario friulano, aggiunte e correzioni riordinate da Giovanni Frau. Società filologica friulana (11935, 1972, 1996).
  8. Oblak Milčinski, T. (2006). Svi šle wakapavat turšca na Mah: pripovedi z jugozahodnega dela Ljubljanskega barja. Založba Kmečki glas.
  9. Poljak Istenič, S. (2012). Šege ob delu: transformacija ritualnih praks in raziskovalni problemi. Doktorska disertacija.
  10. Slovenski etnološki leksikon (2004) Ur. Angelos Baš s sodelovanjem uredniških odborov.Mladinska knjiga.
  11. Snoj, M. (2016). Slovenski etimološki slovar. Založba ZRC.
  12. Škofic, Jožica, Gostenčnik, Januška, Hazler, Vito, Horvat, Mojca, Jakop, Tjaša, Kenda-Jež, Karmen, Pahor, Nina, Smole, Vera, Šekli, Matej, Zuljan Kumar Danila (2023). Slovenski lingvistični atlas 3. Kmetovanje, 1: atlas in 2. komentarji. Založba ZRC, ZRC SAZU (Jezikovni atlasi). Spletna izdaja na www.fran.si.
  13. Slovar slovenskega knjižnega jezika [Dictionary of Standard Slovene Language] II: I–Na (1975). SAZU, ZRC SAZU, DZS.
  14. Valenčič, V. (1970). Kulturne rastline. Državna založba Slovenije.