Gaw tolke, pl. tulkes; Cl tolk, tolke, pl. tulkes, tulkkes; Erk pl. tulkes; WA tulke, pl. tulkis, tulkes, tulkez

'man, knight'

(Modern English )


Always derived from ON, cp. OIcel tulkr (Icel túlkur) ‘interpreter, spokesman; broker’; the ON itself is probably ultimately a loan from Slavonic or Lithuanian, possibly via LG (see further e.g. Mag., Nielsen, Falk-Torp). The presence of <u> variants in ME (reinforced by the word’s largely N and E distribution) makes derivation from Norse look more likely than loan from MLG (cp. MLG tolk, tollik, Du tolk, MHG tolc, tolke ‘translator’), though it is hard to rule out the latter, and the <o> variants are formally ambiguous. The disparity in sense between the ON and ME  words can be understood as an (extreme) instance of semantic generalization in a word that became restricted in literary usage as an alliterative synonym for ‘man’.

PGmc Ancestor

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

tulkr ‘interpreter, spokesman; broker’
(ONP tulkr (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Far tolkur, tulkur, Icel túlkur, Nor tolk, Dan tolk, Sw tolk

OE Cognate

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



Typical of (N and E) alliterative poetry, though MED also records it as a surname element, inc. from Somerset ((1327) Sub.R.Som.in Som.RS 3).

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 3, 41, 638, etc.; Cl 498, 687, 757; Erk 109; WA 752, 1212, 1304 etc.

McGillivray also reads <tulk> at Gaw 1486 (for what previous editors have seen as <talk>).


MED tūlk(e (n.) , OED tulk, tolk (n.) , HTOED , Dance tulk, de Vries tulkr, Mag. túlkur, Nielsen tolk, Hellquist tolk, Torp NnEO tolk, Falk-Torp tolk