The Germanic languages form one of the branches of the Indo-European (IE) language family, spoken by the Germanic peoples who settled in northern Europe along the borders of the Roman Empire. They are characterised by a number of unique linguistic features, most famously the consonant change known as Grimm's law.
Some early Germanic languages developed runic alphabets of their own, but use of these alphabets was comparatively limited. East Germanic languages were written in the Gothic alphabet developed by Bishop Ulfilas for his translation of the Bible into Gothic. Later, Christian priests and monks who spoke and read Latin in addition to their native Germanic tongue began writing the Germanic languages with slightly modified Latin letters.
In addition to the standard Latin alphabet, various Germanic languages use a variety of accent marks and extra letters, including umlauts, the ß (Eszett), Ø, Æ, Å, Ð, ȝ, and Þ and ƿ, from runes. Historic printed German is frequently set in a distinctive typeface called Fraktur.
Some unique features of Germanic languages are:
- The levelling of the IE tense system into past and present (or common)
- The use of a dental suffix (/d/ or /t/) instead of vowel alternation (ablaut) to indicate past tense.
- The presence of two distinct types of verb conjugation: weak (using dental suffix) and strong (using ablaut). English has 161 strong verbs; all are of native English origin.
- The use of strong and weak adjectives. Modern English adjectives don't change except for comparative and superlative; this was not the case with Old English, where adjectives were inflected differently depending on whether they were preceded by an article or demonstrative, or not.
- The consonant shift known as Grimm's Law.
- A number of words with etymologies that are difficult to link to other Indo-European families, but variants of which appear in almost all Germanic languages. See Non-Indo-European roots of Germanic languages.
- The shifting of stress onto the root of the stem. Though English has an irregular stress, native words always have a fixed stress regardless of what's added to them. This is arguably the most important change.
All Germanic languages are thought to be descended from a hypothetical Proto-Germanic. Note that divisions between subfamilies of Germanic are rarely precisely defined; most form continuous clines, with adjacent dialects being mutually intelligible and more separated ones not.
Mentioned here are only the principal or unusual dialects; individual articles linked to below contain larger family trees. For example, many Low Saxon dialects are discussed on Low Saxon besides just Standard Low Saxon and Plautdietsch.
- Texas German
- Yiddish (with a significant influx of vocabulary from Hebrew and other languages, and traditionally written in the Hebrew alphabet)
- Wymysojer (with a significant influence from Low Saxon, Dutch, Polish and Scots)
- Low German
- Island German
English. Huge influx of Latinate vocabulary and grammar, most via Norman French. Many dialects.
- British English
- Midlands English
- Black Country (Yam Yam)
- Birminham (Brummie)
- Norfolk (Broad Norfolk)
- Southern English
- Scottish English
- American English
- Commonwealth English
- High German
- East Germanic (descending from Gothic)
- North Germanic (descending from Old Norse):
Comparison of Selected Terms
Several of the terms in the table below have had semantic drift . For example, the form 'Sterben' and other terms for 'die' are cognate with the English word 'starve'. There is also at least one example of a common borrowing from a Non-Germanic source (ounce and its cognates from Latin).
- Language families and languages
- Non-Indo-European roots of Germanic languages
- Folkspraak, a planned language designed to be quickly learnable by a speaker of any Germanic language.
- List of Germanic and Latinate equivalents
- Proto-Germanic Dictionary
- Ethnologue Report for Germanic
- Proto-Germanic Language Reconstruction Group