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Germanic languages

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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 (Eszett), , , , Ð, ȝ, and Þ and ƿ, from runes. Historic printed German is frequently set in a distinctive typeface called Fraktur.

Linguistic Markers

Some unique features of Germanic languages are:

  1. The levelling of the IE tense system into past and present (or common)
  2. The use of a dental suffix (/d/ or /t/) instead of vowel alternation (ablaut) to indicate past tense.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The consonant shift known as Grimm's Law.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Family tree

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.

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).

English Afrikaans Danish Dutch Faroese German Gothic Icelandic Scots Swedish Yiddish
Apple Appel ble Appel Srepli Apfel Aplus Epli Aiple pple עפּל (Epl)
Board Bord Brt Bord Borð Brett bard Borð Buird Bord  
Book Boek Bog Boek Bk Buch Bka Bk Beuk Bok בוך (Buḫ)
Breast Bors Bryst Borst Brst Brust Brusts Brjst Breest Brst ברוסט (Brust)
Brown Bruin Brun Bruin Brnt Braun Bruns Brnn Broun Brun  
Day Day Dag Dag Dagur Tag Dags Dagur Day Dag טאָג (Tog)
Die Sterf D Sterven Doyggja Sterben Diwan Deyja Dee D  
Enough Genoeg Nok Genoeg Ng Genug Ga-nhs Ng Eneuch Nog גענוג (Genug)
Give Gee Give Geven Geva Geben Giban Gefa Gie Giva/Ge געבן (Gebn)
Glass Glas Glas Glas Glas Glas   Gler Gless Glas גלאָז (Gloz)
Gold Goud Guld Goud Gull Gold Gulþ Gull Gowd Guld גאָלד (Gold)
Hand Hand Hnd Hand Hnd Hand Handus Hnd Haund Hand האַנט (Hant)
Head Kop Hoved Hoofd/Kop Hvd/hvur Haupt/Kopf Hubiþ Hfuð Heid Huvud קאָפּ (Kop)
High Hoog Hj Hoog Hg/ur Hoch Huh Hr Heich Hg הױך (Hoyḫ)
Home Heim Hjem Thuis Heim Heim Himþ Heim Hame Hem הײם (Heym)
Hook Haak Krog Haak Haken Haken   Krkur Heuk Hake/Krok  
House Huis Hus Huis Hs Haus Hs Hs Hoose Hus הױז (Hoyz)
Many Menige Mange Menig Ngv Manche Manags Margir Mony Mnga  
Moon Maan Mne Maan Mni Mond Mna Tungl Muin Mne  
Night Nag Nat Nacht Ntt Nacht Nahts Ntt Nicht Natt נאַכט (Naḫt)
No Nee Nej Nee Nei Nein/N N Nei Nae Nej נײן (Neyn)
Old Oud Gammel Oud Gamal/Gomul Alt Sineigs Gamall Auld Gammal אַלט (Alt)
One Een En Een Eitt Eins ins Einn Ane En אײן (Eyn)
Ounce Ons Ons Unze   nsa Unce Uns  
Snow Sneeu Sne Sneeuw Kavi Schnee Sniws Snjr Snaw Sn שנײ (Šney)
Stone Steen Sten Steen Steinur Stein Stins Steinn Stane Sten שטײן (Šteyn)
That Dat Det Dat Hetta Das Þata Þetta That Det דאָס (Dos)
Two Twee To Twee Tvey Zwei/Zwo Twi Tveir Twa Tv צװײ (Ẓvey)
Who Wie Hvem Wie Hvr Wer Has Hver Wha Vem װער (Ver)
Worm Wurm Orm Worm Ormur Wurm Maþa Ormur Wirm Mask װאָרעם (Vorem)

See also

External links

  • Proto-Germanic Dictionary
  • Ethnologue Report for Germanic
  • Proto-Germanic Language Reconstruction Group

Last updated: 02-07-2005 11:21:40
Last updated: 03-18-2005 11:16:12