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Gothic language

The Gothic language (𐌲𐌿𐍄𐌹𐍃𐌺) is a Germanic language known to us by a translation of the Bible known as Codex Argenteus ("The Silver Bible") dating from the 4th century AD, of which some books survive. The translation was apparently done in the Balkans region by people in close contact with Greek Christian culture. The language is Germanic but has major differences from other known Germanic languages. It is the only surviving East Germanic language; the others, including Burgundian and Vandalic, are known, if at all, only from proper names.

It appears that the Gothic Bible was used by the Visigoths in Spain until circa 700 AD, and perhaps for a time in Italy, the Balkans and what is now Ukraine.

Some Gothic language New Testament texts are found today in a few palimpsests and in other fragments, such as the Codex Carolinus in Wolfenbüttel, as well as codices in Milan, Turin and the Vatican. In exterminating Arianism, many texts in Gothic will have been expunged, and overwritten as palimpsests, or collected and burned, as Trinitarian Christianity triumphed. Apart from these texts from the New Testament, the only other Gothic document is a few pages of commentary on the Gospel of John. This document is usually called the "Skeireins".

In addition, there are numerous short fragments and Runic inscriptions that are known to be or suspected to be Gothic. Some scholars believe that these inscriptions are not at all Gothic (see Braune/Ebbinghaus "Gotische Grammatik" Tübingen 1981)

The Gothic Bible and Skeireins were written using a special alphabet. See Gothic alphabet.

The Gothic alphabet was probably created by bishop Ulfilas who also translated the Bible into the "razda" (language). Some scholars (e.g. Braune) claim that it was derived from the Greek alphabet only, while others maintain that there are some Gothic letters of runic or Latin origin.

There are very few references to the Gothic language in secondary sources after about 800 AD, so perhaps it was rarely used by that date. In evaluating medieval texts that mention the Goths, it must be noted that many writers used "Goths" to mean any Germanic people in eastern Europe, many of whom certainly did not use the Gothic language as known from the Gothic Bible. Some writers even referred to Slavic-speaking people as Goths.

There is also the case of the "Crimean Goths". A few fragments of their language dating to the 16th century exist today. Assuming those fragments are genuine, it appears to be a different language from the one used in the Gothic Bible (but is still certainly Germanic).

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45