Infobox Language
region=Northern Europe
extinct=evolved into Proto-Norse, Gothic, Frankish and Ingvaeonic by the 4th century
script=Elder Futhark

thumb|right|245px|The expansion of the Germanic tribes">
750 BC – AD 1 (after the Penguin Atlas of World History 1988):legend |#0f0| New settlements until AD 1
Proto-Germanic, or Common Germanic, is the hypothetical common ancestor (proto-language) of all the Germanic languages such as modern English, Dutch, German, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, and Swedish. [Another, less common name used in English-language literature by a few noteworthy scholars is (Primitive) Germanic Parent Language. For example, see cite book |first=Leonard |last=Bloomfield |authorlink=Leonard Bloomfield |title=Language |publisher=The University of Chicago Press | city=Chicago and London |year=1984 | is=ISBN 0-226-06067-5 |pages=pages 298-299] The Proto-Germanic language is not directly attested by any surviving texts but has been reconstructed using the comparative method. However, a few surviving inscriptions in a runic script from Scandinavia dated to c. 200 are thought to represent a stage of Proto-Norse or, according to Bernard Comrie, Late Common Germanic immediately following the "Proto-Germanic" stage.cite book|last=Comrie|first=Bernard (editor)|authorlink=Bernard Comrie |title=The World's Major Languages|publisher=Oxford University Press|location=New York, New York|year=1987|id=ISBN 0-19-506511-5|pages=pages 69-70] In some non-Germanic languages spoken in areas adjacent to Germanic speaking areas, there are loanwords believed to have been borrowed from Proto-Germanic; an example is Finnish and Estonian "kuningas" "king", which closely resembles the reconstructed Proto-Germanic "*kuningaz".

Proto-Germanic is itself descended from Proto-Indo-European (PIE).

Evolution of Proto-Germanic

The evolution of Proto-Germanic began with the separation of a common way of speech among some geographically proximate speakers of a prior language and ended with the dispersion of the proto-language speakers into distinct populations practicing their own speech habits. Between those two points many sound changes occurred.

Archaeological contributions

In one majorFact|how to do reference to this theory? (for example a name of theory)|date=August 2008 theory of Andrev V Bell-Fialkov, Christopher Kaplonski, Wiliam B Mayer, Dean S Rugg, Rebeca W, Wendelken about Germanic origins, Indo-European speakers arrived on the plains of southern Sweden and Jutland, the center of the "Urheimat" or "original home" of the Germanic peoples, prior to the Nordic Bronze Age, which began about 4500 years ago. This is the only area where no pre-Germanic place names have been found. [cite book |first=Andrew |last=Bell-Fialkoll (Editor) |title=The Role of Migration in the History of the Eurasian Steppe: Sedentary Civilization v. "Barbarian" and Nomad |year=2000 |publisher=Palgrave Macmillan |id=ISBN 0312212070 |pages=page 117 Note that the term "pre-Germanic" is equivocal, meaning, as here, either prior to the Indo-European ancestors or Indo-European but prior to Proto-Germanic.] The region was certainly populated before then; the lack of names must indicate an Indo-European settlement so ancient and dense that the previously assigned names were completely replaced. If archaeological horizons are at all indicative of shared language (not a straightforward assumption), the Indo-European speakers are to be identified with the much more widely ranged Cord-impressed ware or Battle-axe culture and possibly also with the preceding Funnel-necked beaker culture developing towards the end of the Neolithic culture of Western Europe. [cite book |title=The Penguin atlas of world history |first=Hermann |last=Kinder |coauthors=Werner Hilgemann; Ernest A. Menze (Translator); Harald and Ruth Bukor (Maps) |location=Harmondsworth |publisher=Penguin Books |id=ISBN 0-14-051054-0 |year=1988 |pages=Volume 1 page 109] [Kinder book [,M1] ]

Proto-Germanic then evolved from the Indo-European spoken in the "Urheimat" region. The succession of archaeological horizons suggests that before their language differentiated into the individual Germanic branches the Proto-Germanic speakers lived in southern Scandinavia and along the coast from the Netherlands in the west to the Vistula in the east around 750 BC).cite encyclopedia |year=1993 |title=Languages of the World: Germanic languages | encyclopedia=The New Encyclopædia Britannica |publisher=Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc |location=Chicago, IL, United States |id=ISBN 0-85229-571-5 This long-standing, well-known article on the languages can be found in almost any edition of "Britannica".]

Another theory, which also includes the inception of Proto-Germanic is Paleolithic Continuity Theory. PCT conclusion differs in some detail from the above.

Linguistic definitions

By definition, Proto-Germanic is the stage of the language constituting the most recent common ancestor of the attested Germanic languages, dated to the latter half of the first millennium BC. The post-PIE dialects spoken throughout the Nordic Bronze Age, roughly 2500–500 BC, even though they may have no attested descendants other than the Germanic languages, are referred to as "pre-Proto-Germanic" or more commonly "pre-Germanic." [Pre-Proto-Germanic is relatively recent, but it still does not solve the problem of distinguishing pre-PIE from PIE but pre-Germanic populations.] By 250 BC, Proto-Germanic had branched into five groups of Germanic (two each in West and North, and one in East).In historical linguistics, Proto-Germanic is a node in the tree model; that is, if the descent of languages can be compared to a biological family tree, Proto-Germanic appears as a point, or node, from which all the daughter languages branch, and is itself at the end of a branch leading from another node, Proto-Indo-European. [The links in this sentence suffice to explain the basic concept but more information can be found in numerous books including cite book |first=Roger |last=Lass |title=Historical Linguistics and Language Change |publisher=Cambridge University Press |year=1997 |id=ISBN 0521459249 |pages=Chapter 3.6 "Sound Laws"] One of the problems with the node is that it implies the existence of a fixed language in which all the laws defining it apply simultaneously. Proto-Germanic, however, must be regarded as a diachronic sequence of sound changes, each law or group of laws only becoming operant after previous changes.This article covers some of the major changes but for more of a presentation see cite web |first=Scott |last=Kleinman |title=Germanic Sound Changes |work=English 400: History of the English Language: Grammar Tutorial and Resources |publisher=California State University, Northridge |format=pdf |accessdate=2007-11-05 |url=]

To the evolutionary history of a language family, a genetic "tree model" is considered appropriate only if communities do not remain in effective contact as their languages diverge. Early IE was computed to have featured limited contact between distinct lineages, while only the Germanic subfamily exhibited a less treelike behaviour as it acquired some characteristics from neighbours early in its evolution rather than from its direct ancestors. The internal diversification of especially West Germanic is cited to have been radically non-treelike. [ [] Perfect Phylogenetic Networks: A New Methodology for Reconstructing the Evolutionary History of Natural Languages - Luay Nakhleh,Don Ringe & Tandy Warnow, 2005, Language- Journal of the Linguistic Society of America, Volume 81, Number 2, June 2005]

W. P. Lehmann considered that Jacob Grimm's "First Germanic Sound Shift", or Grimm's Law and Verner's Law, [Described in this and the linked articles but see Kleinman.] which pertained mainly to consonants and were considered for a good many decades to have generated Proto-Germanic, were pre-Proto-Germanic, and that the "upper boundary" was the fixing of the accent, or stress, on the root syllable of a word, typically the first. [cite journal |first=W. P. |last=Lehmann |authorlink=Winfred P. Lehmann |title=A Definition of Proto-Germanic: A Study in the Chronological Delimitation of Languages |journal=Language |volume=37 | number=1 |date=January - March, 1961 |pages=pages 67–74 |doi=10.2307/411250] Proto-Indo-European had featured a moveable pitch accent comprising "an alternation of high and low tones" [cite journal |first=William H. |last=Bennett |title=The Stress Patterns of Gothic |journal=PMLA | volume=85 | number=3 |month=May |year=1970 |pages=pages 463–472 |url= |format=html |accessdate=2007-11-06 |doi=10.2307/1261448 First page and abstract no charge.] as well as stress of position determined by a set of rules based on the lengths of the word's syllables.

The fixation of the stress led to sound changes in unstressed syllables. For Lehmann, the "lower boundary" was the dropping of final -a or -e in unstressed syllables; for example, PIE *"woyd-á" > Gothic "wait", "knows" (the > and < signs in linguistics indicate a genetic descent). Antonsen agreed with Lehmann about the upper boundary [cite journal |first=Elmer H. |last=Antonsen |title=On Defining Stages in Prehistoric German |journal=Language |volume=41 | number=1 |date=January - March, 1965 |pages=pages 19–36 |doi=10.2307/411849] but later found runic evidence that the -a was not dropped: ékwakraz ... wraita, "I wakraz ... wrote (this)." He says: "We must therefore search for a new lower boundary for Proto-Germanic." [cite book |first=Elmer H. |last=Antonsen |title=Runes and Germanic Linguistics |publisher=Walter de Gruyter |year=2002 |pages=pages26-30 |id=ISBN 3110174626 This presentation also summarizes Lehmann's view.]

His own scheme divides Proto-Germanic into an early and a late. The early includes the stress fixation and resulting "spontaneous vowel-shifts" while to define the late he lists ten complex rules governing changes of both vowels and consonants. [Antonsen (2000) page 28 table 9.]

Other Indo-European loans

Loans into Proto-Germanic from other Indo-European languages can be relatively dated by their conformance to Germanic sound changes. As the dates of neither the borrowings nor the sound changes are known with any precision, the utility of the loans for absolute, or calendar, chronology has been nil.

Most loans from Celtic appear to have been made before the First Grimm Shift. [cite book |first=Donald |last=Ringe |title=From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic |publisher=Oxford University Press |year=2006 |id=ISBN 019928413X |pages=page 296; Lane, George S. "The Germano-Celtic Vocabulary", Language (1933), 244-264.] An example of a Celtic loan is *rīk-, "king", Celtic *rīg-, with g>k. [cite web |first=Calvert |last=Watkins |authorlink=Calvert Watkins |title=Appendix I: Indo-European Roots: reg- |url= |work=The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition |year=2000] It was not borrowed from Latin because only the Celtic has the ī. Another is *walhaz-, "foreigner", from the Celtic represented by Latin Volcae, a Celtic tribal name, with c>h. One might hypothesize that the loans took place at the floruit of Celtic hegemony in Hallstatt, but it spans several centuries.

Non-Indo-European elements

The term substrate with reference to Proto-Germanic refers to lexical and phonological items that do not appear to be explained by Indo-European etymological principles. The substrate theory postulates that these elements came from a prior population that remained among the Indo-Europeans and was sufficiently influential to transmit some elements of its own language. The theory of a non-Indo-European substrate was first proposed by Sigmund Feist, who estimated that about 1/3 of the Proto-Germanic lexical items came from the substrate. [Feist was proposing the idea as early as 1913 but his classical paper on the subject is cite journal |first=Sigmund |last=Feist |authorlink=Sigmund Feist |title=The Origin of the Germanic Languages and the Europeanization of North Europe |journal=Language |year=1932 |volume=8 |pages=pages 245–254 |doi=10.2307/408831 A brief biography and presentation of his ideas can be found in citation |first=Bernard |last=Mees | editor-first=Henning | editor-last=Andersen | contribution=Stratum and Shadow: The Indo-European West: Sigmund Feist |title=Language Contacts in Prehistory: Studies in Stratigraphy |year=2003 |publisher=John Benjamin Publishing Company |id=ISBN 1588113795 |pages=19–21]


Phonology is the study of phonemes, which are represented in linguistics by placing them between slashes: /p/. Every phoneme contrasts with all the others; that is, none can be substituted for any other in a word without changing the meaning. Sounds or phones that can be substituted are allophones. A phoneme is considered to be a set of non-contrastive allophones. Alternatively, a sound may be specified by placing it between brackets: [p] , but the latter is a transcription, or representation of the actual sound, and does not signify any allophones. Both types of symbol are used in this article.

The major types of phonemes in the Proto-Germanic inventory are consonants and vowels.


The consonant inventory was generated by the action of Grimm's Law and Verner's Law on the PIE consonants of Pre-Proto-Germanic.

Consonant inventory

The table below lists the consonantal phonemes of Proto-Germanic classified by reconstructed pronunciation. The slashes around the phonemes are omitted for clarity. Two phonemes in the same box connected by "or" represent allophones, which are explained below. For descriptions of the sounds and definitions of the terms follow the links on the headings. [While the classification varies somewhat the consonants do not; for example, coronals are sometimes listed as dentals and alveolars while velars and labiovelars are sometimes combined under dorsals.]

*Proto-Germanic had four short vowels (i, u, e, a), and four or five long vowels (ī, ū, ē, ō and perhaps æ). The exact phonetic quality of the vowels is uncertain.
*PIE "a" and "o" merge into Proto-Germanic "a", PIE "ā" and "ō" merge into Proto-Germanic "ō" (similar mergers happened in the Slavic languages, but in the opposite direction). At the time of the merge, the vowels probably were IPA| [ɒ] and IPA| [ɒ:] before their timbres differentiated into maybe IPA| [ɑ] and IPA| [ɔ:] Fact|date=June 2007.
*Unicode|"ǣ" and "ē" are also transcribed as "ē1" and "ē2"; "ē2" is uncertain as a phoneme, and only reconstructed from a small number of words; it is posited by the comparative method because whereas all provable instances of inherited (PIE) *"ē" (PGmc. *"ē1") are distributed in Gothic as "ē" and the other Germanic languages as *"ā", all the Germanic languages agree on some occasions of "ē" (e.g., Got./OE/ON "hēr" "here" < PGmc. *"hē2r"). Krahe treats "ē2" (secondary ē) as identical with "ī". It probably continues PIE "ei" or "ēi", and it may have been in the process of transition from a diphthong to a long simple vowel in the Proto-Germanic period. Gothic makes no orthographic and therefore presumably no phonetic distinction between "ē1" and "ē2". The existence of two Proto-Germanic [e:] -like phonemes is supported by the existence of two "e"-like Elder Futhark runes, Ehwaz and Eihwaz.
*Vowels in unstressed syllables were gradually reduced over time, beginning at the very end of the Proto-Germanic period and continuing into the history of the various dialects. This is reflected to the least extent in Proto-Norse, with steadily greater reduction in Gothic, Old High German, Old English, Modern German and Modern English.


Historical linguistics can tell us much about Proto-Germanic. However, it should be kept in mind that these postulations are tentative and multiple reconstructions (with varying degrees of difference) exist. All reconstructed forms are marked with an asterisk (*).

implification of the inflectional system

It is often asserted out that Germanic languages have a highly reduced system of inflections as compared with Greek, Latin or Sanskrit. Although this is true to some extent, it is probably due more to the late time of attestation of Germanic than to any inherent "simplicity" of the Germanic languages. It is in fact debatable whether Germanic inflections are reduced at all. Other Indo-European languages attested much earlier than the Germanic languages, such as Hittite, also have a reduced inventory of noun cases. Germanic and Hittite might have lost them, or maybe they never shared in their acquisition.

General morphological features

Nouns and adjectives were declined in (at least) six cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, instrumental, and vocative. Sparse remnants of the earlier locative and ablative cases are visible in a few pronominal and adverbial forms. Pronouns were declined similarly, although without a separate vocative form. The instrumental and vocative can be reconstructed only in the singular; the instrumental survives only in the West Germanic languages, and the vocative only in Gothic.

Verbs and pronouns had three numbers: singular, dual and plural. Although the pronominal dual survived into all the oldest languages, the verbal dual survived only into Gothic, and the (presumed) nominal and adjectival dual forms were lost before the oldest records. As in the Italic languages, it may have been lost before Proto-Germanic became a different branch at all.

Proto-Germanic had six cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, instrumental, vocative), three genders, three numbers (singular, dual, plural), three moods (indicative, subjunctive < PIE optative, imperative), two voices (active, passive < PIE middle). This is quite similar to the state of Latin, Greek, and Middle Indo-Aryan of c. 200 AD.


The system of nominal declensions was largely inherited from PIE. Primary nominal declensions were the stems in /a/, /ō/, /n/, /i/, and /u/. The first three were particularly important and served as the basis of adjectival declension; there was a tendency for nouns of all other classes to be drawn into them. The first two had variants in /ja/ and /wa/, and /jō/ and /wō/, respectively; originally, these were declined exactly like other nouns of the respective class, but later sound changes tended to distinguish these variants as their own subclasses. The /n/ nouns had various subclasses, including /ōn/ (masculine and feminine), /an/ (neuter), and /īn/ (feminine, mostly abstract nouns). There was also a smaller class of root nouns (ending in various consonants), or nouns of relationship (ending in /er/), and neuter nouns in /z/ (this class was greatly expanded in German). Present participles, and a few nouns, ended in /nd/. The neuter nouns of all classes differed from the masculines and feminines in their nominative and accusative endings, which were alike.


Proto-Germanic had only two tenses (preterite and present), compared to the six or seven in Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. Some of this difference is due to deflexion, featured by a loss of tenses present in Proto-Indo-European, for example the perfect tense. However, many of the tenses of the other languages (future, future perfect, probably pluperfect, perhaps imperfect) appear to be separate innovations in each of these languages, and were not present in Proto-Indo-European.Fact|date=February 2007

The main area where the Germanic inflectional system is noticeably reduced is the tense system of the verbs, with only two tenses, present and past. However:
*Later Germanic languages (especially Modern English) have a more elaborated tense system, derived through periphrastic constructions.
*PIE may have had as few as three "tenses" (present, aorist, perfect), which had primarily aspectual value, with secondary tensal values. The future tense was probably rendered using the subjunctive and/or desiderative verbs. Other tenses were derived in the history of the individual languages through various means (originally periphrastic constructions, such as the augment /e-/ of Greek and Sanskrit and the /-b-/ forms of Latin, derived from the PIE verb IPA|/bʱuː/ "be"; reinterpretation of subjunctive and desiderative formations as the future; analogical formations).
*The Germanic past tense contains forms deriving from both the PIE aorist and perfect; this is similar to the Latin perfect tense.

chleicher's PIE fable rendered into Proto-Germanic

August Schleicher wrote a fable in the PIE language he had just reconstructed, which though it has been updated a few times by others still bears his name. Below is a rendering of this fable into Proto-Germanic: [cite web |first=Carlos Quiles |last=Casas |coauthors=Fernando López-Menchero Díez |title=A Grammar of Modern Indo-European |publisher=Asociación Cultural Dnghu |month=July |year=2007 |id=ISBN 978-84-611-7639-7 |format=html |url= The ASCII text used on the web site has been replaced by the Proto-Germanic characters presented in this article.] : _ge. Awiz ehwaz-uh: awiz, hwesja wulno ne ist, spehet ehwanz, ainan krun wagan wegantun, ainan-uh mekon boran, ainan-uh gumonun ahu berontun. Awiz nu ehwamaz weuhet: hert agnutai meke witantei, ehwans akantun weran. Ehwaz weuhant: hludi, awi! kert aknutai uns wituntmaz: mannaz, foþiz, wulnon awjan hwurneuti sebi warman wistran. Awjan-uh wulno ne isti. þat hehluwaz awiz akran bukeþ.



*Krahe, Hans and Meid, Wolfgang. "Germanische Sprachwissenschaft", 2 vols., de Gruyter, Berlin (1969).
*Ramat, Anna Giacalone and Paolo Ramat (Eds.) (1998). "The Indo-European Languages". Routledge. ISBN 0-415-06449-X.
* Joseph B. Voyles, "Early Germanic Grammar" (Academic Press, 1992) ISBN 0-12-728270-X

ee also

*Holtzmann's Law

External links

* [ W.P. Lehmann & J. Slocum (eds.) "A Grammar of Proto-Germanic" (Online version)]

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