Germanic languages

Germanic languages

Infobox Language family
name = Germanic
altname = Teutonic
region = Originally in northern, western and central Europe; today worldwide
familycolor = Indo-European
fam1 = Indo-European
child1 = East Germanic
child2 = North Germanic
child3 = West Germanic
native speakers = ~559 million
The Germanic languages are a group of related languages that constitute a branch of the Indo-European (IE) language family. The common ancestor of all the languages in this branch is Proto-Germanic, spoken in approximately the mid-1st millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe. Proto-Germanic, along with all of its descendants, is characterized by a number of unique linguistic features, most famously the consonant change known as Grimm's law. Early varieties of Germanic enter history with the Germanic peoples settled in northern Europe along the borders of the Roman Empire in the second century.

The most widely spoken Germanic languages are English and German, with approximately 400 million and 100 million native speakers respectivelyFact|date=June 2008. The group includes other major languages, such as Dutch with 23 millionFact|date=June 2008 and Afrikaans with over 16 million speakersFact|date=June 2008; and the North Germanic languages including Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, and Faroese with a combined total of about 20 million speakersFact|date=June 2008. In Netherland Frisian is being spoken by the majority of the inhabitants of the province Friesland/Fryslân. The SIL "Ethnologue" lists 53 different Germanic languages.


Germanic languages possess several unique features, such as the following:
# The leveling of the Indo-European verbal system of tense and aspect into the present tense and the past tense (also called the preterite)
# A large class of verbs that use a dental suffix (/d/ or /t/) instead of vowel alternation (Indo-European ablaut) to indicate past tense; these are called the Germanic weak verbs; the remaining verbs with vowel ablaut are the Germanic strong verbs
# The use of so-called strong and weak adjectives: different sets of inflectional endings for adjectives depending on the definiteness of the noun phrase; (modern English adjectives do not inflect at all, except for the comparative and superlative; this was not the case in Old English, where adjectives were inflected differently depending on the type of determiner they were preceded by)
# The consonant shift known as Grimm's Law (the consonants in High German have shifted farther yet by the High German consonant shift)
# 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 Germanic substrate hypothesis"
# The shifting of stress accent onto the root of the stem and later to the first syllable of the word (though English has an irregular stress, native words always have a fixed stress regardless of what is added to them)

Germanic languages differ from each other to a greater degree than do some other language families such as the Romance or Slavic languages. Roughly speaking, Germanic languages differ in how conservative or how progressive each language is with respect to an overall trend toward analyticity. Some, such as German and Icelandic have preserved much of the complex inflectional morphology inherited from the Proto-Indo-European language. Others, such as English, Swedish, and Afrikaans have moved toward a largely analytic type.

Another characteristic of Germanic languages is the verb second or "V2 word order", which is quite uncommon cross-linguistically. This feature is shared by all modern Germanic languages except modern English (which nevertheless appears to have had V2 earlier in its history), but has largely replaced the structure with an overall "Subject Verb Object" syntax.


The earliest evidence of Germanic languages comes from names recorded in the first century by Tacitus (especially from his work "Germania"), but the earliest Germanic writing occurs in a single instance in the second century BC on the Negau helmet [cite book|title=The Early Germans|author=Malcolm Todd|year=1992|publisher=Blackwell Publishing] .From roughly the second century AD, certain speakers of early Germanic varieties developed the Elder Futhark, an early form of the Runic alphabet. Early runic inscriptions also are largely limited to personal names, and difficult to interpret. The Gothic language was written in the Gothic alphabet developed by Bishop Ulfilas for his translation of the Bible in the fourth century. Later, Christian priests and monks who spoke and read Latin in addition to their native Germanic varieties began writing the Germanic languages with slightly modified Latin letters. However, throughout the Viking Age, Runic alphabets remained in common use in Scandinavia.

In addition to the standard Latin alphabet, many Germanic languages use a variety of accent marks and extra letters, including umlauts, the ß ("Eszett"), IJ, Ø, Æ, Å, Ä, Ö, Ð, unicode|Ȝ, and the runes Þ and unicode|Ƿ. Historical printed German is frequently set in blackletter typefaces (e.g. fraktur or schwabacher).


All Germanic languages are thought to be descended from a hypothetical Proto-Germanic, united by their having been subjected to the sound shifts of Grimm's law and Verner's law. These probably took place during the Pre-Roman Iron Age of Northern Europe from ca. 500 BC, but other common innovations separating Germanic from Proto-Indo European suggest a common history of pre-Proto-Germanic speakers throughout the Nordic Bronze Age.

From the time of their earliest attestation, the Germanic varieties are divided into three groups, West, East, and North Germanic. Their exact relation is difficult to determine from the sparse evidence of runic inscriptions, and they remained mutually intelligible throughout the Migration period, so that some individual varieties are difficult to classify.

The sixth century Lombardic language, for instance, may constitute an originally, either North or East, Germanic variety that became assimilated to West Germanic as the Lombards settled at the Elbe. The Western group would have formed in the late Jastorf culture, the Eastern group may be derived from the first century variety of Gotland (see Old Gutnish), leaving southern Sweden as the original location of the Northern group. The earliest coherent Germanic text preserved is the fourth century Gothic translation of the New Testament by Ulfilas. Early testimonies of West Germanic are in Old High German (scattered words and sentences sixth century, coherent texts ninth century), Old English (coherent texts tenth century). North Germanic is only attested in scattered runic inscriptions, as Proto-Norse, until it evolves into Old Norse by about 800.

Longer runic inscriptions survive from the eighth and ninth centuries (Eggjum stone, Rök stone), longer texts in the Latin alphabet survive from the twelfth century (Íslendingabók), and some skaldic poetry held to date back to as early as the ninth century.

240px|thumb|right|">The Germanic languages in EuropeBy about the tenth century, the varieties had diverged enough to make inter-comprehensibility difficult. The linguistic contact of the Viking settlers of the Danelaw with the Anglo-Saxons left traces in the English language, and is suspected to have facilitated the collapse of Old English grammar that resulted in Middle English from the twelfth century.

The East Germanic languages were marginalized from the end of the Migration period. The Burgundians, Goths, and Vandals became linguistically assimilated to their respective neighbors by about the seventh century, with only Crimean Gothic lingering on until the eighteenth century.

During the early Middle Ages, the West Germanic languages were separated by the insular development of Middle English on one hand and, by the High German consonant shift on the continent on the other, resulting in Upper German and Low Saxon, with graded intermediate Central German varieties. By Early modern times, the span had extended into considerable differences, ranging from Highest Alemannic in the South to Northern Low Saxon in the North and, although both extremes are considered German, they are hardly mutually intelligible. The southernmost varieties have completed the second sound shift, while the northern varieties remained unaffected by the consonant shift.

The North Germanic languages, on the other hand, remained more unified, with the peninsular languages largely retaining mutual intelligibility into modern times.


Note that divisions between and among subfamilies of Germanic rarely are precisely defined; most form continuous clines, with adjacent varieties being mutually intelligible and more separated ones not.


General Note: The table shows the succession of the significant historical stages of each language (vertically), and their approximate groupings in subfamilies (horizontally). Horizontal sequence within each group does not imply a measure of greater or lesser similarity.


Mentioned here are all the principal and some secondary contemporary varieties; individual articles linked to below, may contain larger family trees. For example, many Low Saxon varieties are discussed on Low Saxon besides just Northern Low Saxon and Plautdietsch.

* Proto-Germanic
** West Germanic languages
*** High German languages
**** standard German
**** Central German
***** East Central German
***** West Central German
****** Luxembourgish
****** Pennsylvania German (spoken by the Amish and other groups in southeastern Pennsylvania)
**** Upper German
***** Alemannic German
******Swabian German, including Stuttgart
******Low Alemannic German, including the area of Lake Constance and Basel German
******High Alemannic German, including Zürich German and Bernese German
******Highest Alemannic German, including the Bernese Oberland dialects and Walliser German
***** Austro-Bavarian German
******North Bavarian (including Nuremberg)
******Middle Bavarian (including Munich and Vienna)
******South Bavarian (including Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, and Bolzano, Italy)
****** Hutterite German (aka "Tirolean")
***** Yiddish (with a significant influx of vocabulary from Hebrew and other languages, and traditionally written in the Hebrew alphabet)
**** Wymysorys (with a significant influence from Low Saxon, Dutch, Polish, and Scots)
*** Low Franconian
**** Standard Dutch
***** Old Dutch
****** Middle Dutch
******* Modern Dutch
******** Brabantic
******** Zealandic
******** West Flemish
******** East Flemish
******** Hollandic
******** Limburgish
******** Zuid-Gelders
**** Afrikaans (with a significant influx of vocabulary from other languages)
*** Low German
**** West Low German
***** Northern Low Saxon
****** East Frisian Low Saxon
***** Westphalian language
***** Eastphalian language
**** East Low German
***** Plautdietsch (Mennonite Low Saxon)
*** Anglo-Frisian
**** Old Frisian
***** Frisian
****** Stadsfries language
****** West Frisian language (spoken in the Netherlands)
******* Clay Frisian (Klaaifrysk)
******* Wood Frisian (Wâldfrysk)
******** Noardhoeks
******* South Frisian (Súdhoeks)
******* Southwest Frisian (Súdwesthoeksk)
******* Schiermonnikoogs
******* Hindeloopers
******* Aasters
******* Westers
****** East Frisian language (spoken in Germany)
******* Saterland Frisian language
******* Several extinct Frisian variants
****** North Frisian language (spoken in Germany)
******* Mainland Frisian
******** Mooring
******** Goesharde Frisian
******** Wiedingharde Frisian
******** Halligen Frisian
******** Karrharde Frisian
******* Island Frisian
******** Söl'ring
******** Fering
******** Öömrang
******** Heligolandic
**** Anglic
***** Old English
****** Middle English (significant influx of words from Old French)
******* Early Modern English
******** Modern English
********* British English (English English, including Northern English, Midlands English, Southern English, Welsh English, Scottish English, and others) and Irish English
********* North American English (American English and Canadian English)
********* Australian English and New Zealand English
********* South African English
********* South Asian English (Indian English)
********* South East Asian English (Philippine English, Singapore English, and Malaysian English)
********* West Indian English (Caribbean English)
******* Early Scots [A term widely used by scholars of the language, for example, " [ Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd.] " (Formally SNDA), [ Dr. Anne King] of " [ The University of Edinburgh] ", " [ The University of Glasgow] ", "The Oxford Companion to the English Language" and " [ The Cambridge History of English and American Literature] ". The term is rejected by some (who?) as a purely modern term contradicting contemporary usage, where the variety was called "Inglis" (i.e. English) by its speakers, the term "Scottis" (i.e. Scots) first being used for the variety from the late 15th century. "Scottis" previously referred to Gaelic.] (from early Northern Middle English.)
******** Middle Scots
********* Modern Scots
********** Northern Scots
*********** North Northern (Scandinavian influence via Norn)
*********** Mid Northern (North East Scots or Doric)
*********** South Northern
********** Central Scots
*********** North East Central
*********** South East Central
*********** West Central
*********** South West Central Scots
********** Ulster Scots
********** Southern Scots
********** Insular Scots (Scandinavian influence via Norn)
****** Yola
** North Germanic
*** Proto-Norse
**** Old Norse
***** West Scandinavian
****** Norwegian (genealogically Western branch, but heavy influence from Eastern branch)
******* Bokmål (official written standard)
******* Høgnorsk (unofficial written standard)
******* Landsmål (unofficial written standard)
******* Nynorsk (official written standard)
******* Riksmål (unofficial written standard)
******* Vestlandsk
******** Sørlandsk
******** South-West Norwegian
******** Bergen Norwegian/Bergensk
******** North-West Norwegian
******* Nord-Norsk
******** Helgeland Norwegian
******** Nordland Norwegian
******** Troms Norwegian
******** Finnmark Norwegian
******* East Norwegian
******** Vikvær Norwegian
******** Middle East Norwegian
******** Oppland Norwegian
******** Østerdal Norwegian
******* Midland Norwegian
******** Gudbrandsdal Norwegian
******** Valdres and Hallingdal
******** Western Telemark Norwegian
******** Eastern Telemark Norwegian
******* Trøndelag Norwegian
******** Outer Trøndelag Norwegian
******** Inner Trøndelag Norwegian
******** Namdal Norwegian
******** South-eastern Trøndersk
******** Jamtlandic (also considered Norrlandic)
******** [ Härdalic] (also considered Norrlandic)
****** Icelandic
******* Old Icelandic
******** Modern Icelandic
****** Gøtudanskt("Faroese Street Danish")
****** Faroese
****** Norn (extinct)
******* Shetland Norn (extinct)
******* Orkney Norn (extinct)
***** East Scandinavian
****** Danish
******* Rigsdansk/Rigsmål
******** Eastern Danish (Amager, Bornholm, Skåne, Halland, Blekinge)
********* Bornholmsk
********* Scanian
******** Island Danish
******** Jutlandic/Jutish
********* North Jutlandic
********* East Jutlandic
********* West Jutlandic
********* Sønderjysk (Danish Slesvig, German Schleswig)
****** Swedish
******* Dalecarlian
******** Elfdalian (considered a Swedish "Sveamål" dialect, but has official orthography and is, because of a lower degree of mutual intelligibility with Swedish, considered a separate language by many linguists, see p. 6 in [ this reference] )
******* Old Swedish
******** Modern Swedish
********* Svealand Swedish
********* Norrlandic
********* Götish
********* East Swedish/Finland Swedish
********* South Swedish
********* Götalandic
***** Old Gutnish
****** Modern Gutnish

Alternate classification of contemporary North Germanic languages
* Insular Scandinavian
** Icelandic
** Faroese
* Continental Scandinavian
** Danish
** Norwegian
** Swedish

Vocabulary comparison

Several of the terms in the table below have had semantic drift. For example, the form "Sterben" and other terms for "die" are cognates 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).

ee also

* Germanic verb and its various subordinated articles
* Language families and languages
* Non-Indo-European roots of Germanic languages
* List of Germanic and Latinate equivalents
* Germanization and Anglicization
* Germanic name
* Germanic placenames
* German name
* German placename etymology


External links

* [ Germanic Lexicon Project]
* [ "Bibliographie der Schreibsprachen": Bibliography of medieval written forms of High and Low German and Dutch]
* [ Ethnologue Report for Germanic]

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