High German consonant shift

High German consonant shift
High German subdivides into Upper German (green) and Central German (blue), and is distinguished from Low German (yellow) and Dutch. The main isoglosses, the Benrath and Speyer lines, are marked in black.

In historical linguistics, the High German consonant shift or second Germanic consonant shift is a phonological development (sound change) that took place in the southern parts of the West Germanic dialect continuum in several phases, probably beginning between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD, and was almost complete before the earliest written records in the High German language were made in the 9th century. The resulting language, Old High German, can be neatly contrasted with the other continental West Germanic languages, which for the most part did not experience the shift, and with Old English, which remained completely unaffected.


General description

The High German consonant shift altered a number of consonants in the Southern German dialects, and thus also in modern Standard German, Yiddish, and Luxemburgish, and so explains why many German words have different consonants from the obviously related words in English and Dutch.[1] Depending on definition, the term may be restricted to a core group of nine individual consonant modifications, or it may include other changes taking place in the same period.[2] For the core group, there are three changes which may be thought of as three successive phases, each affecting three consonants, making nine modifications in total:

  1. The three Germanic voiceless stops became fricatives in certain phonetic environments (English ship maps to German Schiff);
  2. The same sounds became affricates in other positions (apple : Apfel); and
  3. The three voiced stops became voiceless (door : Tür).

Since phases 1 and 2 affect the same voiceless sounds, some descriptions find it more convenient to treat them together, thus making only a twofold analysis, voiceless (phase 1–2) and voiced (phase 3). This has advantages for typology, but does not reflect the chronology.[3]

Of the other changes that sometimes are bracketed within the High German consonant shift, the most important (sometimes thought of as the fourth phase) is:

4. /θ/ (and its allophone [ð]) became /d/ (this : dies).

This phenomenon is known as the "High German" consonant shift because it affects the High German dialects (i.e. those of the mountainous south[4]), principally the Upper German dialects, though in part it also affects the Central German dialects. However the fourth phase also included Low German and Dutch. It is also known as the "second Germanic" consonant shift to distinguish it from the "(first) Germanic consonant shift" as defined by Grimm's law, and its refinement, Verner's law.

The High German consonant shift did not occur in a single movement, but rather as a series of waves over several centuries. The geographical extent of these waves varies. They all appear in the southernmost dialects, and spread northwards to differing degrees, giving the impression of a series of pulses of varying force emanating from what is now Austria and Switzerland. Whereas some are found only in the southern parts of Alemannic (which includes Swiss German) or Bavarian (which includes Austrian), most are found throughout the Upper German area, and some spread on into the Central German dialects. Indeed, Central German is often defined as the area between the Appel/Apfel and the Dorp/Dorf boundaries. The shift þd was more successful; it spread all the way to the North Sea and affected Dutch as well as German. Most, but not all of these changes have become part of modern Standard German.[5]

The High German consonant shift is a good example of a chain shift, as was its predecessor, the first Germanic consonant shift. For example, phases 1 and 2 left the language without a /t/ phoneme, as this had shifted to /s/ or /ts/. Phase 3 filled this gap (d→t), but left a new gap at /d/, which phase 4 then filled (þ→d).

Overview table

The effects of the shift are most obvious for the non-specialist when comparing Modern German lexemes containing shifted consonants with their Modern English or Dutch unshifted equivalents. The following overview table is arranged according to the original Proto-Indo-European (PIE) phonemes. (G=Grimm's law; V=Verner's law) Note that the pairs of words used to illustrate sound shifts must be cognates; they need not be semantic equivalents. German Zeit means 'time' but it is cognate with tide, and only the latter is relevant here.

PIE→Germanic Phase High German Shift
Examples (Modern German) Century Geographical Extent1 Standard
G: *b→*p 1 *p→ff schlafen, Schiff
cf. sleep, ship
4/5 Upper and Central German Yes No
2 *p→pf Pflug, Apfel, Pfad, Pfuhl, scharf 2
cf. plough, apple, path, pool, sharp
6/7 Upper German Yes No
G: *d→*t 1 *t→ss essen, dass, aus 3
cf. eat, that, out
4/5 Upper and Central German Yes No
2 *t→ts Zeit4, Zwei4, Zehe
cf. tide, two, toe
5/6 Upper German Yes No
G: *g→*k 1 *k→ch machen, brechen, ich
cf. make, break, Dutch ik "I" 5
4/5 Upper and Central German Yes No
2 *k→kch Bavarian: Kchind
cf. German Kind "child"
7/8 Southernmost Austro-Bavarian
and High Alemannic
No No
G: *→*β
V: *p→*β
*β→b geben, weib
cf. give, wife, Dutch geven, wijf
7/8 Upper and Central German Yes No
G: *→*ð
V: *t→*ð
*ð→d gut, English good, Dutch goed
cf. Icelandic ður
2-4 Throughout West Germanic Yes Yes
G: *→*ɣ
V: *k→*ɣ
*ɣ→g gut
cf. Dutch goed
7/8 Upper and Central German Yes No
G: (*→)*β→*b
V: (*p→)*β→*b
3 *b→p Bavarian: perg, pist
cf. German Berg "hill", bist "(you) are"
8/9 Parts of Bavarian/Alemanic No No
G: (*→)*ð→*d
V: (*t→)*ð→*d
3 *d→t Tag, Mittel, Vater
cf. day, middle, Dutch vader "father"6
8/9 Upper German Yes No
G: (*→)*ɣ→*g
V: (*k→)*ɣ→*g
3 *g→k Bavarian: Kot
cf. German Gott "God"
8/9 Parts of Bavarian/Alemanic No No
G: *t→þ [ð] 4 þ→ð→d Dorn, Distel, durch, Bruder
cf. thorn, thistle, through, brother
9/10 Throughout continental West Germanic Yes Yes


  1. Approximate, isoglosses may vary.
  2. Old High German scarph, Middle High German scharpf.
  3. Old High German ezzen, daz, ūz.
  4. Note that in modern German <z> is pronounced /ts/.
  5. Old English ic, "I".
  6. Old English fæder, "father"; English has shifted d→th in a few OE words ending in vowel + -der.

The core group in detail

Phase 1

The first phase, which affected the whole of the High German area, has been dated as early as the fourth century, though this is highly debated. The first certain examples of the shift are from the Edictus Rothari (a. 643, oldest extant manuscript after 650), a Latin text of the Lombards. Lombard personal names show *b > p, having pert, perg, prand for bert, berg, brand. According to most scholars, the pre-Old High German runic inscriptions of about a. 600 show no convincing trace of the consonant shift.[citation needed] In this phase, voiceless stops became geminated intervocalic fricatives, or single postvocalic fricatives in final position.

pff or final f
tzz (later German ss) or final z (s)
khh (later German ch)

Note: In these OHG words, <z> stands for a voiceless fricative that is distinct somehow from <s>. The exact nature of the distinction is unknown; possibly <s> was apical while <z> was laminal.


Old English slǣpan : Old High German slāfan (English sleep, Dutch slapen : German schlafen)
OE strǣt : OHG strāzza (English street, Dutch straat : German Straße)
OE rīce : OHG rīhhi (English rich, Dutch rijk : German reich)

Note that the first phase did not affect geminate stops in words like *appul "apple" or *katta "cat", nor did it affect stops after other consonants, as in words like *scarp "sharp" or *hert "heart", where another consonant falls between the vowel and the stop. These remained unshifted until the second phase.

Phase 2

In the second phase, which was completed by the eighth century, the same sounds became affricates in three environments: in word-initial position; when geminated; and after a liquid consonant (/l/ or /r/) or nasal consonant (/m/ or /n/).

/p/ > /pf/ (also written <ph> in OHG)
/t/ > /ts/ (written <z> or <tz>)
/k/ > /kx/ (written <kch> in OHG).


OE æppel : OHG apful, afful (English apple, Dutch appel, Low German Appel : German Apfel)
OE scearp : OHG scarpf, scarf (English sharp, Dutch scherp, Low German scharp : German scharf)
OE catt : OHG kazza (English cat, Dutch kat, Low German Katt : German Katze)
OE tam : OHG zam (English tame, Dutch tam, Low German tamm : German zahm)
OE liccian : OHG leckōn (English lick, Dutch likken, Low German licken, German lecken : High Alemannic lekchen, schlecke/schläcke /ʃlɛkxə, ʃlækxə/)
OE weorc : OHG werc, werah (English work, Dutch werk, Low German Wark, German Werk : High Alemannic Werch/Wärch)

The shift did not take place where the stop was preceded by a fricative, i.e. in the combinations /sp, st, sk, ft, ht/. /t/ also remained unshifted in the combination /tr/.

OE spearwa : OHG sparo (English sparrow, Dutch spreeuw, German Sperling)
OE mæst : OHG mast (English mast, Dutch mast, Low German Mast, German Mast(baum))
OE niht : OHG naht (English night, Dutch nacht, Low German Nacht, German Nacht)
OE trēowe : OHG (gi)triuwi (English true, Dutch (ge)trouw, Low German trü, German treu; the cognates mean "trustworthy","faithful", not "correct","truthful".)

For the subsequent change of /sk/ > /ʃ/, written <sch>, see below.

These affricates (especially pf) have simplified into fricatives in some dialects. /pf/ was subsequently simplified to /f/ in a number of circumstances. In Yiddish and some German dialects this occurred in initial positions, e.g., Dutch paard : German Pferd : Yiddish ferd 'horse'. There was a strong tendency to simplify after /r/ and /l/, e.g. werfen 'to throw' ← OHG werfan ← *werpfan, helfen 'to help' ← OHG helfan ← *helpfan, but some forms with /pf/ remain, e.g. Karpfen 'carp' ← OHG karpfo.

  • The shift of /t/ → /ts/ occurs throughout the High German area, and is reflected in Modern Standard German.
  • The shift of /p//pf/ occurs throughout Upper German, but there is wide variation in Central German dialects. In the Rhine Franconian dialects, the further north the dialect, the fewer environments show shifted consonants. This shift is reflected in Standard German.
  • The shift of /k//kx/ is geographically highly restricted and took place only in the southernmost Upper German dialects. Tyrolese, the Southern Austro-Bavarian dialect of Tyrol, is the only dialect in which the affricate /kx/ has developed in all positions, e.g. Cimbrian khòan [kxoːən] 'not any' (cf. Germ kein). In High Alemannic, only the geminate has developed into an affricate, whereas in the other positions, /k/ has become /x/, e.g. HAlem chleubä 'to adhere, stick' (cf. Germ kleben). Initial /kx/ does occur to a certain extent in modern High Alemannic in place of any k in loanwords, e.g. [kxariˈb̥ikx], and /kx/ occurs where ge- + [x], e.g. Gchnorz [kxno(ː)rts] 'laborious work', from the verb chnorze.

Phase 3

The third phase, which had the most limited geographical range, saw the voiced stops become voiceless.


Of these, only the dental shift dt finds its way into standard German. The others are restricted to High Alemannic German in Switzerland, and south Bavarian dialects in Austria. This shift probably began in the 8th or 9th century, after the first and second phases ceased to be productive, otherwise the resulting voiceless stops would have shifted further to fricatives and affricates.

In those words in which an Indo-European voiceless stop became voiced as a result of Verner's Law, phase three of the High German shift returns this to its original value (*t → d → t):

PIE *meh₂tḗr
→ early Proto-Germanic *māþḗr (t → /θ/ by the First Germanic Consonant Shift)
→ late Proto-Germanic *mōđēr (/θ/ → /ð/ by Verner's Law)[6]
→ West-Germanic *mōdar (/ð/ → d by West Germanic sound change)
→ Old High German muotar (d → t by the Second Germanic Consonant Shift)


OE dōn : OHG tuon (English do, Dutch doen, Low German doon : German tun)
OE mōdor : OHG muotar (English mother, Dutch moeder, Low German Modder, Mudder : German Mutter)
OE rēad : OHG rōt (English red, Dutch rood, Low German root : German rot)[7]
OE biddan : OHG bitten or pitten (English bid, Dutch bieden, Low German bidden : German bitten, Bavarian pitten)

It is possible that pizza is an early Italian borrowing of OHG (Bavarian dialect) pizzo, a shifted variant of bizzo (German Bissen, 'bite, snack').[8]

Other changes in detail

Other consonant changes on the way from West Germanic to Old High German are included under the heading "High German consonant shift" by some scholars that see the term as a description of the whole context, but are excluded by others that use it to describe the neatness of the threefold chain shift. Although it might be possible to see /ð//d/, /ɣ//ɡ/ and /v//b/ as a similar group of three, both the chronology and the differing phonetic conditions under which these changes occur speak against such a grouping.

þ/ð→d (Phase 4)

What is sometimes known as the fourth phase shifted the dental fricatives to /d/. This is distinctive in that it also affects Low German and Dutch. In Germanic, the voiceless and voiced dental fricatives þ and ð stood in allophonic relationship, with þ in initial and final position and ð used medially. These merged into a single /d/. This shift occurred late enough that unshifted forms are to be found in the earliest Old High German texts, and thus it can be dated to the 9th or 10th century. It took several centuries to spread north, appearing in Dutch only during the 12th century, and in Frisian not for another century or two after that.

early OHG thaz → classical OHG daz (English that, Icelandic það : Dutch dat, German das)
early OHG thenken → classical OHG denken (English think, West Frisian tinke : Dutch denken, German denken)
early OHG thegan → classical OHG degan (English thane, West Frisian teie : Dutch degen, German Degen "warrior")
early OHG thurstag → classical OHG durstag (English thirsty, Swedish törstig : Dutch dorstig, German durstig)
early OHG bruothar/bruodhar → classical OHG bruodar (English brother, Icelandic bróðir : Dutch broeder, German Bruder)
early OHG munth → classical OHG mund (English mouth, Old Norse múþr : Dutch mond, German Mund)
early OHG thou/thu → classical OHG , du (English thou, Icelandic þú : Low German , German du)

In dialects affected by phase 4 but not by the dental variety of phase 3, that is, Low German, Central German, and Dutch, two Germanic phonemes merged: þ becomes d, but original Germanic d remains unchanged:

German Dutch English
original /þ/ (→ /d/ in German and Dutch) Tode dood death
original /d/ (→ /t/ in German) Tote dode dead

One consequence of this is that there is no dental variety of Grammatischer Wechsel in Middle Dutch.

In 1955, Otto Höfler[9] suggested that a change analogous to the fourth phase of the High German consonant shift may have taken place in Gothic (East Germanic) as early as the third century AD, and he hypothesised that it may have spread from Gothic to High German as a result of the Visigothic migrations westward (c. 375–500 AD). This has not found wide acceptance; the modern consensus is that Höfler misinterpreted some sound substitutions of Romanic languages as Germanic, and that East Germanic shows no sign of the second consonant shift.


The West Germanic voiced velar fricative /ɣ/ shifted to /ɡ/ in Old High German in all positions. This change is believed to be early and complete by the 8th century at the latest. Since the existence of a /g/ was necessary for the south German shift g→k, this must at least predate phase 3 of the core High German consonant shift.

The same change occurred independently in Old English around the 10th century (as suggested by changing patterns of alliteration), except when preceding or following a front vowel where it had earlier undergone Anglo-Frisian palatalisation and ended up as /j/. Dutch has retained the original /ɣ/, despite the fact it is spelled with <g>, rendering it indistinguishable in writing from its counterparts in other languages.

Dutch goed (/ɣut/) : German gut, English good
Dutch gisteren (/ɣɪstərə(n)/) : German gestern : English yester(day), West Frisian juster


West Germanic *ƀ (presumably pronounced [β]), which was an allophone of /b/ used in medial position, shifted to Old High German /b/ between two vowels, and also after /l/.

OE lēof : OHG liob, liup (obs. English †lief, Dutch lief, Low German leev : German lieb)
OE hæfen : MHG habe(ne) (English haven, Dutch haven, Low German Haven; for German Hafen see below)
OE half : OHG halb (English half, Dutch half, Low German halv : German halb)
OE lifer : OHG libara, lebra (English liver, Dutch lever, Low German Läver : German Leber)
OE selfa : OHG selbo (English self, Dutch zelf, Low German sülve : German selbe)
OE sealf : OHG salba (English salve, Dutch zalf, Low German Salv : German Salbe)

In strong verbs such as German heben 'heave' and geben 'give', the shift contributed to eliminating the [β] forms in German, but a full account of these verbs is complicated by the effects of grammatischer Wechsel by which [β] and [b] appear in alternation in different parts of the same verb in the early forms of the languages. In the case of weak verbs such as haben 'have' (cf. Dutch hebben) and leben 'live' (cf. Dutch leven), the consonant differences have an unrelated origin, being a result of the Germanic spirant law and a subsequent process of levelling.


High German experienced the shift /sp/, /st/, /sk//ʃp/, /ʃt/, /ʃ/ in initial position:

German spinnen (/ʃp/), spin.
German Straße (/ʃt/), street.
German Schrift, script.

This change also spread far north but stopped short of Dutch, although Limburgish was affected.

Terminal devoicing

Other changes include a general tendency towards terminal devoicing in German and Dutch, and to a far more limited extent in English. Thus, in German and Dutch, <b>, <d> and <g> at the end of a word are pronounced identically to /p/, /t/ and /k/ (German) or /x/ (Dutch). The <g> in German Tag (day) is pronounced as in English tack, not as in English tag.

Nevertheless, the original voiced consonants are usually represented in modern German and Dutch spelling. This is probably because related inflected forms, such as the plural Tage, have the voiced form, since here the stop is not terminal. As a result of these inflected forms, native speakers remain aware of the underlying voiced phoneme, and spell accordingly. However, in Middle High German, these sounds were spelled differently: singular tac, plural tage.


Since, apart from þd, the High German consonant shift took place before the beginning of writing of Old High German in the 9th century, the dating of the various phases is an uncertain business. The estimates quoted here are mostly taken from the dtv-Atlas zur deutschen Sprache (p. 63). Different estimates appear elsewhere, for example Waterman, who asserts that the first three phases occurred fairly close together and were complete in Alemannic territory by 600, taking another two or three centuries to spread north.

Sometimes historical constellations help us; for example, the fact that Attila is called Etzel in German proves that the second phase must have been productive after the Hunnish invasion of the 5th century. The fact that many Latin loan-words are shifted in German (e.g., Latin strata→German Straße), while others are not (e.g., Latin poena→German Pein) allows us to date the sound changes before or after the likely period of borrowing. However the most useful source of chronological data is German words cited in Latin texts of the late classical and early mediaeval period.

Precise dating would in any case be difficult, since each shift may have begun with one word or a group of words in the speech of one locality, and gradually extended by lexical diffusion to all words with the same phonological pattern, and then over a longer period of time spread to wider geographical areas.

However, relative chronology for phases 2, 3, and 4 can easily be established by the observation that ttz must precede dt, which in turn must precede þd; otherwise words with an original þ could have undergone all three shifts and ended up as tz. By contrast, as the form kepan for "give" is attested in Old Bavarian, showing both /ɣ//ɡ//k/ and /β//b//p/, it follows that /ɣ//ɡ/ and /β//b/ must predate phase 3.

Alternative chronologies have been proposed. According to a theory by the controversial German linguist Theo Vennemann, the consonant shift occurred much earlier and was already completed in the early 1st century BC.[10] On this basis, he subdivides the Germanic languages into High Germanic and Low Germanic. Apart from Vennemann, few other linguists share this view.

Geographical distribution

Dialects and isoglosses of the Rhenish Fan
(Arranged from north to south: dialects in dark fields, isoglosses in light fields)[11]
Isogloss North South
Dutch (West Low Franconian)
Uerdingen line (Uerdingen) ik ich
Limburgian (East Low Franconian)
Benrath line
(Boundary: Low German — Central German)
maken machen
Ripuarian Franconian (Cologne, Bonn, Aachen)
Bad Honnef line
(State border NRW-RP) (Eifel-Schranke)
Dorp Dorf
West Mosel Franconian (Luxemburgish, Trier)
Linz line (Linz am Rhein) tussen zwischen
Bad Hönningen line op auf
East Mosel Franconian (Koblenz, Saarland)
Boppard line (Boppard) Korf Korb
Sankt Goar line (Sankt Goar)
dat das
Rhenish Franconian (Pfälzisch, Frankfurt)
Speyer line (River Main line)
(Boundary: Central German — Upper German)
Appel Apfel
Upper German
The Rhenish fan: 1 Dutch (West Low Franconian), 2 Limburgian (East Low Franconian), 3 Ripuarian Franconian, 4 & 5 Mosel Franconian, 6 Rhenish Franconian

Roughly, the changes resulting from phase 1 affected Upper and Central German, those from phase 2 and 3 only Upper German, and those from phase 4 the entire German and Dutch-speaking region. The generally-accepted boundary between Central and Low German, the maken-machen line, is sometimes called the Benrath line, as it passes through the Düsseldorf suburb of Benrath, while the main boundary between Central and Upper German, the Appel-Apfel line can be called the Speyer line, as it passes near the town of Speyer, some 200 kilometers further south.

However, a precise description of the geographical extent of the changes is far more complex. Not only do the individual sound shifts within a phase vary in their distribution (phase 3, for example, partly affects the whole of Upper German and partly only the southernmost dialects within Upper German), but there are even slight variations from word to word in the distribution of the same consonant shift. For example, the ik-ich line lies further north than the maken-machen line in western Germany, coincides with it in central Germany, and lies further south at its eastern end, although both demonstrate the same shift /k/→/x/.

Rhenish Fan

The subdivision of West Central German into a series of dialects according to the differing extent of the phase 1 shifts is particularly pronounced. This is known as the Rhenish fan (German: Rheinischer Fächer, Dutch: Rijnlandse waaier), because on the map of dialect boundaries the lines form a fan shape.[12] Here, no fewer than eight isoglosses run roughly West to East, partially merging into a simpler system of boundaries in East Central German. The table on the right lists these isoglosses (bold) and the main resulting dialects (italics), arranged from north to south.


Some of the consonant shifts resulting from the second and third phases appear also to be observable in Lombardic, the early mediaeval Germanic language of northern Italy, which is preserved in runic fragments of the late 6th and early 7th centuries. However, the Lombardic records are not sufficient to allow a complete taxonomy of the language. It is therefore uncertain whether the language experienced the full shift or merely sporadic reflexes, but b→p is clearly attested. This may mean that the shift began in Italy, or that it spread southwards as well as northwards. Ernst Schwarz and others have suggested that the shift occurred in German as a result of contacts with Lombardic. If, in fact, there is a relationship here, the evidence of Lombardic would force us to conclude that the third phase must have begun by the late 6th century, rather earlier than most estimates, but this would not necessarily require that it had spread to German so early.

If, as some scholars believe, Lombardic was an East Germanic language and not part of the German language dialect continuum, it is possible that parallel shifts took place independently in German and Lombardic. However the extant words in Lombardic show clear relations to Bavarian. Therefore Werner Betz and others prefer to treat Lombardic as an Old High German dialect. There were close connections between Lombards and Proto-Bavarians. For example, the Lombards settled in 'Tullner Feld' (about 50 km west of Vienna) until 568, but it is evident that not all Lombards went to Italy after that time; the rest seem to have become part of the then newly-formed Bavarian groups.

When Columban came to the Alamanni at Lake Constance shortly after 600, he made barrels burst, called cupa (English cup, German Kufe), according to Jonas of Bobbio (before 650) in Lombardy. This shows that in the time of Columban the shift from p to f had occurred neither in Alemannic nor in Lombardic. But the Edictus Rothari attests the forms grapworf ('throwing a corpse out of the grave', German Wurf and Grab), marhworf ('a horse', OHG marh, 'throws the rider off'), and many similar shifted examples. So it is best to see the consonant shift as a common Lombardic—Bavarian—Alemannic shift between 620 and 640, when these tribes had plenty of contact.

Sample texts

As an example of the effects of the shift one may compare the following texts from the later Middle Ages, on the left a Middle Low German citation from the Sachsenspiegel (1220), which does not show the shift, and on the right the same text from the Middle High German Deutschenspiegel (1274), which shows the shifted consonants; both are standard legal texts of the period.

Sachsenspiegel (II,45,3) Deutschenspiegel (Landrecht 283)
De man is ok vormunde sines wives,
to hant alse se eme getruwet is.
Dat wif is ok des mannes notinne
to hant alse se in sin bedde trit,
na des mannes dode is se ledich van des mannes rechte.
Der man ist auch vormunt sînes wîbes
zehant als si im getriuwet ist.
Daz wîp ist auch des mannes genôzinne
zehant als si an sîn bette trit
nâch des mannes rechte.
Sachsenspiegel: "The man is also guardian of his wife / as soon as she is married to him. / The wife is also the man's companion / as soon as she goes to his bed / After the man's death she is free of the man's rights."
Deutschenspiegel: "The man is also guardian of his wife / as soon as she is married to him. / The wife is also the man's companion / as soon as she goes to his bed. / according to a man's rights.")

Unshifted forms in Standard German

The High German consonant shift — at least as far as the core group of changes is concerned — is an example of a sound change that permits no exceptions, and was frequently cited as such by the Neogrammarians. However, modern standard German, though based on Central German, draws vocabulary from all German dialects. When a native German word (as opposed to a loan word) contains consonants unaffected by the shift, they are usually explained as being Low German forms. Either the shifted form has fallen out of use, as in:

Hafen ('harbour', 'haven'); Middle High German had the shifted form habe(n), but the Low German form replaced it in modern times.

or the two forms remain side-by-side, as in:

Wappen ('coat of arms'); the shifted form also exists, but with a different meaning: Waffen ('weapons')

Most words in Standard German that lack the shift are of Low German origin:

Lippe ('lip'); Pegel ('water level'); Pickel ('pimple')

However, the vast majority of words in Modern German containing consonant patterns which would have been eliminated by the shift are loaned from Latin or Romance languages, English or Slavic:

Paar ('pair','couple'), Ratte ('rat'), Peitsche ('whip').

See also


  1. ^ See also Fausto Cercignani, The Consonants of German: Synchrony and Diachrony, Milano, Cisalpino, 1979.
  2. ^ Scholars who restrict the term "High German Consonant Shift" to the core group include Braune/Reiffenstein, Chambers & Wilkie, von Kienle, Wright (1907) and Voyles (1992). Those who include other changes as part of the shift, or treat them as connected with it, include Penzl (1975), dtv-Atlas, Keller, Moser/Wellmann/Wolf, Wells.
  3. ^ Scholars that make a two-fold analysis include Bach, Braune/Reiffenstein, Eggers, Gerh. Wolff, Keller, Moser/Wellmann/Wolf, Penzl (1971 & 1975), Russ, Sonderegger (1979), von Kienle, Voyles (1992), and Wright (1907). Scholars who distinguish three thrusts include Chambers & Wilkie, dtv-Atlas, Waterman, Wells.
  4. ^ See the definition of "high" in the Oxford English Dictionary (Concise Edition): "... situated far above ground, sealevel, etc; upper, inland, as ... High German".
  5. ^ Recent work suggests that future scholars may analyse German dialects in new ways, which will have consequences also for the understanding of the shift. Schwerdt (2000) has argued that the name 'High German consonant shift' is misleading and perhaps even inappropriate, as it does not adequately reflect the areal discrepancies of the individual changes undergone by the affected West Germanic dialects.
  6. ^ Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, TF Hoad (Ed)
  7. ^ As a general rule, Low German, Dutch, and German have all undergone a final obstruent devoicing so that the modern reflexes are all pronounced with final /t/ regardless of spelling.
  8. ^ Manlio & Michele Cortelazzo, L'etimologico minore 2003, p. 929f.
  9. ^ Otto Höfler, Die zweite Lautverschiebung bei Ostgermanen und Westgermanen Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur 77 (Tübingen 1955)
  10. ^ Vennemann, Theo (1994): "Dating the division between High and Low Germanic. A summary of arguments". In: Mørck, E./Swan, T./Jansen, O.J. (eds.): Language change and language structure. Older Germanic languages in a comparative perspective. Berlin/New York: 271–303.
  11. ^ The table of isoglosses is adapted from Rheinischer Fächer on the German Wikipedia.
  12. ^ Rheinischer Fächer – Karte des Landschaftsverband Rheinland


  • The sample texts have been copied over from Lautverschiebung on the German Wikipedia.
  • Dates of sound shifts are taken from the dtv-Atlas zur deutschen Sprache (p. 63).
  • Waterman, John C. (1991) [1966]. A History of the German Language (Revised edition 1976 ed.). Long Grove IL: Waveland Press Inc. (by arrangement with University of Washington Press). p. 284. ISBN 0-88133-590-8. 
  • Friedrich Kluge (revised Elmar Seebold), Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (The Etymological Dictionary of the German Language), 24th edition, 2002.
  • Paul/Wiehl/Grosse, Mittelhochdeutsche Grammatik (Middle-High German Grammar), 23rd ed, Tübingen 1989, 114–22.
  • Fausto Cercignani, The Consonants of German: Synchrony and Diachrony, Milano, Cisalpino, 1979.
  • Philippe Marcq & Thérèse Robin, Linguistique historique de l'allemand, Paris, 1997.
  • Robert S. P. Beekes, Vergelijkende taalwetenschap, Utrecht, 1990.
  • Schwerdt, Judith (2000). Die 2. Lautverschiebung: Wege zu ihrer Erforschung. Heidelberg: Carl Winter. ISBN 3-82-531018-3. 

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