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The Germanic languages are a branch of the
Indo-European The Indo-European languages are a language family native to the overwhelming majority of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and the northern Indian subcontinent. Some European languages of this family, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, Dutc ...
language family A language family is a group of languages related through descent from a common ''ancestral language'' or ''parental language'', called the proto-language of that family. The term "family" reflects the tree model of language origination in h ...
spoken natively by a population of about 515 million people mainly in
Europe Europe is a large peninsula conventionally considered a continent in its own right because of its great physical size and the weight of its history and traditions. Europe is also considered a subcontinent of Eurasia and it is located entirel ...
, North America,
Oceania Oceania (, , ) is a geographical region that includes Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Spanning the Eastern and Western hemispheres, Oceania is estimated to have a land area of and a population of around 44.5 million ...
and
Southern Africa Southern Africa is the southernmost subregion of the African continent, south of the Congo and Tanzania. The physical location is the large part of Africa to the south of the extensive Congo River basin. Southern Africa is home to a number o ...
. The most widely spoken Germanic language,
English English usually refers to: * English language * English people English may also refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * ''English'', an adjective for something of, from, or related to England ** English national ide ...
, is also the world's most widely spoken language with an estimated 2 billion speakers. All Germanic languages are derived from
Proto-Germanic Proto-Germanic (abbreviated PGmc; also called Common Germanic) is the reconstructed proto-language of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages. Proto-Germanic eventually developed from pre-Proto-Germanic into three Germanic bran ...
, spoken in
Iron Age The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory and protohistory of humanity. It was preceded by the Stone Age ( Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic) and the Bronze Age ( Chalcolithic). The concept has been mostl ...
Scandinavia Scandinavia; Sámi languages: /. ( ) is a subregion in Northern Europe, with strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties between its constituent peoples. In English usage, ''Scandinavia'' most commonly refers to Denmark, Norway, and Swe ...
. The
West Germanic languages The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three branches of the Germanic family of languages (the others being the North Germanic and the extinct East Germanic languages). The West Germanic branch is classically subdivided into ...
include the three most widely spoken Germanic languages:
English English usually refers to: * English language * English people English may also refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * ''English'', an adjective for something of, from, or related to England ** English national ide ...
with around 360–400 million native speakers; German, with over 100 million native speakers; and
Dutch Dutch commonly refers to: * Something of, from, or related to the Netherlands * Dutch people () * Dutch language () Dutch may also refer to: Places * Dutch, West Virginia, a community in the United States * Pennsylvania Dutch Country People E ...
, with 24 million native speakers. Other West Germanic languages include
Afrikaans Afrikaans (, ) is a West Germanic language that evolved in the Dutch Cape Colony from the Dutch vernacular of Holland proper (i.e., the Hollandic dialect) used by Dutch, French, and German settlers and their enslaved people. Afrikaans gra ...
, an offshoot of Dutch, with over 7.1 million native speakers; Low German, considered a separate collection of unstandardized dialects, with roughly 4.35–7.15 million native speakers and probably 6.7–10 million people who can understand itTaaltelling Nedersaksisch
H. Bloemhoff. (2005). p88.
STATUS UND GEBRAUCH DES NIEDERDEUTSCHEN 2016
, A. Adler, C. Ehlers, R. Goltz, A. Kleene, A. Plewnia (2016)
Saxon, Low
''Ethnologue''.
(at least 2.2 million in
Germany Germany,, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central Europe. It is the second most populous country in Europe after Russia, and the most populous member state of the European Union. Germany is situated betwe ...
(2016) and 2.15 million in the Netherlands (2003));
Yiddish Yiddish (, or , ''yidish'' or ''idish'', , ; , ''Yidish-Taytsh'', ) is a West Germanic language historically spoken by Ashkenazi Jews. It originated during the 9th century in Central Europe, providing the nascent Ashkenazi community with a ve ...
, once used by approximately 13 million
Jews Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים, , ) or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and nation originating from the Israelites Israelite origins and kingdom: "The first act in the long drama of Jewish history is the age of the Israelites""The ...
in pre-
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great powers—forming two opposing ...
Europe, now with approximately 1.5 million native speakers; Scots, with 1.5 million native speakers; Limburgish varieties with roughly 1.3 million speakers along the
Dutch Dutch commonly refers to: * Something of, from, or related to the Netherlands * Dutch people () * Dutch language () Dutch may also refer to: Places * Dutch, West Virginia, a community in the United States * Pennsylvania Dutch Country People E ...
Belgian Belgian may refer to: * Something of, or related to, Belgium * Belgians, people from Belgium or of Belgian descent * Languages of Belgium, languages spoken in Belgium, such as Dutch, French, and German *Ancient Belgian language, an extinct languag ...
German border; and the
Frisian languages The Frisian (, ) languages are a closely related group of West Germanic languages, spoken by about 500,000 Frisian people, who live on the southern fringes of the North Sea in the Netherlands and Germany. The Frisian languages are the closest l ...
with over 500,000 native speakers in the Netherlands and Germany. The largest
North Germanic languages The North Germanic languages make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages—a sub-family of the Indo-European languages—along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages. The language group is also ...
are
Swedish Swedish or ' may refer to: Anything from or related to Sweden, a country in Northern Europe. Or, specifically: * Swedish language, a North Germanic language spoken primarily in Sweden and Finland ** Swedish alphabet, the official alphabet used by ...
,
Danish Danish may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to the country of Denmark People * A national or citizen of Denmark, also called a "Dane," see Demographics of Denmark * Culture of Denmark * Danish people or Danes, people with a Danish a ...
and
Norwegian Norwegian, Norwayan, or Norsk may refer to: *Something of, from, or related to Norway, a country in northwestern Europe * Norwegians, both a nation and an ethnic group native to Norway * Demographics of Norway *The Norwegian language, including ...
, which are in part mutually intelligible and have a combined total of about 20 million native speakers in the Nordic countries and an additional five million second language speakers; since the Middle Ages, however, these languages have been strongly influenced by
Middle Low German Middle Low German or Middle Saxon (autonym: ''Sassisch'', i.e. " Saxon", Standard High German: ', Modern Dutch: ') is a developmental stage of Low German. It developed from the Old Saxon language in the Middle Ages and has been documented i ...
, a West Germanic language, and Low German words account for about 30–60% of their vocabularies according to various estimates. Other extant North Germanic languages are Faroese, Icelandic, and
Elfdalian Elfdalian or Övdalian ( or , pronounced in Elfdalian, or in Swedish) is a North Germanic language spoken by up to 3,000 people who live or have grown up in the locality of Älvdalen ('), which is located in the southeastern part of Älvdale ...
, which are more conservative languages with no significant Low German influence, more complex grammar and limited mutual intelligibility with other North Germanic languages today.Holmberg, Anders and Christer Platzack (2005). "The Scandinavian languages". In ''The Comparative Syntax Handbook,'' eds
Guglielmo Cinque Guglielmo Cinque (born 1948 in La Spezia) is an Italian linguist and professor of linguistics at the Ca' Foscari University of Venice. He is one of the leading figures in modern minimalist syntax. Cinque studied literature and linguistics at the ...
and Richard S. Kayne. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press
Excerpt at Durham University
.
The East Germanic branch included Gothic, Burgundian, and
Vandalic Vandalic was the Germanic language spoken by the Vandals during roughly the 3rd to 6th centuries. It was probably closely related to Gothic, and, as such, is traditionally classified as an East Germanic language. Its attestation is very fragm ...
, all of which are now extinct. The last to die off was
Crimean Gothic Crimean Gothic was an East Germanic language spoken by the Crimean Goths in some isolated locations in Crimea until the late 18th century. Attestation The existence of a Germanic dialect in Crimea is noted in a number of sources from the 9th ce ...
, spoken until the late 18th century in some isolated areas of
Crimea Crimea, crh, Къырым, Qırım, grc, Κιμμερία / Ταυρική, translit=Kimmería / Taurikḗ ( ) is a peninsula in Ukraine, on the northern coast of the Black Sea, that has been occupied by Russia since 2014. It has a pop ...
. The SIL '' Ethnologue'' lists 48 different living Germanic languages, 41 of which belong to the Western branch and six to the Northern branch; it places Riograndenser Hunsrückisch German in neither of the categories, but it is often considered a German dialect by linguists. The total number of Germanic languages throughout history is unknown as some of them, especially the East Germanic languages, disappeared during or after the Migration Period. Some of the West Germanic languages also did not survive past the Migration Period, including Lombardic. As a result of
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great powers—forming two opposing ...
and subsequent mass expulsion of Germans, the German language suffered a significant loss of ''
Sprachraum In linguistics, a sprachraum (; , "language area", plural sprachräume) is a geographical region where a common first language (mother tongue), with dialect varieties, or group of languages is spoken. Characteristics Many sprachräume are separ ...
'', as well as moribundity and extinction of several of its dialects. In the 21st century, German dialects are dying out as Standard German gains primacy. The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic, also known as Common Germanic, which was spoken in about the middle of the 1st millennium BC in
Iron Age Scandinavia Iron Age Scandinavia (or Nordic Iron Age) was the Iron Age, as it unfolded in Scandinavia. Beginnings The 6th and 5th centuries BC were a tipping point for exports and imports on the European continent. The ever-increasing conflicts and wars ...
. Proto-Germanic, along with all of its descendants, notably has a number of unique linguistic features, most famously the
consonant In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are and pronounced with the lips; and pronounced with the front of the tongue; and pronounced wi ...
change known as "
Grimm's law Grimm's law (also known as the First Germanic Sound Shift) is a set of sound laws describing the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) stop consonants as they developed in Proto-Germanic in the 1st millennium BC. First systematically put forward by Jacob Gr ...
." Early varieties of Germanic entered history when the
Germanic tribes The Germanic peoples were historical groups of people that once occupied Central Europe and Scandinavia during antiquity and into the early Middle Ages. Since the 19th century, they have traditionally been defined by the use of ancient and e ...
moved south from
Scandinavia Scandinavia; Sámi languages: /. ( ) is a subregion in Northern Europe, with strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties between its constituent peoples. In English usage, ''Scandinavia'' most commonly refers to Denmark, Norway, and Swe ...
in the 2nd century BC to settle in the area of today's northern Germany and southern Denmark.


Modern status


West Germanic languages

English is an
official language An official language is a language given supreme status in a particular country, state, or other jurisdiction. Typically the term "official language" does not refer to the language used by a people or country, but by its government (e.g. judiciary, ...
of
Belize Belize (; bzj, Bileez) is a Caribbean and Central American country on the northeastern coast of Central America. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and Guatemala to the west and south. It also shares a wate ...
, Canada, Nigeria,
Falkland Islands The Falkland Islands (; es, Islas Malvinas, link=no ) is an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean on the Patagonian Shelf. The principal islands are about east of South America's southern Patagonian coast and about from Cape Dubouze ...
, Saint Helena,
Malta Malta ( , , ), officially the Republic of Malta ( mt, Repubblika ta' Malta ), is an island country in the Mediterranean Sea. It consists of an archipelago, between Italy and Libya, and is often considered a part of Southern Europe. It lies ...
, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa, Philippines, Jamaica, Dominica, Guyana,
Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago (, ), officially the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, is the southernmost island country in the Caribbean. Consisting of the main islands Trinidad and Tobago, and numerous much smaller islands, it is situated south of ...
,
American Samoa American Samoa ( sm, Amerika Sāmoa, ; also ' or ') is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the South Pacific Ocean, southeast of the island country of Samoa. Its location is centered on . It is east of the Internationa ...
,
Palau Palau,, officially the Republic of Palau and historically ''Belau'', ''Palaos'' or ''Pelew'', is an island country and microstate in the western Pacific. The nation has approximately 340 islands and connects the western chain of the ...
, St. Lucia, Grenada,
Barbados Barbados is an island country in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies, in the Caribbean region of the Americas, and the most easterly of the Caribbean Islands. It occupies an area of and has a population of about 287,000 (2019 estimate) ...
, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Puerto Rico,
Guam Guam (; ch, Guåhan ) is an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States in the Micronesia subregion of the western Pacific Ocean. It is the westernmost point and territory of the United States (reckoned from the geographic cent ...
, Hong Kong, Singapore, Pakistan, India,
Papua New Guinea Papua New Guinea (abbreviated PNG; , ; tpi, Papua Niugini; ho, Papua Niu Gini), officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea ( tpi, Independen Stet bilong Papua Niugini; ho, Independen Stet bilong Papua Niu Gini), is a country i ...
,
Namibia Namibia (, ), officially the Republic of Namibia, is a country in Southern Africa. Its western border is the Atlantic Ocean. It shares land borders with Zambia and Angola to the north, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south and ea ...
,
Vanuatu Vanuatu ( or ; ), officially the Republic of Vanuatu (french: link=no, République de Vanuatu; bi, Ripablik blong Vanuatu), is an island country located in the South Pacific Ocean. The archipelago, which is of volcanic origin, is east of no ...
, the
Solomon Islands Solomon Islands is an island country consisting of six major islands and over 900 smaller islands in Oceania, to the east of Papua New Guinea and north-west of Vanuatu. It has a land area of , and a population of approx. 700,000. Its capit ...
and former British colonies in Asia, Africa and Oceania. Furthermore, it is the ''
de facto ''De facto'' ( ; , "in fact") describes practices that exist in reality, whether or not they are officially recognized by laws or other formal norms. It is commonly used to refer to what happens in practice, in contrast with ''de jure'' ("by la ...
'' language of the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, as well as a recognized language in
Nicaragua Nicaragua (; ), officially the Republic of Nicaragua (), is the largest country in Central America, bordered by Honduras to the north, the Caribbean to the east, Costa Rica to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Managua is the countr ...
and Malaysia. German is a language of Austria, Belgium, Germany,
Liechtenstein Liechtenstein (), officially the Principality of Liechtenstein (german: link=no, Fürstentum Liechtenstein), is a German-speaking microstate located in the Alps between Austria and Switzerland. Liechtenstein is a semi-constitutional monarch ...
,
Luxembourg Luxembourg ( ; lb, Lëtzebuerg ; french: link=no, Luxembourg; german: link=no, Luxemburg), officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, ; french: link=no, Grand-Duché de Luxembourg ; german: link=no, Großherzogtum Luxemburg is a small lan ...
and Switzerland and has regional status in Italy, Poland, Namibia and Denmark. German also continues to be spoken as a minority language by immigrant communities in North America, South America, Central America, Mexico and Australia. A German dialect, Pennsylvania Dutch, is still used among various populations in the American state of
Pennsylvania Pennsylvania (; ( Pennsylvania Dutch: )), officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state spanning the Mid-Atlantic, Northeastern, Appalachian, and Great Lakes regions of the United States. It borders Delaware to its southeast, ...
in daily life. Dutch is an official language of Aruba, Belgium, Curaçao, the Netherlands,
Sint Maarten Sint Maarten () is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Caribbean. With a population of 41,486 as of January 2019 on an area of , it encompasses the southern 44% of the divided island of Saint Martin, while the nort ...
, and Suriname. The Netherlands also
colonized Colonization, or colonisation, constitutes large-scale population movements wherein migrants maintain strong links with their, or their ancestors', former country – by such links, gain advantage over other inhabitants of the territory. When ...
Indonesia Indonesia, officially the Republic of Indonesia, is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania between the Indian and Pacific oceans. It consists of over 17,000 islands, including Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, and parts of Borneo and New Guine ...
, but Dutch was scrapped as an official language after
Indonesian independence The Proclamation of Indonesian Independence ( id, Proklamasi Kemerdekaan Indonesia, or simply ''Proklamasi'') was read at 10:00 on Friday, 17 August 1945 in Jakarta. The declaration marked the start of the diplomatic and armed resistance of th ...
. Today, it is only used by older or traditionally educated people. Dutch was until 1983 an official language in South Africa but evolved into and was replaced by
Afrikaans Afrikaans (, ) is a West Germanic language that evolved in the Dutch Cape Colony from the Dutch vernacular of Holland proper (i.e., the Hollandic dialect) used by Dutch, French, and German settlers and their enslaved people. Afrikaans gra ...
, a partially mutually intelligible
daughter language In historical linguistics, a daughter language, also known as descendant language, is a language descended from another language, its mother language, through a process of genetic descent. If more than one language has developed from the same pro ...
of Dutch. Afrikaans is one of the 11 official languages in South Africa and is a '' lingua franca'' of Namibia. It is used in other Southern African nations, as well. Low German is a collection of very diverse dialects spoken in the northeast of the Netherlands and northern Germany. Scots is spoken in
Lowland Upland and lowland are conditional descriptions of a plain based on elevation above sea level. In studies of the ecology of freshwater rivers, habitats are classified as upland or lowland. Definitions Upland and lowland are portions of p ...
Scotland and parts of
Ulster Ulster (; ga, Ulaidh or ''Cúige Uladh'' ; sco, label= Ulster Scots, Ulstèr or ''Ulster'') is one of the four traditional Irish provinces. It is made up of nine counties: six of these constitute Northern Ireland (a part of the United Kin ...
(where the local dialect is known as Ulster Scots). Frisian is spoken among half a million people who live on the southern fringes of the
North Sea The North Sea lies between Great Britain, Norway, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. An epeiric sea, epeiric sea on the European continental shelf, it connects to the Atlantic Ocean through the English Channel in the south and the ...
in the Netherlands and Germany. Luxembourgish is a
Moselle Franconian __NOTOC__ Moselle Franconian (german: Moselfränkisch, lb, Muselfränkesch) is a West Central German language, part of the Central Franconian languages area, that includes Luxembourgish. It is spoken in the southern Rhineland and along the ...
dialect that is spoken mainly in the
Grand Duchy of Luxembourg Luxembourg ( ; lb, Lëtzebuerg ; french: link=no, Luxembourg; german: link=no, Luxemburg), officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, ; french: link=no, Grand-Duché de Luxembourg ; german: link=no, Großherzogtum Luxemburg is a small lan ...
, where it is considered to be an official language. Similar varieties of Moselle Franconian are spoken in small parts of Belgium, France, and Germany. Yiddish, once a native language of some 11 to 13 million people, remains in use by some 1.5 million speakers in Jewish communities around the world, mainly in North America, Europe, Israel, and other regions with Jewish populations. Limburgish
varieties Variety may refer to: Arts and entertainment Entertainment formats * Variety (radio) * Variety show, in theater and television Films * ''Variety'' (1925 film), a German silent film directed by Ewald Andre Dupont * ''Variety'' (1935 film), ...
are spoken in the
Limburg Limburg or Limbourg may refer to: Regions * Limburg (Belgium), a province since 1839 in the Flanders region of Belgium * Limburg (Netherlands), a province since 1839 in the south of the Netherlands * Diocese of Limburg, Roman Catholic Diocese in ...
and
Rhineland The Rhineland (german: Rheinland; french: Rhénanie; nl, Rijnland; ksh, Rhingland; Latinised name: ''Rhenania'') is a loosely defined area of Western Germany along the Rhine, chiefly its middle section. Term Historically, the Rhinelands ...
regions, along the Dutch–Belgian–German border.


North Germanic languages

In addition to being the official language in Sweden,
Swedish Swedish or ' may refer to: Anything from or related to Sweden, a country in Northern Europe. Or, specifically: * Swedish language, a North Germanic language spoken primarily in Sweden and Finland ** Swedish alphabet, the official alphabet used by ...
is also spoken natively by the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland, which is a large part of the population along the coast of western and southern Finland. Swedish is also one of the two official languages in Finland, along with
Finnish Finnish may refer to: * Something or someone from, or related to Finland * Culture of Finland * Finnish people or Finns, the primary ethnic group in Finland * Finnish language, the national language of the Finnish people * Finnish cuisine See also ...
, and the only official language in
Åland Åland ( fi, Ahvenanmaa: ; ; ) is an autonomous and demilitarised region of Finland since 1920 by a decision of the League of Nations. It is the smallest region of Finland by area and population, with a size of 1,580 km2, and a populat ...
. Swedish is also spoken by some people in Estonia.
Danish Danish may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to the country of Denmark People * A national or citizen of Denmark, also called a "Dane," see Demographics of Denmark * Culture of Denmark * Danish people or Danes, people with a Danish a ...
is an official language of Denmark and in its overseas territory of the
Faroe Islands The Faroe Islands ( ), or simply the Faroes ( fo, Føroyar ; da, Færøerne ), are a North Atlantic island group and an autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark. They are located north-northwest of Scotland, and about halfway bet ...
, and it is a ''lingua franca'' and language of education in its other overseas territory of
Greenland Greenland ( kl, Kalaallit Nunaat, ; da, Grønland, ) is an island country in North America that is part of the Kingdom of Denmark. It is located between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Greenland i ...
, where it was one of the official languages until 2009. Danish, a locally recognized minority language, is also natively spoken by the Danish minority in the German state of
Schleswig-Holstein Schleswig-Holstein (; da, Slesvig-Holsten; nds, Sleswig-Holsteen; frr, Slaswik-Holstiinj) is the northernmost of the 16 states of Germany, comprising most of the historical duchy of Holstein and the southern part of the former Duchy of Sc ...
.
Norwegian Norwegian, Norwayan, or Norsk may refer to: *Something of, from, or related to Norway, a country in northwestern Europe * Norwegians, both a nation and an ethnic group native to Norway * Demographics of Norway *The Norwegian language, including ...
is the official language of Norway. Norwegian is also the official language in the overseas territories of Norway such as Svalbard,
Jan Mayen Jan Mayen () is a Norwegian volcanic island in the Arctic Ocean with no permanent population. It is long (southwest-northeast) and in area, partly covered by glaciers (an area of around the Beerenberg volcano). It has two parts: larger ...
,
Bouvet island Bouvet Island ( ; or ''Bouvetøyen'') is an island claimed by Norway, and declared an uninhabited protected nature reserve. It is a subantarctic volcanic island, situated in the South Atlantic Ocean at the southern end of the Mid-Atlantic R ...
,
Queen Maud Land Queen Maud Land ( no, Dronning Maud Land) is a roughly region of Antarctica claimed by Norway as a dependent territory. It borders the claimed British Antarctic Territory 20° west and the Australian Antarctic Territory 45° east. In addi ...
and Peter I island. Icelandic is the official language of
Iceland Iceland ( is, Ísland; ) is a Nordic island country in the North Atlantic Ocean and in the Arctic Ocean. Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Iceland's capital and largest city is Reykjavík, which (along with its s ...
. Faroese is the official language of the Faroe Islands, and is also spoken by some people in Denmark.


Statistics


History

All Germanic languages are thought to be descended from a hypothetical
Proto-Germanic Proto-Germanic (abbreviated PGmc; also called Common Germanic) is the reconstructed proto-language of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages. Proto-Germanic eventually developed from pre-Proto-Germanic into three Germanic bran ...
, united by subjection to the sound shifts of
Grimm's law Grimm's law (also known as the First Germanic Sound Shift) is a set of sound laws describing the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) stop consonants as they developed in Proto-Germanic in the 1st millennium BC. First systematically put forward by Jacob Gr ...
and
Verner's law Verner's law describes a historical sound change in the Proto-Germanic language whereby consonants that would usually have been the voiceless fricatives , , , , , following an unstressed syllable, became the voiced fricatives , , , , . The law w ...
. These probably took place during the
Pre-Roman Iron Age The archaeology of Northern Europe studies the prehistory of Scandinavia and the adjacent North European Plain, roughly corresponding to the territories of modern Sweden, Norway, Denmark, northern Germany, Poland and the Netherlands. The regio ...
of Northern Europe from c. 500 BC. Proto-Germanic itself was likely spoken after c. 500 BC, and
Proto-Norse Proto-Norse (also called Ancient Nordic, Ancient Scandinavian, Ancient Norse, Primitive Norse, Proto-Nordic, Proto-Scandinavian and Proto-North Germanic) was an Indo-European language spoken in Scandinavia that is thought to have evolved as a ...
from the 2nd century AD and later is still quite close to reconstructed Proto-Germanic, but other common innovations separating Germanic from
Proto-Indo-European Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European language family. Its proposed features have been derived by linguistic reconstruction from documented Indo-European languages. No direct record of Proto-Indo- ...
suggest a common history of pre-Proto-Germanic speakers throughout the
Nordic Bronze Age The Nordic Bronze Age (also Northern Bronze Age, or Scandinavian Bronze Age) is a period of Scandinavian prehistory from c. 2000/1750–500 BC. The Nordic Bronze Age culture emerged about 1750 BC as a continuation of the Battle Axe culture (th ...
. From the time of their earliest attestation, the Germanic varieties are divided into three groups:
West West or Occident is one of the four cardinal directions or points of the compass. It is the opposite direction from east and is the direction in which the Sun sets on the Earth. Etymology The word "west" is a Germanic word passed into some ...
,
East East or Orient is one of the four cardinal directions or points of the compass. It is the opposite direction from west and is the direction from which the Sun rises on the Earth. Etymology As in other languages, the word is formed from the fac ...
, and
North North is one of the four compass points or cardinal directions. It is the opposite of south and is perpendicular to east and west. ''North'' is a noun, adjective, or adverb indicating direction or geography. Etymology The word ''north ...
Germanic. Their exact relation is difficult to determine from the sparse evidence of runic inscriptions. The western group would have formed in the late
Jastorf culture The Jastorf culture was an Iron Age material culture in what is now northern Germany and southern Scandinavia spanning the 6th to 1st centuries BC, forming part of the Pre-Roman Iron Age and associating with Germanic peoples. The culture evo ...
, and the eastern group may be derived from the 1st-century
variety Variety may refer to: Arts and entertainment Entertainment formats * Variety (radio) * Variety show, in theater and television Films * ''Variety'' (1925 film), a German silent film directed by Ewald Andre Dupont * ''Variety'' (1935 film), ...
of Gotland, leaving southern Sweden as the original location of the northern group. The earliest period of Elder Futhark (2nd to 4th centuries) predates the division in regional script variants, and linguistically essentially still reflects the
Common Germanic Proto-Germanic (abbreviated PGmc; also called Common Germanic) is the reconstructed proto-language of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages. Proto-Germanic eventually developed from pre-Proto-Germanic into three Germanic br ...
stage. The Vimose inscriptions include some of the oldest datable Germanic inscriptions, starting in c. 160 AD. The earliest coherent Germanic text preserved is the 4th-century Gothic translation of the
New Testament The New Testament grc, Ἡ Καινὴ Διαθήκη, transl. ; la, Novum Testamentum. (NT) is the second division of the Christian biblical canon. It discusses the teachings and person of Jesus, as well as events in first-century Chri ...
by
Ulfilas Ulfilas (–383), also spelled Ulphilas and Orphila, all Latinisation of names, Latinized forms of the unattested Gothic language, Gothic form *𐍅𐌿𐌻𐍆𐌹𐌻𐌰 Wulfila, literally "Little Wolf", was a Goths, Goth of Cappadocian Ancie ...
. Early testimonies of West Germanic are in Old Frankish/
Old Dutch In linguistics, Old Dutch (Dutch: Oudnederlands) or Old Low Franconian (Dutch: Oudnederfrankisch) is the set of Franconian dialects (i.e. dialects that evolved from Frankish) spoken in the Low Countries during the Early Middle Ages, from aroun ...
(the 5th-century
Bergakker inscription The Bergakker inscription is an Elder Futhark inscription discovered on the scabbard of a 5th-century sword. It was found in 1996 in the Dutch town of Bergakker, in the Betuwe, a region once inhabited by the Batavi. There is consensus that the f ...
),
Old High German Old High German (OHG; german: Althochdeutsch (Ahd.)) is the earliest stage of the German language, conventionally covering the period from around 750 to 1050. There is no standardised or supra-regional form of German at this period, and Old High ...
(scattered words and sentences 6th century and coherent texts 9th century), and
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language, spoken in England and southern and eastern Scotland in the early Middle Ages. It was brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the mid-5th c ...
(oldest texts 650, coherent texts 10th century). North Germanic is only attested in scattered runic inscriptions, as
Proto-Norse Proto-Norse (also called Ancient Nordic, Ancient Scandinavian, Ancient Norse, Primitive Norse, Proto-Nordic, Proto-Scandinavian and Proto-North Germanic) was an Indo-European language spoken in Scandinavia that is thought to have evolved as a ...
, until it evolves into
Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian, is a stage of development of North Germanic dialects before their final divergence into separate Nordic languages. Old Norse was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and their overseas settlemen ...
by about 800. Longer runic inscriptions survive from the 8th and 9th centuries ( Eggjum stone, Rök stone), longer texts in the Latin alphabet survive from the 12th century (
Íslendingabók ''Íslendingabók'' (, Old Norse pronunciation: , ''Book of Icelanders''; ) is a historical work dealing with early Icelandic history. The author was an Icelandic priest, Ari Þorgilsson, working in the early 12th century. The work originally ex ...
), and some
skaldic poetry A skald, or skáld (Old Norse: , later ; , meaning "poet"), is one of the often named poets who composed skaldic poetry, one of the two kinds of Old Norse poetry, the other being Eddic poetry, which is anonymous. Skaldic poems were traditional ...
dates back to as early as the 9th century. By about the 10th century, the varieties had diverged enough to make
mutual intelligibility In linguistics, mutual intelligibility is a relationship between languages or dialects in which speakers of different but related varieties can readily understand each other without prior familiarity or special effort. It is sometimes used as an ...
difficult. The linguistic contact of the
Viking Vikings ; non, víkingr is the modern name given to seafaring people originally from Scandinavia (present-day Denmark, Norway and Sweden), who from the late 8th to the late 11th centuries raided, pirated, traded and se ...
settlers of the
Danelaw The Danelaw (, also known as the Danelagh; ang, Dena lagu; da, Danelagen) was the part of England in which the laws of the Danes held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. The Danelaw contrasts with the West Saxon law and the Mercian ...
with the
Anglo-Saxons The Anglo-Saxons were a Cultural identity, cultural group who inhabited England in the Early Middle Ages. They traced their origins to settlers who came to Britain from mainland Europe in the 5th century. However, the ethnogenesis of the Anglo- ...
left traces in the English language and is suspected to have facilitated the collapse of Old English grammar that, combined with the influx of
Romance Romance (from Vulgar Latin , "in the Roman language", i.e., "Latin") may refer to: Common meanings * Romance (love), emotional attraction towards another person and the courtship behaviors undertaken to express the feelings * Romance languages, ...
Old French Old French (, , ; Modern French: ) was the language spoken in most of the northern half of France from approximately the 8th to the 14th centuries. Rather than a unified language, Old French was a linkage of Romance dialects, mutually intellig ...
vocabulary after the
Norman Conquest The Norman Conquest (or the Conquest) was the 11th-century invasion and occupation of England by an army made up of thousands of Norman, Breton, Flemish, and French troops, all led by the Duke of Normandy, later styled William the Con ...
, resulted in
Middle English Middle English (abbreviated to ME) is a form of the English language that was spoken after the Norman conquest of 1066, until the late 15th century. The English language underwent distinct variations and developments following the Old English ...
from the 12th century. The East Germanic languages were marginalized from the end of the Migration Period. The Burgundians,
Goths The Goths ( got, 𐌲𐌿𐍄𐌸𐌹𐌿𐌳𐌰, translit=''Gutþiuda''; la, Gothi, grc-gre, Γότθοι, Gótthoi) were a Germanic people who played a major role in the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the emergence of medieval Europe ...
, and
Vandals The Vandals were a Germanic people who first inhabited what is now southern Poland. They established Vandal kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula, Mediterranean islands, and North Africa in the fifth century. The Vandals migrated to the area betw ...
became linguistically assimilated by their respective neighbors by about the 7th century, with only
Crimean Gothic Crimean Gothic was an East Germanic language spoken by the Crimean Goths in some isolated locations in Crimea until the late 18th century. Attestation The existence of a Germanic dialect in Crimea is noted in a number of sources from the 9th ce ...
lingering on until the 18th 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 Upper German (german: Oberdeutsch ) is a family of High German dialects spoken primarily in the southern German-speaking area (). History In the Old High German time, only Alemannic and Bairisch are grouped as Upper German. In the Middle High ...
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 Northern Low Saxon (in High German: ', in Standard Dutch: ') is a subgroup of Low Saxon dialects of Low German. As such, it covers a great part of the West Low German-speaking areas of northern Germany, with the exception of the border regio ...
in the North, and, although both extremes are considered German, they are hardly mutually intelligible. The southernmost varieties had completed the second sound shift, while the northern varieties remained unaffected by the consonant shift. The North Germanic languages, on the other hand, remained unified until well past 1000 AD, and in fact the mainland Scandinavian languages still largely retain mutual intelligibility into modern times. The main split in these languages is between the mainland languages and the island languages to the west, especially Icelandic, which has maintained the grammar of Old Norse virtually unchanged, while the mainland languages have diverged greatly.


Distinctive characteristics

Germanic languages possess a number of defining features compared with other Indo-European languages. Some of the best-known are the following: # The sound changes known as
Grimm's Law Grimm's law (also known as the First Germanic Sound Shift) is a set of sound laws describing the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) stop consonants as they developed in Proto-Germanic in the 1st millennium BC. First systematically put forward by Jacob Gr ...
and
Verner's Law Verner's law describes a historical sound change in the Proto-Germanic language whereby consonants that would usually have been the voiceless fricatives , , , , , following an unstressed syllable, became the voiced fricatives , , , , . The law w ...
, which shifted the values of all the Indo-European stop consonants (for example, original * became Germanic * in most cases; compare ''three'' with
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through the power of the ...
, ''two'' with Latin , ''do'' with
Sanskrit Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominally , , ) is a classical language belonging to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia after its predecessor languages had diffused there from the northwest in the late ...
). The recognition of these two sound laws were seminal events in the understanding of the regular nature of linguistic sound change and the development of the
comparative method In linguistics, the comparative method is a technique for studying the development of languages by performing a feature-by-feature comparison of two or more languages with common descent from a shared ancestor and then extrapolating backwards t ...
, which forms the basis of modern
historical linguistics Historical linguistics, also termed diachronic linguistics, is the scientific study of language change over time. Principal concerns of historical linguistics include: # to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages # ...
. # The development of a strong
stress Stress may refer to: Science and medicine * Stress (biology), an organism's response to a stressor such as an environmental condition * Stress (linguistics), relative emphasis or prominence given to a syllable in a word, or to a word in a phrase ...
on the first syllable of the word, which triggered significant phonological reduction of all other syllables. This is responsible for the reduction of most of the basic English, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish words into monosyllables, and the common impression of modern English and German as consonant-heavy languages. Examples are Proto-Germanic → ''strength'', → ''ant'', → ''head'', → ''hear'', → German "autumn, harvest", → German "witch, hag". # A change known as Germanic umlaut, which modified vowel qualities when a high front vocalic segment (, or ) followed in the next syllable. Generally, back vowels were fronted, and front vowels were raised. In many languages, the modified vowels are indicated with a umlaut mark (e.g., in German, pronounced , respectively). This change resulted in pervasive alternations in related words — still extremely prominent in modern German but present only in remnants in modern English (e.g., ''mouse/mice'', ''goose/geese'', ''broad/breadth'', ''tell/told'', ''old/elder'', ''foul/filth'', ''gold/gild''). # Large numbers of vowel qualities. English has around 11–12 vowels in most dialects (not counting diphthongs),
Standard Swedish Standard Swedish () denotes Swedish as a spoken and written standard language. While Swedish as a written language is uniform and standardized, the spoken standard may vary considerably from region to region. Several prestige dialects have devel ...
has 17 pure vowels (monophthongs), standard German and Dutch 14, and
Danish Danish may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to the country of Denmark People * A national or citizen of Denmark, also called a "Dane," see Demographics of Denmark * Culture of Denmark * Danish people or Danes, people with a Danish a ...
at least 11. The Amstetten dialect of Bavarian German has 13 distinctions among long vowels alone, one of the largest such inventories in the world. # '' Verb second'' (V2) word order, which is uncommon cross-linguistically. Exactly one noun phrase or adverbial element must precede the verb; in particular, if an adverb or prepositional phrase precedes the verb, then the subject must immediately follow the finite verb. In modern English, this survives only in a few relics, known in the EFL classroom as "inversion": examples include some constructions with ''here'' or ''there'' (''Here comes the sun; there are five continents''), verbs of speech after a quote (''"Yes", said John''), sentences beginning with certain conjunctions (''Hardly had he said this when...; Only much later did he realize...'') and sentences beginning with certain adverbs of motion to create a sense of drama (''Over went the boat; out ran the cat;
Pop Goes The Weasel "Pop! Goes the Weasel" (Roud 5249) is a traditional English and American song, a country dance, nursery rhyme, and singing game that emerged in the mid-19th century. It is commonly used in Jack-in-the-box toys and for ice cream trucks. The song ...
''). However it is common in all other modern Germanic languages. Other significant characteristics are: # The reduction of the various tense and
aspect Aspect or Aspects may refer to: Entertainment * ''Aspect magazine'', a biannual DVD magazine showcasing new media art * Aspect Co., a Japanese video game company * Aspects (band), a hip hop group from Bristol, England * ''Aspects'' (Benny Carter ...
combinations of the Indo-European verbal system into only two: the
present tense The present tense (abbreviated or ) is a grammatical tense whose principal function is to locate a situation or event in the present time. The present tense is used for actions which are happening now. In order to explain and understand present ...
and the
past tense The past tense is a grammatical tense whose function is to place an action or situation in the past. Examples of verbs in the past tense include the English verbs ''sang'', ''went'' and ''washed''. Most languages have a past tense, with some ha ...
(also called the preterite). # The development of a new class of weak verbs that use a dental suffix (, or ) instead of vowel alternation (
Indo-European ablaut In linguistics, the Indo-European ablaut (, from German ''Ablaut'' ) is a system of apophony (regular vowel variations) in the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE). An example of ablaut in English is the strong verb ''sing, sang, sung'' and it ...
) to indicate past tense. The vast majority of verbs in all Germanic languages are weak; the remaining verbs with vowel ablaut are the strong verbs. The distinction has been lost in Afrikaans. # A distinction in
definiteness In linguistics, definiteness is a semantic feature of noun phrases, distinguishing between referents or senses that are identifiable in a given context (definite noun phrases) and those which are not (indefinite noun phrases). The prototypical ...
of a
noun phrase In linguistics, a noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a phrase that has a noun or pronoun as its head or performs the same grammatical function as a noun. Noun phrases are very common cross-linguistically, and they may be the most frequently oc ...
that is marked by different sets of inflectional endings for
adjectives In linguistics, an adjective (abbreviated ) is a word that generally modifies a noun or noun phrase or describes its referent. Its semantic role is to change information given by the noun. Traditionally, adjectives were considered one of the mai ...
, the so-called strong and weak inflections. A similar development happened in the
Balto-Slavic languages The Balto-Slavic languages form a branch of the Indo-European family of languages, traditionally comprising the Baltic and Slavic languages. Baltic and Slavic languages share several linguistic traits not found in any other Indo-European branc ...
. This distinction has been lost in modern English but was present in
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language, spoken in England and southern and eastern Scotland in the early Middle Ages. It was brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the mid-5th c ...
and remains in all other Germanic languages to various degrees. # Some words with etymologies that are difficult to link to other Indo-European families but with variants that appear in almost all Germanic languages. See Germanic substrate hypothesis. # Discourse particles, which are a class of short, unstressed words which speakers use to express their attitude towards the utterance or the hearer. This word category seems to be rare outside of the Germanic languages. An example would be the word 'just', which the speaker can use to express surprise. Note that some of the above characteristics were not present in Proto-Germanic but developed later as
areal feature In geolinguistics, areal features are elements shared by languages or dialects in a geographic area, particularly when such features are not descended from a proto-language, or, common ancestor language. That is, an areal feature is contrasted to ...
s that spread from language to language: * Germanic umlaut only affected the
North North is one of the four compass points or cardinal directions. It is the opposite of south and is perpendicular to east and west. ''North'' is a noun, adjective, or adverb indicating direction or geography. Etymology The word ''north ...
and
West Germanic languages The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three branches of the Germanic family of languages (the others being the North Germanic and the extinct East Germanic languages). The West Germanic branch is classically subdivided into ...
(which represent all modern Germanic languages) but not the now-extinct
East Germanic languages The East Germanic languages, also called the Oder–Vistula Germanic languages, are a group of extinct Germanic languages that were spoken by East Germanic peoples. East Germanic is one of the primary branches of Germanic languages, along with ...
, such as Gothic, nor Proto-Germanic, the common ancestor of all Germanic languages. * The large inventory of vowel qualities is a later development, due to a combination of Germanic umlaut and the tendency in many Germanic languages for pairs of long/short vowels of originally identical quality to develop distinct qualities, with the length distinction sometimes eventually lost. Proto-Germanic had only five distinct vowel qualities, although there were more actual vowel phonemes because length and possibly nasality were phonemic. In modern German, long-short vowel pairs still exist but are also distinct in quality. * Proto-Germanic probably had a more general S-O-V-I word order. However, the tendency toward V2 order may have already been present in latent form and may be related to Wackernagel's Law, an Indo-European law dictating that sentence clitics must be placed second. 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 Icelandic and, to a lesser extent, German, have preserved much of the complex
inflectional morphology In linguistic morphology, inflection (or inflexion) is a process of word formation in which a word is modified to express different grammatical categories such as tense, case, voice, aspect, person, number, gender, mood, animacy, and de ...
inherited from Proto-Germanic (and in turn from
Proto-Indo-European Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European language family. Its proposed features have been derived by linguistic reconstruction from documented Indo-European languages. No direct record of Proto-Indo- ...
). Others, such as English,
Swedish Swedish or ' may refer to: Anything from or related to Sweden, a country in Northern Europe. Or, specifically: * Swedish language, a North Germanic language spoken primarily in Sweden and Finland ** Swedish alphabet, the official alphabet used by ...
, and
Afrikaans Afrikaans (, ) is a West Germanic language that evolved in the Dutch Cape Colony from the Dutch vernacular of Holland proper (i.e., the Hollandic dialect) used by Dutch, French, and German settlers and their enslaved people. Afrikaans gra ...
, have moved toward a largely analytic type.


Linguistic developments

The subgroupings of the Germanic languages are defined by shared innovations. It is important to distinguish innovations from cases of linguistic conservatism. That is, if two languages in a family share a characteristic that is not observed in a third language, that is evidence of common ancestry of the two languages ''only if'' the characteristic is an innovation compared to the family's
proto-language In the tree model of historical linguistics, a proto-language is a postulated ancestral language from which a number of attested languages are believed to have descended by evolution, forming a language family. Proto-languages are usually unattes ...
. The following innovations are common to the
Northwest Germanic Northwest Germanic is a proposed grouping of the Germanic languages, representing the current consensus among Germanic historical linguists. It does not challenge the late 19th-century tri-partite division of the Germanic dialects into North Germ ...
languages (all but Gothic): * The lowering of /u/ to /o/ in initial syllables before /a/ in the following syllable: → ''bode'', Icelandic "messages" ("a-Umlaut", traditionally called ''Brechung'') * "Labial umlaut" in unstressed medial syllables (the conversion of /a/ to /u/ and /ō/ to /ū/ before /m/, or /u/ in the following syllable) * The conversion of /ē1/ into /ā/ (vs. Gothic /ē/) in stressed syllables. In unstressed syllables, West Germanic also has this change, but North Germanic has shortened the vowel to /e/, then raised it to /i/. This suggests it was an areal change. * The raising of final /ō/ to /u/ (Gothic lowers it to /a/). It is kept distinct from the nasal /ǭ/, which is not raised. * The
monophthongization Monophthongization is a sound change by which a diphthong becomes a monophthong, a type of vowel shift. It is also known as ungliding, as diphthongs are also known as gliding vowels. In languages that have undergone monophthongization, digraphs ...
of /ai/ and /au/ to /ē/ and /ō/ in non-initial syllables (however, evidence for the development of /au/ in medial syllables is lacking). * The development of an intensified demonstrative ending in /s/ (reflected in English "this" compared to "the") * Introduction of a distinct ablaut grade in Class VII strong verbs, while Gothic uses reduplication (e.g. Gothic ''haihait''; ON, OE ''hēt'', preterite of the Gmc verb ''*haitan'' "to be called") as part of a comprehensive reformation of the Gmc Class VII from a reduplicating to a new ablaut pattern, which presumably started in verbs beginning with vowel or /h/ (a development which continues the general trend of de-reduplication in Gmc); there are forms (such as OE dial. ''heht'' instead of ''hēt'') which retain traces of reduplication even in West and North Germanic The following innovations are also common to the
Northwest Germanic Northwest Germanic is a proposed grouping of the Germanic languages, representing the current consensus among Germanic historical linguists. It does not challenge the late 19th-century tri-partite division of the Germanic dialects into North Germ ...
languages but represent areal changes: * Proto-Germanic /z/ > /r/ (e.g. Gothic ''dius''; ON ''dȳr'', OHG ''tior'', OE ''dēor'', "wild animal"); note that this is not present in
Proto-Norse Proto-Norse (also called Ancient Nordic, Ancient Scandinavian, Ancient Norse, Primitive Norse, Proto-Nordic, Proto-Scandinavian and Proto-North Germanic) was an Indo-European language spoken in Scandinavia that is thought to have evolved as a ...
and must be ordered after
West Germanic The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three branches of the Germanic family of languages (the others being the North Germanic and the extinct East Germanic languages). The West Germanic branch is classically subdivided into ...
loss of final /z/ * Germanic umlaut The following innovations are common to the
West Germanic languages The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three branches of the Germanic family of languages (the others being the North Germanic and the extinct East Germanic languages). The West Germanic branch is classically subdivided into ...
: * Loss of final /z/. In single-syllable words, Old High German retains it (as /r/), while it disappears in the other West Germanic languages. * Change of (fricative allophone of /d/) to stop in all environments. * Change of /lþ/ to stop /ld/ (except word-finally). * West Germanic gemination of consonants, except ''r'', before /j/. This only occurred in short-stemmed words due to
Sievers' law Sievers's law in Indo-European linguistics accounts for the pronunciation of a consonant cluster with a glide ( or ) before a vowel as it was affected by the phonetics of the preceding syllable. Specifically it refers to the alternation betwee ...
. Gemination of /p/, /t/, /k/ and /h/ is also observed before liquids. * Labiovelar consonants become plain velar when non-initial. * A particular type of ''umlaut'' /e-u-i/ > /i-u-i/. * Changes to the 2nd person singular past-tense: Replacement of the past-singular stem vowel with the past-plural stem vowel, and substitution of the ending ''-t'' with ''-ī''. * Short forms (''*stān, stēn'', ''*gān, gēn'') of the verbs for "stand" and "go"; but note that
Crimean Gothic Crimean Gothic was an East Germanic language spoken by the Crimean Goths in some isolated locations in Crimea until the late 18th century. Attestation The existence of a Germanic dialect in Crimea is noted in a number of sources from the 9th ce ...
also has ''gēn''. * The development of a
gerund In linguistics, a gerund ( abbreviated ) is any of various nonfinite verb forms in various languages; most often, but not exclusively, one that functions as a noun. In English, it has the properties of both verb and noun, such as being modifiab ...
. The following innovations are common to the
Ingvaeonic North Sea Germanic, also known as Ingvaeonic , is a postulated grouping of the northern West Germanic languages that consists of Old Frisian, Old English, and Old Saxon, and their descendants. Ingvaeonic is named after the Ingaevones, a West Ge ...
subgroup of the
West Germanic languages The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three branches of the Germanic family of languages (the others being the North Germanic and the extinct East Germanic languages). The West Germanic branch is classically subdivided into ...
, which includes English, Frisian, and in a few cases Dutch and Low German, but not High German: * The so-called
Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law In historical linguistics, the Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law (also called the Anglo-Frisian or North Sea Germanic nasal spirant law) is a description of a phonological development that occurred in the Ingvaeonic dialects of the West Germanic langu ...
, with loss of /n/ before voiceless fricatives: e.g. ''*munþ'', ''*gans'' > Old English ''mūþ, gōs'' > "mouth, goose", but German ''Mund, Gans''. * The loss of the Germanic
reflexive pronoun A reflexive pronoun is a pronoun that refers to another noun or pronoun (its antecedent) within the same sentence. In the English language specifically, a reflexive pronoun will end in ''-self'' or ''-selves'', and refer to a previously n ...
. Dutch has reclaimed the reflexive pronoun from Middle High German . * The reduction of the three Germanic
verb A verb () is a word ( part of speech) that in syntax generally conveys an action (''bring'', ''read'', ''walk'', ''run'', ''learn''), an occurrence (''happen'', ''become''), or a state of being (''be'', ''exist'', ''stand''). In the usual descr ...
al
plural The plural (sometimes abbreviated pl., pl, or ), in many languages, is one of the values of the grammatical category of number. The plural of a noun typically denotes a quantity greater than the default quantity represented by that noun. This de ...
forms into one form ending in ''-þ''. * The development of Class III weak verbs into a relic class consisting of four verbs (''*sagjan'' "to say", ''*hugjan'' "to think", ''*habjan'' "to have", ''*libjan'' "to live"; cf. the numerous Old High German verbs in ''-ēn''). * The split of the Class II weak verb ending ''*-ō-'' into ''*-ō-/-ōja-'' (cf. Old English ''-ian'' < ''-ōjan'', but Old High German ''-ōn''). * Development of a plural ending *-ōs in a-stem nouns (note, Gothic also has ''-ōs'', but this is an independent development, caused by terminal devoicing of ''*-ōz'';
Old Frisian Old Frisian was a West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries along the North Sea coast, roughly between the mouths of the Rhine and Weser rivers. The Frisian settlers on the coast of South Jutland (today's Northern Fri ...
has ''-ar'', which is thought to be a late borrowing from
Danish Danish may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to the country of Denmark People * A national or citizen of Denmark, also called a "Dane," see Demographics of Denmark * Culture of Denmark * Danish people or Danes, people with a Danish a ...
). Cf. modern English plural ''-(e)s'', but German plural ''-e''. * Possibly, the
monophthong A monophthong ( ; , ) is a pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation. The monophthongs can be contrasted with diphthongs, wh ...
ization of Germanic ''*ai'' to ''ē/ā'' (this may represent independent changes in Old Saxon and
Anglo-Frisian The Anglo-Frisian languages are the Anglic (English, Scots, and Yola) and Frisian varieties of the West Germanic languages. The Anglo-Frisian languages are distinct from other West Germanic languages due to several sound changes: besides th ...
). The following innovations are common to the
Anglo-Frisian The Anglo-Frisian languages are the Anglic (English, Scots, and Yola) and Frisian varieties of the West Germanic languages. The Anglo-Frisian languages are distinct from other West Germanic languages due to several sound changes: besides th ...
subgroup of the
Ingvaeonic languages North Sea Germanic, also known as Ingvaeonic , is a postulated grouping of the northern West Germanic languages that consists of Old Frisian, Old English, and Old Saxon, and their descendants. Ingvaeonic is named after the Ingaevones, a West Ge ...
: * Raising of nasalized ''a, ā'' into ''o, ō''. *
Anglo-Frisian brightening The phonological system of the Old English language underwent many changes during the period of its existence. These included a number of vowel shifts, and the palatalisation of velar consonants in many positions. For historical development ...
: Fronting of non-nasal ''a, ā'' to ''æ,ǣ'' when not followed by ''n'' or ''m''. * Metathesis of ''CrV'' into ''CVr'', where ''C'' represents any consonant and ''V'' any vowel. *
Monophthongization Monophthongization is a sound change by which a diphthong becomes a monophthong, a type of vowel shift. It is also known as ungliding, as diphthongs are also known as gliding vowels. In languages that have undergone monophthongization, digraphs ...
of ''ai'' into ''ā''.


Common linguistic features


Phonology

The oldest Germanic languages all share a number of features, which are assumed to be inherited from Proto-Germanic. Phonologically, it includes the important sound changes known as
Grimm's Law Grimm's law (also known as the First Germanic Sound Shift) is a set of sound laws describing the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) stop consonants as they developed in Proto-Germanic in the 1st millennium BC. First systematically put forward by Jacob Gr ...
and
Verner's Law Verner's law describes a historical sound change in the Proto-Germanic language whereby consonants that would usually have been the voiceless fricatives , , , , , following an unstressed syllable, became the voiced fricatives , , , , . The law w ...
, which introduced a large number of
fricative A fricative is a consonant produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate in t ...
s; late
Proto-Indo-European Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European language family. Its proposed features have been derived by linguistic reconstruction from documented Indo-European languages. No direct record of Proto-Indo- ...
had only one, /s/. The main vowel developments are the merging (in most circumstances) of long and short /a/ and /o/, producing short /a/ and long /ō/. That likewise affected the diphthongs, with PIE /ai/ and /oi/ merging into /ai/ and PIE /au/ and /ou/ merging into /au/. PIE /ei/ developed into long /ī/. PIE long /ē/ developed into a vowel denoted as /ē1/ (often assumed to be phonetically ), while a new, fairly uncommon long vowel /ē2/ developed in varied and not completely understood circumstances. Proto-Germanic had no
front rounded vowel A front rounded vowel is a particular type of vowel that is both front and rounded. The front rounded vowels defined by the IPA include: * , a close front rounded vowel (or "high front rounded vowel") * , a near-close front rounded vowel (or " ...
s, but all Germanic languages except for Gothic subsequently developed them through the process of i-umlaut. Proto-Germanic developed a strong stress accent on the first syllable of the root, but remnants of the original free PIE accent are visible due to Verner's Law, which was sensitive to this accent. That caused a steady erosion of vowels in unstressed syllables. In Proto-Germanic, that had progressed only to the point that absolutely-final short vowels (other than /i/ and /u/) were lost and absolutely-final long vowels were shortened, but all of the early literary languages show a more advanced state of vowel loss. This ultimately resulted in some languages (like Modern English) losing practically all vowels following the main stress and the consequent rise of a very large number of monosyllabic words.


Table of outcomes

The following table shows the main outcomes of Proto-Germanic vowels and consonants in the various older languages. For vowels, only the outcomes in stressed syllables are shown. Outcomes in unstressed syllables are quite different, vary from language to language and depend on a number of other factors (such as whether the syllable was medial or final, whether the syllable was
open Open or OPEN may refer to: Music * Open (band), Australian pop/rock band * The Open (band), English indie rock band * ''Open'' (Blues Image album), 1969 * ''Open'' (Gotthard album), 1999 * ''Open'' (Cowboy Junkies album), 2001 * ''Open'' ( ...
or closed and (in some cases) whether the preceding syllable was
light Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation that can be perceived by the human eye. Visible light is usually defined as having wavelengths in the range of 400–700 nanometres (nm), corresponding to frequencies of 750–420 te ...
or
heavy Heavy may refer to: Measures * Heavy (aeronautics), a term used by pilots and air traffic controllers to refer to aircraft capable of 300,000 lbs or more takeoff weight * Heavy, a characterization of objects with substantial weight * Heavy, ...
). Notes: * ''C-'' means before a vowel (word-initially, or sometimes after a consonant). * ''-C-'' means between vowels. * ''-C'' means after a vowel (word-finally or before a consonant). Word-final outcomes generally occurred ''after'' deletion of final short vowels, which occurred shortly after Proto-Germanic and is reflected in the history of all written languages except for
Proto-Norse Proto-Norse (also called Ancient Nordic, Ancient Scandinavian, Ancient Norse, Primitive Norse, Proto-Nordic, Proto-Scandinavian and Proto-North Germanic) was an Indo-European language spoken in Scandinavia that is thought to have evolved as a ...
. * The above three are given in the order ''C-'', ''-C-'', ''-C''. If one is omitted, the previous one applies. For example, ''f, - '' means that '' ' occurs after a vowel regardless of what follows. * Something like ''a(…u)'' means "''a'' if /u/ occurs in the next syllable". * Something like ''a(n)'' means "''a'' if /n/ immediately follows". * Something like ''(n)a'' means "''a'' if /n/ immediately precedes".


Morphology

The oldest Germanic languages have the typical complex inflected morphology of old Indo-European languages, with four or five noun cases; verbs marked for person, number, tense and mood; multiple noun and verb classes; few or no articles; and rather free word order. The old Germanic languages are famous for having only two tenses (present and past), with three PIE past-tense aspects (imperfect, aorist, and perfect/stative) merged into one and no new tenses (future, pluperfect, etc.) developing. There were three moods: indicative, subjunctive (developed from the PIE optative mood) and imperative. Gothic verbs had a number of archaic features inherited from PIE that were lost in the other Germanic languages with few traces, including dual endings, an inflected passive voice (derived from the PIE
mediopassive voice The mediopassive voice is a grammatical voice that subsumes the meanings of both the middle voice and the passive voice. Description Languages of the Indo-European family (and many others) typically have two or three of the following voices: acti ...
), and a class of verbs with reduplication in the past tense (derived from the PIE perfect). The complex tense system of modern English (e.g. ''In three months, the house will still be being built'' or ''If you had not acted so stupidly, we would never have been caught'') is almost entirely due to subsequent developments (although paralleled in many of the other Germanic languages). Among the primary innovations in Proto-Germanic are the preterite present verbs, a special set of verbs whose present tense looks like the past tense of other verbs and which is the origin of most
modal verb A modal verb is a type of verb that contextually indicates a modality such as a ''likelihood'', ''ability'', ''permission'', ''request'', ''capacity'', ''suggestion'', ''order'', ''obligation'', or ''advice''. Modal verbs generally accompany the b ...
s in English; a past-tense ending; (in the so-called "weak verbs", marked with ''-ed'' in English) that appears variously as /d/ or /t/, often assumed to be derived from the verb "to do"; and two separate sets of adjective endings, originally corresponding to a distinction between indefinite semantics ("a man", with a combination of PIE adjective and pronoun endings) and definite semantics ("the man", with endings derived from PIE ''n''-stem nouns). Note that most modern Germanic languages have lost most of the inherited inflectional morphology as a result of the steady attrition of unstressed endings triggered by the strong initial stress. (Contrast, for example, the
Balto-Slavic languages The Balto-Slavic languages form a branch of the Indo-European family of languages, traditionally comprising the Baltic and Slavic languages. Baltic and Slavic languages share several linguistic traits not found in any other Indo-European branc ...
, which have largely kept the Indo-European
pitch accent A pitch-accent language, when spoken, has word accents in which one syllable in a word or morpheme is more prominent than the others, but the accentuated syllable is indicated by a contrasting pitch ( linguistic tone) rather than by loudness ...
and consequently preserved much of the inherited morphology.) Icelandic and to a lesser extent modern German best preserve the Proto–Germanic inflectional system, with four noun cases, three genders, and well-marked verbs. English and Afrikaans are at the other extreme, with almost no remaining inflectional morphology. The following shows a typical masculine ''a''-stem noun, Proto-Germanic ''*fiskaz'' ("fish"), and its development in the various old literary languages:


Strong vs. weak nouns and adjectives

Originally, adjectives in Proto-Indo-European followed the same declensional classes as nouns. The most common class (the ''o/ā'' class) used a combination of ''o''-stem endings for masculine and neuter genders and ''ā''-stems ending for feminine genders, but other common classes (e.g. the ''i'' class and ''u'' class) used endings from a single vowel-stem declension for all genders, and various other classes existed that were based on other declensions. A quite different set of "pronominal" endings was used for pronouns, determiners, and words with related semantics (e.g., "all", "only"). An important innovation in Proto-Germanic was the development of two separate sets of adjective endings, originally corresponding to a distinction between indefinite semantics ("a man") and definite semantics ("the man"). The endings of indefinite adjectives were derived from a combination of pronominal endings with one of the common vowel-stem adjective declensions – usually the ''o/ā'' class (often termed the ''a/ō'' class in the specific context of the Germanic languages) but sometimes the ''i'' or ''u'' classes. Definite adjectives, however, had endings based on ''n''-stem nouns. Originally both types of adjectives could be used by themselves, but already by Proto-Germanic times a pattern evolved whereby definite adjectives had to be accompanied by a determiner with definite semantics (e.g., a
definite article An article is any member of a class of dedicated words that are used with noun phrases to mark the identifiability of the referents of the noun phrases. The category of articles constitutes a part of speech. In English, both "the" and "a(n)" a ...
,
demonstrative pronoun Demonstratives ( abbreviated ) are words, such as ''this'' and ''that'', used to indicate which entities are being referred to and to distinguish those entities from others. They are typically deictic; their meaning depending on a particular fram ...
, possessive pronoun, or the like), while indefinite adjectives were used in other circumstances (either accompanied by a word with indefinite semantics such as "a", "one", or "some" or unaccompanied). In the 19th century, the two types of adjectives – indefinite and definite – were respectively termed "strong" and "weak", names which are still commonly used. These names were based on the appearance of the two sets of endings in modern German. In German, the distinctive case endings formerly present on nouns have largely disappeared, with the result that the load of distinguishing one case from another is almost entirely carried by determiners and adjectives. Furthermore, due to regular sound change, the various definite (''n''-stem) adjective endings coalesced to the point where only two endings (''-e'' and ''-en'') remain in modern German to express the sixteen possible inflectional categories of the language (masculine/feminine/neuter/plural crossed with nominative/accusative/dative/genitive – modern German merges all genders in the plural). The indefinite (''a/ō''-stem) adjective endings were less affected by sound change, with six endings remaining (''-, -e, -es, -er, -em, -en''), cleverly distributed in a way that is capable of expressing the various inflectional categories without too much ambiguity. As a result, the definite endings were thought of as too "weak" to carry inflectional meaning and in need of "strengthening" by the presence of an accompanying determiner, while the indefinite endings were viewed as "strong" enough to indicate the inflectional categories even when standing alone. (This view is enhanced by the fact that modern German largely uses weak-ending adjectives when accompanying an indefinite article, and hence the indefinite/definite distinction no longer clearly applies.) By analogy, the terms "strong" and "weak" were extended to the corresponding noun classes, with ''a''-stem and ''ō''-stem nouns termed "strong" and ''n''-stem nouns termed "weak". However, in Proto-Germanic – and still in Gothic, the most conservative Germanic language – the terms "strong" and "weak" are not clearly appropriate. For one thing, there were a large number of noun declensions. The ''a''-stem, ''ō''-stem, and ''n''-stem declensions were the most common and represented targets into which the other declensions were eventually absorbed, but this process occurred only gradually. Originally the ''n''-stem declension was not a single declension but a set of separate declensions (e.g., ''-an'', ''-ōn'', ''-īn'') with related endings, and these endings were in no way any "weaker" than the endings of any other declensions. (For example, among the eight possible inflectional categories of a noun — singular/plural crossed with nominative/accusative/dative/genitive — masculine ''an''-stem nouns in Gothic include seven endings, and feminine ''ōn''-stem nouns include six endings, meaning there is very little ambiguity of "weakness" in these endings and in fact much less than in the German "strong" endings.) Although it is possible to group the various noun declensions into three basic categories — vowel-stem, ''n''-stem, and other-consonant-stem (a.k.a. "minor declensions") — the vowel-stem nouns do not display any sort of unity in their endings that supports grouping them together with each other but separate from the ''n''-stem endings. It is only in later languages that the binary distinction between "strong" and "weak" nouns become more relevant. In
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language, spoken in England and southern and eastern Scotland in the early Middle Ages. It was brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the mid-5th c ...
, the ''n''-stem nouns form a single, clear class, but the masculine ''a''-stem and feminine ''ō''-stem nouns have little in common with each other, and neither has much similarity to the small class of ''u''-stem nouns. Similarly, in Old Norse, the masculine ''a''-stem and feminine ''ō''-stem nouns have little in common with each other, and the continuations of the masculine ''an''-stem and feminine ''ōn/īn''-stem nouns are also quite distinct. It is only in
Middle Dutch Middle Dutch is a collective name for a number of closely related West Germanic dialects whose ancestor was Old Dutch. It was spoken and written between 1150 and 1500. Until the advent of Modern Dutch after 1500 or c. 1550, there was no overarc ...
and modern German that the various vowel-stem nouns have merged to the point that a binary strong/weak distinction clearly applies. As a result, newer grammatical descriptions of the Germanic languages often avoid the terms "strong" and "weak" except in conjunction with German itself, preferring instead to use the terms "indefinite" and "definite" for adjectives and to distinguish nouns by their actual stem class. In English, both sets of adjective endings were lost entirely in the late
Middle English Middle English (abbreviated to ME) is a form of the English language that was spoken after the Norman conquest of 1066, until the late 15th century. The English language underwent distinct variations and developments following the Old English ...
period.


Classification

Note that divisions between and among subfamilies of Germanic are rarely precisely defined; most form continuous clines, with adjacent
varieties Variety may refer to: Arts and entertainment Entertainment formats * Variety (radio) * Variety show, in theater and television Films * ''Variety'' (1925 film), a German silent film directed by Ewald Andre Dupont * ''Variety'' (1935 film), ...
being mutually intelligible and more separated ones not. Within the Germanic language family are
East Germanic East or Orient is one of the four cardinal directions or points of the compass. It is the opposite direction from west and is the direction from which the Sun rises on the Earth. Etymology As in other languages, the word is formed from the ...
,
West Germanic The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three branches of the Germanic family of languages (the others being the North Germanic and the extinct East Germanic languages). The West Germanic branch is classically subdivided into ...
, and
North Germanic The North Germanic languages make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages—a sub-family of the Indo-European languages—along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages. The language group is also r ...
. However, East Germanic languages became extinct several centuries ago. All living Germanic languages belong either to the
West Germanic The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three branches of the Germanic family of languages (the others being the North Germanic and the extinct East Germanic languages). The West Germanic branch is classically subdivided into ...
or to the
North Germanic The North Germanic languages make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages—a sub-family of the Indo-European languages—along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages. The language group is also r ...
branch. The West Germanic group is the larger by far, further subdivided into
Anglo-Frisian The Anglo-Frisian languages are the Anglic (English, Scots, and Yola) and Frisian varieties of the West Germanic languages. The Anglo-Frisian languages are distinct from other West Germanic languages due to several sound changes: besides th ...
on one hand and Continental West Germanic on the other. Anglo-Frisian notably includes English and all its
variants Variant may refer to: In arts and entertainment * ''Variant'' (magazine), a former British cultural magazine * Variant cover, an issue of comic books with varying cover art * ''Variant'' (novel), a novel by Robison Wells * "The Variant", 2021 e ...
, while Continental West Germanic includes German ( standard register and
dialects The term dialect (from Latin , , from the Ancient Greek word , 'discourse', from , 'through' and , 'I speak') can refer to either of two distinctly different types of linguistic phenomena: One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a ...
), as well as Dutch ( standard register and
dialects The term dialect (from Latin , , from the Ancient Greek word , 'discourse', from , 'through' and , 'I speak') can refer to either of two distinctly different types of linguistic phenomena: One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a ...
). East Germanic includes most notably the extinct Gothic and Crimean Gothic languages. Modern classification looks like this. For a full classification, see List of Germanic languages. *
West Germanic The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three branches of the Germanic family of languages (the others being the North Germanic and the extinct East Germanic languages). The West Germanic branch is classically subdivided into ...
** High German languages (includes Standard German and its dialects) ***
Upper German Upper German (german: Oberdeutsch ) is a family of High German dialects spoken primarily in the southern German-speaking area (). History In the Old High German time, only Alemannic and Bairisch are grouped as Upper German. In the Middle High ...
**** Alemannic German **** Austro-Bavarian German ***** Mòcheno language ***** Cimbrian language *****
Hutterite German Hutterite German (German: ''Hutterisch'') is an Upper German dialect of the Bavarian variety of the German language, which is spoken by Hutterite communities in Canada and the United States. Hutterite is also called Tirolean, but this is an ana ...
*** Wymysorys ***
Hunsrik Hunsrik (natively and Portuguese ''Hunsrik'' or ''Hunsrückisch''), also called ''Riograndenser Hunsrückisch'' or ''Katharinensisch'', is a Moselle Franconian language derived primarily from the Hunsrückisch dialect of West Central German. T ...
***
Yiddish Yiddish (, or , ''yidish'' or ''idish'', , ; , ''Yidish-Taytsh'', ) is a West Germanic language historically spoken by Ashkenazi Jews. It originated during the 9th century in Central Europe, providing the nascent Ashkenazi community with a ve ...
*** High Franconian (a transitional dialect between Upper and Central German) *** Central German ****
East Central German East Central German or East Middle German (german: Ostmitteldeutsch) is the eastern non- Franconian Central German language and is part of High German. Present-day Standard German as a High German variant, has actually developed from a compromi ...
****
West Central German West Central German (german: Westmitteldeutsch) belongs to the Central, High German dialect family of German. Its dialects are Franconian and comprise the parts of the Rhinelandic continuum located south of the Benrath line isogloss, including ...
*****
Luxembourgish Luxembourgish ( ; also ''Luxemburgish'', ''Luxembourgian'', ''Letzebu(e)rgesch''; Luxembourgish: ) is a West Germanic language that is spoken mainly in Luxembourg. About 400,000 people speak Luxembourgish worldwide. As a standard form of th ...
***** Pennsylvania Dutch ** Low German ***
West Low German Low Saxon, also known as West Low German ( nds, Nedersassisch, Nedersaksies; nl, Nedersaksisch) are a group of Low German dialects spoken in parts of the Netherlands, northwestern Germany and southern Denmark (in North Schleswig by parts of t ...
***
East Low German East Low German (german: ostniederdeutsche Dialekte, ostniederdeutsche Mundarten, Ostniederdeutsch; nds, Oostplattdütsch) is a group of Low German dialects spoken in north-eastern Germany as well as by minorities in northern Poland. Together ...
*** Plautdietsch (Mennonite Low German) **
Low Franconian Low Franconian, Low Frankish, NetherlandicSarah Grey Thomason, Terrence Kaufman: ''Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics'', University of California Press, 1991, p. 321. (Calling it "Low Frankish (or Netherlandish)".)Scott Shay ...
***
Dutch Dutch commonly refers to: * Something of, from, or related to the Netherlands * Dutch people () * Dutch language () Dutch may also refer to: Places * Dutch, West Virginia, a community in the United States * Pennsylvania Dutch Country People E ...
and its dialects ***
Afrikaans Afrikaans (, ) is a West Germanic language that evolved in the Dutch Cape Colony from the Dutch vernacular of Holland proper (i.e., the Hollandic dialect) used by Dutch, French, and German settlers and their enslaved people. Afrikaans gra ...
(a separate standard language) *** Limburgish (an official minority language) **
Anglo-Frisian The Anglo-Frisian languages are the Anglic (English, Scots, and Yola) and Frisian varieties of the West Germanic languages. The Anglo-Frisian languages are distinct from other West Germanic languages due to several sound changes: besides th ...
*** Anglic (or English) ****
English English usually refers to: * English language * English people English may also refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * ''English'', an adjective for something of, from, or related to England ** English national ide ...
and its dialects **** Scots in Scotland and
Ulster Ulster (; ga, Ulaidh or ''Cúige Uladh'' ; sco, label= Ulster Scots, Ulstèr or ''Ulster'') is one of the four traditional Irish provinces. It is made up of nine counties: six of these constitute Northern Ireland (a part of the United Kin ...
*** Frisian **** West Frisian **** East Frisian ***** Saterland Frisian (last remaining dialect of East Frisian) **** North Frisian *
North Germanic The North Germanic languages make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages—a sub-family of the Indo-European languages—along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages. The language group is also r ...
** West Scandinavian ***
Norwegian Norwegian, Norwayan, or Norsk may refer to: *Something of, from, or related to Norway, a country in northwestern Europe * Norwegians, both a nation and an ethnic group native to Norway * Demographics of Norway *The Norwegian language, including ...
(of Western branch origin, but heavily influenced by the Eastern branch) *** Icelandic *** Faroese ***
Elfdalian Elfdalian or Övdalian ( or , pronounced in Elfdalian, or in Swedish) is a North Germanic language spoken by up to 3,000 people who live or have grown up in the locality of Älvdalen ('), which is located in the southeastern part of Älvdale ...
** East Scandinavian ***
Danish Danish may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to the country of Denmark People * A national or citizen of Denmark, also called a "Dane," see Demographics of Denmark * Culture of Denmark * Danish people or Danes, people with a Danish a ...
***
Swedish Swedish or ' may refer to: Anything from or related to Sweden, a country in Northern Europe. Or, specifically: * Swedish language, a North Germanic language spoken primarily in Sweden and Finland ** Swedish alphabet, the official alphabet used by ...
****
Dalecarlian dialects Dalecarlian (''dalmål'' in Swedish) is a group of East and West Scandinavian languages, and their respective dialects spoken in Dalarna County, Sweden. Some Dalecarlian varieties can be regarded as part of the Swedish dialect group in Gäs ...
**
Gutnish Gutnish ( ), or rarely Gutnic ( sv, gutniska or ), refers to the original language spoken on parts of the islands of Gotland and Fårö. The different dialects of Gutnish, while stemming from the Old Gutnish ( sv, Forngutniska) variety of Old ...
*
East Germanic East or Orient is one of the four cardinal directions or points of the compass. It is the opposite direction from west and is the direction from which the Sun rises on the Earth. Etymology As in other languages, the word is formed from the ...
** Gothic † ***
Crimean Gothic Crimean Gothic was an East Germanic language spoken by the Crimean Goths in some isolated locations in Crimea until the late 18th century. Attestation The existence of a Germanic dialect in Crimea is noted in a number of sources from the 9th ce ...
† (relationship to earlier Gothic unclear) ** Burgundian † **
Vandalic Vandalic was the Germanic language spoken by the Vandals during roughly the 3rd to 6th centuries. It was probably closely related to Gothic, and, as such, is traditionally classified as an East Germanic language. Its attestation is very fragm ...


Writing

The earliest evidence of Germanic languages comes from names recorded in the 1st century by
Tacitus Publius Cornelius Tacitus, known simply as Tacitus ( , ; – ), was a Roman historian and politician. Tacitus is widely regarded as one of the greatest Roman historians by modern scholars. The surviving portions of his two major works—the ...
(especially from his work '' Germania''), but the earliest Germanic writing occurs in a single instance in the 2nd century BC on the Negau helmet. From roughly the 2nd century AD, certain speakers of early Germanic varieties developed the Elder Futhark, an early form of the
runic alphabet Runes are the letters in a set of related alphabets known as runic alphabets native to the Germanic peoples. Runes were used to write various Germanic languages (with some exceptions) before they adopted the Latin alphabet, and for specialised ...
. Early runic inscriptions also are largely limited to personal names and difficult to interpret. The
Gothic language Gothic is an extinct East Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the ''Codex Argenteus'', a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizeable text c ...
was written in the Gothic alphabet developed by Bishop
Ulfilas Ulfilas (–383), also spelled Ulphilas and Orphila, all Latinisation of names, Latinized forms of the unattested Gothic language, Gothic form *𐍅𐌿𐌻𐍆𐌹𐌻𐌰 Wulfila, literally "Little Wolf", was a Goths, Goth of Cappadocian Ancie ...
for his translation of the
Bible The Bible (from Koine Greek , , 'the books') is a collection of religious texts or scriptures that are held to be sacred in Christianity, Judaism, Samaritanism, and many other religions. The Bible is an anthologya compilation of texts ...
in the 4th century. Cercignani, Fausto, ''The Elaboration of the Gothic Alphabet and Orthography'', in "Indogermanische Forschungen", 93, 1988, pp. 168–185. Later, Christian priests and monks who spoke and read
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through the power of the ...
in addition to their native Germanic varieties began writing the Germanic languages with slightly modified Latin letters. However, throughout the
Viking Age The Viking Age () was the period during the Middle Ages when Norsemen known as Vikings undertook large-scale raiding, colonizing, conquest, and trading throughout Europe and reached North America. It followed the Migration Period and the Germ ...
, runic alphabets remained in common use in Scandinavia. Modern Germanic languages mostly use an alphabet derived from the
Latin Alphabet The Latin alphabet or Roman alphabet is the collection of letters originally used by the ancient Romans to write the Latin language. Largely unaltered with the exception of extensions (such as diacritics), it used to write English and th ...
. In print, German used to be predominately set in blackletter
typeface A typeface (or font family) is the design of lettering that can include variations in size, weight (e.g. bold), slope (e.g. italic), width (e.g. condensed), and so on. Each of these variations of the typeface is a font. There are thousands o ...
s (e.g.,
fraktur Fraktur () is a calligraphic hand of the Latin alphabet and any of several blackletter typefaces derived from this hand. The blackletter lines are broken up; that is, their forms contain many angles when compared to the curves of the Antiqu ...
or
schwabacher The German word Schwabacher (pronounced ) refers to a specific style of blackletter typefaces which evolved from Gothic Textualis (''Textura'') under the influence of Humanist type design in Italy during the 15th century. Schwabacher typesetti ...
) until the 1940s, while '' Kurrent'' and, since the early 20th century, '' Sütterlin'' were formerly used for German handwriting. Yiddish is written using an adapted
Hebrew alphabet The Hebrew alphabet ( he, אָלֶף־בֵּית עִבְרִי, ), known variously by scholars as the Ktav Ashuri, Jewish script, square script and block script, is an abjad script used in the writing of the Hebrew language and other Jewi ...
.


Vocabulary comparison

The table compares cognates in several different Germanic languages. In some cases, the meanings may not be identical in each language.


See also

* List of Germanic languages * Language families and languages * List of Germanic and Latinate equivalents *
Germanization Germanisation, or Germanization, is the spread of the German language, people and culture. It was a central idea of German conservative thought in the 19th and the 20th centuries, when conservatism and ethnic nationalism went hand in hand. In ling ...
* Anglicization *
Germanic name Germanic languages, Germanic given names are traditionally wikt:dithematic, dithematic; that is, they are formed from two elements, by joining a prefix and a suffix. For example, Ethelred II of England, King Æþelred's name was derived from ', f ...
*
Germanic verb The Germanic language family is one of the language groups that resulted from the breakup of Proto-Indo-European (PIE). It in turn divided into North, West and East Germanic groups, and ultimately produced a large group of mediaeval and modern l ...
and its various subordinated articles *
Germanic placename etymology Germanic toponyms are the names given to places by Germanic peoples and tribes. Besides areas with current speakers of Germanic languages, many regions with previous Germanic speakers or Germanic influence had or still have Germanic toponymic ele ...
*
German name Personal names in German-speaking Europe consist of one or several given names (''Vorname'', plural ''Vornamen'') and a surname (''Nachname, Familienname''). The ''Vorname'' is usually gender-specific. A name is usually cited in the " Western orde ...
* German placename etymology * Isogloss * South Germanic languages


Footnotes


Notes


Sources

* * * * * * * * *


Germanic languages in general

* * *


Proto-Germanic

* * ;Gothic * *


Old Norse

* *


Old English

* * * * * * * * *


Old High German

* *


External links


Germanic Lexicon Project

'Hover & Hear' pronunciations
of the same Germanic words in dozens of Germanic languages and 'dialects', including English accents, and compare instantaneously side by side

* ttps://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Swadesh_lists_for_Germanic_languages Swadesh lists of Germanic basic vocabulary words(from Wiktionary'
Swadesh-list appendix

Germanic languages fragments
��YouTube (14:06) {{DEFAULTSORT:Germanic Languages Indo-European languages