Germanic languages

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The Germanic languages form one of the branches of the Indo-European (IE) language family, spoken by the Germanic peoples who settled in northern Europe along the borders of the Roman Empire. They are characterised by a number of unique linguistic features, most famously the consonant change known as Grimm's law.

The largest Germanic languages are German and English. Other significant languages includes a number of Low German languages including Dutch, and the Scandinavian languages. There are 53 Germanic languages by SIL estimate. Their common ancestor is Common Germanic.



Some early (roughly 2nd century AD) Germanic languages developed runic alphabets of their own, but use of these alphabets was comparatively limited. East Germanic languages were written in the Gothic alphabet developed by Bishop Ulfilas for his translation of the Bible into Gothic. Later, Christian priests and monks who spoke and read Latin in addition to their native Germanic tongue began writing the Germanic languages with slightly modified Latin letters.

In addition to the standard Latin alphabet, various Germanic languages use a variety of accent marks and extra letters, including umlauts, the (Eszett), , , , , Ȝ, and and Ƿ, from runes. Historic printed German is frequently set in blackletter typefaces (e.g. fraktur or schwabacher).

Linguistic Markers

Some unique features of Germanic languages are:

  1. The levelling of the IE tense system into past and present (or common)
  2. The use of a dental suffix (/d/ or /t/) instead of vowel alternation (ablaut) to indicate past tense. See: Germanic weak verb.
  3. The presence of two distinct types of verb conjugation: weak (using dental suffix) and strong (using ablaut). English has 161 strong verbs; all are of native English origin. See: West Germanic strong verb.
  4. The use of strong and weak adjectives. Modern English adjectives don't change except for comparative and superlative; this was not the case with Old English, where adjectives were inflected differently depending on whether they were preceded by an article or demonstrative, or not.
  5. The consonant shift known as Grimm's Law.
  6. A number of words with etymologies that are difficult to link to other Indo-European families, but variants of which appear in almost all Germanic languages. See Germanic substrate hypothesis.
  7. The shifting of stress onto the root of the stem. Though English has an irregular stress, native words always have a fixed stress regardless of what's added to them. This is arguably the most important change.

Family tree

All Germanic languages are thought to be descended from a hypothetical Proto-Germanic. Note that divisions between subfamilies of Germanic are rarely precisely defined; most form continuous clines, with adjacent dialects being mutually intelligible and more separated ones not.

Mentioned here are only the principal or unusual dialects; individual articles linked to below contain larger family trees. For example, many Low Saxon dialects are discussed on Low Saxon besides just Standard Low Saxon and Plautdietsch.

Vocabulary comparison

Several of the terms in the table below have had semantic drift. For example, the form 'Sterben' and other terms for 'die' are cognate with the English word 'starve'. There is also at least one example of a common borrowing from a Non-Germanic source (ounce and its cognates from Latin).

English Scots Afrikaans Dutch German Yiddish Gothic Icelandic Faroese SwedishDanish
Apple Aiple Appel Appel Apfel עפּל (Epl) Aplus Epli Srepli pple ble
Board Buird Bord Bord Brett   Bard Borð Borð Bord Brt
Book Beuk Boek Boek Buch בוך (Buḫ) Bka Bk Bk Bok Bog
Breast Breest Bors Borst Brust ברוסט (Brust) Brusts Brjst Brst Brst Bryst
Brown Broun Bruin Bruin Braun   Bruns Brnn Brnt Brun Brun
Day Day Dag Dag Tag טאָג (Tog) Dags Dagur Dagur Dag Dag
Die Dee Sterf Sterven Sterben   Diwan Deyja Doyggja D D
Enough Eneuch Genoeg Genoeg Genug גענוג (Genug) Ga-nhs Ng Ng Nog Nok
Give Gie Gee Geven Geben געבן (Gebn) Giban Gefa Geva Giva/Ge Give
Glass Gless Glas Glas Glas גלאָז (Gloz)   Gler Glas Glas Glas
Gold Gowd Goud Goud Gold גאָלד (Gold) Gulþ Gull Gull Guld Guld
Hand Haund Hand Hand Hand האַנט (Hant) Handus Hnd Hond Hand Hnd
Head Heid Kop Hoofd/Kop Haupt/Kopf קאָפּ (Kop) Hubiþ Hfuð Hvd/Hvur Huvud Hoved
High Heich Hoog Hoog Hoch הױך (Hoyḫ) Huh Hr Hg/ur Hg Hj
Home Hame Huis Thuis Heim הײם (Heym) Himþ Heim Heim Hem Hjem
Hook Heuk Haak Haak Haken     Krkur Haken Hake Hage
House Hoose Huis Huis Haus הױז (Hoyz) Hs Hs Hs Hus Hus
Many Mony Menige Menig Mehrere   Manags Margir Ngv Mnga Mange
Moon Muin Maan Maan Mond   Mna Tungl Mni Mne Mne
Night Nicht Nag Nacht Nacht נאַכט (Naḫt) Nahts Ntt Ntt Natt Nat
No Nae Nee Nee Nein/N נײן (Neyn) N Nei Nei Nej Nej
Old Auld Oud Oud Alt אַלט (Alt) Sineigs Gamall Gamal/Gomul Gammal Gammel
One Ane Een Een Eins אײן (Eyn) ins Einn Ein En/ett En
Ounce Unce Ons Ons Unze   nsa   Uns Unse
Snow Snaw Sneeu Sneeuw Schnee שנײ (Šney) Sniws Snjr Kavi Sn Sne
Stone Stane Steen Steen Stein שטײן (Šteyn) Stins Steinn Steinur Sten Sten
That That Dit Dat Das דאָס (Dos) Þata Þetta Hatta Det Det
Two Twa Twee Twee Zwei/Zwo צװײ (Ẓvey) Twi Tveir Tveir Tv To
Who Wha Wie Wie Wer װער (Ver) Has Hver Hvr Vem Hvem
Worm Wirm Wurm Worm Wurm װאָרעם (Vorem) Maþa Maðkur, Ormur Ormur Mask, Orm Orm

See also

External links

az:German qrupu ca:Llenges germniques cs:Germnsk jazyky da:Germanske sprog de:Germanische Sprachen es:Lenguas germnicas el:Γερμανικές γλώσσες eo:Gxermana lingvo he:שפות גרמאניות fr:langue germanique id:Bahasa Jermanik is:Germnsk tunguml ja:ゲルマン語派 ko:게르만어 kw:Yethow Germanek nds:Germaansche Spraaken nl:Germaanse talen nn:Germanske sprk no:Germanske sprk pl:Języki germańskie pt:Lnguas germnicas ro:Limbile germanice sv:Germanska sprk vi:Nhm ngn ngữ gốc Đức zh:日耳曼语族


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