Gothic language

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Gothic (*𐌲𐌿𐍄𐌹𐍃𐌺)
Spoken in: Extinct
Total speakers: Extinct
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Indo-European

  East Germanic

Official status
Official language of: -
Regulated by: -
Language codes
ISO 639-1-
ISO 639-2got
See also: LanguageList of languages

The Gothic language (*gutiska razda, 𐌲𐌿𐍄𐌹𐍃𐌺) is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths and specifically by the Visigoths. It is known primarily through a translation of the Bible dating from the 4th century, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizeable corpus. All others, including Burgundian and Vandalic, are known, if at all, only from proper names that survived in historical accounts.

As a Germanic language, Gothic is a part of the Indo-European language family. It is the Germanic language with the earliest attestation, but it has no modern descendants. The oldest documents in Gothic date back to the 4th century. The language was in decline by the mid-6th century, due in part to the military defeat of the Goths at the hands of the Franks, the elimination of the Goths in Italy, massive conversion to primarily Latin-speaking Roman Catholicism, and geographic isolation. The language survived in Spain as late as the 8th century, and Frankish author Walafrid Strabo wrote that it was still spoken in the lower Danube area and in isolated mountain regions in Crimea in the early 9th century (see Crimean Gothic). Gothic-seeming terms found in later (post-9th century) manuscripts may not belong to the same language.

The existence of such early attested corpora makes it a language of considerable interest in comparative linguistics.

The native name for the language is unattested, and the reconstruction *gutiska razda is based on Jordanes' Gothiskandza, read as gutisk-andja, "gothic end (or border)". razda "speech" is attested, e. g. in Matthew 26:73.

Words in Gothic written in this article are transliterated into the Roman alphabet using the system described on the Gothic alphabet page.


Documents in Gothic

Missing image
leaf of the Codex Ambrosianus B

There are only a few surviving documents in Gothic, not enough to completely reconstruct the language.

The best preserved Gothic manuscript, the Codex Argenteus, dates from the 6th century and was preserved and transmitted by northern Italian Ostrogoths. It contains a large part of the four Gospels. Since it is a translation from Greek, the language of the Codex Argentus is replete with borrowed Greek words and Greek usages. The syntax in particular is often copied directly from the Greek.
The Codex Ambrosianus contains scattered passages from the New Testament (including parts of the Gospels and the Epistles), of the Old Testament (Nehemiah), and some commentaries known as Skeireins. It is therefore likely that the text had been somewhat modified by copyists.
  • Codex Gissensis (Gieen): 1 leaf, fragments of Luke 23-24. It was found in Egypt in 1907, but destroyed by water damage in 1945.
  • Codex Carolinus: (Wolfenbttel): 4 leaves, fragments of Romans 11-15.
  • Codex Vaticanus Latinus 5750: 3 leaves, pages 57/58, 59/60 and 61/62 of the Skeireins.
  • A scattering of old documents: alphabets, calendars, glosses found in a number of manuscripts and a few Runic inscriptions that are known to be or suspected to be Gothic. Some scholars believe that these inscriptions are not at all Gothic (see Braune/Ebbinghaus "Gotische Grammatik" Tbingen 1981)
  • A few dozen terms compiled by Ogier de Busbecq, a 16th century Flemish diplomat living in Crimea who listed them in his compilation Turkish Letters. These terms are from nearly a millennium later and are therefore not representative of of the language of Ulfilas. See Crimean Gothic.

There have been unsubstantiated reports of the discovery of other parts of Ulfilas' bible. Heinrich May in 1968 claimed to have found in England 12 leaves of a palimpsest containing parts of the Gospel of Matthew. The claim was never substantiated.

Only fragments of the Gothic translation of the Bible have been preserved. The translation was apparently done in the Balkans region by people in close contact with Greek Christian culture. It appears that the Gothic Bible was used by the Visigoths in Spain until circa 700 AD, and perhaps for a time in Italy, the Balkans and what is now Ukraine. In exterminating Arianism, many texts in Gothic were probably expunged and overwritten as palimpsests, or collected and burned. Apart from Biblical texts, the only substantial Gothic document which still exists, and the only lengthy text known to have been composed originally in the Gothic language, is the "Skeireins", a few pages of commentary on the Gospel of John.

There are very few references to the Gothic language in secondary sources after about 800 AD, so perhaps it was rarely used by that date. In evaluating medieval texts that mention the Goths, it must be noted that many writers used the word Goths to mean any Germanic people in eastern Europe, many of whom certainly did not use the Gothic language as known from the Gothic Bible. Some writers even referred to Slavic-speaking people as Goths.

The relationship between the language of the Crimean Goths and Ulfilas' Gothic is less clear. The few fragments of their language from the 16th century appear to represent a different language from the one used in the Gothic Bible, some of the glosses like ada, ("egg") betrays its east-germanic heritage.

Generally, the Gothic language refers to the language of Ulfilas, but the attestations themselves are largely from the 6th century - long after Ulfilas had died. The above list is not exhaustive, and a more extensive list is available on the website of the Wulfilas Project (


See Gothic alphabet.

Ulfilas' Gothic, as well as that of the Skeireins and various other manuscripts, was written using an alphabet that was most likely invented by Ulfilas himself for his translation. Some scholars (e.g. Braune) claim that it was derived from the Greek alphabet only, while others maintain that there are some Gothic letters of Runic or Latin origin.

This Gothic alphabet has nothing to do with Blackletter (also called Gothic script), which was used to write the Roman alphabet from the 12th to 14th centuries and evolved into the Fraktur writing later used to write German.

Phonetic and phonological system

In order to raise legibility and contrary to standard linguistic conventions, this article contains phonological transcriptions between square brackets, which normally are used only for phonetic transcriptions. The macron is used to designate a long vowel, instead of ":".

It is possible to determine more or less exactly how the Gothic of Ulfilas was pronounced, primarily through comparative phonetic reconstruction. Furthermore, because Ulfilas tried to follow the original Greek text as much as possible in his translation, we know that he used the same writing conventions as those of contemporary Greek. Since the Greek of that period is well documented, it is possible to reconstruct much of Gothic pronunciation from translated texts. In addition, the way in which non-Greek names are transcribed in the Greek Bible and in Ulfilas' Bible is very informative.


Simple vowels

  • [a], [i] and [u] can be either long or short. Gothic writing distinguishes between long and short vowels only for [i] - writing i for the short form and ei for the long (a digraph or false diphthong), in imitation of Greek usage. Single vowels are long primarily where a historically present nasal consonant has been dropped in front of an [h] (a case of compensatory lengthening). Thus, the preterite of the verb briggan [briŋgan] (English: "to bring"; Swedish "bringa") becomes brahta [brāxta] (English: "brought"; Swedish: "bragde"), from the proto-Germanic *braŋk-ta. In detailed transliteration, where the intent is more phonetic transcription, length is noted by a macron (or failing that, often a circumflex): brāhta, brhta. [ū] is found often enough in other contexts: brūks ("useful", cf. Swedish bruk "usage").
  • [ē] and [ō] and long and closed. They are written as e and o: neƕ [nēʍ] ("near", cognate to the German nach); fodjan [ɸōdjan] ("to feed").
  • [ɛ] and [ɔ] and short and open. They are noted using false diphthongs, like ei for [ī], but also using ai and au: taihun [tɛhun] ("ten"), dauhtar [dɔxtar] (English: "daughter"; German: "Tochter"). In transliterating Gothic, accents are placed on the false diphthongs a and a to indicate their true qualities: tahun, dahtar. [ɛ] and [ɔ] appear primarily before [r], [h] and [ʍ].
  • [y] (pronounced like the ew in new) is a Greek sound used only in borrowed words. It is transliterated as [w] in vowel positions: azwmus [azymus] ("unleavened bread", from the Greek ἄζυμος). It represents an υ (upsilon) or the diphthong οι (omicron + iota) in Greek., both of which were pronounced [y] in period Greek. This letter is often transcribed as [y] and since the Greek sound was not present in Gothic, it was most likely pronounced [i].
  • The letter w seems, in those words not borrowed from Greek and not followed by a vowel, to represent an [u]. Why Gothic manuscripts use w as a vowel in place of u is not clear: saggws [saŋgus] ("song").
  • For etymological reasons, this list would not be complete without the phonemes [ɛ̄] and [ɔ̄], present only in a few words and always placed before a vowel. In transliteration and transcription alike, they are written as ai and au. This distinguishes them in transcription (but not in transliteration) from i / a and u / a: waian [wɛ̄an] ("to blow"), bauan [bɔ̄an] ("to build", cognate to German "bauen").


  • [ai] and [au] are simple enough. However, they are written in the same way as false diphthongs: ains [ains] ("one", German: "eins"), augo [auɣō] ("eye", German: "Auge"). To tell them apart from false diphthongs, the true diphthongs are written as i and u: ins, ugo.
  • [iu] is a descending diphthong like [ai] and [au]. It is pronounced [iu] and not [iu]: diups [diups] ("deep").
  • Greek diphthongs: In Ulfilas' era, all the diphthongs of classical Greek had become simple vowels in speech (monophthongization), except for αυ (alpha + upsilon) and ευ (epsilon + upsilon), which were probably still pronounced as [aβ] and [eβ]. (They evolved into [av] and [ev] in modern Greek.) Ulifas notes them, in words borrowed from Greek, as aw and aiw (the latter transliterated as aw to avoid confusion with ai, which was pronounced [ɛ]), rendered as [au, ɛu] or as [aw, ɛw] respectively: Pawlus [paulus] ("Paul"), from the Greek Παῦλος, awaggelista [ɛwaŋgēlista] ("evangelist"), from the Greek εὐαγγελιστής, via the Latin "evangelista".
  • Simple vowels and diphthongs (real or false ones) can be followed by a [w], which was likely pronounced as the second element of a diphthong with roughly the sound of [u]. It seems likely that this is more of an instance of phonetic coalescence than of phonological diphthongs (such as, for example, the sound [aj] in the French word paille ("straw"), which is not the diphthong [ai] but rather a vowel followed by an approximant): alew [alēu] ("olive oil", derived from the Latin "oleum"), sniws [snaius] ("snow"), lasiws [lasius] (or possibly [lasijus], [lasjus] or [lasiws]; "tired", cognate to the English "lazy").

Voiced sonorants

The sonorants [l], [m], [n] and [r] can act as the nucleus of a syllable in Gothic, just as they could in proto-Indo-European and, for [l] and [r] only, in Sanskrit. After the final consonant of a word, these sonorants were pronounced as vowels. This is also the case in modern English: for example, "bottle" is pronounced [bɒtl̩] in many dialects. Some Gothic examples: tagl [ta.ɣl̩] ("hair", Swedish: "tagel", cognate to the English word "tail"), mims [mai.θm̩s] ("gift"), tikns [̩s] ("sign", cognate to the English word "token", Swedish "tecken" or German "Zeichen") and tagr [taɣr̩] ("tear", as in crying).


In general, Gothic consonants are devoiced at the ends of words. Gothic is rich in fricative consonants (although many of them may have been approximants, it's hard to separate the two) derived by the processes described in Grimm's law and Verner's law and characteristic of Germanic languages. Gothic is unusual among Germanic languages in having a [z] phoneme which is not derived from an [r] through rhotacization. Furthermore, the doubling of written consonants between vowels suggests that Gothic made distinctions between long and short, or geminated consonants: atta [atːa] ("papa"; a diminutive comparable to the Greek ἄττα and latin "atta", with the same meaning), kunnan [kunːan] ("to know", Swedish: "kunna"; German: "kennen").


  • [p], [t] and [k] are regularly noted by p, t and k respectively: paska [paska] ("Easter", from the Greek πάσχα), tuggo [tuŋgō] ("tongue"), kalbo [kalbō] ("calf").
  • [kw] is a complex Stop consonant followed by a labio-velar approximant, comparable to the Latin qu. It is transliterated as q: qiman [kwiman] ("to come"). It is etymologically derived from the proto-Indo-European consonant *gw.
  • [b], [d] and [g]: Except between vowels, the consonants marked by the letters b, d and g in the Gothic alphabet are voiced occulsives. When they are next to a unvoiced consonant, they are most likely also devoiced: blinds [blind̥s] ("blind"), dags [dag̊s] ("day", Dutch: "dag"), gras [gras] ("grass"). At the ends of words, [b] and [d] were probably devoiced, although it is possible that they were changed into [ɸ] and [θ] respectively: lamb [lamp] ("lamb"), band [bant] ("he/she ties", cognate to English "bound").


  • [s] and [z] are usually written s and z, but [z] is never at the end of a word: sahs [sɛxs] ("six", compare to German "sechs"), aqizi [akwizi] ("axe").
  • [ɸ] and [θ] written f and , correspond directly to the phonemes [p] and [t]. It is likely that the relatively unstable sound [ɸ] became [f]. f and are also derived from b and d at the ends of words, when they are devoices and become approximants: gif [giɸ] ("give" in the imperative, from giban), mi [miθ] ("with", cognate to the Old English "mid" and the German "mit").
  • [x] (in German philology, usually transcribed as χ) is written is a number of different ways:
    • As an approximant form of [k], it is written as h before consonants or at the ends of words: nahts [naxts] ("night"), jah [jax] ("and", cognate to the Greek ὅς "who" and the German "ja" ("yes"), from the Indo-European *yo-s).
    • If it is derived from a [g] at the end of a word, it is written g: dag [dax] ("sky" in the accusative case).
    • In some borrowed Greek words, it is written x and represents the Greek letter χ (khi): Xristus [xristus] ("Christ", from the Greek Χριστός). It may also have signified a [k].
  • [h] is written as h and is only found at the beginning of words or between vowels. [h] is an allophone of [x]: haban ("to have", German "haben"), ahtutehund [axtautēhunt] ("eleven").
  • [β], [] and [ɣ] are voiced fricatives only found between vowels. They are allophones of [b], [d] and [g] and are not distinguished from them in writing. [β] may have become [v], a more stable labiodental form (a case of articulatory strengthening). In Germanic language phonetics, these phonemes are usually transcribed as ƀ, đ and ǥ respectively: haban [haβan] ("to have"), iuda [θiua] ("people", cognate to Old Norse "i", German "Deutsch", English "Dutch", Dutch "Diets", Italian "tedesco"), ugo [auɣō] ("eye", German "Auge").
  • [xw] is a labiovelar variant of [x], derived from the proto-Indo-European *kw. It probably was pronounced as [ʍ] (a voiceless [w]) as it did in many dialects of English, where it is always written as wh. It is transliterated as the ligature ƕ: ƕan [ʍan] ("when"), ƕar [ʍar] ("where"), ƕeits [ʍīts] ("white").


Nasals in Gothic, like most languages, are pronounced at the same point of articulation as either the consonant that precedes them or that follows them. (The technical term is assimilation.) Therefore, clusters like [md] and [nb] are not possible. Gothic has three nasal consonants, of which one is an allophone of the others, found only in complementary distribution with them.

  • [n] and [m] are freely distributed - they can be found in any position in a syllable and form minimal pairs except in certain contexts where they are neutralized: [n] before a bilabial consonant becomes [m], while and [m] preceding a dental stop becomes an [n], as per the principle of assimilation described in the previous paragraph. In front of a velar stop, they both become [ŋ]. [n] and [m] are transcribed as n and m, and in writing neutralisation is marked: sniumundo [sniumundō] ("quickly").
  • [ŋ] is not a phoneme and cannot appear freely in Gothic. It is present where a nasal consonant is neutralised before a velar stop and is in a complementary distribution with [n] and [m]. Following Greek conventions, it is written as g when it is in front of a velar consonant: agkjan [θaŋkjan] ("to think"), sigqan [siŋkwan] ("to sink"). The cluster ggw, however, denotes a geminated [g] followed by [w]: triggws [triggus] ("true"), cognate to Swedish "trygg". Sometimes, n placed before a velar consonant must be interpreted as [ŋ]: ankei instead of agkei [θaŋkīθ] (cf. Older English: "he thinketh).

Approximants and other phonemes

  • [w] is transliterated as w before a vowel: weits [wīts] ("while"), twi [twai] ("two", compare to German "zwei").
  • [j] is written as j: jer [jēr] ("year"), sakjo [sakjō] ("woman")
  • [l] is used much as in English and other European languages: laggs [laŋg̊s] ("long"), mel [mēl] ("hour"). Remember that this same letter can signify the voiced approximant [l̩].
  • [r] is a trilled [r] or a flap [ɾ]. There is no clear way to distinguish the two in transliteration: rahts [rɛxts] ("right"), afar [aɸar] ("after"). The same letter can signify the voiced approximant [r̩].

Schematic Tables

These tables use IPA notation.


Simple vowels
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Accentuation and Intonation

Accentuation in Gothic can be reconstructed through phonetic comparison, Grimm's law and Verner's law. Gothic used a stress accent rather than the pitch accent of proto-Indo-European, though it may have preserved the pitch accent as had Old Norse. The properties of the Gothic accent can be seen primarily in the origin of some of its long vowels (like [ī], [ū] and [ē]) and through a study of syncope (the loss of unstressed vowels).

Just like other Germanic languages, the free moving Indo-European accent was fixed on the first syllable. (For example, in modern English, nearly all words that do not have accents on the first syllable are borrowed from other languages.) Accents do not shift when words are inflected. In most compound words, the location of the stress depends on its placement in the second part:

  • In compounds where the second word is a noun, the accent is on the first syllable of the compound.
  • In compounds where the second word is a verb, the accent falls on the first syllable of the verbal component. Elements prefixed to verbs are otherwise unstressed, except in the context of separable words (words that can be broken in two parts and separated in regular usage, for example, separable verbs in German and Dutch) - in those cases, the prefix is stressed.

Examples: (with comparable words from modern Germanic languages)

  • Non-compound words: marka ['marka] ("border", "borderlands"; cognate to "march" as in the Spanish Marches); aftra ['aɸtra] ("after"); bidjan ['bidjan] ("pray", cognate to modern Swedish "bedja" and modern German "bitten").
  • Compound words:
    • Noun second element: guda-lus ['gualaus] ("godless"),
    • Verb second element: ga-lubjan [ga'laubjan] ("believe", cognate to modern German "glauben", from Old High German g(i)louben by syncope of the atonic i).



Gothic preserves many archaic Indo-European features that are not always present in modern Germanic languages, in particular the rich Indo-European declension system. Gothic had nominative, accusative, genitive and dative cases, as well as vestiges of a vocative case that was sometimes identical to the nominative and sometimes to the accusative. The three genders of Indo-European were all present, including the neuter gender of modern German and Icelandic and to some extent modern Dutch, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, in opposition to the "common gender" (genus commune) which applies to both masculine and feminine nouns. Nouns and adjectives were inflected according to one of two grammatical numbers: the singular and the plural.

One of the most striking characteristics of the East Germanic languages is the division of nouns between those with weak declensions (generally those where the root word ends in an n) and those with strong declensions (those whose roots end in a vowel or an inflexional suffix indicative of a pronoun). This separation is particularly important in Gothic. While a noun can only belong to one class of declensions, depending on the end of the root word, some adjectives can be either strongly or weakly declined, depending on their meaning. An adjective employed with a particular meaning and accompanied by a deictic article, like the demonstrative pronouns sa, ata, or so which act as definite articles, took a weak declension, while adjectives used with indefinite articles had a strong declension.

This process is still sometimes found in German, where adjectives are declined:

  • weak declension: der gute Wein ("the good wine") ;
  • strong declension: guter Wein ("good wine").

Descriptive adjectives in Gothic (as well as superlatives ending in -ist and -ost) and the past participle may take either declension. Some pronouns only take the weak declension; for example: sama (English "same"), adjectives like unƕeila ("constantly", from the root ƕeila, "time"; compare to the English "while"), comparative adjectives, and present participles. Others only take strong declensions, like ins ("some").

The table below displays the declension of the Gothic adjective blind (English: "blind") with a weak noun (guma - "man") and a strong one (dags - "day"):

Case Weak declension Strong declension
Singular Noun Adjective Noun Adjective
root M. N. F. root M. N. F.
Nom. guma blind- -a -o -o dags blind- -s - -a
Acc. guman -an -o -on dag -ana - -a
Gen. gumins -ins -ons dagis -is -izos
Dat. gumin -in -on daga -amma i
Nom. gumans blind- -ans -ona -ons dagos blind- -i -a -os
Acc. gumans -ans -ona -ons dagans -ans -a -os
Gen. gumane -ane -ono dage -ize -izo
Dat. gumam -am -om dagam -im

This table is, of course, not exhaustive. (There are secondary inflexions, particularly for the strong neuter singular and irregular nouns among other contexts, which are not described here.) An exhaustive table of only the types of endings Gothic took is presented below.

  • strong declension :
    • roots ending in -a, -ja, -wa (masculine and neuter): equivalent to the Greek and Latin second declension in ‑us / ‑i and ‑ος / ‑ου;
    • roots ending in -o, -jo and -wo (feminine): equivalent to the Greek and Latin first declension in ‑a / and ‑α / ‑ας (‑η / ‑ης);
    • roots ending in -i (masculine et feminine): equivalent to the Greek and Latin third declension in ‑is (acc. ‑im) and ‑ις / ‑εως;
    • roots ending in -u (all three genders) : equivalent to the Latin fourth declension in ‑us / ‑us and the Greek third declension in ‑υς / ‑εως;
  • weak declension (all roots ending in -n), equivalent to the Greek and Latin third declension in ‑o / ‑onis and ‑ων / ‑ονος or ‑ην / ‑ενος:
    • roots ending in -an, -jan, -wan (masculine);
    • roots ending in -on et -ein (feminine);
    • roots ending in -n (neuter): equivalent to the Greek and Latin third declension in ‑men / ‑minis and ‑μα / ‑ματος;
  • minor declensions : roots ending in -r, en -nd and vestigial endings in other consonants, equivalent to other third declensions in Greek and Latin.

Gothic adjectives follow noun declensions closely - they take same types of inflexion.


Gothic inherited the full set of Indo-European pronouns: personal pronouns (including reflexive pronouns for each of the three grammatical persons), possessive pronouns, both simple and compound demonstratives, relative pronouns, interrogatives and indefinite pronouns. Each follows a particular pattern of inflexion (partially mirroring the noun declension), much like other Indo-European languages. One particularly noteworthy characteristic is the preservation of the dual number, refering to two people or things while the plural was only used for quantities greater than two. Thus, "the two of us" and "we" for numbers greater then two were expressed as wit and weis respectively. While proto-Indo-European used the dual for all grammatical categories that took a number (as did classical Greek and Sanskrit), Gothic is unusual among Indo-European languages in only preserving it for pronouns.

The simple demonstrative pronoun sa (neuter: ata, feminine: so, from the Indo-European root *so, *seh2, *tod; cognate to the Greek article ὁ, τό, ἡ and the Latin istud) can be used as an article, allowing constructions of the type definite article + weak adjective + noun.

The interrogative pronouns are also noteworthy for all beginning in ƕ-, which derives from the proto-Indo-European consonant *kw that was present at the beginning of all interrogratives in proto-Indo-European. This is cognate to the wh- at the beginning of many English interrogatives which, like in Gothic, are pronounced with [ʍ] in some dialects. This same etymology is present in the interrogratives of many other Indo-European languages" w- [v] in German, v- in Swedish, the Latin qu- (which persists in modern Romance languages), the Greek τ or π (a derivation of *kw that is unique to Greek), and the Sanskrit k- as well as many others.


The bulk of Gothic verbs follow the type of Indo-European conjugation called "thematic" because they insert a vowel derived from the reconstructed proto-Indo-European phonemes *e or *o between roots and inflexional suffixes. This pattern is also present in Greek and Latin:

  • Latin - leg-i-mus ("we read"): root leg- + thematic vowel -i- (from *e) + suffix -mus.
  • Greek - λυ-ό-μεν ("we untie"): root λυ- + thematic vowel -ο- + suffix -μεν.
  • Gothic - nim-a-m ("we take"): root nim- (German nehmen) + thematic vowel -a- (from *o) + suffix -m.

The other conjugation, called "athematic", where suffixes are added directly to roots, exists only in unproductive vestigial forms in Gothic, just as it does in Greek and Latin. The most important such instance is the verb "to be", which is athematic in Greek, Latin, Sanskrit and many other Indo-European languages.

Gothic verbs are, like nouns and adjectives, divided into strong verbs and weak verbs. Weak verbs are characterised by preterites formed by appending the suffixes -da or -ta, parallel to past participles formed with - / -t. Strong verbs form preterites by alternating vowels in their root forms or by doubling the first consonant in the root, but without adding a suffix in either case. This parallels the Greek and Sanskit perfect tenses. This dichotomy is still present in modern Germanic languages:

  • weak verbs ("to have") :
    • Gothic: haban, preterite habida, past participle habis ;
    • English: (to) have, preterite had, past participle had ;
    • German: haben, preterite hatte, past participle (ge)habt ;
    • Icelandic: hafa, preterite hafi, past participle haft ;
  • strong verbs ("to give") :
    • Gothic: infinitive giban, preterite gaf ;
    • English: infinitive (to) give, preterite gave ;
    • German: infinitive geben, preterite gab ;
    • Icelandic: infinitive gefa, preterite gaf.

Verbal inflexions in Gothic have two grammatical voices: the active and the medial; three numbers: singular, dual (except in the third person), and plural; two tenses: present and preterite (derived from a former perfect tense); three grammatical moods: indicative, subjunctive (from an old optative form) and imperative; as well as three kinds of nominal forms: a present infinitive, a present participle, and a past passive. Not all tenses and persons are represented in all moods and voices - some conjugations use auxiliary forms.

Finally, there are forms called "preterite-present" - old Indo-European perfect tenses that were reinterpreted as present tense. The Gothic word wit, from the proto-Indo-European *woid-h2e ("to see" in the perfect tense), corresponds exactly to its Sanskrit cognate vda and in Greek to Ϝοἶδα. Both etymologically should mean "I saw" (in the perfective sense) but mean "I see" (in the preterite-present meaning). Latin follows the same rule with nōuī ("I knew" and "I know"). The preterite-present verbs include ihan ("to possess") and kunnan ("to know") among others.

Gothic compared to other Germanic languages

Gothic and Old Norse

The Goths had a tradition of a Scandinavian origin, and there are linguistic similarities with Old Norse, especially with its dialect Old Gutnish. The number of similarities that Old Gutnish had with Gothic made the prominent linguist Elias Wessn classify it as a Gothic dialect. This is a text sample from the Gutasaga about a migration to southern Europe (Manuscript from the 14th century):

sian af issum rim aucais fulc j gutlandi som mikit um langan tima at land elptj aim ai alla fya a lutau air bort af landi huert riia iau so at alt sculdu air aiga oc mi sir bort hafa som air vfan iorar attu... so fierri foru air at air quamu til griclanz... oc enn byggia oc enn hafa air sumt af waru mali
over a long time, the people descended from these three multiplied so much that the land couldn't support them all. Then they draw lots, and every third person was picked to leave, and they could keep everything they owned and take it with them, except for their land. ... They went so far that they came to the land of the Greeks. ... they settled there, and live there still, and still have something of our language.

The main points cited for grouping North and East Germanic are:

1) The evolution of the Proto-Germanic *-jj- and *-gg- into Gothic ddj (from an older Gothic ggj?) and ggw and Old Norse ggj and ggv ("Holtzmann's law"). For instance, the Old High German genitive of zwei (two) is zweio, which is distinct from Gothic twaddje and Old Norse tveggja. Whereas German has the form treu, Gothic has triggws and modern Swedish trygg.

2) The existence of numerous inchoative verbs ending with -na, such as Gothic waknan and modern Swedish vakna.

3) Gothic is important for the understanding of the evolution of Proto-Germanic into Old Norse through Proto-Norse. For instance, the final -n in North Germanic languages, such as navn and namn (name) is explained by referring to Gothic in which namo had its plural genitive namne. Sometimes, Gothic explains forms of words found on the oldest runestones, such as the Gothic word gudja (gothi, man serving as priest) which explains the word gudija found on the runestone of Nordhuglo in Norway.

But there have also been theories grouping West and East Germanic. Today, the three groups are generally treated as derived independently from Proto-Germanic.

Other unique features of Gothic

Being the first attested Germanic language, Gothic fails to display a number of traits that are shared by all other known Germanic languages. Most conspicuously, Gothic contains no morphological umlaut; the Gothic word gudja can be contrasted with the Old Norse cognate gydja ("priestess"); the Norse form contains the characteristic change /u/ > /y/ that indicates the influence of i-umlaut in Proto-Norse; the Gothic form shows no such change.

Gothic retains a passive voice inherited from Indo-European, but unattested in all other Germanic languages. Gothic preserves several verbs that display reduplication (haitan, "to be called" > haihait; cf. Norwegian heita German heien, archaic English hight) in the formation of the preterit; another Indo-European inheritance that has left only a few traces in Old English, Old Norse and Old High German.


  • This article draws heavily on the corresponding article in the French Wikipedia, retrieved April 6, 2005.
  • F. Moss, Manuel de la langue gotique, Aubier ditions Montaigne, 1942
  • W. Braune and E. Ebbinghaus, Gotische Grammatik, 17th edition 1966, Tbingen
  • W. Streitberg, Die gotische Bibel , 4th edition, 1965, Heidelberg ;
  • J. Wright, Grammar of the Gothic language, 2nd edition, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1966
  • W. Krause, Handbuch des Gotischen, 3rd edition, 1968, Munich.

See also

External links

Template:InterWiki Template:Wikibookspar

  • Gotisch im WWW ( Portal for information on Gothic (in German)
  • English-Gothic Dictionary (
  • Gothic lessons (
  • Texts:
    • Titus ( has Streitberg's Gotische Bibel and Crimean Gothic material after Busbecq.
    • Wulfila Project (
    • Skeireins Projet (
    • The Gothic Bible (

Template:Wikisourceparang:Gotisc sprǽc de:Gotische Sprache eo:Gota lingvo es:Alfabeto gtico fr:Gotique nl:Gotisch nds:Gootsche Spraak pt:Lngua gtica sv:Gotiska


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