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|Worldwide, principally northern, western and central Europe, the Americas (Anglo-America, Caribbean Netherlands and Suriname), Southern Africa and Oceania|
|Linguistic classification|| Indo-European |
|ISO 639-2 / 5||gem|
World map showing countries where a Germanic language is the primary or official language
Countries where (a) Germanic language(s) is/are the first language(s) of the majority of the population
Countries or regions where (a) Germanic language(s) is/are (an) official but not primary language(s)
Countries or regions where (a) Germanic language(s) is/are (an) unofficial but recognised/used in some areas of life/spoken among a local minority
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The Germanic languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family spoken natively by a population of about 515 million peoplemainly in Europe, North America, Oceania and Southern Africa. The most widely spoken Germanic language, English, is the world's most widely spoken language with an estimated 2 billion speakers. All Germanic languages are derived from Proto-Germanic, spoken in Iron Age Scandinavia.
The West Germanic languages include the three most widely spoken Germanic languages: English with around 360–400 million native speakers;German, with over 100 million native speakers; and Dutch, with 24 million native speakers. Other West Germanic languages include Afrikaans, an offshoot of Dutch, with over 7.1 million native speakers; Low German, considered a separate collection of unstandardized dialects, with roughly 0.3 million native speakers and probably 6.7–10 million people who can understand it (at least 5 million in Germany and 1.7 million in the Netherlands); Yiddish, once used by approximately 13 million Jews in pre-World War II Europe, and Scots, both with 1.5 million native speakers; Limburgish varieties with roughly 1.3 million speakers along the Dutch–Belgian–German border; and the Frisian languages with over 0.5 million native speakers in the Netherlands and Germany.
The largest North Germanic languages are Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, which are 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 these languages have however been strongly influenced by the West Germanic language Middle Low German, and Low German words account for about 30–60% of their vocabularies according to various estimates. Other North Germanic languages are Faroese and Icelandic, which are more conservative languages with no significant Low German influence, more complex grammar and limited mutual intelligibility with the others today.
The East Germanic branch included Gothic, Burgundian, and Vandalic, all of which are now extinct. The last to die off was Crimean Gothic, spoken until the late 18th century in some isolated areas of Crimea.
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, the German language suffered a significant loss of Sprachraum , as well as moribundness and extinction of several of its dialects. In the 21st century, its dialects are dying out anyway due to Standard German gaining 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. Proto-Germanic, along with all of its descendants, is characterised by a number of unique linguistic features, most famously the consonant change known as Grimm's law. Early varieties of Germanic entered history with the Germanic tribes moving south from Scandinavia in the 2nd century BC, to settle in the area of today's northern Germany and southern Denmark.
English is an official language of Belize, Canada, Nigeria, Falkland Islands, Malta, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa, Philippines, Jamaica, Dominica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, American Samoa, Palau, St. Lucia, Grenada, Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Puerto Rico, Guam, Hong Kong, Singapore, Pakistan, India, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and former British colonies in Asia, Africa and Oceania. Furthermore, it is the de facto language of the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. It is also a recognised language in Nicaraguaand Malaysia. American English-speakers make up the majority of all native Germanic speakers, including also making up the bulk of West Germanic speakers.
German is an official language of Austria, Belgium, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg 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 German, is still present amongst Anabaptist populations in Pennsylvania in the United States.
Dutch is an official language of Aruba, Belgium, Curaçao, the Netherlands, Sint Maarten, and Suriname.The Netherlands also colonised Indonesia, but Dutch was scrapped as an official language after Indonesian independence and today it is only used by older or traditionally educated people. Dutch was until 1925 an official language in South Africa but evolved in and was replaced by Afrikaans, a partially mutually intelligible daughter language 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 Scotland and parts of Ulster (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 in the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark.
Luxembourgish is a Moselle Franconian dialect that is spoken mainly in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, 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 are spoken in the Limburg and Rhineland regions, along the Dutch–Belgian–German border.
In addition to being the official language in Sweden, Swedish 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, and the only official language in the Åland Islands. Swedish is also spoken by some people in Estonia.
Danish is an official language of Denmark and in its overseas territory of the Faroe Islands, and it is a lingua franca and language of education in its other overseas territory of Greenland, where it was one of the official languages until 2009. Danish is also spoken natively by the Danish minority in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, where it is recognised as a minority language.
Norwegian is the official language of Norway.
Icelandic is the official language of Iceland.
Faroese is the official language of the Faroe Islands, and it is also spoken by some people in Denmark.
|Low German (Platt/Neddersassch/Leegsaksies)||0.3|
|Other Germanic languages||0.01|
All Germanic languages are thought to be descended from a hypothetical Proto-Germanic, united by subjection to the sound shifts of Grimm's law and Verner's law. These probably took place during the Pre-Roman Iron Age of Northern Europe from c. 500 BC. Proto-Germanic itself was likely spoken after c. 500 BC,and Proto-Norse 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 suggest a common history of pre-Proto-Germanic speakers throughout the Nordic Bronze Age.
From the time of their earliest attestation, the Germanic varieties are divided into three groups: West, East, and North Germanic. Their exact relation is difficult to determine from the sparse evidence of runic inscriptions.
The western group would have formed in the late Jastorf culture, and the eastern group may be derived from the 1st-century variety 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 reflect the Common Germanic stage. Vimose inscriptions AD 160, are the oldest Germanic writing.
The earliest coherent Germanic text preserved is the 4th-century Gothic translation of the New Testament by Ulfilas. Early testimonies of West Germanic are in Old Frankish/Old Dutch (the 5th-century Bergakker inscription), Old High German (scattered words and sentences 6th century and coherent texts 9th century), and Old English (oldest texts 650, coherent texts 10th century). North Germanic is only attested in scattered runic inscriptions, as Proto-Norse, until it evolves into Old Norse by about 800.
Longer runic inscriptions survive from the 8th and 9th centuries (Eggjum stone, Rök stone), longer texts in the Latin alphabet survive from the 12th century (Íslendingabók), and some skaldic poetry dates back to as early as the 9th century.
By about the 10th century, the varieties had diverged enough to make inter-comprehensibility difficult. The linguistic contact of the Viking settlers of the Danelaw with the Anglo-Saxons left traces in the English language and is suspected to have facilitated the collapse of Old English grammar that resulted in Middle English from the 12th century.
The East Germanic languages were marginalized from the end of the Migration period. The Burgundians, Goths, and Vandals became linguistically assimilated by their respective neighbors by about the 7th century, with only Crimean Gothic 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 and Low Saxon, with graded intermediate Central German varieties. By early modern times, the span had extended into considerable differences, ranging from Highest Alemannic in the South to Northern Low Saxon in the North, and, although both extremes are considered German, they are hardly mutually intelligible. The southernmost varieties 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.
Germanic languages possess a number of defining features compared with other Indo-European languages.
Probably the most well-known are the following:
Other significant characteristics are:
Note that some of the above characteristics were not present in Proto-Germanic but developed later as areal features that spread from language to language:
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 inherited from Proto-Germanic (and in turn from Proto-Indo-European). Others, such as English, Swedish, and Afrikaans, have moved toward a largely analytic type.
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.
The following innovations are common to the Northwest Germanic languages (all but Gothic):
The following innovations are also common to the Northwest Germanic languages but represent areal changes:
The following innovations are common to the West Germanic languages:
The following innovations are common to the Ingvaeonic subgroup of the West Germanic languages, which includes English, Frisian, and in a few cases Dutch and Low German, but not High German:
The following innovations are common to the Anglo-Frisian subgroup of the Ingvaeonic languages:
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 and Verner's Law, which introduced a large number of fricatives; late Proto-Indo-European 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 [æː]), while a new, fairly uncommon long vowel /ē2/ developed in varied and not completely understood circumstances. Proto-Germanic had no front rounded vowels, 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.
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 or closed and (in some cases) whether the preceding syllable was light or heavy).
|Proto-Germanic||(Pre-)Gothic||Old Norse||Old English||Old High German|
|a||a||a, ɔ(…u)||æ, a(…a), a/o(n), æ̆ă(h,rC,lC)||a|
|a(…i)||e, ø(…u)||e, æ, ĭy̆(h,rC,lC)||e, a(hs,ht,Cw)|
|æː||eː, ɛː(V)||aː||æː, æa(h)||aː|
|e||i, ɛ(h,hʷ,r)||ja, jø(…u), (w,r,l)e, (w,r,l)ø(…u)||e, ĕŏ(h,w,rC)||e, i(…u)|
|i||i, ɛ(h,hʷ,r)||i, y(…w)||i, ĭŭ(h,w,rC)||i|
|u||u, ɔ(h,hʷ,r)||u, o(…a)||u, o(…a)||u, o(…a)|
|ai||ai||ei, ey(…w), aː(h,r)||aː||ei, eː(r,h,w,#)|
|au||au||au, oː(h)||æa||ou, oː(h,T)|
|au(…i)||ey, øː(h)||iy||öü, öː(h,T)|
|eu||iu||juː, joː(T)||eo||io, iu(…i/u)|
|p||p||p||p||pf-, -ff-, -f|
|t||t||t||t||ts-, -ss-, -s|
|k||k||k||k, tʃ(i,e,æ)-, -k-, -(i)tʃ-, -tʃ(i)-||k-, -xx-, -x|
|kʷ||kʷ||kv, -k||kw-, -k-, -(i)tʃ-, -tʃ(i)-||kw-, -xx-, -x|
|b-, -[β]-||b-, -[β]-, -f||b-, -[v]-||b-, -[v]-, -f||b|
|d-, -[ð]-||d-, -[ð]-, -þ||d-, -[ð]-||d||t|
|[ɣ]-, -[ɣ]-||g-, -[ɣ]-, -[x]||g-, -[ɣ]-||g-, j(æ,e,i)-, -[ɣ]-, -j(æ,e,i)-, -(æ,e,i)j-||g|
|f||f||f, -[v]-||f, -[v]-, -f||f|
|þ||þ||þ, -[ð]-||þ, -[ð]-, -þ||d|
|x||h||h, -∅-||h, -∅-, -h||h|
|xʷ||hʷ||xv, -∅-||hw, -∅-, -h||hw, -h-|
|s||s||s-, -[z]-||s-, -[z]-, -s||ṣ-, -[ẓ]-, -ṣ|
|z||-z-, -s||r||-r-, -∅||-r-, -∅|
|n||n||n-, -∅(s,p,t,k), -∅||n, -∅(f,s,þ)||n|
|j||j||∅-, -j-, -∅||j||j|
|w||w||∅-, v-(a,e,i), -v-, -∅||w||w|
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), 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 verbs 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, which have largely kept the Indo-European pitch accent 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:
|Proto-Germanic||Gothic||Old Norse||Old High German||Middle High German||Modern German||Old English||Old Saxon||Old Frisian|
|Genitive||*fisk-as, -is||fisk-is||fisk-s||visk-es||visch-es||Fisch-es||fisc-es < fisc-æs||fisc-as, -es||fisk-is, -es|
|Dative||*fisk-ai||fisk-a||fisk-i||visk-a||visch-e||Fisch-(e)||fisc-e < fisc-æ||fisc-a, -e||fisk-a, -i, -e|
|Instrumental||*fisk-ō||fisk-a||—||visk-u||—||—||fisc-e < fisc-i||fisc-u||—|
|Plural||Nominative, Vocative||*fisk-ôs, -ôz||fisk-ōs||fisk-ar||visk-a||visch-e||Fisch-e||fisc-as||fisc-ōs, -ās||fisk-ar, -a|
|Dative||*fisk-amaz||fisk-am||fisk-um, -om||visk-um||visch-en||Fisch-en||fisc-um||fisc-un, -on||fisk-um, -on, -em|
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, demonstrative pronoun, 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, 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 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 two sets of adjective endings were lost entirely in the late Middle English period.
Note that divisions between and among subfamilies of Germanic are rarely precisely defined; most form continuous clines, with adjacent varieties being mutually intelligible and more separated ones not. Within the Germanic language family is East Germanic, West Germanic, and North Germanic. However, East Germanic languages became extinct several centuries ago.
The table below shows the succession of the significant historical stages of each language (horizontally) and their approximate groupings in subfamilies (vertically). Vertical sequence within each group does not imply a measure of greater or lesser similarity.
| Pre-Roman Iron Age |
500 – 100 BC
Roman Iron Age
100 BC – 100 AD
Roman Iron Age
100 – 300
| Migration Period |
300 – 600
| Early Middle Ages |
600 – 1100
| Middle Ages |
1100 – 1350
| Late Middle Ages 2 |
1350 – 1500
| Early Modern Age |
1500 – 1700
| Modern Age |
1700 to present
|Proto-Germanic||West Germanic|| Irminonic |
|Primitive Upper German|| Old Upper German,|
|Middle Upper German|| Early|
New Upper German
|Upper German varieties|
| Istvaeonic |
|Primitive Frankish||Old Frankish||Old Central German||Middle Central German|| Early|
New Central German
|Central German varieties|
| Old Low Franconian |
| Ingvaeonic |
(North Sea Germanic)
|Old Saxon||Middle Low German||Low German varieties|
| Anglo-Frisian |
|Primitive Frisian||Old Frisian||Middle Frisian||Frisian varieties|
|Primitive Anglic|| Old English |
|Early Scots 3||Middle Scots||Scots varieties|
Old West Norse
|Old Norwegian||Old Faroese||Faroese|
|Old Norn||Norn||extinct 4|
Old East Norse
|East Germanic||Gothic||(unattested Gothic dialects)||Crimean Gothic||extinct|
All living Germanic languages belong either to the West Germanic or to the North Germanic branch. The West Germanic group is the larger by far, further subdivided into Anglo-Frisian on one hand and Continental West Germanic on the other. Anglo-Frisian notably includes English and all its variants, while Continental West Germanic includes German (standard register and dialects), as well as Dutch (standard register and dialects).
Modern classification looks like this. For a full classification, see List of Germanic languages.
The earliest evidence of Germanic languages comes from names recorded in the 1st century by Tacitus (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. Early runic inscriptions also are largely limited to personal names and difficult to interpret. The Gothic language was written in the Gothic alphabet developed by Bishop Ulfilas for his translation of the Bible in the 4th century.Later, Christian priests and monks who spoke and read Latin in addition to their native Germanic varieties began writing the Germanic languages with slightly modified Latin letters. However, throughout the Viking Age, runic alphabets remained in common use in Scandinavia.
In addition to the standard Latin script, many Germanic languages use a variety of accent marks and extra letters, including the ß (Eszett), Ĳ, Ø, Æ, Å, Ä, Ü, Ö, Ð, Ȝ, and the Latinized runes Þ and Ƿ (with its Latin counterpart W). In print, German used to be prevalently set in blackletter typefaces (e.g., fraktur or schwabacher) until the 1940s, when Kurrent and, since the early 20th century, Sütterlin were used for German handwriting.
Yiddish is written using an adapted Hebrew alphabet.
Several of the terms in the table below have had semantic drift. For example, the form Sterben and other terms for die are cognates with the English word starve. There is also at least three examples of a common borrowing from a non-Germanic source (ounce and devil and their cognates from Latin, church and its cognates from Greek).
|English||Scots||West Frisian||Afrikaans||Dutch||Limburgish||Low German|| Central|
|die, starve||dee, stairve||stjerre||sterf||sterven||stèrve||staarven||stierwen||sterben||שטאַרבן|
|gold||gowd, goold||goud||goud||goud||goud, góldj||Gold, Guld||Gold||Gold||גאָלד|
|góð(ur), gott||góð(ur), gott||god||god||god||god|
|English||Scots||West Frisian||Afrikaans||Dutch||Limburgish||Low German|| Central|
|head||heid||holle, haad||hoof, kop||hoofd, kop||kop||Hööft, Kopp||Kopp, Kapp||Haupt, Kopf||הויפט, קאָפּ|
|hár||høg, ur||hög||høj||høy, høg||høg|
|home||hame||hiem||heim, tuis||heem, heim, thuis||thoes||Tohuus, Heem||Heem||Heim(at)||היים|
|hook, crook||heuk||heak||haak||haak||haok||Haak||Krop, Kramp, Hoken||Haken||האַק|
|haki, krókur||krókur, ongul||hake, krok||hage, krog||hake, krok||hake, krok|
|many||mony||mannich, mennich||baie, menige||veel, menig||minnig||veel, männig||vill||manch, viel||מאַנכע|
|no, nay||nae||nee||nee||nee(n)||nei||nee||nee(n)||na, nee, nein, nö||ניין|
|nei||nei||nej, nä||nej, næ||nei||nei|
|old (but elder, eldest)||auld||âld||oud||oud||aajt (old), gammel (decayed)||oolt (old), gammelig (decayed)||aal||alt||אַלט|
|gamall (but eldri, elstur), aldinn||gamal (but eldri, elstur)||gammal (but äldre, äldst)||gammel (but ældre, ældst)||gammel (but eldre, eldst)||gam(m)al (but eldre, eldst)|
|ounce||unce||ûns||ons||ons||óns||Ons||Eng kéier, Eemol||Unze||אונס|
|right||richt||rjocht||reg||recht||rèch||recht||riicht, riets||recht, Recht||רעכט|
|English||Scots||West Frisian||Afrikaans||Dutch||Limburgish||Low German|| Central|
|that||that||dat||daardie, dit||dat, die||dat, tot||dat, dü||dat||das||דאָס|
|two, twain||twa||twa||twee||twee||twie||twee||zoo, zwou, zwéin, zwee||zwei, zwo||צוויי|
|tveir, tvær, tvö||tveir, tvey, tvær, tvá||två, tu||to||to||to|
|worm||wirm||wjirm||wurm||worm||weurm||Worm||Wuerm, Mued||Wurm, Made||וואָרעם|
|maðkur, ormur||maðkur, ormur||mask, orm||orm||makk, mark, orm||makk, mark, orm|
|English||Scots||West Frisian||Afrikaans||Dutch||Limburgish||Low German|| Central|
|Wikisource has the text of an 1879 American Cyclopædia article about Germanic languages .|
Old Norse was a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and their overseas settlements from about the 9th to the 13th centuries.
The Germanic umlaut is a type of linguistic umlaut in which a back vowel changes to the associated front vowel (fronting) or a front vowel becomes closer to (raising) when the following syllable contains, , or. It took place separately in various Germanic languages starting around AD 450 or 500 and affected all of the early languages except Gothic. An example of the resulting vowel alternation is the English plural foot ~ feet.
In Germanic languages, weak verbs are by far the largest group of verbs, which are therefore often regarded as the norm, but they are not historically the oldest or most original group.
Proto-Germanic is the reconstructed proto-language of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages.
Middle Dutch is a collective name for a number of closely related West Germanic dialects whose ancestor was Old Dutch and was spoken and written between 1150 and 1500. Until the advent of Modern Dutch after 1500, there was no overarching standard language, but all dialects were mutually intelligible. During the period, a rich Medieval Dutch literature developed, which had not yet existed during Old Dutch. The various literary works of the time are often very readable for speakers of Modern Dutch since Dutch is a rather conservative language. Nonlinguists often refer to Middle Dutch as Diets.
Old Saxon, also known as Old Low German, was a Germanic language and the earliest recorded form of Low German. It is a West Germanic language, closely related to the Anglo-Frisian languages. It is documented from the 8th century until the 12th century, when it gradually evolved into Middle Low German. It was spoken throughout modern northwestern Germany, primarily in the coastal regions and in the eastern Netherlands by Saxons, a Germanic tribe who inhabited the region of Saxony. It partially shares Anglo-Frisian's Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law which sets it apart from Low Franconian and Irminonic languages, such as Dutch, Luxembourgish and German.
Swedish is descended from Old Norse. Compared to its progenitor, Swedish grammar is much less characterized by inflection. Modern Swedish has two genders and no longer conjugates verbs based on person or number. Its nouns have lost the morphological distinction between nominative and accusative cases that denoted grammatical subject and object in Old Norse in favor of marking by word order. Swedish uses some inflection with nouns, adjectives, and verbs. It is generally a subject–verb–object (SVO) language with V2 word order.
A-mutation is a metaphonic process supposed to have taken place in late Proto-Germanic.
West Germanic gemination was a sound change that took place in all West Germanic languages around the 3rd or 4th century AD. It affected consonants directly followed by, which were generally lengthened or geminated in that position. Because of Sievers' law, only consonants immediately after a short vowel were affected by the process.
The Germanic spirant law, or Primärberührung, is a specific historical instance in linguistics of dissimilation that occurred as part of an exception of Grimm's law in Proto-Germanic, the ancestor of Germanic languages.
The grammar of Old English is quite different from that of Modern English, predominantly by being much more inflected. As an old Germanic language, Old English has a morphological system that is similar to that of the hypothetical Proto-Germanic reconstruction, retaining many of the inflections thought to have been common in Proto-Indo-European and also including characteristically Germanic constructions such as the umlaut.
Open syllable lengthening, in linguistics, is the process by which short vowels become long in an open syllable. It occurs in many languages at a phonetic or allophonic level, and no meaningful distinction in length is made. However, as it became phonemic in many Germanic languages, it is especially significant in them, both historically and in the modern languages.
Gothic is an inflected language, and as such its nouns, pronouns, and adjectives must be declined in order to serve a grammatical function. A set of declined forms of the same word pattern is called a declension. There are five grammatical cases in Gothic with a few traces of an old sixth instrumental case.
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 sizable text corpus. All others, including Burgundian and Vandalic, are known, if at all, only from proper names that survived in historical accounts, and from loanwords in other languages such as Portuguese, Spanish, and French.
Old Norse has three categories of verbs and two categories of nouns. Conjugation and declension are carried out by a mix of inflection and two nonconcatenative morphological processes: umlaut, a backness-based alteration to the root vowel; and ablaut, a replacement of the root vowel, in verbs.
Old High German is an inflected language, and as such its nouns, pronouns, and adjectives must be declined in order to serve a grammatical function. A set of declined forms of the same word pattern is called a declension. There are five grammatical cases in Old High German.
Historical linguistics has made tentative postulations about and multiple varyingly different reconstructions of Proto-Germanic grammar, as inherited from Proto-Indo-European grammar. All reconstructed forms are marked with an asterisk (*).
The phonology of Old Saxon mirrors that of the other ancient Germanic languages, and also, to a lesser extent, that of modern West Germanic languages such as English, Dutch, Frisian, German, and Low German.
The grammar of Old Saxon is quite different from that of Modern English, predominantly by being much more inflected, similar to that of Old English or Latin. As an ancient Germanic language, the morphological system of Old Saxon is similar to that of the hypothetical Proto-Germanic reconstruction, retaining many of the inflections thought to have been common in Proto-Indo-European and also including characteristically Germanic constructions such as the umlaut. Among living languages, Old Saxon morphology most closely resembles that of modern High German.
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 palatalization of velar consonants in many positions.