|Originally between the Rhine, Alps, Elbe, and North Sea; today worldwide|
|Linguistic classification|| Indo-European |
|Linguasphere||52-AB & 52-AC|
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 three most prevalent West Germanic languages are English, German, and Dutch. The family also includes other High and Low German languages including Afrikaans (which is a daughter language of Dutch), Yiddish and Luxembourgish (which are sister languages of German), and Frisian and Scots (which are sister languages of English). Additionally, several creoles, patois, and pidgins are based on Dutch, English, and German, as they were each languages of colonial empires.
The Germanic languages are traditionally divided into three groups: West, East and North Germanic.Their exact relation is difficult to determine from the sparse evidence of runic inscriptions, so that some individual varieties are difficult to classify. Although some scholars claim that all Germanic languages remained mutually intelligible throughout the Migration Period, others hold that speakers of West Germanic dialects like Old Frankish and speakers of Gothic were already unable to communicate fluently by around the 3rd century AD. Dialects with the features assigned to the western group formed from Proto-Germanic in the late Jastorf culture (ca. 1st century BC). The West Germanic group is characterized by a number of phonological, morphological and lexical innovations or archaisms not found in North and East Germanic. Examples of West Germanic phonological particularities are:
A remarkable phonological archaism of West Germanic is the preservation of grammatischer Wechsel in most verbs, particularly in Old High German. This implies the same for West Germanic, whereas in East and North Germanic many of these alternations (in Gothic almost all of them) had been levelled out analogically by the time of the earliest texts.
A common morphological innovation of the West Germanic languages is the development of a gerund.
Common morphological archaisms of West Germanic include:
Furthermore, the West Germanic languages share many lexemes not existing in North Germanic and/or East Germanic – archaisms as well as common neologisms.
Most scholars doubt that there was a Proto-West-Germanic proto-language common to the West Germanic languages and no others, but a few maintain that Proto-West-Germanic existed. [ obsolete source ] North Germanic, and the three groups conventionally called "West Germanic", namelyMost agree that after East Germanic broke off (an event usually dated to the 2nd or 1st century BC), the remaining Germanic languages, the Northwest Germanic languages, divided into four main dialects:
Although there is quite a bit of knowledge about North Sea Germanic or Anglo-Frisian (because of the characteristic features of its daughter languages, Anglo-Saxon/Old English and Old Frisian), linguists know almost nothing about "Weser-Rhine Germanic" and "Elbe Germanic". In fact, both terms were coined in the 1940s to refer to groups of archaeological findings, rather than linguistic features. Only later were the terms applied to hypothetical dialectal differences within both regions. Even today, the very small number of Migration Period runic inscriptions from the area, many of them illegible, unclear or consisting only of one word, often a name, is insufficient to identify linguistic features specific to the two supposed dialect groups.
Evidence that East Germanic split off before the split between North and West Germanic comes from a number of linguistic innovations common to North and West Germanic,including:
Under that view, the properties that the West Germanic languages have in common separate from the North Germanic languages are not necessarily inherited from a "Proto-West-Germanic" language but may have spread by language contact among the Germanic languages spoken in Central Europe, not reaching those spoken in Scandinavia or reaching them much later. Rhotacism, for example, was largely complete in West Germanic while North Germanic runic inscriptions still clearly distinguished the two phonemes. There is also evidence that the lowering of ē to ā occurred first in West Germanic and spread to North Germanic later since word-final ē was lowered before it was shortened in West Germanic, but in North Germanic the shortening occurred first, resulting in e that later merged with i. However, there are also a number of common archaisms in West Germanic shared by neither Old Norse nor Gothic. Some authors who support the concept of a West Germanic proto-language claim that, not only shared innovations can require the existence of a linguistic clade, but also that there are archaisms that cannot be explained simply as retentions later lost in the North or East, because this assumption can produce contradictions with attested features of the other branches.
The debate on the existence of a Proto-West-Germanic clade was recently summarized:
That North Germanic is... a unitary subgroup [of Proto-Germanic] is completely obvious, as all of its dialects shared a long series of innovations, some of them very striking. That the same is true of West Germanic has been denied, but I will argue in vol. ii that all the West Germanic languages share several highly unusual innovations that virtually force us to posit a West Germanic clade. On the other hand, the internal subgrouping of both North Germanic and West Germanic is very messy, and it seems clear that each of those subfamilies diversified into a network of dialects that remained in contact for a considerable period of time (in some cases right up to the present).
Several scholars have published reconstructions of Proto-West-Germanic morphological paradigmsand many authors have reconstructed individual Proto-West-Germanic morphological forms or lexemes. The first comprehensive reconstruction of the Proto-West-Germanic language was published in 2013 by Wolfram Euler.
If indeed Proto-West-Germanic existed, it must have been between the 2nd and 4th centuries. Until the late 2nd century AD, the language of runic inscriptions found in Scandinavia and in Northern Germany were so similar that Proto-North-Germanic and the Western dialects in the south were still part of one language ("Proto-Northwest-Germanic"). After that, the split into West and North Germanic occurred. By the 4th and 5th centuries the great migration set in which probably helped diversify the West Germanic family even more.
It has been argued that, judging by their nearly identical syntax, the West Germanic dialects were closely enough related to have been mutually intelligible up to the 7th century.Over the course of this period, the dialects diverged successively. The High German consonant shift that occurred mostly during the 7th century AD in what is now southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland can be considered the end of the linguistic unity among the West Germanic dialects, although its effects on their own should not be overestimated. Bordering dialects very probably continued to be mutually intelligible even beyond the boundaries of the consonant shift.
During the Early Middle Ages, the West Germanic languages were separated by the insular development of Old and Middle English on one hand, and by the High German consonant shift on the continent on the other.
The High German consonant shift distinguished the High German languages from the other West Germanic languages. By early modern times, the span had extended into considerable differences, ranging from Highest Alemannic in the South (the Walliser dialect being the southernmost surviving German dialect) to Northern Low Saxon in the North. Although both extremes are considered German, they are not mutually intelligible. The southernmost varieties have completed the second sound shift, whereas the northern dialects remained unaffected by the consonant shift.
Of modern German varieties, Low German is the one that most resembles modern English. The district of Angeln (or Anglia), from which the name English derives, is in the extreme northern part of Germany between the Danish border and the Baltic coast. The area of the Saxons (parts of today's Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony) lay south of Anglia. The Angles and Saxons, two Germanic tribes, in combination with a number of other peoples from northern Germany and the Jutland Peninsula, particularly the Jutes, settled in Britain following the end of Roman rule in the island. Once in Britain, these Germanic peoples eventually developed a shared cultural and linguistic identity as Anglo-Saxons; the extent of the linguistic influence of the native Romano-British population on the incomers is debatable.
Note that divisions between subfamilies of continental Germanic languages are rarely precisely defined; most form dialect continua, with adjacent dialects being mutually intelligible and more separated ones not.
The following table shows a list of various linguistic features and their extent among the West Germanic languages, organized roughly from northwest to southeast. Some may only appear in the older languages but are no longer apparent in the modern languages.
|Old English||Old Frisian||Old Saxon||Old Dutch||Old Central|
|Palatalisation of velars||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Unrounding of front rounded vowels||ø but not y||Yes||No||Southwestern||No||No|
|Loss of intervocalic *-h-||Yes||Yes||Developing||Yes||Developing||No|
|Class II weak verb ending *-(ō)ja-||Yes||Yes||Sometimes||No||No||No|
|Merging of plural forms of verbs||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
|Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law||Yes||Yes||Yes||Rare||No||No|
|Loss of the reflexive pronoun||Yes||Yes||Most dialects||Most dialects||No||No|
|Loss of final *-z in single-syllable words||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Reduction of weak class III to four relics||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Monophthongization of *ai, *au||Yes||Yes||Yes||Usually||Partial||Partial|
|Diphthongization of *ē, *ō||No||No||Rare||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Loss of initial *h- before consonant||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||Developing|
|Loss of initial *w- before consonant||No||No||No||No||Most dialects||Yes|
|High German consonant shift||No||No||No||No||Partial||Yes|
The original vowel system of West Germanic was similar to that of Proto-Germanic; note however the lowering of the long front vowels.
The consonant system was also essentially the same as that of Proto-Germanic. Note, however, the particular changes described above, as well as West Germanic gemination.
The noun paradigms of Proto-West Germanic have been reconstructed as follows:
|Case||Nouns in -a- (m.)|
|Nouns in -ja-|
|Nouns in -ija-|
|Nouns in -a- (n.)|
|Nouns in -ō-|
|Nouns in -i-|
|Nouns in -u-|
|Nouns in -u- (n.)|
|Nominative||*dagă||*dagō, -ōs||*harjă||*harjō, -ōs||*hirdijă||*hirdijō, -ijōs||*joką||*joku||*gebu||*gebō||*gasti||*gastī||*sunu||*suniwi, -ō||*fehu||(?)|
|Dative||*dagē||*dagum||*harjē||*harjum||*hirdijē||*hirdijum||*jokē||*jokum||*gebē||*gebōm||*gastim||*suniwi, -ō||*sunum||*fehiwi, -ō|
The following table compares a number of Frisian, English, Dutch and German words with common West Germanic (or older) origin. The grammatical gender of each term is noted as masculine (m.), feminine (f.), or neuter (n.) where relevant.
|West Frisian||English||Scots||Dutch||German||Old English||Old High German||Proto-West-Germanic||Proto-Germanic|
|kaam||comb||kaim||kam m.||Kamm m.||camb m.||camb m.||kąbă [see inscription of Erfurt-Frienstedt], *kambă m.||*kambaz m.|
|dei||day||day||dag m.||Tag m.||dæġ m.||tag m.||*dagă m.||*dagaz m.|
|rein||rain||rain||regen m.||Regen m.||reġn m.||regan m.||*regnă m.||*regnaz m.|
|wei||way||wey||weg m.||Weg m.||weġ m.||weg m.||*wegă m.||*wegaz m.|
|neil||nail||nail||nagel m.||Nagel m.||næġel m.||nagal m.||*naglă m.||*naglaz m.|
|tsiis||cheese||cheese||kaas m.||Käse m.||ċēse, ċīese m.||chāsi, kāsi m.||*kāsī m.||*kāsijaz m. (late Proto-Germanic, from Latin cāseus)|
|tsjerke||church||kirk||kerk f.||Kirche f.||ċiriċe f.||chirihha, *kirihha f.||*kirikā f.||*kirikǭ f. (from Ancient Greek kuriakón "belonging to the lord")|
|sibbe||sibling||sib||sibbe f.||Sippe f.||sibb f. "kinship, peace"||sippa f., Old Saxon: sibbia||sibbju, sibbjā f.||*sibjō f. "relationship, kinship, friendship"|
|kaai f.||key||key||sleutel m.||Schlüssel m.||cǣġ(e), cǣga f. "key, solution, experiment"||sluzzil m.||*slutilă m., *kēgă f.||*slutilaz m. "key"; *kēgaz, *kēguz f. "stake, post, pole"|
|ha west||have been||hae(s)/hiv been||ben geweest||bin gewesen|
|twa skiep||two sheep||twa sheep||twee schapen n.||zwei Schafe n.||twā sċēap n.||zwei scāfa n.||*twai skēpu n.||*twai(?) skēpō n.|
|brea||bread||breid||brood n.||Brot n.||brēad n. "fragment, bit, morsel, crumb" also "bread"||brōt n.||*braudă m.||*braudą n. "cooked food, leavened bread"|
|hier||hair||hair||haar n.||Haar n.||hēr, hǣr n.||hār n.||*hǣră n.||*hērą n.|
|ear||ear||lug||oor n.||Ohr n.||ēare n. < pre-English *ǣora||ōra n.||*aura < *auza n.||*auzǭ, *ausōn n.|
|doar||door||door||deur f.||Tür f.||duru f.||turi f.||*duru f.||*durz f.|
|swiet||sweet||sweet||zoet||süß||swēte||s(w)uozi (< *swōti)||*swōtŭ||*swōtuz|
|wiet||wet||weet||nat||nass||wǣt||naz (< *nat)||*wǣtă / *nată||*wētaz / *nataz|
|each||eye||ee||oog n.||Auge n.||ēaġe n. < pre-English *ǣoga||ouga n.||*auga n.||*augō n.|
|dream||dream||dream||droom m.||Traum m.||drēam m. "joy, pleasure, ecstasy, music, song"||troum m.||*draumă m.||*draumaz (< *draugmaz) m.|
|stien||stone||stane||steen m.||Stein m.||stān m.||stein m.||*staină m.||*stainaz m.|
|bed||bed||bed||bed n.||Bett n.||bedd n.||betti n.||*badjă n.||*badją n.|
Other words, with a variety of origins:
|West Frisian||English||Scots||Dutch||German||Old English||Old High German||Proto-West-Germanic||Proto-Germanic|
ros n. (dated)
|Pferd n. / Ross n.||hors n. eoh m.||(h)ros n. / pfarifrit n. / ehu- (in compositions)||*hrussă n. / *ehu m.||*hrussą n., *ehwaz m.|
Note that some of the shown similarities of Frisian and English vis-à-vis Dutch and German are secondary and not due to a closer relationship between them. For example, the plural of the word for "sheep" was originally unchanged in all four languages and still is in some Dutch dialects and a great deal of German dialects. Many other similarities, however, are indeed old inheritances.
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 living language group to the Anglic languages; the two groups make up the Anglo-Frisian languages group and together with the Low German dialects these form the North Sea Germanic languages. However, modern English and Frisian are not mutually intelligible, nor are Frisian languages intelligible among themselves, due to independent linguistic innovations and foreign influences.
The Germanic languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family spoken natively by a population of about 515 million people mainly in Europe, North America, Oceania and Southern Africa. The most widely spoken Germanic language, English, is also 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 High German languages or High German dialects comprise the varieties of German spoken south of the Benrath and Uerdingen isoglosses in central and southern Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and eastern Belgium, as well as in neighbouring portions of France, Italy, the Czech Republic (Bohemia), and Poland. They are also spoken in diaspora in Romania, Russia, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, and Namibia.
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 century, and the first Old English literary works date from the mid-7th century. After the Norman conquest of 1066, English was replaced, for a time, as the language of the upper classes by Anglo-Norman, a relative of French. This is regarded as marking the end of the Old English era, since during this period the English language was heavily influenced by Anglo-Norman, developing into a phase known now as Middle English.
Low Franconian, Low Frankish, Netherlandic is a linguistic category used to classify a number of historical and contemporary West Germanic varieties closely related to, and including, the Dutch language. Most dialects and languages included within the category are spoken in the Netherlands, northern Belgium (Flanders), in the Nord department of France, in western Germany, as well as in Suriname, South Africa and Namibia.
Proto-Germanic is the reconstructed proto-language of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages.
Old Frisian is a West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries in the area between the Rhine and Weser on the European North Sea coast. The Frisian settlers on the coast of South Jutland also spoke Old Frisian but no medieval texts of this area are known. The language of the earlier inhabitants of the region between the Zuiderzee and Ems River is attested in only a few personal names and place-names. Old Frisian evolved into Middle Frisian, spoken from the 16th to the 19th century.
Low German or Low Saxon is a West Germanic language variety spoken mainly in Northern Germany and the northeastern part of the Netherlands. It is also spoken to a lesser extent in the German diaspora worldwide.
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.
Old Saxon, also known as Old Low German, was a Germanic language and the earliest recorded form of Low German/Low Saxon. 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 that 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.
Frankish, also known as Old Franconian or Old Frankish, was the West Germanic language spoken by the Franks between the 4th and 8th century.
In historical linguistics, the High German consonant shift or second Germanic consonant shift is a phonological development that took place in the southern parts of the West Germanic dialect continuum in several phases. It probably began between the third and fifth centuries and was almost complete before the earliest written records in High German were produced in the eighth century. The resulting language, Old High German, can be neatly contrasted with the other continental West Germanic languages, which for the most part did not experience the shift, and with Old English, which remained completely unaffected.
The Anglo-Frisian languages are the West Germanic languages which include Anglic and Frisian varieties. The Northumbrian Language Society also considers Northumbrian an Anglic language.
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 Germanic, West Germanic and East Germanic, but proposes additionally that North and West Germanic remained as a subgroup after the southward migration of the East Germanic tribes, only splitting into North and West Germanic later. Whether this subgroup constituted a unified proto-language, or simply represents a group of dialects that remained in contact and close geographical proximity, is a matter of debate, but the formulation of Ringe and Taylor probably enjoys widespread support:
There is some evidence that North and West Germanic developed as a single language, Proto-Northwest Germanic, after East Germanic had begun to diverge. However, changes unproblematically datable to the PNWGmc period are few, suggesting that that period of linguistic unity did not last long. On the other hand, there are some indications that North and West Germanic remained in contact, exchanging and thus partly sharing further innovations, after they had begun to diverge, and perhaps even after West Germanic had itself begun to diversify.
Dutch is a West Germanic language, that originated from the Old Frankish dialects.
Franconian or Frankish is a collective term traditionally used by linguists to refer to many West Germanic varieties, most of which are spoken in what formed the historical core area of the Frankish Empire during the Early Middle Ages. Linguistically, there are no typological features that are typical for all the various dialects conventionally grouped as Franconian. As such, it forms a residual category within the larger historical West Germanic Dialect continuum rather than a homogeneous group of closely related dialects. For most of the varieties grouped under "Franconian" the diachronical connection to Old Frankish, the language spoken by the Franks, is unclear.
In linguistics, Old Dutch or Old Low Franconian is the set of Franconian dialects spoken in the Low Countries during the Early Middle Ages, from around the 5th to the 12th century. Old Dutch is mostly recorded on fragmentary relics, and words have been reconstructed from Middle Dutch and Old Dutch loanwords in French.
In historical linguistics, the Germanic parent language (GPL) includes the reconstructed languages in the Germanic group referred to as Pre-Germanic Indo-European (PreGmc), Early Proto-Germanic (EPGmc), and Late Proto-Germanic (LPGmc), spoken in the 2nd and 1st millennia BC.
In historical linguistics, the Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law is a description of a phonological development that occurred in the Ingvaeonic dialects of the West Germanic languages. This includes Old English, Old Frisian, and Old Saxon, and to a lesser degree Old Dutch.