ТОП 10:

Classification of the Germanic Languages

There are different classifications of the languages but as far as we deal with the history of the language we will consider genealogical classification. It is based on the conception that all the languages

can be classified according to their origin.

There are different points of view on the problem of language origin. Some scholars try to prove that there existed one universal language from which all the other languages stem.


The theory of William Allman(1990):


Proto-Germanic Language (one of the 12 groups of languages belonging to Indo-European family that stemmed from the common Indo-European Language)  
Indo-European Language 8 000 years ago Turkey
Nostratic Language 14 000 years ago The Near East
Proto-World Language 200 000 years ago Africa


Modern classification of the Germanic Languages:


North Germanic Languages West Germanic Languages East Germanic Languages
1. Swedish (spoken in Sweden and Finland by 9 mill. people) 1. English(spoken by 300 mill. people as a mother tongue + millions speak it as a second language 1. Gothic (dead)
2. Norwegian (spoken in Norway by 5 mill. people) 2. German(spoken by 100 mill. people in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Lichtenstein)  
3. Danish (spoken in Denmark by 5 mill. people) 3. Dutch/Netherlandish (spoken by 20 mill. people in the Netherlands and some parts of Belgium)  
4. Icelandic(spoken in Iceland by 250 thou. people) 4. Frisian(spoken by 400 thou. people in some parts of the Netherlands and Germany and some islands in the North Sea)  
5. Faroese(spoken in the Faroe Islands (north-east Atlantic) by 40 thou. people) 5. Luxemburgish(spoken by 350 thou. people in Luxemburg and some parts of Germany and France)  
  6. Yiddish(spoken by Jews in different countries in Europe and America, is actually a mixture of the Southern Germanic Dialects, Hebrew and Slavonic elements)  
  7. Afrikaans(spoken by 3 mill. people in the South African Republic, combines English, Dutch and African elements)  

The Place of the English Language in the Modern World

(see the text “English as a World Language” in “Horizons” by Е.П. Михалева)



1. § 3-5, p. 10-12 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева.

2. § 74-87, p. 50-54 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева.

3. “English as a World Language” in “Horizons” by Е.П. Михалева.

4. Ex. 1, p. 48 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева.

Lecture 2

First Mention of the Germanic Tribes

As far as the English Language belongs to the Germanic group of languages, this group makes a part of the History of the English Language and we are going to consider the whole group before starting to speak about English itself.

The first scholars to mention the Germanic tribes in their works were:

1. Pitheas (4th c. B.C.) – a Greek historian and geographer, the work “An Account of a Sea Voyage to the Baltic Sea”.

2. Julius Caesar (1st c. B.C.) – a roman Emperor, the work “Commentaries on the Gallic War”.

3. Pliny the Elder (1st c. A.D.) – a Roman scientist and writer, the work “Natural History” (contained the classification of the Germanic tribes).

4. Tacitus (1st c. A.D.) – a Roman historian, the work “Life and Customs of the Ancient Germans”.

Proto-Germanic Language

The Proto-Germanic Language (PG) is supposed to have split form the Indo-European Language (IE) some time between 15th and 10th c. B.C.The Ancient Germans (the Teutons) moved further north and settled on the southern coast of the Baltic Seaand in the region of the Elbe.

The Proto-Germanic Language has never been recorded in written form. In the 19th c. it was reconstructed by means of comparative linguistics.

With time the dialectal differences among the Germanic tribes grew because of the migration and geographical expansion. The reasons for this migration and expansion were:

· overpopulation in the areas of the original settlement;

· poor agricultural techniques;

· scanty natural resources in the areas of the original settlement;

The earliest migration of the Germanic tribes from the region of the Elbe was to the Scandinavian Peninsula.As a result, 2 branches of the Proto-Germanic Language appeared:

· southern branch (those who remained in the region of the Elbe);

· northern branch (those who moved northwards, to the Scandinavian Peninsula).

Later some of the tribes returned to the mainland and settled east of the other Germanic tribes. As a result, the Proto-Germanic Language split into 3 branches:

· East Germanic Languages (those who returned and settled in the east);

· North Germanic Languages(those who moved northwards, to the Scandinavian Peninsula, and stayed there);

· West Germanic Languages(those who never left the mainland).

Old Germanic Languages:

East Germanic Languages

The East Germanic tribes were known as the Goths. They were one of the most numerous and powerful Germanic tribes who returned form Scandinavia around 200 A.D. and settled in the east of Europe. The Goths were subdivided into two major branches:

· Visigotæ(lived on the territory of present-day France) – linguistically were absorbed by the Romanised Celts and spoke their Celtic Dialects;

· Ostrogotæ(lived on the territory of present-day northern Italy) – they spoke the Gothic Language (now dead).

Other East Germanic tribes (Burgundians, Vandals, Langobards) also had their respective languages.


1. It had the oldest written records4th – 6th c. A.D.(compare, Old English – 7th c., Old High Germanic – 8th c.).

2. The Goths were the first Germans to become Christians. In the 4th c. A.D Ulfilas, a Gothic bishop, translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic using a modified form of the Greek Alphabet. “Ulfilas’ Gospels”is a work of 200 pages copied in the 5th – 6th c. Now this copy is kept in Uppsala (Sweden) and is known as “The Silver Codex” because it is written an red background with silver and golden letters.

3. The Gothic, having the earliest written records among the Germanic Languages, is considered to be very close to the Proto-Germanic Language and thus throws some light on the history of this common Proto-Germanic Language.

North Germanic Languages

The North Germanic tribes settled on the southern coast of Scandinavia and in Northern Denmark (since the 4th c. A.D.). They lived relatively isolated and showed little dialectal variation at that time.

There existed one common languageOld Norse/Old Scandinavian. It had the following characteristics:

· It used the original Germanic Alphabet called the Runes/the Runic Alphabet. It appeared in the 3rd – 4th c. A.D. It has come down to us in runic inscriptions– separate words written/carved on objects made of wood, stone, metal (more about it in Lecture 7).

· It was spoken by all North Germanic tribes.

In the 9th – 10th c. A.D.the Scandinavians started their voyages to America and islands in the Atlantic Ocean (Leif Ericson, a Scandinavia raider, was the first to land on the American Continent). In addition to this overpopulation in the fjord areas caused the migration of the people to inner Scandinavia. This provoked the beginning of the linguistic differentiation. In Scandinavia the linguistic division corresponded to the political division: there were 3 kingdoms (Sweden, Denmark and Norway) that were constantly fighting for dominance and they had 3 respective languages (earliest records in these languages date back to the 13th c.):

· Old Danish –later it developed into Danish (now the national language of Denmark);

· Old Swedish - later it developed into Swedish (now the national language of Sweden and a part of Finland);

· Old Norwegian – was the last to develop, later transformed into Norwegian (now the national language of Norway).

In the 8th c. A.D.sea-rovers and merchants founded numerous colonies on the islands in the North Sea and in the Atlantic Ocean (the Shetland Islands, the Orkneys, the Faroe Islands) and reached even Iceland and Greenland. Thus two more North Germanic languages appeared:

· Faroese(In the Faroe Islands the writing was done in Danish for centuries. The first written records in Faroeseappeared only in the 18th c.);

· Icelandic (9th c. A.D.)


1. The isolation of Iceland caused the preservation of archaic vocabulary and grammatical system.

2. The preservation of archaic vocabulary and grammatical system makes this language very close to Old Norse and helps to reconstruct this ancient common Germanic language.

3. Icelandic has the largest body of written texts (12th – 13th c.), e.g.:

– “The Elder Edda” (12th c.) – a collection of heroic songs;

– “The Younger Edda” (13th c.) – a text-book forpoets;

– Old Icelandic Sagas.

West Germanic Languages

The West Germanic tribes lived between the Oder and the Elbe and they never left the mainland. They were:

· the Franconians(Low, Middle and High Franconians) – settled the lower basin of the Rhine and with time began to speak the language of the Romanised Celts, apart from Low Franconians who spoke Old Low Franconianthat later developed into à Dutch;

· the Angles, the Saxons, the Jutes and the Frisians– settled the coastal territories of the Netherlands, Germany, the south of Denmark and the British Isles. The languages they spoke were:

Old English– later developed into à English (national language – 16th c.; first written records – 7th c.);

Old Saxon – later developed into a territorial dialect in Germany;

Old Frisian– later developed into à Frisian

· High Germans – settled the southern mountainous areas of Germany and spoke Old High Germanthat later developed into two distinctive languages:

à German:

– is known for great dialectal diversity;

– first written records – 8th – 9th c.;

12th c. – literary form of the language appears.

à Yiddish(see classification of the Germanic Languages, Lecture 1.)


1. Ex. 2, 6; p. 48, 49 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies) (see also lectures on the history on the British Isles (The British Cultural Studies)).

Lecture 3

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