ТОП 10:

Linguistic Features of the Germanic Languages

Phonetic Features

All the Germanic Languages of the past and present have common linguistic features that are not shared by other groups of languages in the Indo-European family (Slavonic group, Romance group, etc.). These features are characteristic of the Germanic group only. They appeared during the period of the Proto-Germanic Language, before it split into a certain number of the Germanic languages. First of all we are going to discuss the common Germanic phonetic features.


Word Stress/Accent

Indo-European (Non-Germanic) Proto-Germanic
1. free stress (movable, i.e. can appear in any part of a word (root, prefix, suffix)); 1. fixed stress (can’t move either in form- or word-building and is usually placed on root or prefix);
2. pitch stress (musical) 2. dynamic stress (force, breath stress)
E.g.: русский E.g.: German English
б`елый `Liebe `white
белизн`а `lieben `whiteness
белов`атый `lieberhaft `whitish
бел`ить ge`liebt `whitewash


The Proto-Germanic type of stress led to the formation of the following peculiarities of the Germanic languages as compared to non-Germanic Indo-European languages:

· phonetic – as a result of the fixed position of the stress the unstressed syllables were becoming weaker and weaker, they got less distinct and neutral sounds (such as “schwa”) appeared;

· morphological – as a result of the fact that the stress was fixed on the root and the syllables following the root were always unstressed and weak, many Germanic languages began to lose suffixes and grammatical endings and became ANALYTICAL LANGUAGES.


E.g.: Old English (OE) [`sunu]

Middle English (ME) [`sunə]

New English (NE) [`sun]

Modern English (ModE) [`sΛn] (the word “son”)




Vowels undergo different types of changes:

1. Qualitative change – affects the quality of a sound (e.g. [o à Λ]).

2. Quantitative change – affects the length of a sound (e.g. [i à i:]).

3. Dependent/positional change– a change that occurs in certain position or in certain phonetic conditions (e.g. bit_ – bite [bit à bait]).

4. Independent/spontaneous change – affects a certain sound in all positions irrespective of phonetic conditions and serves to distinguish a grammatical phenomenon (ablaut) (more about it in Lecture 4).

Main tendencies in Vowel Changes in the Germanic Languages:

1. Short vowels à become neutralized.

2. Long vowels à become short and more open.

à become diphthongized and more closed.


Proto-Germanic Vowel System:

Short Vowels i e a o u
Long Vowels i: e: a: o: u:

Some vowel correspondences between Germanic and on-Germanic Languages:

Sound Correspondence Non-Germanic Germanic
Latin Русский English German Swedish
[a: à o:] mater мать mother - moder
[o à a] nox ночь - Nacht natt
[e à i] ventus ветер wind Wind vind
[u à o] sunus сын son Sohn son


The comparison of the Germanic and non-Germanic languages within the Indo-European family reveals regular correspondences between German and non-German consonants.

First Consonant Shift (Grimm’s Law) –in the 19th Jacob Grimm, a German scholar, discovered the existence of regular correspondence between Indo-European (IE) and German consonants and subdivided them into 3 groups:


Consonant Correspondences Examples
Old Modern
IE PG Non-German (Latin) German (OE) Non-German (Italian, рус.) German (English, German)
[bh,dh,gh] à aspirated voiced stops [b, d, g] non-aspirated voiced stops bhrāta (Hind) brōþor брат brother, Bruder
rudhira(Hind) rēad - red
hostis giest гость guest, Gast
[b, d, g] à voiced stops [p, t, k] voiceless stops/plosives labare pōl болото pool, Pfuhl
decem tīen dieci, десять ten
genu cnēo ginocchio knee, Knie
[p, t, k] à voiceless stops/plosives [f, q, h] voiceless fricatives pedis fōt piedi foot, F
tres þrēo tre, три three
cordis heort cuore heart, Herz


Verner’s Law –Carl Verner, a Danish scholar (19th c.), explained the consonant correspondences as a gradual historical process (a change takes place in the course of time):


Consonant Correspondences Latin OE ModE
1. [p, t, k] à voiceless stops/plosives [f, q, h] à voiceless fricatives [v, ð/d, g] voiced fricatives septem seofen seven
pater fæđer father
socrus swaiho(Gothic) Schwager(Germ)
2. Rhotacism ausis (Lithuanian) Auso (Gothic) ear, Ohr (Germ)
[s] à [z] à [r]

P.S.: these processes usually happened on condition that the consonants were situated between vowels and if preceded by an unstressed vowel.

Modern Examples: seethe – sodden, death – dead, was – were.


Second Consonant Shift –happened in the 9th c. in Old High German and today we can observe it comparing English and German:


Consonant Correspondences English German
1. [t] à à [ts] two zwei
[s] water Wasser
2. [q] à [d] three drei
3. [d] à [t] daughter Tochter
4. [k] à [h] make machen


1. Ex. 3-5, p. 48-49 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies).

Lecture 4

Linguistic Features of the Germanic Languages

Grammatical Features

The Proto-Germanic and the Old Germanic Languages were SYNTHETIC, i.e. the relationships between the parts of the sentience were shown by the forms of the words rather than by their position in the sentence or by auxiliary words.


The grammatical forms of the words were built by means of:

1. Suppletion (inherited from Indo-European) – the usage of 2 or more different roots as forms of one and the same word:

Part of Speech Indo-European Non-Germanic Languages Germanic Languages
Italian русский English German
Personal Pronouns io, mio, mi/me я, меня, мне I, my, mine, me ich, mich, mir
Adjectives buono, migliore, ottimo хороший, лучше, лучший good, better, best gut, besser, bester
Some Verbs essere, sono, e`, ero, saro`, etc. есть, был, будет be, is, are, am, was, were sein, bin, ist, sind, war, gewesen, etc.

2. Inflections(inherited from Indo-European) – though in the Germanic languages inflections were simpler and shorter than in other Indo-European languages.

Let’s take the system of declensionsas an example.In PG it was well-developed but in the Old Germanic languages, due to the stress that was fixed on the root and the weakening of the end of a word as a result, the declensions started to disappear. While the nouns and adjectives still preserved stem-suffixes, they had declensions but once the stem suffixes started to weaken and disappear, the declensions were lost as well and the endings were simplified and got fewer:


Word Structure
PG mak-oj-an root + stem-suffix(word-deriv.) + gram. ending(form-marker)
Old Germanic Languages mac-ian stem(root melted with stem-suffix) + gram. ending


3. Sound Interchange –the usage of interchange of vowels and consonants for the purpose of word- and form-building (e.g.: English: bear – birth, build – built, tooth – teeth; German: gebären – Geburt)

Ablaut/Vowel Gradation – an independent vowel interchange, unconnected with any phonetic conditions (phonetic environment/surrounding) used to differentiate between grammatical forms of one and the same word. The Germanic ablaut was consistently used in building the principle forms of strong verbs.

Jacob Grimm has subdivided all the verbs into two groups according to the way they build their principle forms:


  Strong Verbs (irregular) Weak Verbs (regular)
called so because they have preserved the richness of forms since the time of Proto-Germanic called so because they have lost their old Proto-Germanic forms and acquired new ones
form-building vowel interchange + gram. ending suffix –d/t (a Germanic invention!!!)
E.g. OE reisan – rais – risum – risans macian – macode - macod
  cepan – cepte - cept
ModE rise – rose - risen make – made – made
  keep – kept – kept

H/w:1. Ex. 7-8, on p. 49 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies).

Lecture 5

Old English Period in the History of the English Language

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