The Old Germanic Ls, their classification and principal features. 

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The Old Germanic Ls, their classification and principal features.


Subdivision of the Germanic languages.

The English language belongs to the Germanic languages and the G/L is the brunch of the Indo-European language family. First it was one language, and then ethnic and linguistic disintegration within the G/L put an end to original unity and there appeared 3 subgroups of G/L.

1) East-Germanic subgroup (Gothic, Vandalic, Burgundian); all of them are dead.

2) North-Germanic subgroup (Old-Norse, Old-Scandinavian). Later it became Norwegian, Danish and Swedish. There was Islatic and Faroesa. The linguists say that Faroesa was the language of Vikings.

3) West-Germanic tribes lived in the Ouder in the Albe. And then they spread up the Ruhn. They occupied many territories and they had many dialects: Anglian, Fresion, Saeson, English, German, Dutch, Jutish.

In spite of this subdivisions G/L made a distinct group within the Indo-European linguistic group because the had many features in common.

The Germanic Ls in the Modern world, their classification.

The Germanic Ls in the Modern world are as follows:

English – in GB, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many other former British colonies and dominions: German – Germany, Austria, Luxemburg, Liechtenstein; Netherlandish – in the Netherland, Belgium; Africaans – in the South African Republic; Danish – in Denmark; Swedish – in Sweden and Finland; Norwegian – in Norway; Icelandic – in Iceland; Frisian – in some regions of the Netherlands and Germany; Faroese – in the Faroe Islands; Yiddish – in different countries.

Until recently Dutch and Flemish were named as separate Ls.; Frisian and Faroese are often reffered to as dialects, since they are spoken over small, politically dependent areas; Br E and Am E are sometimes regarded as two independent Ls.

It is difficult to estimate the number of people speaking Germanic Ls, especially on account of English, which in many countries is one of two Ls on a bilingual community. The estimates for English range from 250 to 300 mln people who have it their mother tongue. The total number of people speaking Germanic Ls approaches 440 mln.

All the Germanic Ls are related through their common origin and joint development at the early steges of history.



All the Germanic languages of the past and present have common linguistic features; some of these features are shared by other groups in the IE family, others are specifically Germanic.

Word Stress

It is known that in ancient IE, prior to the separation of Germanic, there existed two ways of word accentuation: musical pitch and force stress. The position of the stress was free and movable, which means that it could fall on any syllable of the word – a root-morpheme, an affix or an ending – and could be shifted both in form-building and word-building. Both these properties of the word accent were changed in PG. Force and expiratory stress became the only type of stress used. In Early PG word stress was still as movable as in ancient IE but in Late PG its position in the word was stabilized. The stress was now fixed on the first syllable, which was usually the root of the word and sometimes the prefix; the other syllables – suffixes and endings – were unstressed. The stress could no longer move either in form-building or word-building.

Consonants. Proto-Germanic consonant shift

The consonants in Germanic look ‘shifted’ as compared with the consonants of non-Germanic Ls. The changes of consonants in PG were first formulated in terms of a phonetic law by Jacob Grimm in the early 19th c. and are often called Grimm’s Law. It is also known as the First or Proto-Germanic consonant shift. Grimm’s Law had three acts: 1. The IE voiceless stops [p], [t], [k] became Germanic voiceless fricatives [f], [th], [x]; 2. IE voiced stops [b], [d], [g] became Germanic voiceless stops [p], [t], [k]; 3. PIE aspirated voice stops [bh], [dh], [gh] became PG voiced stops [b], [d], [g] without aspiration.

Verner’s Law explains some correspondences of consonants which seemed to contradict Grimm’s Law and were for a long time regarded as exceptions. According to Verner’s Law all the early PG voiceless fricatives [f,q,h] which arose under Grimm’s Law, and also [s] inherited from PIE, became voiced between vowels if the preceding vowel was unstressed: f → b, q → d, s → z and h → g.

I-mutation and its traces in Modern E.

Mutation – a change of one vowel to another one under the influence of a vowel in the following syllable.

Palatal mutation (or i-Umlaut) happened in the 6th -7th c. and was shared by all Old Germanic Ls, except Gothic (that’s why later it will be used for comparison).

Palatal mutationfronting and raising of vowels under the influence of [i] and [j] in the following syllable (to approach the articulation of these two sounds). As a result of palatal mutation: [i] and [j] disappeared in the following syllable sometimes leading to the doubling of a consonant in this syllable; new vowels appeared in OE ([ie, y]) as a result of merging and splitting:

before palatal mutation after palatal mutation
a à o à æ à   e
a: à æ:
ŏ/ō à ĕ/ē
ŭ/ū à ŷ/ỹ (labialised) (new!)
ĕă/ēā à ĕŏ/ēō à ĭě/īē (new!)


Language is a variable social phenomenon. It changes through the time. It is a slow uninterrupted process. Changes are not evenly distributed in time: periods of intensive and vast changes may be followed by the periods of relative stability. Consequently, some changes may effect and even reconstruct the whole gr. type of a language, while others are contributing gradually to the trends existing in a language.

H. Sweet subdivided the history of the EL into 3 periods:

  1. the period of full endings (Any vowel could be found in unstressed endings singan-sunu)
  2. the period of leveled endings (All vowels in the unstressed endings were leveled under the letter e singen-sune)
  3. the period of lost endings (Endings were lost all together sing-sun)

However, being a soc. phenomenon, serving for communication, language in its development is effected not only by its inner laws and principles, but by the changes in the society, by social life of the language community. RUS scholars take into consideration both extralinguistic and intralinguistic aspects. the boundaries are attached to the dates of history:

1. OE Period: 7th c. B.C. - Celtic Invasion (Celts), Celtic Dialects; 7th c. B.C. – 410 A.D. - Roman Invasion (Celts, Romans), Celtic Dialects, Latin; mid.5th c. – late 6th c. - Anglo-Saxon Invasion, Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Celtic Dialects, OE Dialects!; 597 - Introduction of Christianity, Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Celtic Dialects, OE Dialects, Latin; after 8th c. - Scandinavian Invasion, Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians (Danes), Celtic Dialects, OE Dialects, Latin, Scandinavian Dialects;

2. ME Period: 1066 - Norman Conquest, Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians, Normans, Celtic Dialects, ME Dialects, Latin, French; late 14th c. - English – official L of the country, the English, ME Dialects, London Dialect (standard);

3. NE Period: 1475 - Introduction of Printing (William Caxton), The English, English (NE); 16th – 17th c. - Expansion of the British Empire, The English, English – national L spreading overseas;

4. Modern English Period: 20th c. - English – a global L.

Some modern linguists distinguish Present day E., influenced by AE. The EModE was a time of great historical importance



Kent (Kentish was spoken in Kent, Surrey, the Isle of Wight), from the tongues of Jutes/ Frisian; Wessex (West Saxon was spoken along the Thames and the Bristol Channel), origin from a Saxon dialect, 9th c. – Wessex was the centre of the English culture and politics. West Saxon – the bookish type of L. The most important dialect in the OE period. (Alfred the Great – the patron of culture and learning); Mercia (Mercian was spoken between the Thames and the Humber), a dialect of north Angles; Northumbria (Northumbrian was spoken between the Humber and the Forth), a dialect of south Angles; 8th c. – Northumbria was the centre of the English culture.

The OE consonant system.

1. Hardening (the process when a soft consonant becomes harder)– usually initially and after nasals ([m, n]):

[ð] → [d]; [v] → [b]; [γ] → [g]

2. Voicing (the process when a voiceless consonant becomes voiced in certain positions) – intervocally and between a vowel and a voiced consonant or sonorant

[f, q, h, s] à [v, ð, g, z] e.g. wul f os (Gothic) – wul f [v] as (OE) (wolves)

3. Rhotacism (a process when [z] turns into [r])

e.g. mai z a (Gothic) – r a (OE) (more)

4. Gemination (a process of doubling a consonant) – after a short vowel, usually happened as a result of palatal mutation (e.g. fu ll an (OE) (fill), se tt an (OE) (set), etc.).

5. Palatalisation of Consonants (a process when hard vowels become soft) – before a front vowel and sometimes also after a front vowel

[g, γ, k, h] à [g’, γ’, k’, h’] e.g. c [k’] ild (OE) (child); ecζ [gg’] (OE) (edge), etc.

6. Loss of Consonants: sonorants before fricatives (e.g. fi m f (Gothic) – fīf (OE) (five)); fricatives between vowels and some plosives (e.g. s æ ζ de (early OE) – s æ de (late OE) (said)); loss of [j] – as a result of palatal mutation (see examples above); loss of [w] (e.g. case-forms of nouns: s æ (Nominative) – s æ w e (Dative) (OE) (sea).


10/ 11. Great Vowel Shift – the change that happened in the 14th – 16th c. and affected all long monophthongs + diphthong [au]. As a result these vowels were: diphthongized; narrowed (became more closed); both diphthongized and narrowed.

ME Sounds → NE Sounds: [i:] → [ai]; [e:] → [i:]; [a:] → [ei]; [o:] → [ou]; [u:] → [au]; [au] → [o:].

This shift was not followed by spelling changes, i.e. it was not reflected in written form. Thus the Great Vowel Shift explains many modern rules of reading.

Short Vowels (ME Sounds→ NE Sounds): [a] → [æ] (that [qat] → that [ðæt], man [man] → man [mæn]); [a] → [o] after [w]!! (was [was] → was [woz], water [‘watə] → water [‘wotə]); [u] → [Λ] (hut [hut] → hut [hΛt], comen [cumen] → come [cΛm]).

There were exceptions though, e.g. put, pull, etc.

Vocalisation of [r]: It occurred in the 16th – 17th c. Sound [r] became vocalised (changed to [ə] (schwa)) when stood after vowels at the end of the word. Consequences: new diphthongs appeared: [εə], [iə], [uə]; the vowels before [r] were lengthened (e.g. arm [a:m], for [fo:], etc.); triphthongs appeared: [aiə], [auə] (e.g. shower [‘∫auə], shire [‘∫aiə]).


Affixation in OE.

· In OE the vocabulary mainly grew by means of word-formation. prefixation – was a productive way (unlike in ModE):

- IE prefixes (OE un- (negative));

- Germanic prefixes (OE mis-, be-, ofer-(over-));

- prefixes were widely used with verbs, but were far less productive with the other parts of speech (e.g. OE ζān (to go) – ā-ζān (to go away) – be-ζān (to go round) – fore-ζān (to precede), etc.);

- prefixes often modified lexical meaning (e.g. OE siþ (journey) – for-siþ (death));

- there were grammatical prefixes, e.g ζe-:

o was used to build Participle 2 of strong verbs (e.g. OE sitten (to sit) – ζesett (sat), etc.);

o turned durative verbs into terminative (e.g. OE feran (to go) – ζeferan (to reach), etc.).

· suffixation – was the most productive way, mostly applied to nouns and adjectives, seldom to verbs.

Classification of OE suffixes:

1. Suffixes of agent nouns (-end (OE frēond (friend)), -ere (OE fiscere (fisher)), -estre (feminine) (OE b æ cestre (female baker)), etc.);

2. Suffixes of abstract nouns (-t (OE siht (sight)), -þu (OE lengþu (length)), -nes/nis (OE beorhtnes (brightness), blindnis (blindness)), -unζ/inζ (OE earnunζ (earning)), etc.);

3. Adjectival suffixes (-iζ (OE hāliζ (holy)), -isc (OE mannisc (human)), -ede (OE hōcede (hooked)), -sum (OE lanζsum (lasting)) etc.);

4. New suffixes derived from noun root-morphemes (-dōm (OE frēodōm (freedom)), -hād (OE cīldhād (childhood)), -lāc (OE wedlāc (wedlock)), -scipe (OE frēondscipe (frendship)), etc.);

New suffixes derived from adjective root-morphemes (-lic (OE woruldlic (worldly)), -full (OE carfull (careful)), -lēas (OE sl ǽ plēas (sleepless)), etc.).

French loan-words in ME.

After the Norman Conquest the main spheres of the Latin L remained: church; law; academic activities.

French became the official L of administration (it was used in the king’s court, in the law courts, in the church (as well as Latin), in the army, by the nobles in the south of England).

English was the L of common people in the Midlands and in the north of England. It still remained the L of the majority who were the representatives of the lower classes of society and never learned French, so the Norman barons had to learn English to be able to communicate with locals and soon English regained its position as the L of the country.

In ME the main donors of borrowings to English were French and Scandinavian Ls:

French borrowings started to penetrate from the South and spread northwards.

Ways of Borrowing: French borrowings penetrated through oral and written speech and at first were adopted only by the high strata of the society (French was the L of the administration, king’s court, law courts, church (as well as Latin) and army).

Assimilation of Borrowings: French borrowings were more difficult to assimilate as far as French was a Romance L while English was a Germanic one (they belonged to different L groups). So they two Ls differed in some essential features (stress/accent, vocalic system, etc.) and the assimilation was hard.

Semantic Fields: government and administration (assembly, authority, council, to govern, office, nation, etc.); feudal system (baron, countess, duke, feudal, noble, etc.); military (aid, arms, army, battle, defeat, force, etc.); law (crime, court, jury, justice, false, defendant, etc.); church (abbey, Bible, chapel, clergy, grace, etc.); art, architecture (chimney, palace, colour, figure, design, etc.); entertainment (pleasure, leasure, sport, dance, cards, etc.); address (madam, sir, mister, etc.).

Recognition in ModE: French borrowings are often recognisable due to some phonetic, word-building and spelling peculiarities: oi, oy (point, joy, toy, etc.); initial v (very, voice, etc.); -age (village, carriage, etc.); c as [s] (pierce, city, etc.).

Contributions: French borrowings enlarged the English vocabulary (a lot of new words); Some French borrowings replaced the native words (very, river, easy,etc.); French borrowings enlarged the number of synonyms in English: native to hide – Fr. borr. to conceal, native wish – Fr. borr. desire, native smell – Fr. borr. odour, etc; Some French affixes were borrowed into English (com-, sub-, dis-, -ment, -ish, -able, etc.).

Borrowings in NE.

In addition to the three main sources — Greek, Latin and French, English speakers of the NE period borrowed freely from many other Ls. It has been estimated that even in the 17th c. the English vocabulary contained words derived from no less than fifty foreign tongues. The main contributors to the vocabulary were Italian, Dutch, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Russian. A number of words were adopted from Ls of other countries and continents, which came into con­tact with English: Persian, Chinese, Hungarian, Turkish, Malayan, Polynesian, the native Ls of India and America.

Borrowings from Germanic Ls are of special interest as English is a Germanic L too. The influence of Scandinavian in Early ME has certainly remained unsurpassed and the unique con­ditions of close L contacts were never repeated. By the 15th— 16th c. the Germanic Ls had driven far apart;

Dutch made abundant contribution to English, particularly in the 15th and 16th c, when commercial relations between England and the Netherlands were at their peak. They specialised in wool weaving and brewing, which is reflected in the Dutch loan-words: pack, scour, spool, stripe (terms of weaving); hops, tub, scum. Extensive borrowing is found in nautical terminology: bowline, buoy, cruise, deck, dock, freight, keel, skipper. The flourishing of art in the Netherlands accounts for some Dutch loan-words relating to art: easel, landscape, sketch.

The earliest Russian loan-words entered the English L as far back as the I6th c, when the English trade company (the Moskovy Company) established the first trade relations with Russia. English borrowings adopted from the 16th till the 19th c. indicate ar­ticles of trade and specific features of life in Russia, observed by the English:, beluga, intelligentsia, muzhik, rouble, samovar, troika, tsar, vodka.

The loan-words adopted after 1917 reflect the new social relations and political institutions in the USSR: bolshevik, Komsomol, Soviet. Some of the new words are translation-loans: collective farm, Five-Year-Plan, wall newspaper.





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