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Germanic language
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Germanic language

The Germanic languages form one of the branches of the Indo-European (IE) language family, spoken by the Germanic peoples who settled in northern Europe along the borders of the Roman Empire. They are characterised by a number of unique linguistic features, most famously the consonant change known as Grimm's law.

Table of contents
1 Writing
2 Linguistic Markers
3 Family tree
4 Comparison of Selected Terms
5 See also
6 External links


Some early Germanic languages developed runic alphabets of their own, but use of these alphabets was comparatively limited. East Germanic languages were written in the Gothic alphabet developed by Bishop Ulfilas for his translation of the Bible into Gothic. Later, Christian priests and monks who spoke and read Latin in addition to their native Germanic tongue began writing the Germanic languages with slightly modified Latin letters.

In addition to the standard Latin alphabet, various Germanic languages use a variety of accent marks and extra letters, including umlauts, the (Eszett), , , , Ð, ȝ, and Þ and ƿ, from runes. Historic printed German is frequently set in a distinctive typeface called Fraktur.

Linguistic Markers

Some unique features of Germanic languages are:
  1. The levelling of the IE tense system into past and present (or common)
  2. The use of a dental suffix (/d/ or /t/) instead of vowel alternation (ablaut) to indicate past tense.
  3. The presence of two distinct types of verb conjugation: weak (regular) and strong (irregular). English has 161 strong verbs; all are of native English origin.
  4. The use of strong and weak adjectives. Modern English adjectives don't change except for comparative and superlative; this was not the case with Old English, where adjectives were inflected differently depending on whether they were preceded by an article or demonstrative, or not.
  5. The consonant shift known as Grimm's Law.
  6. A number of words with etymologies that are difficult to link to other Indo-European families. See Non-Indo-European roots of Germanic languages.
  7. The shifting of stress onto the root of the stem. Though English has an irregular stress, native words always have a fixed stress regardless of what's added to them. This is arguably the most important change.

Family tree

All Germanic languages are thought to be descended from a hypothetical Proto-Germanic. Note that divisions between subfamilies of Germanic are rarely precisely defined; most form continuous clines, with adjacent dialects being mutually intelligible and more separated ones not.

Mentioned here are only the principal or unusual dialects; individual articles linked to below contain larger family trees. For example, many Low Saxon dialects are discussed on Low Saxon besides just Standard Low Saxon and Plautdietsch.

Comparison of Selected Terms

Several of the terms in the table below have had semantic drift. For example, the form 'Sterben' and other terms for 'die' are cognate with the English word 'starve'. There is also at least one example of a common borrowing from a Non-Germanic source (ounce and its cognates from Latin).
English Afrikaans Danish Dutch Faroese German Gothic Icelandic Scots Swedish Yiddish
Apple Appel ble Appel Súrepli Apfel Aplus Epli Aiple Äpple Epl
Board Bord Brt Bord Borð Brett baúrd Borð Buird Bräde  
Book Boek Bog Boek Bók Buch Bóka Bók Beuk Bok Bukh
Breast Bors Bryst Borst Bróst Brust Brusts Brjóst Breest Bröst Brust
Brown Bruin Brun Bruin Brúnt Braun Bruns Brúnn Broun Brun  
Day Dag Dag Dag Dagur Tag Dags Dagur Day Dag Tog
Die Sterf D Sterven Doyggja Sterben Diwan Deyja Dee  
Enough Genoeg Nok Genoeg Nóg Genug Ga-nóhs Nóg Eneuch Nog Genug
Give Gee Give Geven Geva Geben Giban Gefa Gie Giva Geben
Glass Glas Glas Glas Glas Glas   Gler Gless Glas Gloz
Gold Goud Guld Goud Gull Gold Gulþ Gull Gowd Guld  
Hand Hand Hånd Hand Hánd Hand Handus Hönd Haund Hand Hant
Head Kop Hoved Hoofd Høvd/høvur Haupt/Kopf Háubiþ Höfuð Heid Huvud Kop
High Hoog Hj Hoog Hg/ur Hoch Háuh Hár Heich Hög Hoykh
Home Heim Hjem Thuis Heim Heim Háimóþ Heim Hame Hem Heym
Hook Haak Krog Haak Haken Haken   Krkur Heuk Haka  
House Huis Hus Huis Hús Haus Hús Hús Hoose Hus Hoyz
Many Menige Mange Menig Nógv Viel Manags Margir Mony Många  
Moon Maan Måne Maan Máni Mond Ména Tungl Muin Måne Levone
Night Nag Nat Nacht Nátt Nacht Nahts Nótt Nicht Natt Nakht
No Nee Nej Nee Nei Nein/N Nei Nae Nej Neyn
Old Oud Gammel Oud Gamal/Gomul Alt Sineigs Gamall Auld Gammal Alt
One Een En Een Eitt Eins Áins Einn Ane En Eyn
Ounce Ons Ons Unze   nsa Unce Uns  
Snow Sneeu Sne Sneeuw Kavi Schnee Snáiws Snjór Snaw Snö Schney
Stone Steen Sten Steen Steinur Stein Stáins Steinn Stane Sten  
That Dat Det Dat Hetta Das Þata Þetta That Det Dos
Two Twee To Twee Tvey Zwei Twái Tveir Twa Två Tsvey
Who Wie Hvem Wie Hvr Wer Has Hver Wha Vem Ver
Worm Wurm Orm Worm Ormur Wurm Maþa Ormur Wirm Mask Worem

See also

External links