Showing posts with label structure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label structure. Show all posts

21 December 2014

About Germanic languages: overview

Map: Germanic, Romance & Slavic language-groups (mapsource)

Published, edited, images added and comments/annotations (in red) by Kenneth S. Doig)

article from:

About World Languages

(websource) httpnic-branch


Germanic languages are spoken by close to 470-million people in many parts of the world, but mainly in Europe and the Western Hemisphere. 

All modern-Germanic (Gmc) languages derive from a common-ancestor traditionally referred to as *Proto-Germanic, (PGmc) believed to have broken off from other *Proto-Indo-European (PIE) languages some time before 500 B.C. 

Although no written documents in PGmc have survived, the language has been substantially reconstructed by using the oldest existing records. 
Compared to *PIE, **PGmc had a relatively simpler nominal morphology. For instance, it dropped the dual-number, and reduced the number of cases from eight to four. 

On the other hand, the verbal morphology of *PI survived relatively intact in all modern Gmc languages, although there are fewer strong (irregular) verbs today.

Some 50 modern Gmc languages are spoken today (Ethnologue) .
They are usually divided into two groups.
West-Germanic "WGmc"
# of speakers Spoken primarily in
Afrikaans 6.2 million 1st, 10 million 2nd language speakers South Africa
Dutch (including Flemish) 21 million Netherlands, Belgium
Zeeuws 220,000 Netherlands
Low Saxon (10 varieties) 995,000 Netherlands, Germany, Canada
English 341 million 1st, over 1 billion 2nd language speakers British Commonwealth countries, U.S.
Frisian Western
Frisian Eastern
Frisian Northern
German 95 million 1st, 28 million 2nd language speakers Germany
Lower Silesian no estimate available Poland
Upper Saxon 2 million Germany
Luxembourgeois 390,000 Luxembourg
Mainfränkisch no estimate available Germany
Pennsylvania 85,000 USA
Pfälzisch no estimate available Germany
Limburgisch 1.5 million Netherlands
Kölsch 250,000 Germany
Scots 200,000 United Kingdom
Yiddish under 2 million Israel, U.S.
North-Germanic "NGmc" (Norse, Scandinavian)
# of speakers Spoken primarily in
Danish 6 million Denmark
Faroese 45,000 Faroe Islands (Denmark)
Icelandic 230,000 Iceland
Norwegian 5 million Norway
Swedish 8.8 million Sweden
East Germanic
# of speakers Spoken primarily in
Gothic extinct Ukraine, Bulgaria
Norse is another name for the North-Germanic, NGmc, or Scandinavian group of languages. These languages all stem from an earlier, now extinct, language known as Old-Norse that was spoken by the Gmc tribes living in Scandinavia before 1000 A.D. 

Today, the differences among the dialects within Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are often greater than the differences across their borders, but the political independence of these countries leads them to be classified as separate languages.

The following Germanic languages have official status. An official language is one that is given a privileged legal status in a state, or other legally-defined political entity. 

Some countries have only one official language, e.g., Norway, while others may have several, e.g., the Netherlands. Some countries, e.g., the U.S.A, have no official language.

South Africa (along with 11 other languages)
Denmark, Faeroe Islands, Greenland
Netherlands (with Frisian), Belgium (with French and German), Suriname, Netherlands Antilles, Aruba
UK and British Commonwealth Countries, US and its territories, other countries on all continents (total 53 countries)
Netherlands (with Dutch)
Austria, Belgium (with Dutch and French), Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg (with French and Luxembourgish), South Tyrol (with Italian), Switzerland (with French, Italian, and Rhaeto-Romansch)
Sweden, Finland (with Finnish)
In addition, German is one of the 23 official languages of the European Union and one of the three working languages of the European Commission, along with English and French.


All Gmc languages have undergone some common sound-changes:
  • First Germanic sound-shift "FGSS" (Grimm’s law) "GL"

  • You probably know of Jacob Grimm as the author of fairy tales. But he was also one of the great linguists of the 19th century. He found evidence for the unity of all the modern Gmc languages in the phenomenon known as the FGSS or Grimm’s law, which set the Gmc branch apart from the other branches of the Indo-European "IE" family. 

  • This soundshift, (putatively) occurred before the 7th century BC. (There are no written records of any Gmc tongue before c. 200 AD) According to Grimm’s law, the shift occurred when /p, t, k/ in the classical Indo-European languages (Latin, Gaulish, Persian, Greek, Sanskrit, etc.) became/ f, t, h/ in Germanic languages. 

  • For example, Latin pater > English father, Latin cornu > English horn.

  • Second Gmc consonant-shift (High-German consonant-shift)
    The Second consonant-shift took place probably beginning between the 3rd-5th centuries AD, and was almost complete before the earliest written records in the High German language were made in the 9th century. 

  • It occurred in High German (spoken in mountainous areas) which gave rise to today’s Standard German. Low German dialects were not affected by the Second Consonant Shift. 

  • Here are some examples: classical IE /k, t, p/ became /h, th, f/ in English and /h, d, fin German. For example, Latin frater > English brother and German Bruder.classical IE /g, d, bbecame /k, t, p/ in English and /kh, ts, f/ in German. For example, Latin decem > English ten and German zehn.
Most modern Gmc languages have a large phonemic vowel-inventories consisting of 14-16 vowels. Vowel-length typically distinguishes word-meaning, and there is a contrast between rounded and unrounded front vowels in many of the Germanic languages.
Modern Germanic languages have fairly similar consonant systems consisting of 20-22 phonemes.

All Germanic languages are characterized by a shift of stress to the root and later to the first syllable of the word. Though English has an irregular stress pattern, native words always have a fixed stress, regardless of what is added to them. In addition, some Germanic languages have a pitch accent, e.g.,Norwegian and Swedish).
All Germanic languages are synthetic, i.e., they add suffixes to roots and stems to express grammatical relations. However, they differ from each other in how conservative or how progressive each language is with respect to preserving the inflectional system of *Proto-Germanic. 

For instance, German, Dutch and Icelandic, have preserved much of the complex inflectional morphology of inherited from *Proto-Germanic. Others, like English, Swedish, Yiddish, and Afrikaans have lost most of the inflections.
Some of the general features of Germanic nouns are listed below.
  • All Germanic languages have two numbers: singular and plural.
  • Majority of Germanic languages have two genders: masculine and feminine. German, Dutch, and Icelandic have preserved the neuter gender.Dutch has two two genders – common (masculine and feminine) and neuter.
  • Case inflections have all but disappeared in most Germanic languages, with the exception of German, and Icelandic that have retained four cases: nominative, accusative, dative and genitive.
  • All Germanic languages have strong (irregular) and weak (regular) nouns. Strong nouns have a change in the root vowel, e.g., English foot(singular) and feet (plural).
  • All Germanic languages have a definite and indefinite article. The definite article may precede the noun or be suffixed to the noun, e.g., in Icelandic.
  • Many Germanic languages form the possessive by the addition of -s or -es, for example, English man, man’s; German Mann, Mannes.
  • In most Gmc languages, articles and adjectives agree with nouns in gender and case in the singular; there is no gender distinction in the plural.
  • In some (most) Gmc languages adjectives have strong and weak endings.
  • Personal pronouns have retained some case distinctions even if these were lost in the nouns, e.g., English.
Below are some general features of 
Gmc verbs.
  • All Gmc languages have strong and weak verbs. Strong verbs form the past tense and past participle by changing the rootvowel, for example, English ring, rang, rung; German ringen, rang, gerungen. 

  • Weak verbs add an ending -d/-ed/-t, for example English talk, talked, talked;German fragen, fragte, gefragt.
  • Verbs are conjugated based on person (lst, 2nd, 3rd) and number (singular and plural).
  • Verbs have simple and numerous compound tenses formed with auxiliary verbs such as have in English and haben in German.
  • There are three moods: indicative, subjunctive/conditional, and imperative.
  • There are two voices: active and passive.
Word order is best described in terms of the position of the verb in 
Gmc clauses. It occupies final position in subordinate clauses, and first or second position in main clauses. 

The position of all other sentence constituents is relatively free. This feature is shared by all Gmc languages, except English, which has a Subject-Verb-Object word-order.
Most words in 
Gmc languages are derived from *PGmcGmc languages have also borrowed from neighboring languages, and especially from Latin and Greek, as well as from each other. Much of its scientific terminology has Greek and Latin roots. 

The latest source of loanwords is English. Words are frequently formed by compounding, suffixation and prefixation, e.g., German Weihnachtsmann (literally ”Holy-Night-Man,’ i.e., ‘Santa Claus’), English antiestablishmentarianism.
Below are some common expressions in various Germanic languages, showing the similarities and differences among them.

English hello good bye please thank you yes/no
Afrikaans hallo totsiens asseblief dankie ja/nee
Dutch hallo tot ziens alstublieft dankjewe ja/nee
Danish hej farvel behage tak ja/nej
German hallo auf Wiedersehen bitte danke ja/nein
Icelandic góðan dag bless gjörðu svo vel takk fyrir /nei
Norwegian hallo farvel vær så snill takk ja/nei
Swedish hej hej då behaga tack ja/nej
Yiddish gut-morgn a gutn tog zay azoy gut A dank ye/neyn
Below are the numerals 1-10 in major Gmc languages.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
English one two three four five six seven eight nine ten
Afrikaans een twee drie vier vyf ses sewe agt nege tien
Dutch een twee drie vier vijf zes zeven acht negen tien
Danish en to tre fire fem seks syv otte ni ti
German eins zwei drei vier fünf sechs sieben acht neun zehn
Icelandic einn tveir þrir fjórir  fimm sex sjo ötta níu tíu
Norwegian en, ein to tre fire fem seks sy åtte ni ti
Swedish ett två tre fyra fem sex sju åtta nio tio
Yiddish eyns tswei dray fier finfef zeks zibn ahet nayn tsen


The earliest evidence of Germanic writing comes from names recorded in the 1st century by Tacitus. From roughly the 2nd century AD, certain speakers of early Germanic dialects developed the Elder-Futhark, an early form of the runic alphabet, some examples of which go back to the 3rd century AD.

It is thought that the runes were based on an Etruscan-related alphabet, adapted to represent the sounds of Germanic languages and styled to allow carving on wood, stone, and metal. 

Each rune not only represents a sound but also has a special meaning frequently connected with Norse mythology. 

For instance, the image on the left, called Ansuz, was most often associated with Odin, the chief god of Norse mythology, the Viking equivalent of Zeus, the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology.
Early runic inscriptions were largely limited to personal names, and difficult to interpret. 

Later, Christian priests and monks who spoke and read Latin in addition to their native Gmc dialects began writing the Gmc languages with slightly modified Latin letters. 
However, throughout the Viking-Age, runic alphabets remained in common use in Scandinavia.

Today, Gmc languages use the standard 26-letter Latin alphabet expanded to include extra letters to represent vowel sounds.
Below is Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in several major Gmc languages.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Universele Verklaring van Menseregte
Artikel 1
Alle menslike wesens word vry, met gelyke waardigheid en regte, gebore. Hulle het rede en gewete en behoort in die gees van broederskap teenoor mekaar op te tree.
Universele verklaring van de rechten van de mens
Artikel 1
Alle mensen worden vrij en gelijk in waardigheid en rechten geboren. Zij zijn begiftigd met verstand en geweten, en behoren zich jegens elkander in een geest van broederschap te gedragen.
Mannréttindayfirslýsing Sameinuðo Þjóðanna

1. grein.
Hver maður er borrinn frjáls og jafn öðrum að virðing og réttindum. Menn eru gæddir vitsmunum og samvizku, og ber þeim að breyta bróðurlega hverjum við annan.
Verdebserklaeringen om MenneskrrettighederneArtikel 1.
Alle mennesker er tødt frie og lige i værdghed og rettigheder. De er udstyret men tornuft og samyttighed, og de bør handle mod hverandre i en broderskabets ånd.
Die Allgemeine Erklärung der Menschenrechte

Artikel 1
Alle Menschen sind frei und gleich an Würde und Rechten geboren. Sie sind mit Vernunft und Gewissen begabt und sollen einander im Geist der Brüderlichkeit begegnen.
Norwegian Bokmål
Verdemserkæringen om mennesker ettighetene
Artikkel 1.
Alle mennesker er fød frie og med samme menneskeverd og menneskerettigheter. De er utstyrt med fornuft og samvittighet og bør handle mot hverandre i brorskapets ånd.
Norwegian Nynorsk
Den internasjonale frasegna om mennesker ettane
Artikkel 1.
Alle menneske er fødde til fridom og med same menneskeverd og menneskerettar. Dei har fåt fornuft og samvit og skal leve med kvarandre som brør.
Allmän Förklaring om de Mänskliga Rättigheterna

Artikel 1.
Alla människor är födda fria och lika i värde och rättigheter. De är utrustade med förnuft och samvete och bör handla gentemot varandra i en anda av broderskap.


How difficult is it to learn Germanic Languages?
Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch,Norwegian and Swedish are considered to be Category I languages in terms of difficulty for English speakers (24 weeks of full-time instruction to reach ILR S-3). German is somewhat more difficult (30 weeks). Icelandic is considered to b
e Category III language (44 weeks).

Good folks who follow this blog