English as a Germanic language


Main points:



            Most common words tend to resist analogy: e.g. was, were


Basic content:

            IE languages families:    Greek, Italic, Celtic, Slavic

            West/East divergence: *k

                        West: remained, e.g. Latin centum

East: *k->s (e.g. Indo-Iranian, Balto-Slavic)

            Gmc one of the last to split off

                        -some archaeological evidence

                        -references in classical texts


Germanic innovations:


            Lexicon:           New words perhaps reflect

                                                -change of culture: word for leader of large group of people

                                                -words picked up along the way: Latin

            Morphology:     ’Weak’ verb conjugation: tense marked with dental suffix

                                                -tense now distinctive parameter

                                    ‘Weak’ adjectives:

                                    Loss of some case endings

Phonology:       Transformation of IE stops

                        -obscures relationships among Germanic and other IE families

                        Word-initial stress

                                    -alliterative poetry

            Graphics:          Runic alphabet: disagreement over origins

-Strang: more cosmopolitan and learned mind than ‘scratching in wood’ might imply


English as a Germanic language


From your reading of you’ll know that IE has been subclassified into different ‘families’, with a broad distinction between west and east. The distinction is epitomized by the different developments of IE *k-

§         East: *k -> s: epitomized by the word for ‘hundred’ in one of the languages, satem

o       Eastern families include Indo-Iranian, Balto-Slavic

§         West: retained, and epitomized by Latin word centum ‘hundred’

o       Families include Italic, Hellenic, Celtic, Germanic

§         Germanic one of the last to split off


Evidence for existence of the Germanic family

§         archaeological: around the third millennium BC in modern Denmark/southern Sweden, apparent arrival of an archaeologically distinct group called the ‘battle-ax’ culture

o       some of them seem to have started to migrate out of this original homeland before about 300BC

§         North Germanic people stayed in Scandinavia

§         East Germanic people (Vandals, Goths, etc.) went east and south

o       Italy, Spain, North Africa

§         West Germanic: ancestors of German, Dutch, English

§         textual: around 200 BC, writings of Greek and Roman historians

o       Caesar c50BC, Tacitus 98AD

o       Germanic tribes had a tendency to wander and invade: Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Nor(th)men

§         runic: after second half of second century, runic inscriptions of Germanic peoples themselves


And of course linguistic




Common core of IE words

New words specific to Germanic culture

Others plundered from Roman empire





General trend

Some innovations not always in the direction of ‘reduction’


Big development wrt to verbs


Big development with respect to adjectives (though because it didn’t survive into EmodE seems like less of a big deal)



Common Gmc phonology was very different from Common IE

o       stress

o       phonological system


Remember that IE had a lot of stops and not many fricatives (/s/ but not /f/ or /th/)

Gmc transformed the IE stops. Broadly,


Known as Grimm’s law, this explains systematic differences like the ones on your list of cognates


There were some exceptions:

o       with the voiceless stops, the change was blocked by a preceding /s/

o       so, *p->f in father, but not with spit (Latin spuo) or star (stella) or scalp (scalpo)

o       others harder: IE /t/ sometimes became /θ/, but sometimes became /d/

o       IE *BHRAter became OE broðor (there’s been subsequent voicing)

o       IE *paTER became OE faeder (and mater became modor)

§         turned out to be corrlated with word stress

·        if the consonant (here, /t/) was preceded by an UNSTRESSED vowel (like paTER)

·        and if it’s surrounded by voiced sounds (any vowel)

o       then it gets voiced


The changes all had to happen in a particular order


And it’s interesting to contemplate where some OE words beginning with /p/ came from


Another major change in Gmc was the shift in word stress to the first syllable of the word (unless it was a prefix)


Implications of stress shift




Distinctively Germanic alphabet called runes or (system) futhark


Each letter was named after a noun that began with the sound represented by the character

Called futhark after the first letters (cf abcdef)


Disagreement over their origins/inspiration: Latin? Greek via the Goths? Etruscan?


Designed probably for scratching into things: aren’t curved


Relatively few early inscriptions:

Most of the meaningful ones name objects or owners:


Developed over time