Meaning of GERMANIC LANGUAGES in English

a branch of the Indo-European language family. Scholars often divide the Germanic languages into three groups: (1) West Germanic, including English, German, and Netherlandic; (2) North Germanic, including Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Faroese; and (3) East Germanic, now extinct, comprising only Gothic and the languages of the Vandals, Burgundians, and a few other tribes. The Germanic languages are grouped together because of strong similarities in phonology, grammar, and vocabulary, and all are thought to have derived from one ancient language. Though there are no records of this language, its structure can be surmised by comparing the several Germanic languages. Proto-Germanic kept the three genders of Proto-Indo-European but reduced the eight cases to six and added adjective declensions. It reduced the five moods of the parent language to three (indicative, imperative, and subjunctive) and simplified the four-tense system to a simple division between present and past, from which future and perfect tenses were derived. The Germanic languages were the only ones to develop a system of weak verbs with a d suffix to form the past tense. Germanic is also separated from the other Indo-European languages through a consonant shift whereby stops (p, t, k) became continuous sounds (the fricatives f, th, h); compare Latin pater and English father. Proto-Germanic is divided into branches. The East Germanic languages were spoken in the region centred on what is now Poland. All are extinct, though fragments remain of Gothic. The West Germanic languages developed around the North Sea and in overseas areas colonized by inhabitants of the area. This division includes six modern languages: English, Frisian, Netherlandic, Afrikaans, German, and Yiddish. English ranks second today among the world's languages in number of native speakers (after Chinese) and is the world's most widely used second language. Frisian, which shares many of the sound shifts that distinguish English from the other Germanic languages, is spoken today in the northern Netherlands and northwestern Germany. Netherlandic is the name given to the Dutch spoken in The Netherlands and the Flemish spoken in Belgium, which are in fact the same standard language, though dialectical differences are more prominent in Belgium. The derivative of Netherlandic spoken in South Africa, Afrikaans, is a partially creolized language. German is the national language of Germany and Austria and one of the official languages of Switzerland. After English, German is one of the world's most widely used second languages. High German is believed to have separated from the Low GermanNetherlandic languages about the 6th century, the result of what is traditionally called the High German consonant shift. Early written German was heavily influenced by Latin, and as trade increased during the late Middle Ages, German borrowed heavily from French. In the modern period, written German has become increasingly standardized, though the spoken language still shows more dialectical differences than English. Yiddish was for centuries the language of the Jews of central and eastern Europe. Though Germanic, it includes elements from Romance, Hebrew-Aramaic, and Slavic languages. There were about 11 million speakers of Yiddish before World War II, but large numbers were killed during the Nazi Holocaust, and the language is now almost dead in western Europe. The third main branch of the Germanic languages is the North Germanic, or Scandinavian, languages, which extended as far west as Greenland and as far east as Russia during the Viking expansion of the early Middle Ages. The establishment of the Christian church in the region in the 11th and 12th centuries brought the introduction of Latin letters to replace the old runic alphabet. The continental Scandinavian languages were strongly influenced by Low German during the late Middle Ages, but Icelandic and Faroese were not. Danish was the first modern Scandinavian language to emerge. After Sweden separated from Denmark in the 16th century, Swedish was standardized and spread with the country's expansion in the next century. Today Swedish is also one of the official languages of Finland. Icelandic and Faroese form a distinct, insular branch of Scandinavian, preserving Old Scandinavian grammar to a considerable degree. Icelandic has also been highly resistant to the adoption of foreign words. Norway has two official languages: Nynorsk, or New Norwegian, which was standardized in the mid-19th century by the linguist Ivar Aasen; and Bokml, or Dano-Norwegian, which is more widely used and represents a compromise between standard Danish and southeast Norwegian dialects. Faroese, the language of the Faroe Islands, was established as a written language in the mid-19th century on the basis of the spoken dialects and with a strongly historical and etymologizing orthography. Typologically it can be placed between Icelandic and New Norwegian. Distribution of the Germanic languages in Europe. branch of the Indo-European language family. Scholars often divide the Germanic languages into three groups: West Germanic, including English, German, and Netherlandic; North Germanic, including Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Faroese; and East Germanic, now extinct, comprising only Gothic and the languages of the Vandals, Burgundians, and a few other tribes. In numbers of native speakers, English, with 450 million, clearly ranks 4th among the languages of the world (after Mandarin, Hindi, and Spanish); German, with some 98 million, probably ranks 10th (after Bengali, Arabic, Portuguese, Russian, and Japanese). To these figures may be added those for persons with another native language who have learned one of the Germanic languages for commercial, scientific, literary, or other purposes. English is unquestionably the world's most widely used second language. See table for information on each of the modern standard Germanic languages. The earliest historical evidence for Germanic is provided by isolated words and names recorded by Latin authors beginning in the 1st century BC. From approximately AD 200 there are inscriptions carved in the 24-letter runic alphabet. The earliest extensive Germanic text is the (incomplete) Gothic Bible, translated about AD 350 by the Visigothic bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila) and written in a 27-letter alphabet of the translator's own design. Later versions of the runic alphabet were used sparingly in England and Germany but more widely in Scandinaviain the latter area down to early modern times. All extensive later Germanic texts, however, use adaptations of the Latin alphabet. See table for the names and approximate dates of the earliest recorded Germanic languages. The Germanic languages are related in the sense that they can be shown to be different historical developments of a single earlier parent language. Although for some language families there are written records of the parent language (e.g., for the Romance languages, which are variant developments of Latin), in the case of Germanic no written records of the parent language exist. Much of its structure, however, can be deduced by the comparative method of reconstruction (a reconstructed language is called a protolanguage; reconstructed forms are marked with an asterisk). For example, a comparison of Runic -gastiz, Gothic gasts, Old Norse gestr, Old English giest, Old Frisian iest, and Old Saxon and Old High German gast guest' leads to the reconstruction of Proto-Germanic *gastiz. Similarly, a comparison of Runic horna, Gothic haurn, and Old Norse, Old English, Old Frisian, Old Saxon, and Old High German horn horn' leads scholars to reconstruct the Proto-Germanic form *hornan. Such reconstructions are, in part, merely formulas of relationship. Thus, the Proto-Germanic *o of *hornan in this position yielded au in Gothic and o in the other languages. In other positions (e.g., when followed by a nasal sound plus a consonant) *o yielded u in all the languages: Proto-Germanic *dumbaz, Gothic dumbs, Old Norse dumbr, Old English, Old Frisian, and Old Saxon dumb, Old High German tumb dumb.' What may be deduced is that this vowel sounded more like u in some environments, but like o in others; it may be written as *u~o, with the tilde indicating that it varied between these two pronunciations. The above example shows that such reconstructions are more than mere formulas of relationship; they also give some indication of how Proto-Germanic actually sounded. Occasionally scholars are fortunate enough to find external confirmation of these deductions. For example, on the basis of Old English cyning, Old Saxon and Old High German kuning king,' the Proto-Germanic *kuningaz can be reconstructed; this would seem to be confirmed by Finnish kuningas king,' which must have been borrowed from Germanic at a very early date. By pushing the comparative method still farther back, it can be shown that Germanic is related to a number of other languages, notably Celtic, Italic, Greek, Baltic, Slavic, Iranian, and Indo-Aryan (Indic). All these language groups are subsequent developments of a still earlier parent language for which there are, again, no written records but which can be reconstructed as Proto-Indo-European (see Indo-European languages). William G. Moulton Anthony F. Buccini Additional reading The developments from Indo-European to Proto-Germanic and on to the daughter Germanic languages are treated in Herman Hirt, Handbuch des Urgermanischen, 3 vol. (193134); Eduard Prokosch, A Comparative Germanic Grammar (1939); Hans Krahe, Germanische Sprachwissenschaft, 7th ed., edited by Wolfgang Meid, 3 vol. (196769); Ludwig Erich Schmitt (ed.), Kurzer Grundriss der germanischen Philologie bis 1500, 2 vol. (197071); Frans van Coetsem and Herbert L. Kufner (eds.), Toward a Grammar of Proto-Germanic (1972); Paolo Ramat, Introduzione alla linguistica germanica (1980), also available in a German translation, Einfhrung in das Germanische (1981); Joseph B. Voyles, Early Germanic Grammar: Pre-, Proto-, and Post-Germanic Languages (1992); and Frans van Coetsem, The Vocalism of the Germanic Parent Language: Systemic Evolution and Sociohistorical Context (1994). The question of early dialect grouping is discussed in Hans Frede Nielsen, The Germanic Languages: Origins and Early Dialectal Interrelations (1989). Sketches of the earliest attested stages of the individual languages are given in Orrin W. Robinson, Old English and Its Closest Relatives: A Survey of the Earliest Germanic Languages (1992); and discussions of earlier stages and descriptions of the modern languages are found in Johan van der Auwera and Ekkehard Knig (eds.), The Germanic Languages (1994). William G. Moulton Anthony F. Buccini

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