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13
    English as a Germanic Language
                                             R. D. Fulk




Although English has borrowed much vocabulary from non-Germanic languages,
particularly French and Latin, it remains a Germanic language not just in its core
vocabulary of everyday words, but in its sounds and in its structure. The Germanic
roots of the language are nowhere plainer than in its phonology. In 1822, Jacob
Grimm (1785–1863) demonstrated a regular phonological difference between the
Germanic family of languages and the other Indo-European languages. In general,
voiceless stop consonants such as /p, t, k/ in the other Indo-European languages appear
as the corresponding voiceless fricatives in the Germanic languages: for example, Latin
pater, tres = Present-Day English (PDE) father, three. Likewise, voiced stops such as /b,
         ¯
d, g/ in the other languages correspond to Germanic voiceless stops /p, t, k/, as with
Latin duo, gens = PDE two, kin. And the Indo-European consonants reconstructed as
the voiced aspirated stops /bh, dh, gh, ghw/ appear in Germanic as voiced fricatives:
to Sanskrit mádhu-, nábhas-, compare Icelandic mjöðr ‘mead’, Old English nifol ‘dark’
(where f represents a voiced sound [v]), though at the beginning of a word or after a
nasal consonant we find instead voiced Germanic stops, as in bear and bind (compare
Sanskrit bhárati and bándhati, respectively). The correspondences are the result of a
phonological change, now referred to as “Grimm’s law,” that affected Proto-Germanic,
the prehistoric Indo-European language from which the Germanic languages descend.
The law is charted in table 13.1, where /þ/ and /ð/ represent the sound of PDE th in
think and this, respectively; /χ/ is a voiceless velar fricative (developing to h where
preserved in PDE) like that in Scottish loch and German Nacht; / / is the voiced
equivalent of this (as in Danish kage); and /ß/ is similar to /v/ (to which it develops
in PDE), but it is formed with both lips rather than with teeth and lips together (as
in Spanish cabo).
   So regular is the correspondence of sounds that it made a profound impression,
inspiring the formulation of similar “sound-laws” and the reconstruction of protolan-
guages – in essence spawning Western linguistics as a science, since diachronic change
and consistency of explanation were the preoccupations of nineteenth-century
linguistics.

A Companion to the History of the English Language Edited by Haruko Momma and Michael Matto
© 2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. ISBN: 978-1-405-12992-3
English as a Germanic Language                             143

Table 13.1    Grimm’s law (somewhat simplified)
             Proto-Indo-European              ➝ Germanic
             labial dental velar labialized                  labial dental velar labialized
Voiceless p        t       k       kw
                                              ➝ Voiceless    f     þ       χ        χw
stop                                            fricative
Voiced    b        d       g       gw         ➝ Voiceless    p     t       k        kw
stop                                            stop
Aspirated bh       dh      gh      ghw        ➝ Voiced       ß/b   ð/d         /g    w
                                                                                         /gw
stop                                            fricative/
                                                stop


    English shares with the other Germanic languages a number of further phonologi-
cal innovations that differentiate it from the rest of the Indo-European family. The
resonants /l, r, m, n/ could be syllabic in Proto-Indo-European (PIE) (as they are
word-finally, for instance, in PDE bottle, mitten, etc.), with various results in non-
Germanic languages; only in Germanic do the syllabic varieties regularly become /ul,
ur, um, un/, as in spurn (compare Sanskrit sprnóti ‘wards off’) and Old English wulf
                                                 ..
‘wolf’ = Sanskrit vrkah < PIE *wlkwos. Among other vowel changes, PIE o became
                    . .             .
Germanic a, as expressed in the PDE spellings yard (= Old Icelandic garðr, compare
Latin hortus, Greek córtos) and what (= Old Icelandic hvat, German was, compare
                             -
Latin quod). Likewise, PIE a became Germanic ¯ , spelt o in PDE mother (= Old Ice-
                                                    o
landic móðir, compare Latin ma  -ter) and (el)bow (= Old Icelandic bógr, compare Doric
Greek pacus).
         ˜
    A certain prosodic (accentual) change had a more profound effect: in Proto-
Germanic, the accent shifted to the initial syllable in most word classes, but to the
root syllable in verbs. The regularity is less clearly observable in PDE than in some
other Germanic languages, due to the later influx of foreign (chiefly Romance) vocabu-
lary; but to the verbs undergó, outwéigh, uplíft, with unstressed prefixes, compare the
nouns úndertow, óutbuilding, úpdraft, with initial stress. A result of the shift of accent
is that final and other unstressed syllables tended to weaken and disappear over time,
making most native English words relatively short by comparison to their cognates
(their near genetic relations in other Indo-European languages). For example, the
monosyllabic verb melts is equivalent to trisyllabic Sanskrit márdati, and young is
cognate with trisyllabic Latin juvencus. The accent shift also is implicated in a change
known as “Verner’s law” (named after the Danish linguist Karl Verner, 1846–96),
whereby the fricative consonants /f, þ, s, χ/ were voiced after originally unstressed
vowels. This explains many seeming exceptions to Grimm’s law, for example Old
English soden ‘boiled, sodden’ (instead of expected *soþen) < PIE *sutonós. Alternations
caused by Verner’s law were still found in Old English, but in PDE (where Germanic
/z/, voiced from /s/ by Verner’s law, has become /r/) the only remaining alternations
are between <s> and <r> in the spellings was : were and lose : forlorn.
144                                     R. D. Fulk

    The morphology of English and its Germanic relatives also differs from that of
other IE languages in systematic ways. The verb system in PIE was particularly rich
and complex, expressing two voices, four moods, and perhaps as many as six tenses.
Aside from a few relic formations, the Germanic languages have reduced this system
to one voice (active, though Gothic, the most conservative of the Germanic languages,
also preserves the medio-passive voice), three moods (indicative, subjunctive, impera-
tive), and two formal tenses (present and preterite [i.e., past], though English has
subsequently developed further distinctions by the use of auxiliaries). More important,
methods of forming verb stems in Proto-Indo-European were remarkably varied. For
example, a present stem might be characterized by reduplication of the initial conso-
nant and insertion of a vowel, creating an extra, initial syllable (e.g., Greek dí-dw-mi
‘I give’, root dw-) or by infixation of n in the root (e.g., Latin frango ‘I break’; compare
                                                                       ¯
perfect fregı, without the n; PDE has the similar relic stand : stood) or by the addition
           ¯¯
of a suffix such as *-sk- or *-yo- before the personal ending (e.g., Latin [g]no-sc-o ‘I get
                                                                                 ¯ ¯
to know’ : perf. [g]no-vı; Sanskrit náh-ya-ti ‘binds’) or by use of the bare root (e.g.,
                        ¯ ¯
Sanskrit é-ti ‘goes’) or root plus connecting vowel (e.g., Sanskrit bhár-a-ti ‘bears’). In
addition, in different moods and tenses the root might show “ablaut” – the term refers
to the alternation of vowels in PIE itself – resulting in PDE series like ride, rode, ridden
and grow, grew, grown. This complex PIE system was simplified considerably in Ger-
manic, where stem types came to be characterized less by infixes and stem-forming
suffixes than by a limited number of ablaut types (in essence, seven). Thus, for
example, all verbs that resembled Proto-Germanic *rıðanan (PDE ride, like drive, rise,
                                                         ¯
write, etc.) formed their tenses the same way. These seven classes of verbs correspond
roughly to the PDE “irregular verbs,” though the distinctions among the seven classes
are much harder to discern in PDE than in OE, and now the principal parts of these
verbs must for the most part be learned individually rather than deduced from com-
parison to similar verbs.
    Yet even in Proto-Germanic these seven classes of “strong” verbs came to be closed
classes, in the sense that although they contained verbs that formed their principal
parts the same way (the way PDE sing, sang, sung is analogous to ring, rang, rung), they
were unproductive: new verbs could not be added to these classes. Rather, new verbs
entering the language were added to the classes of “weak” verbs, a morphological
innovation that distinguishes the Germanic languages from the rest of the Indo-Euro-
pean group. These are the verbs that in PDE add -ed in the past tense and the passive
participle, along with any others that add an alveolar (dental) stop consonant in the
past tense, such as bring, brought; have, had; and make, made (even though these are now
treated as “irregular verbs”). Thus, like PDE nail, nailed are German nageln, nagelte,
Danish nagle, naglede. The origin of the dental suffix used in the past tense is disputed,
but one explanation often advocated is that it is a form of the verb do. If this is correct,
then a past tense form like nailed could be said to derive from the Proto-Germanic
equivalent of nail-did.
    Another morphological characteristic of the Germanic group is the development
of preterite-present verbs. Already in Proto-Indo-European some perfect forms had
English as a Germanic Language                           145

present meaning, e.g. *woida ‘I know’, literally ‘I have seen’, a perfect form of the
root *wid- (cf. Latin present video ‘I see’). In Germanic, because these verbs were per-
                                    ¯
ceived as expressing present-tense meanings, new preterites of the weak variety were
developed for them, though the presents were still largely inflected like preterites –
that is, they followed the ablaut alternations of preterite verbs and had preterite
endings attached. For example, the Old English verb sceal ‘shall’, inflected in the
present tense like the preterite of a strong verb, has the preterite sceolde, inflected like
a weak verb. In PDE, several of these verbs survive as modal auxiliaries, chiefly can,
may (past might), must, and shall. These modal auxiliaries are set apart from other verbs
in that they take no ending -s in the third person singular of the present (e.g., she can
vs. she writes; this is a relic of preterite inflection in the present tense), they do not
require the support of the verb do to form a question or a negative statement (e.g.,
Must they? vs. Do they know? and they must not vs. they do not know), and accompanying
infinitives are not preceded by to (e.g., can go vs. wants to go). In addition to can, may,
must, and shall, some other, moribund relics of the Old English preterite-present verbs
are found, including some of the older uses of dare and need (as in Dare I say it? and
Need this be a bad sign?).
    In regard to the declension of nouns and adjectives – that is, the addition of endings
to indicate grammatical relations within the sentence – PIE had a system of at least
eight cases, as in Sanskrit. In Germanic the number was reduced, so that in Old
English we find, really, four cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, and dative, which
are the cases of the subject, direct object, possessor, and indirect object, respectively),
though there are scant remains of a fifth (instrumental, indicating means). With the
loss of inflectional endings over the course of the medieval period, English relin-
quished all case endings in adjectives and all but the possessive ending -s (now spelt
-’s and -s’) in nouns, though a wider variety of case-forms survives in pronouns (I, me,
my, mine, etc.). Germanic developed another “strong” and “weak” distinction, quite
different from the one in verbs, in regard to the inflection of adjectives. Thus, for
example, the adjective god ‘good’ is inflected as follows in the singular with strong
                            ¯
masculine endings: nominative god, accusative godne, genitive godes, dative godum.
                                      ¯               ¯                ¯             ¯
With weak endings, however, the forms are nominative goda, accusative, genitive, and
                                                             ¯
dative godan. Nearly all early Germanic adjectives may bear either strong or weak
         ¯
inflections, depending on whether or not nouns they modify are definite. A noun is
definite when it refers to a particular individual or item or subset of the totality of
extant items. Thus, for example, in PDE, nouns preceded by the, this, that or a pos-
sessive pronoun like my or their are definite, while nouns preceded by a(n) or no article
are usually indefinite (exceptions: Shakespeare, Chicago, outer space). In some Germanic
languages, weak adjectives are still used with definite nouns and strong with indefinite
ones, for example German der junge Mann ‘the young man’ vs. ein junger Mann ‘a young
man’. This was the situation in Old English (compare se goda mann ‘the good person’:
                                                               ¯
god mann ‘a good person’), though the endings of all English adjectives were gradually
 ¯
lost in the course of the Middle Ages, resulting in elimination of the distinction. Even
the definite article itself is an innovation in Germanic, since Proto-Indo-European had
146                                    R. D. Fulk

no articles. PDE the developed from a PIE demonstrative pronoun whose reflex (result-
                                                                                  - ¯
ing form) in OE might still be rendered ‘that’ or ‘this’, or not at all (as in þa hwıle þe
we þæt lıf habbað ‘[for] the while that we have life’, i.e., ‘for as long as we live’). The
  ¯      ¯
rise of definite articles is clearly a late development in Germanic, as shown by the fact
that the articles differ considerably from one Germanic language to another: in Ice-
landic, for example, the definite article derives from a source distinct from the source
of PDE the, and it is commonly attached as a suffix, as in bók-in = the book.
    As for the order of elements in clauses and sentences, the most notable feature is
the general tendency in the Germanic languages for finite verbs (i.e., verb forms other
than infinitives and participles) to appear as the second constituent in independent
clauses (so-called V2 order). The first constituent may be a word or a phrase, for
example a prepositional phrase, as in þy ilcan geare forðferde Carl Francena cyng ‘[In]
                                             ¯       ¯       ¯
that same year died Charlemagne, king of the Franks’. In Old English, V2 order was
a strong tendency rather than a firm rule (as it is in Icelandic and German). Element
order in English has subsequently become fixed in the pattern subject-verb-object
(SVO), but in PDE there survive relics of the older, less rigid system, with an element
other than the subject before the verb, for example In the tree lived two owls and Up
jumped the prosecutor and “Hello,” said the parrot. The Germanic languages are also inno-
vative in respect to methods of forming relative clauses.
    The differences between the Germanic languages and the rest of the Indo-European
group – and only a few such differences have been described above – are thus fairly
striking. There are similarly regular differences among the Germanic languages them-
selves, and although these differences are usually a bit subtler, they point to certain
subgroupings within the Germanic family. The family can be sectioned into three
subdivisions, East, North, and West Germanic. The East Germanic division is repre-
sented by Gothic only (hence it is extinct), the North Germanic by the Scandinavian
languages (excluding Finnish and Lappish, which are not Indo-European), and the
West Germanic by German (High and Low), Yiddish, Dutch, Flemish, Afrikaans,
Frisian, English, and older varieties of these, such as Middle English and Old Low
Franconian (a type of older Dutch). The relations among the three Germanic groups
are debated, since there are certain features that East Germanic shares only with West
Germanic (e.g., the form of the verb ‘have’: Gothic haban, German haben, etc., vs.
Icelandic eiga, Swedish äga, etc.), and certain ones that it shares only with North
Germanic (e.g., the ending -t in the second person singular preterite of strong verbs:
                                                                   -
Gothic and Old Icelandic namt ‘you took’ vs. OE nome, OHG na mi, etc.). But the most
                                                       ¯
striking resemblances are those between North and West Germanic, leading most
linguists to assume that the two groups descend from a common protolanguage,
Northwest Germanic, from which East Germanic was separated at a fairly early date.
This analysis is represented by the Stammbaum or genealogical tree in figure 13.1.
    A few of the most obvious commonalities are these. Gothic retains the Proto-Indo-
European method of reduplication (addition of an initial syllable that begins with the
same consonant as the verb root, as explained above in regard to Greek dí-dw-mi) to
mark the preterite of certain verbs (those of the seventh ablaut class): for example,
English as a Germanic Language                                     147

                                                        Proto-Germanic



                                        Northwest Germanic                    East Germanic

                                                                                  Gothic

                          West Germanic                                    North Germanic


       Anglo-Frisian        Low German          High German          West Norse        East Norse

     English    Frisian   New Low German New High German              Icelandic         Danish
                              Dutch          Yiddish                 Norwegian          Swedish
                             Flemish                                   Faroese
                            Afrikaans

Figure 13.1 One version of a genealogical model (Stammbaum) of the descent of the Germanic languages


Gothic haitan ‘command’ has the pret. sg. haihait. In Northwest Germanic, although
there are a few relic reduplicated forms, the system of forming the preterite of these
verbs has been changed fundamentally, so that we find, for example, OE het ‘com- ¯
manded’ beside the rare older, reduplicated heht. A few of the other developments
common to Northwest Germanic are loss of the medio-passive voice (mentioned above
as preserved in Gothic); development of /z/ to /r/ (“rhotacism”), as in PDE more, Old
Icelandic meira = Gothic maiza; retention of Verner’s law alternations (lost in Gothic);
                               e     -
backing of Proto-Germanic ¯ to a (to Gothic redan ‘advise’, compare Old Icelandic
                                                 ¯
ráða, German raten); and the development of umlaut vowels, i.e., front varieties of
back vowels when i or j followed in the next syllable (e.g., to German Brüder, Old
Icelandic brœðir, PDE brethren, with front vowels in the first syllable, compare Gothic
broþrjus, with a back vowel). But chronological differences may be involved in the rise
  ¯
of some of these features, and linguistic changes may extend over wide swaths of ter-
ritory, affecting more than one language group at once, so that the genetic or
“Stammbaum” model of a language’s direct descent from a protolanguage, without
horizontal contact among languages in a family tree, is an oversimplification of the
way that languages actually develop. It may be, after all, that there never was a
Northwest Germanic protolanguage.
    As for developments specific to West Germanic, distinguishing it from both
Gothic and the Scandinavian languages, a simple difference is the development of ð
to d: to Icelandic ríða, glaður compare PDE ride, glad. But the most significant pho-
nological development characterizing West Germanic is consonant gemination (dou-
bling) between a short vowel and a resonant consonant, particularly /j/: to Gothic
satjan, Old Icelandic setja ‘set’, compare Old English settan, Old Saxon settian; and to
Old Icelandic epli ‘apple’, compare Old English æppel, Old Frisian appel. Before /j/,
only /r/ is not so geminated; hence Gothic nasjan, harjos = Old English nerian ‘save’
                                                          ¯
(with rhotacism), herias ‘armies’.
148                                      R. D. Fulk

    The West Germanic group comprises three divisions, Anglo-Frisian, Low German,
and High German, often said to correspond roughly to the tripartite division of
Ingaevones, Istaevones, and Herminones asserted by the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus
in his Germania (ca. 98 ce). (The term “Ingvaeonic,” assuming Tacitus’ Ingaevones is
a spelling error, is often applied in the literature to all the West Germanic languages
excluding High German, though now it tends to be employed less usefully as a
synonym for “Anglo-Frisian.” The Low German varieties in question show Ingvaeonic
features to varying degrees.) The Anglo-Frisian group includes English and Frisian,
a language now restricted to about 300,000 speakers in the northwestern Netherlands,
including coastal islands, though formerly the Frisians occupied the entire coast from
the Zuider Zee to southern Jutland. English and Frisian share several features that set
them apart from the other West Germanic languages. For example, both show front-
ing of long and short West Germanic a (to German Saat, Sack, the latter with the
sound [a], roughly as in father, compare PDE seed, sack, Frisian sied, sek); monophthon-
gization of Germanic ai (to German breit, compare PDE broad, Frisian breed); and pala-
talization and affrication of velar consonants adjacent to certain front vowels and glides
(to German gelten, Kirche, with initial stop consonants, compare PDE yield, church,
Frisian jilde, tsjerke). Frisian is thus the language most closely related to English. The
similarities between the two have sometimes been overstated in the popular literature,
but a Frisian rhyme puts the matter succinctly: Buuter, breea, in griene tjiiz / is goe Ingels
in goe Fries ‘Butter, bread, and green cheese / is good English and good Frisian’.
    Among the West Germanic languages, English and Frisian are the most clearly
differentiated from High German; languages like New Low German and Dutch show
High German features in varying degrees. One High German feature is preservation
of the postvocalic consonant clusters mf, ns, nþ. In Anglo-Frisian and in some Low
German varieties, the nasal consonant in these groups is lost, with compensatory
lengthening of the preceding vowel: to PDE soft, five, us, mouth, with loss of the nasal
consonant, compare Old High German samfto, fimf, uns, mund. But the feature that
most markedly sets off the High German dialects from the rest of the West Germanic
group is the High German Consonant Shift, a systematic change of consonants com-
parable to Grimm’s law. Word-initially, the stop consonants /p, t, k/ become affri-
cates: to PDE pipe, tide compare German Pfeife, Zeit. Elsewhere in the word they
become fricatives: to PDE ship, water, make compare German Schiff, Wasser, machen.
And voiceless geminate stops become affricates: to OE æppel, settan compare German
Apfel, setzen ‘apple, set’. Of some further developments in this consonant shift, those
still attested in the modern standard language are the change of initial /d/ to /t/ (to
PDE drink, compare German trinken) and of /þ/ to /d/ (to PDE thank, compare NHG
danken).
    Thus, already in the Old English period, English occupied a relatively peripheral
position in the West Germanic division. This is because the features that most clearly
define the Anglo-Frisian group are consistently linguistic innovations, evidencing
evolution away from the remainder of the West Germanic group, such as fronting of
/a/ to /æ/ (as in hat, thatch) and affrication of original /k, g/ (as in church, singe). The
English as a Germanic Language                                      149

peripheral status of English becomes even clearer when changes specific to Old English
and to the later language are taken into account (on which see phonology: segmen-
tal histories).


                             References and Further Reading

Bammesberger, A. (1992). The place of English in       Hopper, P. J. (1975). The Syntax of the Simple Sen-
  Germanic and Indo-European. In R. M. Hogg               tence in Proto-Germanic. The Hague: Mouton.
  (ed.), The Cambridge History of the English Lan-     Krahe, H. & Meid, W. (1969). Germanische Sprach-
  guage, Vol. 1: The Beginnings to 1066 (pp. 26–66).      wissenschaft. 7th edn. 3 vols. Berlin: de
  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.                  Gruyter.
Beekes, R. S. P. (1995 [1990]). Comparative Indo-      Luick, K. (1914–40). Historische Grammatik der
  European Linguistics. Trans. UvA Vertalers & P.         englischen Sprache. 2 vols. Stuttgart: Tauchnitz.
  Gabriner. Amsterdam: Benjamins.                      Noreen, A. (1923). Altisländische und altnorwegische
Braune, W. (1987). Althochdeutsche Grammatik.             Grammatik. 4th edn. Halle: Niemeyer.
  14th edn. revd. by H. Eggers. Tübingen:              Prokosch, E. (1938). A Comparative Germanic
  Niemeyer.                                               Grammar. Baltimore: Linguistic Society of
Brunner, K. (1965). Altenglische Grammatik nach           America.
  der angelsächsischen Grammatik von Eduard Sievers.   Robinson, O. W. (1992). Old English and Its Closest
  3rd edn. Tübingen: Niemeyer.                            Relatives. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Campbell, A. (1959). Old English Grammar. Oxford:      Russ, C. V. J. (1978). Historical German Phonology
  Clarendon Press.                                        and Morphology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Collinge, N. E. (1985). The Laws of Indo-European.     Steller, W. (1928). Abriss der altfriesischen Gram-
  Amsterdam: Benjamins.                                   matik. Halle: Niemeyer.
Fulk, R. D. (1998). The chronology of Anglo-           Streitberg, W. (1900). Urgermanische Grammatik.
  Frisian sound changes. Amsterdamer Beiträge zur         Heidelberg: Winter.
  älteren Germanistik, 49, 139–54.                     Szemerényi, O. J. L. (1996 [1990]). Introduction to
Gallée, J. H. (1993). Altsächsische Grammatik. 3rd        Indo-European Linguistics. Trans. D. M. Jones &
  edn. revd. by H. Tiefenbach. Tübingen:                  I. Jones. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  Niemeyer.                                            Wright, J. (1954). Grammar of the Gothic Language.
Hogg, R. M. (1992). A Grammar of Old English,             2nd edn. revd. by O. L. Sayce. Oxford: Claren-
  Vol. 1: Phonology. Oxford: Blackwell.                   don Press.

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English as a Germanic Language

  • 1. 13 English as a Germanic Language R. D. Fulk Although English has borrowed much vocabulary from non-Germanic languages, particularly French and Latin, it remains a Germanic language not just in its core vocabulary of everyday words, but in its sounds and in its structure. The Germanic roots of the language are nowhere plainer than in its phonology. In 1822, Jacob Grimm (1785–1863) demonstrated a regular phonological difference between the Germanic family of languages and the other Indo-European languages. In general, voiceless stop consonants such as /p, t, k/ in the other Indo-European languages appear as the corresponding voiceless fricatives in the Germanic languages: for example, Latin pater, tres = Present-Day English (PDE) father, three. Likewise, voiced stops such as /b, ¯ d, g/ in the other languages correspond to Germanic voiceless stops /p, t, k/, as with Latin duo, gens = PDE two, kin. And the Indo-European consonants reconstructed as the voiced aspirated stops /bh, dh, gh, ghw/ appear in Germanic as voiced fricatives: to Sanskrit mádhu-, nábhas-, compare Icelandic mjöðr ‘mead’, Old English nifol ‘dark’ (where f represents a voiced sound [v]), though at the beginning of a word or after a nasal consonant we find instead voiced Germanic stops, as in bear and bind (compare Sanskrit bhárati and bándhati, respectively). The correspondences are the result of a phonological change, now referred to as “Grimm’s law,” that affected Proto-Germanic, the prehistoric Indo-European language from which the Germanic languages descend. The law is charted in table 13.1, where /þ/ and /ð/ represent the sound of PDE th in think and this, respectively; /χ/ is a voiceless velar fricative (developing to h where preserved in PDE) like that in Scottish loch and German Nacht; / / is the voiced equivalent of this (as in Danish kage); and /ß/ is similar to /v/ (to which it develops in PDE), but it is formed with both lips rather than with teeth and lips together (as in Spanish cabo). So regular is the correspondence of sounds that it made a profound impression, inspiring the formulation of similar “sound-laws” and the reconstruction of protolan- guages – in essence spawning Western linguistics as a science, since diachronic change and consistency of explanation were the preoccupations of nineteenth-century linguistics. A Companion to the History of the English Language Edited by Haruko Momma and Michael Matto © 2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. ISBN: 978-1-405-12992-3
  • 2. English as a Germanic Language 143 Table 13.1 Grimm’s law (somewhat simplified) Proto-Indo-European ➝ Germanic labial dental velar labialized labial dental velar labialized Voiceless p t k kw ➝ Voiceless f þ χ χw stop fricative Voiced b d g gw ➝ Voiceless p t k kw stop stop Aspirated bh dh gh ghw ➝ Voiced ß/b ð/d /g w /gw stop fricative/ stop English shares with the other Germanic languages a number of further phonologi- cal innovations that differentiate it from the rest of the Indo-European family. The resonants /l, r, m, n/ could be syllabic in Proto-Indo-European (PIE) (as they are word-finally, for instance, in PDE bottle, mitten, etc.), with various results in non- Germanic languages; only in Germanic do the syllabic varieties regularly become /ul, ur, um, un/, as in spurn (compare Sanskrit sprnóti ‘wards off’) and Old English wulf .. ‘wolf’ = Sanskrit vrkah < PIE *wlkwos. Among other vowel changes, PIE o became . . . Germanic a, as expressed in the PDE spellings yard (= Old Icelandic garðr, compare Latin hortus, Greek córtos) and what (= Old Icelandic hvat, German was, compare - Latin quod). Likewise, PIE a became Germanic ¯ , spelt o in PDE mother (= Old Ice- o landic móðir, compare Latin ma -ter) and (el)bow (= Old Icelandic bógr, compare Doric Greek pacus). ˜ A certain prosodic (accentual) change had a more profound effect: in Proto- Germanic, the accent shifted to the initial syllable in most word classes, but to the root syllable in verbs. The regularity is less clearly observable in PDE than in some other Germanic languages, due to the later influx of foreign (chiefly Romance) vocabu- lary; but to the verbs undergó, outwéigh, uplíft, with unstressed prefixes, compare the nouns úndertow, óutbuilding, úpdraft, with initial stress. A result of the shift of accent is that final and other unstressed syllables tended to weaken and disappear over time, making most native English words relatively short by comparison to their cognates (their near genetic relations in other Indo-European languages). For example, the monosyllabic verb melts is equivalent to trisyllabic Sanskrit márdati, and young is cognate with trisyllabic Latin juvencus. The accent shift also is implicated in a change known as “Verner’s law” (named after the Danish linguist Karl Verner, 1846–96), whereby the fricative consonants /f, þ, s, χ/ were voiced after originally unstressed vowels. This explains many seeming exceptions to Grimm’s law, for example Old English soden ‘boiled, sodden’ (instead of expected *soþen) < PIE *sutonós. Alternations caused by Verner’s law were still found in Old English, but in PDE (where Germanic /z/, voiced from /s/ by Verner’s law, has become /r/) the only remaining alternations are between <s> and <r> in the spellings was : were and lose : forlorn.
  • 3. 144 R. D. Fulk The morphology of English and its Germanic relatives also differs from that of other IE languages in systematic ways. The verb system in PIE was particularly rich and complex, expressing two voices, four moods, and perhaps as many as six tenses. Aside from a few relic formations, the Germanic languages have reduced this system to one voice (active, though Gothic, the most conservative of the Germanic languages, also preserves the medio-passive voice), three moods (indicative, subjunctive, impera- tive), and two formal tenses (present and preterite [i.e., past], though English has subsequently developed further distinctions by the use of auxiliaries). More important, methods of forming verb stems in Proto-Indo-European were remarkably varied. For example, a present stem might be characterized by reduplication of the initial conso- nant and insertion of a vowel, creating an extra, initial syllable (e.g., Greek dí-dw-mi ‘I give’, root dw-) or by infixation of n in the root (e.g., Latin frango ‘I break’; compare ¯ perfect fregı, without the n; PDE has the similar relic stand : stood) or by the addition ¯¯ of a suffix such as *-sk- or *-yo- before the personal ending (e.g., Latin [g]no-sc-o ‘I get ¯ ¯ to know’ : perf. [g]no-vı; Sanskrit náh-ya-ti ‘binds’) or by use of the bare root (e.g., ¯ ¯ Sanskrit é-ti ‘goes’) or root plus connecting vowel (e.g., Sanskrit bhár-a-ti ‘bears’). In addition, in different moods and tenses the root might show “ablaut” – the term refers to the alternation of vowels in PIE itself – resulting in PDE series like ride, rode, ridden and grow, grew, grown. This complex PIE system was simplified considerably in Ger- manic, where stem types came to be characterized less by infixes and stem-forming suffixes than by a limited number of ablaut types (in essence, seven). Thus, for example, all verbs that resembled Proto-Germanic *rıðanan (PDE ride, like drive, rise, ¯ write, etc.) formed their tenses the same way. These seven classes of verbs correspond roughly to the PDE “irregular verbs,” though the distinctions among the seven classes are much harder to discern in PDE than in OE, and now the principal parts of these verbs must for the most part be learned individually rather than deduced from com- parison to similar verbs. Yet even in Proto-Germanic these seven classes of “strong” verbs came to be closed classes, in the sense that although they contained verbs that formed their principal parts the same way (the way PDE sing, sang, sung is analogous to ring, rang, rung), they were unproductive: new verbs could not be added to these classes. Rather, new verbs entering the language were added to the classes of “weak” verbs, a morphological innovation that distinguishes the Germanic languages from the rest of the Indo-Euro- pean group. These are the verbs that in PDE add -ed in the past tense and the passive participle, along with any others that add an alveolar (dental) stop consonant in the past tense, such as bring, brought; have, had; and make, made (even though these are now treated as “irregular verbs”). Thus, like PDE nail, nailed are German nageln, nagelte, Danish nagle, naglede. The origin of the dental suffix used in the past tense is disputed, but one explanation often advocated is that it is a form of the verb do. If this is correct, then a past tense form like nailed could be said to derive from the Proto-Germanic equivalent of nail-did. Another morphological characteristic of the Germanic group is the development of preterite-present verbs. Already in Proto-Indo-European some perfect forms had
  • 4. English as a Germanic Language 145 present meaning, e.g. *woida ‘I know’, literally ‘I have seen’, a perfect form of the root *wid- (cf. Latin present video ‘I see’). In Germanic, because these verbs were per- ¯ ceived as expressing present-tense meanings, new preterites of the weak variety were developed for them, though the presents were still largely inflected like preterites – that is, they followed the ablaut alternations of preterite verbs and had preterite endings attached. For example, the Old English verb sceal ‘shall’, inflected in the present tense like the preterite of a strong verb, has the preterite sceolde, inflected like a weak verb. In PDE, several of these verbs survive as modal auxiliaries, chiefly can, may (past might), must, and shall. These modal auxiliaries are set apart from other verbs in that they take no ending -s in the third person singular of the present (e.g., she can vs. she writes; this is a relic of preterite inflection in the present tense), they do not require the support of the verb do to form a question or a negative statement (e.g., Must they? vs. Do they know? and they must not vs. they do not know), and accompanying infinitives are not preceded by to (e.g., can go vs. wants to go). In addition to can, may, must, and shall, some other, moribund relics of the Old English preterite-present verbs are found, including some of the older uses of dare and need (as in Dare I say it? and Need this be a bad sign?). In regard to the declension of nouns and adjectives – that is, the addition of endings to indicate grammatical relations within the sentence – PIE had a system of at least eight cases, as in Sanskrit. In Germanic the number was reduced, so that in Old English we find, really, four cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, and dative, which are the cases of the subject, direct object, possessor, and indirect object, respectively), though there are scant remains of a fifth (instrumental, indicating means). With the loss of inflectional endings over the course of the medieval period, English relin- quished all case endings in adjectives and all but the possessive ending -s (now spelt -’s and -s’) in nouns, though a wider variety of case-forms survives in pronouns (I, me, my, mine, etc.). Germanic developed another “strong” and “weak” distinction, quite different from the one in verbs, in regard to the inflection of adjectives. Thus, for example, the adjective god ‘good’ is inflected as follows in the singular with strong ¯ masculine endings: nominative god, accusative godne, genitive godes, dative godum. ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ With weak endings, however, the forms are nominative goda, accusative, genitive, and ¯ dative godan. Nearly all early Germanic adjectives may bear either strong or weak ¯ inflections, depending on whether or not nouns they modify are definite. A noun is definite when it refers to a particular individual or item or subset of the totality of extant items. Thus, for example, in PDE, nouns preceded by the, this, that or a pos- sessive pronoun like my or their are definite, while nouns preceded by a(n) or no article are usually indefinite (exceptions: Shakespeare, Chicago, outer space). In some Germanic languages, weak adjectives are still used with definite nouns and strong with indefinite ones, for example German der junge Mann ‘the young man’ vs. ein junger Mann ‘a young man’. This was the situation in Old English (compare se goda mann ‘the good person’: ¯ god mann ‘a good person’), though the endings of all English adjectives were gradually ¯ lost in the course of the Middle Ages, resulting in elimination of the distinction. Even the definite article itself is an innovation in Germanic, since Proto-Indo-European had
  • 5. 146 R. D. Fulk no articles. PDE the developed from a PIE demonstrative pronoun whose reflex (result- - ¯ ing form) in OE might still be rendered ‘that’ or ‘this’, or not at all (as in þa hwıle þe we þæt lıf habbað ‘[for] the while that we have life’, i.e., ‘for as long as we live’). The ¯ ¯ rise of definite articles is clearly a late development in Germanic, as shown by the fact that the articles differ considerably from one Germanic language to another: in Ice- landic, for example, the definite article derives from a source distinct from the source of PDE the, and it is commonly attached as a suffix, as in bók-in = the book. As for the order of elements in clauses and sentences, the most notable feature is the general tendency in the Germanic languages for finite verbs (i.e., verb forms other than infinitives and participles) to appear as the second constituent in independent clauses (so-called V2 order). The first constituent may be a word or a phrase, for example a prepositional phrase, as in þy ilcan geare forðferde Carl Francena cyng ‘[In] ¯ ¯ ¯ that same year died Charlemagne, king of the Franks’. In Old English, V2 order was a strong tendency rather than a firm rule (as it is in Icelandic and German). Element order in English has subsequently become fixed in the pattern subject-verb-object (SVO), but in PDE there survive relics of the older, less rigid system, with an element other than the subject before the verb, for example In the tree lived two owls and Up jumped the prosecutor and “Hello,” said the parrot. The Germanic languages are also inno- vative in respect to methods of forming relative clauses. The differences between the Germanic languages and the rest of the Indo-European group – and only a few such differences have been described above – are thus fairly striking. There are similarly regular differences among the Germanic languages them- selves, and although these differences are usually a bit subtler, they point to certain subgroupings within the Germanic family. The family can be sectioned into three subdivisions, East, North, and West Germanic. The East Germanic division is repre- sented by Gothic only (hence it is extinct), the North Germanic by the Scandinavian languages (excluding Finnish and Lappish, which are not Indo-European), and the West Germanic by German (High and Low), Yiddish, Dutch, Flemish, Afrikaans, Frisian, English, and older varieties of these, such as Middle English and Old Low Franconian (a type of older Dutch). The relations among the three Germanic groups are debated, since there are certain features that East Germanic shares only with West Germanic (e.g., the form of the verb ‘have’: Gothic haban, German haben, etc., vs. Icelandic eiga, Swedish äga, etc.), and certain ones that it shares only with North Germanic (e.g., the ending -t in the second person singular preterite of strong verbs: - Gothic and Old Icelandic namt ‘you took’ vs. OE nome, OHG na mi, etc.). But the most ¯ striking resemblances are those between North and West Germanic, leading most linguists to assume that the two groups descend from a common protolanguage, Northwest Germanic, from which East Germanic was separated at a fairly early date. This analysis is represented by the Stammbaum or genealogical tree in figure 13.1. A few of the most obvious commonalities are these. Gothic retains the Proto-Indo- European method of reduplication (addition of an initial syllable that begins with the same consonant as the verb root, as explained above in regard to Greek dí-dw-mi) to mark the preterite of certain verbs (those of the seventh ablaut class): for example,
  • 6. English as a Germanic Language 147 Proto-Germanic Northwest Germanic East Germanic Gothic West Germanic North Germanic Anglo-Frisian Low German High German West Norse East Norse English Frisian New Low German New High German Icelandic Danish Dutch Yiddish Norwegian Swedish Flemish Faroese Afrikaans Figure 13.1 One version of a genealogical model (Stammbaum) of the descent of the Germanic languages Gothic haitan ‘command’ has the pret. sg. haihait. In Northwest Germanic, although there are a few relic reduplicated forms, the system of forming the preterite of these verbs has been changed fundamentally, so that we find, for example, OE het ‘com- ¯ manded’ beside the rare older, reduplicated heht. A few of the other developments common to Northwest Germanic are loss of the medio-passive voice (mentioned above as preserved in Gothic); development of /z/ to /r/ (“rhotacism”), as in PDE more, Old Icelandic meira = Gothic maiza; retention of Verner’s law alternations (lost in Gothic); e - backing of Proto-Germanic ¯ to a (to Gothic redan ‘advise’, compare Old Icelandic ¯ ráða, German raten); and the development of umlaut vowels, i.e., front varieties of back vowels when i or j followed in the next syllable (e.g., to German Brüder, Old Icelandic brœðir, PDE brethren, with front vowels in the first syllable, compare Gothic broþrjus, with a back vowel). But chronological differences may be involved in the rise ¯ of some of these features, and linguistic changes may extend over wide swaths of ter- ritory, affecting more than one language group at once, so that the genetic or “Stammbaum” model of a language’s direct descent from a protolanguage, without horizontal contact among languages in a family tree, is an oversimplification of the way that languages actually develop. It may be, after all, that there never was a Northwest Germanic protolanguage. As for developments specific to West Germanic, distinguishing it from both Gothic and the Scandinavian languages, a simple difference is the development of ð to d: to Icelandic ríða, glaður compare PDE ride, glad. But the most significant pho- nological development characterizing West Germanic is consonant gemination (dou- bling) between a short vowel and a resonant consonant, particularly /j/: to Gothic satjan, Old Icelandic setja ‘set’, compare Old English settan, Old Saxon settian; and to Old Icelandic epli ‘apple’, compare Old English æppel, Old Frisian appel. Before /j/, only /r/ is not so geminated; hence Gothic nasjan, harjos = Old English nerian ‘save’ ¯ (with rhotacism), herias ‘armies’.
  • 7. 148 R. D. Fulk The West Germanic group comprises three divisions, Anglo-Frisian, Low German, and High German, often said to correspond roughly to the tripartite division of Ingaevones, Istaevones, and Herminones asserted by the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus in his Germania (ca. 98 ce). (The term “Ingvaeonic,” assuming Tacitus’ Ingaevones is a spelling error, is often applied in the literature to all the West Germanic languages excluding High German, though now it tends to be employed less usefully as a synonym for “Anglo-Frisian.” The Low German varieties in question show Ingvaeonic features to varying degrees.) The Anglo-Frisian group includes English and Frisian, a language now restricted to about 300,000 speakers in the northwestern Netherlands, including coastal islands, though formerly the Frisians occupied the entire coast from the Zuider Zee to southern Jutland. English and Frisian share several features that set them apart from the other West Germanic languages. For example, both show front- ing of long and short West Germanic a (to German Saat, Sack, the latter with the sound [a], roughly as in father, compare PDE seed, sack, Frisian sied, sek); monophthon- gization of Germanic ai (to German breit, compare PDE broad, Frisian breed); and pala- talization and affrication of velar consonants adjacent to certain front vowels and glides (to German gelten, Kirche, with initial stop consonants, compare PDE yield, church, Frisian jilde, tsjerke). Frisian is thus the language most closely related to English. The similarities between the two have sometimes been overstated in the popular literature, but a Frisian rhyme puts the matter succinctly: Buuter, breea, in griene tjiiz / is goe Ingels in goe Fries ‘Butter, bread, and green cheese / is good English and good Frisian’. Among the West Germanic languages, English and Frisian are the most clearly differentiated from High German; languages like New Low German and Dutch show High German features in varying degrees. One High German feature is preservation of the postvocalic consonant clusters mf, ns, nþ. In Anglo-Frisian and in some Low German varieties, the nasal consonant in these groups is lost, with compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel: to PDE soft, five, us, mouth, with loss of the nasal consonant, compare Old High German samfto, fimf, uns, mund. But the feature that most markedly sets off the High German dialects from the rest of the West Germanic group is the High German Consonant Shift, a systematic change of consonants com- parable to Grimm’s law. Word-initially, the stop consonants /p, t, k/ become affri- cates: to PDE pipe, tide compare German Pfeife, Zeit. Elsewhere in the word they become fricatives: to PDE ship, water, make compare German Schiff, Wasser, machen. And voiceless geminate stops become affricates: to OE æppel, settan compare German Apfel, setzen ‘apple, set’. Of some further developments in this consonant shift, those still attested in the modern standard language are the change of initial /d/ to /t/ (to PDE drink, compare German trinken) and of /þ/ to /d/ (to PDE thank, compare NHG danken). Thus, already in the Old English period, English occupied a relatively peripheral position in the West Germanic division. This is because the features that most clearly define the Anglo-Frisian group are consistently linguistic innovations, evidencing evolution away from the remainder of the West Germanic group, such as fronting of /a/ to /æ/ (as in hat, thatch) and affrication of original /k, g/ (as in church, singe). The
  • 8. English as a Germanic Language 149 peripheral status of English becomes even clearer when changes specific to Old English and to the later language are taken into account (on which see phonology: segmen- tal histories). References and Further Reading Bammesberger, A. (1992). The place of English in Hopper, P. J. (1975). The Syntax of the Simple Sen- Germanic and Indo-European. In R. M. Hogg tence in Proto-Germanic. The Hague: Mouton. (ed.), The Cambridge History of the English Lan- Krahe, H. & Meid, W. (1969). Germanische Sprach- guage, Vol. 1: The Beginnings to 1066 (pp. 26–66). wissenschaft. 7th edn. 3 vols. Berlin: de Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gruyter. Beekes, R. S. P. (1995 [1990]). Comparative Indo- Luick, K. (1914–40). Historische Grammatik der European Linguistics. Trans. UvA Vertalers & P. englischen Sprache. 2 vols. Stuttgart: Tauchnitz. Gabriner. Amsterdam: Benjamins. Noreen, A. (1923). Altisländische und altnorwegische Braune, W. (1987). Althochdeutsche Grammatik. Grammatik. 4th edn. Halle: Niemeyer. 14th edn. revd. by H. Eggers. Tübingen: Prokosch, E. (1938). A Comparative Germanic Niemeyer. Grammar. Baltimore: Linguistic Society of Brunner, K. (1965). Altenglische Grammatik nach America. der angelsächsischen Grammatik von Eduard Sievers. Robinson, O. W. (1992). Old English and Its Closest 3rd edn. Tübingen: Niemeyer. Relatives. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Campbell, A. (1959). Old English Grammar. Oxford: Russ, C. V. J. (1978). Historical German Phonology Clarendon Press. and Morphology. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Collinge, N. E. (1985). The Laws of Indo-European. Steller, W. (1928). Abriss der altfriesischen Gram- Amsterdam: Benjamins. matik. Halle: Niemeyer. Fulk, R. D. (1998). The chronology of Anglo- Streitberg, W. (1900). Urgermanische Grammatik. Frisian sound changes. Amsterdamer Beiträge zur Heidelberg: Winter. älteren Germanistik, 49, 139–54. Szemerényi, O. J. L. (1996 [1990]). Introduction to Gallée, J. H. (1993). Altsächsische Grammatik. 3rd Indo-European Linguistics. Trans. D. M. Jones & edn. revd. by H. Tiefenbach. Tübingen: I. Jones. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Niemeyer. Wright, J. (1954). Grammar of the Gothic Language. Hogg, R. M. (1992). A Grammar of Old English, 2nd edn. revd. by O. L. Sayce. Oxford: Claren- Vol. 1: Phonology. Oxford: Blackwell. don Press.