Old and Modern Germanic Languages

The East Germanic group.

The Germanic tribes, who inhabited the Scandinavian Peninsula, migrated south to the Northern Germany in the last centuries B.C. There they represented the Eastern subgroup of Germanic languages. The most powerful and numerous of the East Germanic tribes were the Goths. Other tribes were vandals and burgundians. All the East Germanic languages are now extinct (dead). Yet the Gothic language is even now being studied by linguists for it is the earliest written language of the Germanic group. The Goths were the first of the old Germanic tribes to be Christianized in the 4th century. The Gothic language has undergone very few changes since the common Germanic period. It has enabled modern linguists to reconstruct the essential features of the common Germanic parent language and the pre-written stages of all Germanic dialects. Though the Gothic language is not an ancestor of English and even belongs to a different subgroup. It bears a strong resemblance () to the English language of the prewrittenperiod and it is very often referred to in order to account for some features of old English.

The North Germanic or Scandinavian group

It includes Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Icelandic. The tribes of ancient Germans in Scandinavia remained isolated for several hundred years. The differentiation of Scandinavian into separate dialects proceeded very slowly up to the 9th century. Their speech had very slight dialectal variations. Their language is known as old North (Old Norse) or Old Scandinavian. It was preserved in Runic inscriptions the 3d 9th century. Old Norse retained () main archaic traces of the Common Germanic language. In the so-called Viking age (9-10th century) the Scandinavians made raids () on the neighboring countries and some Scandinavian seamen known as Northmen settled in France (from here the name Normandy in the North of France). In the same century they began their raids on the British Isles and gradually occupied the greatest part of Britain. Scandinavians founded their settlements on the Islands in the North Sea, colonized Iceland and Greenland, and from there reached North America. Usually the Scandinavians who settled over seas did not preserve their language for a long time and were assimilated by the native population. In Normandy they soon adopted the language of the French. In Britain, their influence was more pronounced, but there too the language was adsorbed () by the local dialects. In some of the new territories, however, their dialect (North Germanic) survived in the Faroe Islands the people (about 26,000 people) stills speak the Faroese language (for many hundred years Danish was the only written language in the islands in the 18th century the first Faroese written records were made). In Iceland the dialects brought by Scandinavian colonists developed into an independent national North Germanic language Icelandic. In Scandinavia the principle dialectal division corresponds to the political division: Swedish in Sweden, Danish in Denmark, and Norwegian in Norway. Modern North Germanic languages are: Danish in Denmark, Norwegian in Norway, Swedish in Sweden, Icelandic in Iceland, Flemish in Belgium. Some of them are national literary languages, some are local dialects spoken over small areas. The total number of people speaking Germanic languages is about 600 mln., some 300 mln. of them being English speaking people.

The West Germanic group

To this group belong High German languages spoken in Bavaria, Austria, and Switzerland. Low German dialects, Dutch and Frisian spoken in Netherlands, English spoken in Great Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, Africa, Yiddish in different countries and Flemish spoken in Belgium. Quite recently there developed one more independent West Germanic language, which descended directly from Dutch. It is the language of South Africa called Afrikaansor Boerish from the Dutch word boer meaning farmer brought to South Africa 300 hundred years ago by the Dutch settlers. It is now spoken by most South African people irrespective () of the race. To this group belong: German spoken in Germany, Austria, Switzerland; English in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, some British colonies and dominions; Dutch and Frisian in Netherlands; Faroese in Faroe Islands; Yiddish in different countries.


  East Germanic North Germanic West Germanic
Old Germanic languages with dates of the earliest records     Modern Germanic languages Gothic (4thc.) Vandalic Burgundian   No living languages   Old Norseor Old Scandinavian (2nd 3rd c.) Old Icelandic (12th c.) Old Norwegian (13th c.) Old Swedish (13th c.)   Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Faroese Anglian, Frisian, Jutish, High German (Alemanic, Thuringian,Swavian, Bawarian) Old English (7th c.) Old Saxon (9th c.) Old High German (8th c.) Old Dutch (12th c.) English, German, Netherlandish (Dutch), Africaans Yiddish, Frisian


  3. Independent Vowel Changes in Proto-Germanic
  4. Lexical differences between languages
  5. North Germanic Languages
  6. Planning languages
  7. The Internet and Modern Life. The use of the Infinitive.
  8. Tone and tone languages

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