North Germanic Languages

East Germanic Languages

The East Germanic tribes were known as the Goths. They were one of the most numerous and powerful Germanic tribes who returned form Scandinavia around 200 A.D. and settled in the east of Europe. The Goths were subdivided into two major branches:

Visigotæ(lived on the territory of present-day France) linguistically were absorbed by the Romanised Celts and spoke their Celtic Dialects;

Ostrogotæ(lived on the territory of present-day northern Italy) they spoke the Gothic Language (now dead).

Other East Germanic tribes (Burgundians, Vandals, Langobards)[A8] also had their respective languages.


1. It had the oldest written records 4th 6th c. A.D.(compare, Old English 7th c., Old High Germanic 8th c.).

2. The Goths were the first Germans to become Christians. In the 4th c. A.D Ulfilas, a Gothic bishop, translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic using a modified form of the Greek Alphabet. Ulfilas Gospelsis a work of 200 pages copied in the 5th 6th c. Now this copy is kept in Uppsala (Sweden) and is known as The Silver Codex [A10] because it is written an red background with silver and golden letters.

3. The Gothic, having the earliest written records among the Germanic Languages, is considered to be very close to the Proto-Germanic Language and thus throws some light on the history of this common Proto-Germanic Language.

The North Germanic tribes [A11] settled on the southern coast of Scandinavia and in Northern Denmark (since the 4th c. A.D.). They lived relatively isolated and showed little dialectal variation at that time.

There existed one common language Old Norse/Old Scandinavian.[A12] It had the following characteristics:

It used the original Germanic Alphabet [A13] called the Runes/the Runic Alphabet. It appeared in the 3rd 4th c. A.D. It has come down to us in runic inscriptions separate words written/carved on objects made of wood, stone, metal (more about it in Lecture 7).

It was spoken by all North Germanic tribes.

In the 9th 10th c. A.D[A14] .the Scandinavians started their voyages to America and islands in the Atlantic Ocean (Leif Ericson, a Scandinavia raider, was the first to land on the American Continent). In addition to this overpopulation[A15] in the fjord areas caused the migration of the people to inner Scandinavia. This provoked the beginning of the linguistic differentiation. In Scandinavia the linguistic division corresponded to the political division:[A16] there were 3 kingdoms (Sweden, Denmark and Norway) that were constantly fighting for dominance and they had 3 respective languages (earliest records in these languages date back to the 13th .):

Old Danish later it developed into Danish (now the national language of Denmark);

Old Swedish - later it developed into Swedish (now the national language of Sweden and a part of Finland);

Old Norwegian was the last to develop, later transformed into Norwegian (now the national language of Norway).

In the 8th c. A.D.sea-rovers ( , ) and merchants [A17] founded numerous colonies on the islands in the North Sea and in the Atlantic Ocean (the Shetland Islands, the Orkneys, the Faroe Islands) and reached even Iceland and Greenland. Thus two more North Germanic languages appeared:

Faroese(In the Faroe Islands the writing was done in Danish for centuries. The first written records in Faroeseappeared only in the 18th c.);

Icelandic (9th c. A.D.)


1. The isolation of Iceland caused the preservation of archaic vocabulary and grammatical system.

2. The preservation of archaic vocabulary and grammatical system makes this language very close to Old Norse and helps to reconstruct this ancient common Germanic language.

3. Icelandic has the largest body of written texts (12th 13th c.), e.g.:

The Elder Edda (12th c.) a collection of heroic songs;

The Younger Edda (13th c.) a text-book forpoets;

Old Icelandic Sagas.


  2. Independent Vowel Changes in Proto-Germanic
  3. Lexical differences between languages
  4. National Emblem of Northern Ireland
  5. Old and Modern Germanic Languages
  6. Planning languages
  7. Tone and tone languages

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