View Full Version : Seven Distinctive Features of Germanic

Saturday, October 9th, 2004, 02:57 PM
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English 451 - Duncan


Germanic became different from the other Indo-European language groups in seven main ways:

1. The Indo-European verbal system was simplified. Indo-European distinctions of tense and aspect (indicates whether an action or state is viewed with regard to beginning, duration, incompletion, etc.) were lost except for the present and preterite (past) tenses. These two tenses are still the only ones indicated by inflection in Modern English; future and perfect tenses are expressed in phrases--e.g., I will have gone, etc.

2. Germanic developed a preterite tense (called weak or regular) with a dental suffix, -d or -t (e.g. fish, fished, etc.). Germanic languages thus have two types of verbs, weak (regular) and strong (irregular). Strong verbs indicate tense by an internal vowel change (e.g. swim, swam, swum). The weak form is the living method of inflection, and many originally strong verbs have become weak.

3. Germanic developed weak and strong adjectives. The weak declension was used when the modified noun was preceded by another word which indicated case, number, and gender. The strong declension was used in other situations. These declensions are no longer found in modern English, but compare these examples from Old English: ža geongan ceorlas 'the young fellows' and geonge ceorlas 'young fellows.' (The weak adjective ends in -an while the strong adjective ends in -e.)

4. The Indo-European free accentual system allowed any syllable to be stressed. In Germanic the accent (or stress) is mainly on the root of the word, usually the first syllable.

5. Several Indo-European vowels were modified in the Germanic languages. For example, Indo-European /a:/ became /o:/. Compare Latin mater and Old English modor.

6. Two consonant shifts occurred in Germanic. In the First Sound Shift (commonly known as Grimm's Law) the Indo-European stops bh, dh, gh, p, b, t, d, k, and g underwent a series of shifts. The Second Sound Shift (also known as the High German Sound Shift) affected the high but not the low Germanic languages, so English was not affected.

7. Germanic has a number of unique vocabulary items, words which have no known cognates in other Indo-European languages. These words may have been lost in the other Indo-European languages, borrowed from non-Indo-European languages, or perhaps coined in Germanic. Among these words are Modern English rain, drink, drive, broad, hold, wife, meat, fowl.