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Thread: What Defines Germanicity?

  1. #21
    Senior Member Vestmannr's Avatar
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    Re: What defines Germanicity?

    The Normans had their own new concept of 'Normanitas' which they saw as the successor to the old 'Romanitas'. They seem to have considered themselves still 'Northern' (Germanic), but 'civilized' Christian Germans. That idea of Normanicity goes a long ways towards explaining their warlike behavior vis-a-vis Sicily, Byzantium, England, the Levant, etc. In fact, a study of the idea of 'Normanitas' will show that their goal in invading such places as England was to 'purify' and 'reinvigorate' lands they believed to have fell into decline and corruption. In most cases, native thanes agreed: Normans in every case had an 'invite' from the locals, and years of involvement via aid, military service, etc. before moving in in full force.

    I would suggest the 'Normanitas' vision was something akin to the 'Pan-Mediterranean' view of the Romans, but placed in a Northern perspective. Consider the Army at Hastings - not only did it include some English, but the wings of the Army were Flemish and Breton (only the center was actually Norman) - so they seem to have had an idea of a unified 'Northern' centered Europe.
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    Re: What defines Germanicity?

    Quote Originally Posted by Leofric
    The only Romanization in the shift from OE to ME was in the lexicon. In other, more systemic areas (phonology, syntax, morphology, &c.), English has undergone next to zero Romanization since arriving on the island.
    In fact, I've read that when Middle English first emerged, it was very different from Old English, yet it had little French influence, even in the vocabulary. The French vocabulary seems to have gradually accumulated over time, due to the fact that French was widely used in higher circles.

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    Senior Member Vestmannr's Avatar
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    Re: What defines Germanicity?

    I believe it was a by-product of the academic establishment, as well as the first printers (at least the successful ones). More Germanic uses survived (and have survived) in the local English dialects. There was a movement, in Oxford U. no less, to recover the 'Anglo-Saxon'-ness of English, to purge it of its Frankification. (I believe Prof. Tolkien was one proponent). Since English was my UG subject, I tend to agree with this approach: and, Scots has preserved much of that. I believe it was Prof. Tolkien who made the statement somewhere along the lines of 'anything you want to say in English, there is a term of Anglo-Saxon origin that will work just as well as a term of Norman French origin'.
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    Account Inactive nurnberg's Avatar
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    Re: What defines Germanicity?

    Quote Originally Posted by Polak
    Nordic looking Slavs aren't Germanic. They're Slavic.

    I agree; Germanic or Slavic is a cultural distinction.

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    Re: What defines Germanicity?

    Since I initially posted this question, I've taken a course in phonology theory and have come to learn about Optimality Theory. It's a new way of looking at phonology that has taken the phonolgy world by storm since its invention in 1993.

    Basically, Optimality Theory (OT) is a way of dealing with conflicting rules in languages. Every language is rule-governed, but there are exceptions to every rule. Those exceptions all occur because of a need to comply with some other rule (especially when considering that certain rules are roughly equivalent to "that's the way we've always done it"). OT calls these rules "constraints."

    Let me illustrate with an example from Dutch:

    In determining the voicing of Dutch consonants, there are several constraints. One constraint is that consonants should be voiced if they've historically been voiced. Another constraint is that word-final obstruents (which is what most consonants are) should never be voiced. These two constraints conflict with one another in a word like bed. The word-final 'd' should be voiced ([d]) because historically, that's the way it was. But the word-final 'd' should be voiceless ([t]) because it's word-final. Conflicting constraints.

    OT proposes to deal with conflicting constraints by ranking them. That way, violating a constraint isn't in itself, a bad thing. But once the constraints are ranked, then higher-ranking constraints take precedence over lower-ranking ones. If one possible pronunciation violates a high-ranking constraint that a competing possible pronunciation does not violate, then it is considered more optimal than the other constraint, even if it violates all the lower-ranking constraints, and even if the less optimal candidate violates none of the lower-ranking constraints.

    So we can look at that Dutch word again and see how the constraints are ranked (* indicates a violation and ! indicates a fatal violation):
    <html><center><table border><tr><td>/bed/<td>Faithfulness<td>Word-final [-voice]<tr><td>bet<td>*!<td BGCOLOR="#C0C0C0"><tr><td>bed<td><td BGCOLOR="#C0C0C0">*</table></center></html>

    Well clearly that's not the right constraint ranking, since the word is actually pronounced bet. So let's try the other ranking:
    <html><center><table border><tr><td>/bed/<td>Word-final [-voice]<td>Faithfulness<tr><td>bet<td><td BGCOLOR="#C0C0C0">*<tr><td>bed<td>*!<td BGCOLOR="#C0C0C0"></table></center></html>

    This tells us that this constraint ranking yields the correct optimal candidate for pronuncation of this Dutch word. The constraint prohibiting voiced obstruents in word-final position is more important than the constraint requiring faithfulness, so bet is more optimal than bed for pronouncing the word bed.

    This constraint works for the plural as well:
    <html><center><table border><tr><td>/bedden/<td>Word-final [-voice]<td>Faithfulness<tr><td>betten<td><td>*! <tr><td>bedden<td><td></table></center></html>

    So, because of the constraint ranking, even though bet is more optimal for the singular, bedden is more optimal for the plural.

    In English, the ranking of these two constraints for the word bed goes the other way around.

    That's the basic idea behind OT. You can read more about it here:
    http://www.staff.uni-marburg.de/~uff...-session10.pdf
    http://roa.rutgers.edu/files/482-120...CARTHY-0-1.PDF
    http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~dresher/col6.html

    Here's an excerpt from that last source:
    OT is not so much a theory of phonology or syntax as a philosophy of life. Life makes conflicting demands, and to satisfy some we must violate others. OT proposes that these demands (constraints) are ranked; a candidate solution which satisfies a higher-ranking constraint, even at the cost of violating many lower-ranking ones, is preferred to a solution which violates a higher-ranking constraint, even if by so doing it satisfies many lower-ranking ones. In its pure form, OT is simply a theory of constraint interaction, independent of what the constraints are; hence, it is applicable, in principle, to any domain that can be formulated in terms of constraints.

    Viewed in this light, phonology looks like less fertile soil for such a theory than other aspects of life, like ethics or political theory.
    And that's exactly what I want to do with OT — apply it to the question of what defines Germanicity.

    It seems to me that a number of constraints come into play. Here are a few possible constraints:
    • Germanics speak a Germanic language
    • Germanics are Nordid
    • Germanics are Heathen
    • Germanics are Europid
    • Germanics are Protestant
    • Germanics are Faustian
    • Germanics consider themselves Germanic

    Many other constraints could be included in the list. Note that any of these constraints could be violated without necessarily cancelling the Germanic status of anyone. The stereotypical Bavarian grandfather is Alpinid rather than Nordid, but he's still Germanic. And how can a person be both Protestant and Heathen? He can't. But a candidate need not comply with every constraint to still achieve optimality. That's the beauty of OT.

    So it seems to me that we might be able to come up with a definition of Germanic by means of Optimality Theory. We would need a list of constraints, and a ranking for those constraints. I also think that rather than finding one optimal candidate, it would be better to determine at what point in the hierarchical constraint evaluation candidates cease to be Germanic. That would allow a great deal of diversity within Germanicity without allowing so much that the word becomes meaningless.

    Any thoughts?

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    Re: What defines Germanicity?

    Quote Originally Posted by Leofric
    Any thoughts?
    Methinks some Mercian Earls have been getting a little too much booklearning for their own good!

    We don't need all these formulas and involved sophistry. It should more be about gut feeling.
    What defines our Germandom? In my book, a significant blood connection with the tribes that the Romans would unhesitatingly have described as Germani, without adulteration from exotic stocks I would lable as 'incompatible' [most simply put; people who are not our traditional near neighbours, thus allowing for mixing with near enough all our kindred European peoples]. That's the absolute requisite, but then forms only a fundament upon which other necessary elements must be placed. We need a cultural/behavioural-stereotype element and that is to be found in our traditional virtues - steadfastness, reserve, straightforwardness and so on. Linguistic Germanicness is important, but honourable exceptions can be made for Romanised or Slavonicised folk should they wish it and make an effort to commemorate their Germanic heritage in other ways.

    You had a little difficulty with the spiritual aspect above, and yet I think I can see our commonality here, without distracting references to creed or denomination - consider our relationship with Nature. We all love our temperate woodland glades and wild windswept uplands or seashores, do we not? Our way of appreciating that is true spirituality to me.

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    Senior Member Theudiskaz's Avatar
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    Re: What defines Germanicity?

    You had a little difficulty with the spiritual aspect above, and yet I think I can see our commonality here, without distracting references to creed or denomination - consider our relationship with Nature. We all love our temperate woodland glades and wild windswept uplands or seashores, do we not? Our way of appreciating that is true spirituality to me.
    Oh yes. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up when I read that. Our deep connection to temperate forests is undeniable! I read a book several years ago called The Germans which was a really fascinating meditation on Germanicnesss and all its little quirks that we don't always think about consciously. It truly held the beating heart of Teutondom within its pages. It was really enjoyable.

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    Senior Member RedJack's Avatar
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    Re: What defines Germanicity?

    Sounds like a book I read a few years ago, as well. Also had a fascinating bit on the German attitude to rules. The example the author used was a football game between German and Italian teams. The Italians gleefully fouled the Germans left and right, while the Germans slowly fumed about the disgusting flouting of the rules until one of them could stand it no longer and lost his temper. The resulting major penalty contributed to the Italian's win.
    Don't let Europe Rule Britannia!

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    Re: What defines Germanicity?

    Sounds like a book I read a few years ago, as well. Also had a fascinating bit on the German attitude to rules. The example the author used was a football game between German and Italian teams. The Italians gleefully fouled the Germans left and right, while the Germans slowly fumed about the disgusting flouting of the rules until one of them could stand it no longer and lost his temper. The resulting major penalty contributed to the Italian's win.
    That's the one!
    -Hyge sceal še heardre, heorte še cénre, mód sceal še mįre, žż śre męgen lytlaž. -The Battle of Maldon
    -I love the great despisers, because they are the great adorers, and arrows of longing for the other shore. -Thus Spake Zarathustra

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    Senior Member RedJack's Avatar
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    Re: What defines Germanicity?

    I really enjoyed that book. Now I'm going to have to find it again. Where the hell did I put it?
    Don't let Europe Rule Britannia!

    "If we reunited, then we would be an economic and military powerhouse without peer for centuries to come."-Leofric

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