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Changes of vowels

  1. Changes
  2. Changes in the connotational meaning may result in
  3. for LETTER in VOWELS' ( 'A') .. VOWELS' ( 'O') loop
  4. The OE noun system,its further changes.
  5. What distinctive oppositions illustrate classificatory groups of rounded and unrounded vowels?

Strict differentiation of long and short vowels is commonly regarded as an important characteristic of the Germanic group. Vowel length was phonemic, e.g. Old English god (with a short "o") meant "god" whereas god (with a long "o") meant "good" (notice how the double "o" in modern spelling is a graphic trace of the long sound in Old and Middle English). The contrast of short and long vowels is supported by the different directions of their changes. While long vowels generally tended to become closer and to diphthongise, short vowels, on the contrary, often changed into mor open sounds. ā ō

1. IE short oand a changed into short a in Germanic.E.g.:

IE Germ

L. octō Goth. ahtau

L. noctem Goth. Nahts

2. The merging of long vowels proceeded in the opposite direction: IE long ōand ā appear as long ō in Germanic languages. E.g.:

IE Germ

L. frater Goth. Brōþar

L. flōs flower OE blōma

Thus, as a result of these changes, there was neither a short onor a long āin Germanic languages. Later on these sounds appeared from different sources.


The most important feature of the system of Germanic vowels is the so-called Ablaut, or gradation, which is a spontaneous, positionally independent lteration of vowels. The Germanic languages inherited ablaut from the common Indo-European period. Alteration of vowels occurred in the root, suffix or ending depending on the grammatical form or meaning of the word.

In Germanic languages ablaut takes the form: i a zero. Cf., for example, the alteration of vowels in Gothic strong verbs of the 2nd class:

Infinitive Past tense sing. Past tense pl. Past participle

kiusan kaus kusum kusans to choose

If we ignore the common element u,thereremains a series i a zerorepresenting ablaut.

Umlaut (Germanic fracture)

Umlaut is a form of assimilation, the process by which one speech sound is altered to make it more like another adjacent sound. If a word has two vowels, one far back in the mouth and the other far forward, this requires a greater effort to pronounce than if the vowels were closer, and therefore one possible linguistic development is for these two vowels to be drawn closer together.

Germanic umlaut is a specific historical example of this in the unattested earliest stages of Old English, Old High German, or one of the other closely related early medieval language forms: When a two-syllable word had /a/, /o/ or /u/ in the first syllable and the front vowel /i/ in the second, the vowel in the first syllable was fronted. So, for example, pre-Old English *mūsi shifted to *mȳsi, which later lost its ending and became mȳs, then by later regular sound shifts became mīs and eventually modern English mice. Umlaut is the first stage of this: ū > ȳ. However, pre-Old English *mūs did not follow with a front vowel, and became modern mouse, explaining the different vowels in the singular and plural.

2. Grammatical peculiarities:

- The word structure

A change in the word structure was of great importance for the development of the Germanic morphological system. The common Indo-European notional word consisted of three elements: 1) the root, expressing the lexical meaning, 2) the stem-forming suffix, a formal indicator of the stem type, and 3) the inflexion or grammatical ending, showing the grammatical form. In Germanic languages the stem-forming suffix fuses with the ending, which makes the word structure a two-element one. The word was simplified. The original grammatical ending, together with the stem-suffix formed a new ending:

Root stem- suffix grammatical ending


Old Germanic languages
Stem grammatical ending


A change in the structure of Germanic word

This can be illustrated by the following examples, in which the restored Proto-Germanic archetypes are given:

PG *fisk-a-z Goth. fisks fish

PG *mak-ōj-an OE mac-ian, Past Tense mac-ode make, made

(In Goth fisks the stem-suffix was dropped, in OE macian, macode it merged with the ending, preserving one of the sounds [i] or [o].)

The simplification of the word structure and the loss of stem-suffixes as distinct components may have been caused by the heavy Germanic word stress fixed on the root.

- The noun

In Germanic languages all nominal parts of speech, i.e. nouns, adjectives, numerals, pronouns, participles and even the infinitive, were declined. The system of declension was well developed and very complicated, including nominal and pronominal types of declension.

Germanic nouns had a well-developed case system with four cases (Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative) and two number forms (singular and plural). They also had the category of gender (feminine, masculine and neuter). Grammatical gender was not connected with the biological gender, like in Modern German, Russian, Ukrainian and some other languages. The division of all nouns into three genders was traditional.

Nouns fell into four groups according to the type of their stem (which originally ended either in a vowel or a consonant). Groups of nouns with different stem-suffixes made distinct types of declension. The original grammatical endings were alike for most nouns, e.g. Nom, sg -z, Dat. -i, Acc. -m. When these endings fused with different stem-suffixes, each group of nouns acquired a different set of endings. In Old Germanic languages there were the following types of substantive stems:

1) vocalic stems: -a-, -ō-, -i-, -u-stems;

2) n-stems;

3) stems in other consonants: -s-and r-stems;

4) root-stems.

- The adjective

Declension of adjectives in Old Germanic languages is complicated and finds no parallel in other Indo-European languages. In Latin, for example, declension of adjectives does not basically differ from that of nouns. In Germanic languages things are different. The Germanic adjectives had two types of declension, strong and weak. The adjective agreed with the noun in gender, case and number and by its type of declension expressed the idea of definiteness (weak declension) or indefiniteness (strong declension). This meaning was later expressed by a new grammatical class of words the article.

The adjective had degrees of comparison, the forms of which were in most instances formed with the help of suffixes -iz/ōz and ist/-ōst. As in mn Indo-European languages, some adjectives used different roots for different forms, e.g. Goth. leitilsminnizaminnists little less the least.

- The verb

There were two tenses in Germanic languages: present and past (active voice). The verbal system of Old Germanic languages consists of different elements. The main mass of verbs are strong verbs, which derive their past tense and past participle by means of gradation. Weak verbs derive these forms by means of a dental suffix d- (-t-),typical only for Germanic languages. Besides these two large groups, there are also the preterite-present verbs with a peculiar system of forms and a few irregular verbs which do not belong to any of the preceding groups.

The use of the dental suffix is seen in the following forms of weak verbs in OG languages:

Language Infinitive Past Tense Participle II NE
Icel kalla kallaða kallaðr call, called
OE macian macode macod make, made


The Germanic verb had a well-developed system of categories, including the category of person (first, second, third), number (singular and plural), tense (past and present, the latter also used for expressing future actions), mood (indicative, imperative and optative) and voice (only in Gothic active and mediopassive). The categorial forms employed synthetic means of form-building.

3. Vocabulary:

Native Germanic words

The latest scholarly research has shown that Germanic has inherited and preserved many IE features in lexis.

The most ancient etymological layer in the Germanic vocabulary is made up of words shared by most IE languages. They refer to a number of semantic spheres: natural phenomena andanimals, terms of kinship, verbs denoting basic activities of man, some pronouns and numerals.

Words which occur in Germanic alone and have no parallels outsidethe group constitute the specific features of the Germanic languages;they appeared in PG or inlater history of separate languages from purely Germanic roots. Semantically, they also belong to basic spheres of life: nature, sea, home life.

Both etymological layers of the vocabulary the IE and the specifically Germanic layer are native words.

Borrowed words

In addition to native words the OG languages share some borrowings made from other languages. Some of the early borrowings found in all or most languages of the group must have been made at the time when the Germanic tribes lived close together as a single speech community, i.e. in Late PG. It is known that the name of the metal iron was borrowed from the Celtic languages in Late PG; cf. Celt isarno, Gt eisarn, Icel isarn, OE isen, iren. (The Teutons may have learnt the processing of iron from the Celts.) Another is *walhaz "foreigner; Celt" from the Celtic tribal name Volcae with ch and oa. Other likely Celtic loans include *ambahtaz 'servant', *brunjōn 'mailshirt', *gīslaz 'hostage', *īsarna 'iron', *lēkijaz 'healer', *lauđan 'lead', *Rīnaz 'Rhine', and *tūnaz, tūnan 'fortified enclosure'. A large number of words could have been borrowed from Latin prior to the migration of West Germanic tribes to Britain. These words reflect the contacts of the Germanic tribes with Rome and the influence of the Roman civilization on their life; they mostly refer to trade and warfare; e.g.: L pondō, Goth pund, Icel pund, OE pund pound; L prunus, Icel 1óm, OE plūme plum; L strata via, OHG strâza, OS strâta, OE stræt street.

From East Iranian have come *hanapiz 'hemp' (cf. Persian kanab), *humalaz, humalōn 'hops' (cf. Ossetian xumællæg), *keppōn ~ skēpan 'sheep' (cf. Pers čapiš 'yearling kid'), *kurtilaz 'tunic' (cf. Osset kwəræt 'shirt'), *kutan 'cottage' (cf. Pers kad 'house'), *paidō 'cloak',[18] *paþaz 'path' (cf. Avestan pantā, g. pathō), and *wurstwa 'work' (cf. Av vərəštuua).[19] These words could have been transmitted directly by the Scythians from the Ukraine plain, groups of whom entered Central Europe via the Danube.

Most important features distinguishing Germanic languages

Fixed stress

Vowel shift

First Consonant Shift: Grimms & Verners Laws

Strong versus weak adjectives

Two tense verbal system: past and present

Dental suffix for the past tense

Unique Germanic vocabulary


: 2014-12-15; : 17 |

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