4.12. Germanic

4.12.1. Germanic evolution

Sound changes from an Early Pre-Germanic stage, close to North-West Indo-European, to the Iron Age Proto-Germanic include (Schrijver 2014; Stiles 2017):

·       Verner’s law[xxiii]: if preceded by an unstressed syllable, *p → *bh, *t→ *dh, *k→ *gh, *s → *z; as, *urt-ónos → *urdh-ónoz → (by following Grimm’s law, and *o → *a) → *urdanaz → OE worden (past participle ‘become’).

·       Accent shift (later than Verner’s law): fixation of stress accent on the initial syllable of the word weakened following syllables, with different sound developments and inventories in accented and unaccented syllables.

·       Kluge’s law: voiced plosives followed by *n turn into double plosives, as *stubh-n- > *stubb- (by Grimm’s law) *stupp- OE stoppian ‘to stop’.

·       Svarabhakti: *, *, *, * *ur, *ul, *um, *un.

·       Merge of *k →*kw.

·       Development of *t+t (via **-tst-) to *ss.

·       Germanic consonant shift (Grimm’s law) which affected all plosives:

o   Voiceless stops not preceded by an obstruent or s become voiceless fricatives (probably via an intermediate stage with aspiration): *p **ph → *φ, *t **th → *ϑ, *k → **kh → *x, *kw →**kwh → *xw. Later *x and *xw were weakened word-initially to *h, *hw.

o   Voiced aspirated stops become voiced fricatives (although the reflexes become voiced stops in several positions at the end of Gmc.): *bh → *b/*β, *dh → *d/*ð, *gh → *g/*γ, *gwh → *β ~ w.

o   Voiced plain stops become voiceless stops: *b → *p, *d → *t, *g → *k, *gw → *kw.

§  Also, *bb → *pp, *dd → *tt, *gg → *kk.

·       Various developments that produced *nn, *rr, *ll, *u̯u̯, and *i̯i̯.

·       Vowel merger: Pre-Gmc. *a, *o → Gmc. *a, and Pre-Gmc. *ā, *ō → Gmc. *ō.
































s, z









m (mm)

n, nn





l, ll





r, rr









This table represents the Proto-Germanic stage. The third row consists of pairs of sounds representing a single phoneme, where the second member of each pair occurs mainly after vowels, the first member in all other positions. All Germanic languages possessed long voiced plosives, but it is unclear to what extent they were widespread in Proto-Germanic (they are between parenthesis).

·       Vowel system reduced and long vowel system extended:



























Important morphological features include (Harðarson 2017):

·       Conservation of ablaut system of the strong verb: the present tense continues the thematic (non-reduplicated) present stem; the past tense or preterite of the Germanic strong verb preserves basic structures of the perfect.

·       Generalisation of stem *to- for the demonstrative pronoun.

·       Weakening and partial loss of non-initial and especially final syllables.

·       Incipient convergence of nominal classes (Thöny 2013), some even disappearing before the transmission of Gothic.

·       Heavy reduction of the categories of verbal inflection.

·       Emergence of a weak preterite with dental suffixes.

·       Widespread augment in *ga- < *ko-.

The usual estimate of the Ausgliederung of Common Germanic is ca. 500 BC, and it is traditionally linked to the expansion of Jastorf, although this culture was probably not the only vector of expansion of Germanic languages, which have to put in relation to the evolution of the Nordic Bronze Age and related cultures. The oldest epigraphic mention of Germanic peoples come probably from the so-called Protogenes inscription from Olbia in the late 3rd c. BC, on the northern coast of the Black Sea, which refers to the East Germanic tribe of the Σκίροι (‘the pure ones, purebreds’; cf. Goth. skeirs ‘clear’ etc.).

Pre-Christian records include the helmet B of Ženjak-Negau (Slovenia), probably belonging to a Germanic soldier involved in combat in pre-Roman northern Italy, dated to ca. 3rd or 2nd c. BC. Its inscription in north Italic (Venetic) letters can be read as Harigasti Teiwǣ (cf. Gmc. *xara- ‘army’ < *kori̯o-, *gasti- ‘stranger, guest’ < *ghosti-, *teiwa- ‘god’ < *deiu̯ó-). Other early anthroponyms can be read in a set of Boiian silver tetradrachms coined in the Bratislava region in the mid–1st millennium BC, such as Fariarix (Gmc. *φari̯an- ‘ferryman’, *rīk- ‘ruler’), a Germanic name of a Celtic sovereign (Nedoma 2017).

The long-term development of Pre-Germanic in close contact with Finno-Samic (see below § Palaeo-Germanic borrowings) allows us to propose a southern Scandinavian homeland (centered on Jutland), probably since the European Early Bronze Age, around the late 3rd or early 2nd millennium BC.

4.12.2. Finno-Samic influence on Pre-Germanic

Finno-Samic and Pre-Germanic evolution are closely intertwined, in a relationship that has been simplistically described as the adoption of Germanic by Balto-Finnic speakers. Sound changes influenced by Finno-Samic contacts include (Koivulehto and Vennemann 1996; Wiik 1997; Kallio 2001; Schrijver 2014) [xxiv]:

·       Development of extensive set of long (geminate) consonants, where Pre-Germanic had none, and Finno-Samic already had a few.

·       Development of initial accent from an original mobile one, comparable to the Uralic system (seen also generally in IE loanwords in Uralic).

·       Development of *x, later *h (Proto-Balto-Finnic developed *h).

·       Fricatives *ɣ and *ð occur (as allophones) only after vowels.

·       Verner’s law + Grimm’s law eventually turned all voiceless obstruents into voiced obstruents, i.e. Pre-Gmc.  *p, *t, *k, *s, into Gmc. *b/*v, *d/*ð, *g/*γ, *z. Both, Verner’s law and probably Grimm’s law are paralleled by rhythmic gradation in Finno-Samic to Balto-Finnic (see below §4.18. West Uralic).

·       Vowel system remains largely unchanged, similar to Proto-Baltic, and fully compatible with Proto-Balto-Finnic.

According to Schrijver (2014), because of the rare occurrence of stress-related consonant changes in European languages, and geographical and chronological proximity to the Finno-Samic evolution into Proto-Balto-Finnic, it is difficult to argue that these changes were not related. The most reasonable explanation is that Verner’s law is a copy of rhythmic gradation, hence Germanic is North-West Indo-European spoken with a Balto-Finnic accent, thus Proto-Balto-Finnic (or related Para-Balto-Finnic dialect) speakers shifted to Germanic in Scandinavia. The comparison of Grimm’s law with Proto-Balto-Finnic influence may further indicate that the phonetic transition of North-West Indo-European to Proto-Germanic was almost entirely directed by Balto-Finnic.

The borrowing of lexical items from hunter-gatherers into Germanic refers to the potential adoption of Proto-Germanic *selxaz ‘seal’ (cf. ON selr, OE seolh, OHG selah) as well as Early Balto-Finnic *šülkeš ‘seal’ (Finnish hylje, Estonian hüljes) from the marine-oriented Sub-Neolithic Pitted Ware culture (Iversen and Kroonen 2017), whose people have been labelled “hard-core sealers” and “Inuit of the Baltic” due to the marked predominance of seal in their diet. This adoption happened probably via an early Uralic borrowing with Finno-Permic-like vocalism **šëlkëš, then into Pre-Germanic **selkos. This is yet another proof of the cohabitation of both groups close to Southern Scandinavia, probably represented first by the (Para-?)Balto-Finnic-speaking Battle-Axe culture, and later by the expansive Pre-Germanic-speaking Dagger Period of the Nordic Late Neolithic.

4.12.3. Samic influence on Common Germanic

Potential influences of common Proto-Samic developments on early Germanic dialects include the following (simplified) vocalic changes (Schrijver 2014):

·       North Germanic:

o   Stressed *ǣ → *ā; *ā, *ō → *ō;

o   Unstressed *ǣ → *ē, *ǣ; *ā → *ō, *ɔ̄; *ō → *ō, *ɔ̄.

·       West Germanic:

o   Stressed *ǣ → *ā; *ā, *ō → *ō;

o   Unstressed *ǣ → *ē, *ǣ; *ā *ǣ, *ō, *ɔ̄; *ō → *ō, *ɔ̄.

·       East Germanic:

o   Stressed *ǣ → *ē; *ā, *ō → *ō;

o   Unstressed *ǣ → *ē, *a/_R#; *ā *a/_R#, *ō; *ō → *ō, *o/_R#.

Because most of these developments of unstressed long vowels cannot have occurred in the parent language, they belong to the separate branches (see below § Palaeo-Germanic borrowings for a potential intermediate merging of Pre-Gmc. *ā, *ō → **ā → Gmc. *ō). Language contact could be behind North and West Germanic similarities, because their systems are more complex and asymmetrical than the Proto-Germanic ones, and they were pulled into the same, unexpected direction, but from sound laws that were rather differenthence compelled by independent (but similar) influences.

Because Germanic influence cannot account chronologically or typologically for some Proto-Samic changes (see below §4.18.3. Samic), close contacts with an intermediate, Proto-Samic-like substratum language in Scandinavia may be proposed, probably around the Baltic Sea, before the Balto-Finnic expansion (Schrijver 2014).

4.12.4. Contacts with Celtic and Iranian

Close Proto-Germanic contacts with Proto-Celtic and Common Celtic languages are obvious from reconstructed loanwords, which reveal the social and political influence of expanding Celts on Palaeo-Germanic speakers. Examples include (Kroonen 2013):

·       Gmc. *rīks ‘ruler’ < Cel. *rīgs ‘king’, from West IE *rēgs (see above § West Indo-European lexicon).

·       Gmc. *ambaxtaz ‘servant’ < Cel. *ambaxtos ‘servant’, from *ambhi-agtos, also borrowed into Lat. ambactus.

·       Gmc. *alxaz ‘foreigner; Celt’, from a Celtic tribal name Volcae.

·       Gmc. *brunōn- ‘mailshirt’, probably from a pre-form of OIr. bruinne ‘breast’.

·       Gmc. *gīslaz ‘hostage’, from a pre-form of OIr. gíall, with gell n. ‘pledge, surety’.

·       Gmc. *īsarna ‘iron’, from Proto-Celtic *isarno / īsarno ‘iron’.

·       Gmc. *lēka- ‘doctor, leech’ < Cel. *lēgio, cf. OIr. liaig ‘doctor’, before the great sound shifts.

·       Gmc. *lauda- ‘lead’ < Cel. *φloud-io, cf. Mir. lúaide ‘lead’.

·       Gmc. *Rīnaz ‘Rhein’ < Gaul. Rēnos < Cel. *Reinos, from *rei- ‘move, flow, run’.

·       Gmc. *tuna- ‘fenced area’ < Cel. *dūno-, cf. OIr. dún ‘fort, rampart’, hence a Pre-Germanic loan.

Here belong also the loanwords Gmc. *gaiza- ‘spear, tip’ → Cel. *gaiso-, cf. OIr. gae, MW gwaew, due to the a-vocalism (Matasović 2009); and Gmc. *xabanō- ~ OIr. cúan ‘port, harbour’ < *kap-on-, probably spread from one language to the other at a later stage (Kroonen 2013).

From East Iranian, probably through steppe-related contacts, words were adopted into late Proto-Germanic. Examples include:

·       Gmc. *keppǭ, skēpą ‘sheep’ ~ Pers. čapiš ‘yearling kid’,

·       Gmc. *kurtilaz ‘tunic’ ~ Ossetian kwəræt ‘shirt’.

·       Gmc. *kutą ‘cottage’~ Pers- kad ‘house’

·       Gmc. *paidō ‘cloak’ ~ Thrac. baítē ‘coat made of pelt’.

·       Gmc. *paϑaz ‘path’ ~ Av. pantā, gen. pathō.

·       Gmc. *ursta ‘work’ ~ Av. vərəštuua.


4.12.5. Schleicher’s fable in Proto-Germanic


ou̯iz ekwhōz-kwhe

ou̯iz thāzi̯āz u̯ulnā ne u̯ose

ekwhonz torkhe;

thom kwurum u̯ognom u̯egondhum,

thom mekelom borom,

thom gumonum khrothom berondhum.

ou̯is ekwhomoz sogwhe:

“khērtōn anguedai mez,

irom ekwhonz akondhum itundhei.

ekwhōz sogwhedhundh: “khlou, ou̯i!

khērtōn anguedai unsez u̯itundhmos:

iros, phothis, ou̯i̯ōm u̯ulnām

sez γwormom u̯ostim tou̯i̯edi.

jo-kwhe ou̯i̯ōm u̯ulnā ne esti.”

thod khlutos ou̯is akrom phloukhe.





aiz exu̯ōz-ux

aiz, ϑaizōz ullō ne as

exanz saxw;

ϑanǭ kurų agną egandų,

ϑanǭ mikilǭ burϑinjǭ,

ϑanǭ gumanų xraϑą berandų.

aiz examaz sagdē:

“hertô angaðai miz

sexandi u̯iran exanz akandų.”

exu̯ōz sagdēdun: “hauzī, ai!

hertô angaðai unsiz sexandumoz:

u̯iraz, φraō, aǫ̂ ullǭ

siz armą astį tauði.

axw awǫ̂ ullō ne isti.”

ϑat hauzidaz aiz akrą φlaux.

The Proto-Germanic version is modified from Euler and Badenheuer (2009).