English 451 - Duncan
SEVEN DISTINCTIVE FEATURES OF GERMANIC
Germanic became different from the other Indo-European language groups
in seven main ways:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: þa geongan ceorlas 'the
young fellows' and geonge ceorlas 'young fellows.' (The
weak adjective ends in -an while the strong adjective ends
- 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.
- Several Indo-European vowels were modified in the Germanic
languages. For example, Indo-European /a:/ became /o:/. Compare
Latin mater and Old English modor.
- 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.
- 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.