Common Germanic Phenomena

September 15th, 20112:48 pm


Common Germanic Phenomena

1.1. Grimm’s law

Grimm’s Law presents a principle of relationships in Indo-European languages, which was first formulated by Jakob Grimm in 1822. The first sound shift, affecting both English and German, was from the early phonetic positions documented in the ancient, or classical, Indo-European languages (Sanskrit, Greek, Latin) to those still evident in the Low German languages, including English; the second shift affected only the High German languages (e.g., standard German).

Grimm’s law states that in prehistoric times:

(1) the Indo-European fricatives bh, dh, and gh became the Germanic voiced stops b, d, and g;
(2) the Indo-European voiced stops b, d, and g became the Germanic voiceless stops p, t, and k;
(3) the Indo-European voiceless stops p, t, and k became the Germanic fricatives f, th, h;

1.2. Verner’s Law

After the first Consonant Shift four voiceles fricatives – f, þ, h(x), s (s – the only fricative which had existed in IE) appeared in the Proto-Germanic language. They changed into respective voiced fricatives if used intervocally and the preceding vowel did not bear the stress. This cause was noticed and explained by Danish linguist Karl Verner in 1877. Thus, four voiceless fricatives, /f, þ, h(x), s/, which had appeared as a result of the Germanic Shift, became voiced except for the combinations ‘ht, hs, ft, fs, sk, st, sp.’ As this alternation concerns various word forms, it was also called a grammatical alternation. Later on voicing of fricatives intervocally became widespread, and it did not depend on the stress type. Though K. Verner considered the process as an exception from the Germanic Shift, his discovery is not an exception but its further development.

1.3. Rhotacism

The IE fricative “s” was preserved in Germanic languages only when not influenced by the Verner’s law and it did not change into “z”. The sound was preserved in the Gothic language but it changed into ‘r’ in Scandinavian and West-Germanic languages. This process is called rhotacism (r- the Greek letter ‘rho’):

Got, hausjan – Sc heyra – OE hieran – NE hear
Got. huzd – OE hord
NE. was, sg – were, pl

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