Indo-European > Germanic > West Germanic > Old High German

The West Germanic branch is often subdivided into Ingvaeonic, Istvaeonic and Irminonic, based on tribes mentioned by the Roman historian Tacitus in the 1st C. The Irminones, also called the Elbe Germans, migrated from the Elbe towards the higher lands of what is now southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and further on to what is now Lombardy. It was their particular variety of Germanic that ultimately developed into modern Standard German.

Old High German (althochdeutsch) is a collected term for several related dialects, including Bavarian, Alamannic and some eastern and central forms of Franconian. The major distinguishing feature of these from other W Gmc dialects is the High German Consonant Shift, which largely affected plosives (voiced and voiceless) and fricatives (Konig & Van Der Auwera, 1994: p90). Shifts include p > pf, t > ts, k > kh, b > p, and d > t, among others; for example, OSax dag, OLF dag > OHG tag; OSax gôd, OE gōd > OHG guot. Moreover, the southerly varieties naturally show more evidence of the shift than central German forms, eg East Franconian bluot > Bavarian pluot. The shift marks Modern High German's difference to this day, as demonstrated in many dialect maps.

The orthography between the dialects therefore bears substantial differences, as can be seen in the examples below. Most OHG dictionaries will confuse those learning the language, as many words beginning with ch or v will be listed respectively under g or f; this spelling system reflects the variant pronunciations within OHG. While the modern standard derived from a mixture of these dialects, it is important to remember that they also led to their own individually recognized modern forms, such as Bavarian (Bairisch), Swiss German or High Alemannic (Schwyzertüütsch) and Alsatian or Low Alemannic (Elsæssisch).

The oldest High German text is known as the Abrogans, a Latin-German word-book from the mid 8th C, written in the Bavarian dialect. Later on other regional works appeared, mostly translations of Christian texts such as the East Franconian Tatian (9th C) or the reworking of Isidore of Seville's De Fide Catholica (c.800). Original works included the Bavarian Muspilli and the mixed-dialect Hildebrandslied.

examples of old high german

In anaginne uuas uuort inti thaz uuort uuas mit gote inti got selbo uuas thaz uuort.
Thaz uuas in anaginne mit gote.
Alliu thuruh thaz vvurdun gitān inti ūzzan sīn ni uuas uuiht gitānes thaz thār gitān uuas;
thaz uuas in imo līb inti thaz līb uuas lioht manno.
Into thaz lioht in finstarnessin liuhta inti finstarnessi thaz ni bigriffun.
'Tatian', I.John i.1-5, East Franconian, c.9th C, author unknown.
(Translation: "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God, and God himself was the word. That was in the beginning with God. All was made through the word and without it nothing was made that there existed. There was life in Him, and that life was the light of Men. And that light shone in darkness and darkness did not understand it.")

2.6. Ih faru dhir for a endi chidhuuingo dhir aerdhriihhes hruomege, erino portun ih firchnussu, iisnine grindila firbrihhu, endi dhiu chiborgonun hort dhir ghibu, endi ih uuillu dhazs dhu firstandes heilac chiruni, huuanda ih bim druhtin dher dhih nemniu Israelo got.
3.1. In dhemu nemin Cyres ist Christ chiuuisso chiforabodot, for a dhemu sindun dheodun ioh riihhi chihneigidiu in ghilaubin. In andra uuiis ni uuardh eo einic in Israhelo rihhe Cyrus chinemnit.
'Isidor', transl. of Isidore of Seville 'De Fide Catholica', S. Rhenish Franconian, c.800.
(Translation: "I will go before you and subdue to you the proud races of the earth, I will smash bronze doors, break iron bolts, and give to you the hidden treasures, and I want you to understand the holy secret, for I am the Lord who calls you the God of Israel. In the name of Cyrus is Christ surely prophesied, before whom the peoples and the realm are subjugated by faith. There was not anyone other than this called Cyrus in the kingdom of Israel.")

Ik gihorta dat seggen,
dat sih urhettun ænon muotin,
Hiltibrant enti Hadubrant untar heriun tuem.
Sunufatarungo iro saro rihtun.
Garutun se iro gudhamun, gurtun sih iro suert ana,
helidos, ubar hringa, do sie to dero hiltiu ritun,
Hiltibrant gimahalta [Heribrantes sunu]: her uuas heroro man,
ferahes frotoro; her fragen gistuont
fohem uuortum, hwer sin fater wari
fireo in folche.
'Das Hildebrandslied', mixed dialect, c. late 8th C. (Translation: 'I have heard tell,that two chosen warriors, Hildebrand and Hadubrand,met one another, between two armies.Father and son, the champions examined their gear,prepared their armor, and buckled their swordsover their chain mail, before riding out to battle.Hildebrand, the older and more experienced man, spoke first,asking, with few words who his father wasand from which family he came.' DL Ashliman)

a short old high german bibliography
  • Joseph Wright, Old High German Primer (Oxford: 1906)
  • Orrin W. Robinson, Old English and its Closest Relatives (Routledge, London: 1992)
  • E. Konig & J. Van Der Auwera, The Germanic Languages (Routledge, London: 1994)
  • more to follow

some old high german links

Dead Language: GOTHIC

Indo-European > Germanic > East Germanic > Gothic

The Goths who swept through Europe during the decay of the Roman Empire bear no relation to the architectural term 'gothic', nor to the fashion of wearing too much black and make-up. The Gothic language, which has no modern descendants, is preserved in a few antique manuscripts, but offers philologists the best source for charting the development of the Germanic languages from their hypothetical common source, Proto-Germanic.

Gothic is the only known member of the now extinct East Germanic branch. It is thought that the Goths migrated from southern Sweden (where places such as Gotland and Västergötland still exist) to the banks of the Vistula, with many more migrating further south to the Black Sea, where they came into contact with the Greeks. The two main tribes were called Ostrogoths and Visigoths; the latter eventually spread across Europe to Spain where they governed for many years until the Moors arrived. Through wars and assimilation, however, by about the 8th C the Goths and their language ultimately ceased to be (Robinson, 1992: p47).

The major linguistic evidence for Gothic comes from the Codex Argenteus, which contains the work of Bishop Wulfila (or Ulfilas)(c300-383), who translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic. Wulfila invented a new alphabet for the Visigothic language, and his vocabulary and orthography bears strong hellenic influence. Being by far the oldest text written in any Germanic language, the importance of Wulfila's work to the field og Germanic Philology cannot be underestimated.

The linguistic influence of the Goths upon today's languages is debatable. Almost nothing bar personal names remains of Visigothic in Spanish, and the influence of the Gothic missions in Germany had little long-term effect, except upon Bavarian and Alemannic in the south: local names for the days of the week show echoes of Greek, which was transmitted via Gothic: eg, Bavarian phinztag (Thursday) from Greek pémpte via Gothic *pintēdags.

examples of gothic

1. Jah galáiþ aftra in Kafarnaum afar dagans, jah gafrēhun þatei in garda ist.

2. Jah suns gaqēmun managái, swaswē juþan ni gamōstēdun nih at daúra, jah rōdida im waúrd
3. Jah qēmun at imma usliþan baírandans, hafanana fram fidwōrim.
4. Jah ni magandans nēhwa qiman imma faúra manageim, andhulidēdun hrōt þarei was Iēsus, jah usgrabandans insáilidēdun þata badi, jah fralaílōtun ana þammei lag sa usliþa.
5. Gasaíhwands þan Iēsus galáubein izē qaþ du þamma usliþin: barnilō, aflētanda þus frawaúrhteis þeinōs.
6. Wēsunuh þan sumái þizē bōkarjē jáinar sitandans jah þagkjandans sis in haírtam seináim:
7. hwa sa swa rōdeiþ náiteinins? hwas mag aflētan frawaúrhtins, niba áins guþ?
8. Jah suns ufkannands Iēsus ahmin seinamma þatei swa þái mitōdēdun sis, qaþ du im: duhwē mitōþ þata in haírtam izwaráim?
9. hwaþar ist azētizō du qiþan þamma usliþin: aflētanda þus frawaúrhteis þeinōs, þáu qiþan: urreis jah nim þata badi þeinata jah gagg?
10. Aþþan ei witeiþ þatei waldufni habáiþ sunus mans ana aírþái aflētan frawaúrhtins, qaþ du þamma usliþin:

11. þus qiþa: urreis nimuh þata badi þein jah gagg du garda þeinamma.
12. Jah urráis suns jah ushafjands badi usiddja faúra andwaírþja alláizē, swaswē usgeisnōdēdun allái jah háuhidēdun mikiljandans guþ, qiþandans þatei áiw swa ni gasēhwun.
Wulfila's Bible translation, 'Mark Ch.II',c.4th C. (Translation:
1. And after some days he went again into Capernaum, and they found out that he was in the house.
2. And immediately many people came, so that they could no longer find room at the door, and so he preached the word to them.
3. And they came to him bearing a palsied man, carried by four people.
4. And not being able to come near to him due to the crowd, they opened up the roof where Jesus was, and breaking through they tied up the bed with cords and let it down to where the palsied man lay.
5. Then Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the palsied man: son (little child?), may your sins be forgiven you.
6. But there were some of the scribes sitting there and reasoning in their hearts:
7. Who is this who speaks such blasphemies? Who may forgive sins, save God alone?
8. And immediately Jesus, recognizing in his spirit that they reasoned themselves thus, said to them: why do you reason this in your hearts?
9. What is easier to say to the palsied man: be forgiven of your sins, or to say: Arise and take up your bed, and go?
10. However that you know that the Son of Man has the power on earth to forgive sins, he said to the palsied man:
11. To you I say: Arise and take up your bed and go to your house.
12. And immediately he arose and, lifting up the bed, went forth before all of those present so that they were all amazed, and they glorified the exalted God, saying they never saw such a thing.)

orthography note: while originally written in Wulfila's Gothic alphabet, this version was transcribed by Jospeh Wright. I have however replaced the letter with the letters hw (in italics), which roughly correspond with the letter's sound Another version can be found at, but their English translation does not always match the Gothic.

a short gothic bibliography
  • Joseph Wright, Grammar of the Gothic Language (Oxford: 1910)
  • Orrin W. Robinson, Old English and its Closest Relatives (Routledge, London: 1992)
  • D.H. Green, Language and History in the Early Germanic World (Cambridge: 1998)
  • Winfred P. Lehmann, Gothic and the Reconstruction of Proto-Germanic: in E. Konig & J. Van Der Auwera, The Germanic Languages, pp349-387 (Routledge, London: 1994)

some gothic links


Language Variety: AMERICAN ENGLISH

Indo-European > Germanic > West Germanic > English > American English

When we speak of the global influence of English, we are more often than not referring to the media-driven United States variety. While many British speakers consider their transatlantic cousins' tongue to be a bastardisation of their own, pouring scorn upon its influence, they are often surprised to learn that many of its features are simply retained from earlier forms of British English which have died away relatively recently.

For example, US english is a 'rhotic' speech, meaning they pronounce the final or medial 'r' in words such as word or four. This is a trait shared with the English spoken in Ireland, Scotland, South-West England and parts of Lancashire. For example, the word mirror is pronounced in London as mirrah, but in Los Angeles it sounds more like meer. Yet until the 17th C, all forms of English were rhotic, which explains the proliferation of 'silent' r's in many English words. Dialect within the US is less obvious to outsiders than in places such as Britain, but variations exist, even within single metropolitan areas (such as New York). Dialects are usually divided into Southern, Midland and Northern, but even this is an oversimplification; the ongoing survey The Linguistic Atlas of the United States (begun in 1931) provides an interesting guide (Crystal, 2004: p313).

English has been spoken by permanent settlers in North America since the early 17th C. Independence from Britain gave the former colonies impetus to create their own national standard. Noah Webster produed the American Dictionary in 1828, in which he primarily reformed spelling, such as: colour > color, plough > plow, traveller > traveler. Words ending in -ise or -ize were standardized to the common form -ize. In 1848 John Russell Bartlett compiled a Dictionary of Americanisms, parading such common words as awful and meeting, along with such oddities as sanctimoniouslyfied. To this day, linguists revel in listing the many vocabulary differences between the two varieties; in the late 19th C and throughout the 20th C it was believed that the two would be mutually unintelligible by the 21st (Bryson, 1990: p242).

In truth, the two forms are probably moving closer together, thanks to the age of mass-communications - though almost all new words and coinages are American in origin. This has led to the situation whereby some Americans are unfamiliar with other forms of English - while somebody from Liverpool or Cape Town may have little problem understanding someone from San Francisco, the Californian might find them unintelligible. However, it is important to remember that the actual lexical and syntactical differences are much smaller than many imagine; it is usually accent that proves to be the barriers.

examples of american english

I have lately made a Tour thro' Ireland and Scotland. In these Countries a small Part of the Society are Landlords, great Noblemen and Gentlemen, extreamly opulent, living in the highest Affluence and Magnificence: The Bulk of the People Tenants, extreamly poor, living in the most sordid Wretchedness in dirty Hovels of Mud and Straw, and cloathed only in Rags. I thought often of the Happiness of New England, where every Man is a Freeholder, has a Vote in publick Affairs, lives in a tidy warm House, has plenty of good Food and Fewel, with whole Cloaths from Head to Foot, the Manufactury perhaps of his own Family. Long may they continue in this Situation!
Benjamin Franklin, "Compar'd to these People Every Indian Is a Gentleman", 1772.

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who died here that the nation might live..
Abraham Lincoln, "The Gettysburg Address", 1863.

(more to follow...)

a short american english bibliography
  • Gunnel Tottie, An introduction to American English (Blackwell, Oxford: 2002)
  • John Russell Bartlett, "A Dictionary of Americanisms" (New Jersey, 1848, repr.2003)
  • David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (Cambridge: 2004)
  • Tom McArthur, Oxford Guide to World English (Oxford: 2002)
  • Bill Bryson, Mother Tongue (Penguin, London: 1990)
  • Bill Bryson, Made In America (Penguin, London: 1994)
  • Barbara A. Fennell, A History of English (Blackwell, Oxford: 2001)
  • Peter Eisenberg, German: in E. Konig & J. Van Der Auwera, The Germanic Languages, pp349-387 (Routledge, London: 1994)

some american english links

Modern Language: DUTCH

Indo-European > Germanic > West Germanic > Dutch

Dutch is a Low German language spoken by over twelve million people in the Netherlands and about five million in Belgium, where it is traditionally called Flemish. It is also found in such far-flung corners as Suriname and Indonesia, and is the close ancestor of Afrikaans, spoken by about six million people in South Africa.

It is generally accepted that Dutch developed from a form of Old Low Franconian; what is known is that Middle Dutch rose in prominence as the vernacular spoken by successful medieval merchant cities of Bruges, Ghent, Delft and Utrecht. Dialectal variance was a feature for many centuries, for the Low Countries were never a single unitary state, and at various times were ruled by foreign powers. The Dutch Revolt in the late 16th C brought independence from Catholic Spain for the Protestant Netherlands, but not for Belgian Flanders. The Golden Age in the 17th C saw a standard emerge, supported by the States Bible (Staatenbijbel) of 1637. This in turn put the Dutch in the driving seat of their language, restricting the influence of the Flemings.

While traditionally having two names, Dutch and Flemish are the same language, a fact now recognised officially in Belgium, which now uses the term Nederlands. Flemish pronunciation, however, is considered to be softer and far less guttural than that of Amsterdam. The fact that English speakers call the language of Holland Dutch dates back to medieval contact with Low German traders, and is comparable to the Modern German Deutsch.

Over the centuries Dutch has provided English with many loanwords. Shipping and commerce in the Middle Ages gave us words such as boom, smuggler and yacht, while later colonialism in North America provided US English with such words as cookie (from koekje), boss and even Santa Claus from Sinter Klaas (McArthur, 2002: p145). However the traffic is almost all one-way these days. The inexorable influence of English is such that it is almost impossible to find young Dutch people who do not speak it. While all schools teach it, many universities teach largely in English, leading to concerns that the increasing academic and political prestige of English could have dark consequences for Dutch in its native country.

examples of dutch

1. Daarna zeide de HEERE tot Noach: Ga gij, en uw ganse huis in de ark; want u heb Ik gezien rechtvaardig voor Mijn aangezicht in dit geslacht.
2. Van alle rein vee zult gij tot u nemen zeven en zeven, het mannetje en zijn wijfje; maar van het vee, dat niet rein is, twee, het mannetje en zijn wijfje.
3. Ook van het gevogelte des hemels zeven en zeven, het mannetje en het wijfje, om zaad levend te houden op de ganse aarde..
'Staatenbijbel', Genesis 7, 1637.

O dierbaar België
O heilig land der vaad'ren
Onze ziel en ons hart zijn u gewijd.
Aanvaard ons hart en het bloed van onze adren,
Wees ons doel in arbeid en in strijd..
Alexandre Dechet, 'De Brabançonne', The Belgian National Anthem (1830). (Translation: "O beloved Belgium, sacred land of our fathers,Our heart and soul are dedicated to you. Our strength and the blood of our veins we offer,Be our goal, in work and battle.")

Ik houd van de Nederlanders, ik houd van ons land, ik houd van de taal, en wil hier werken. En al zou ik aan de Koningin zelf moeten schrijven, ik zal niet wijken voor mijn doel bereikt is.
Ann Frank, 'The Diary of a Young Girl', 1940s. (Translation: "I love the Dutch, I love this country, I love the language and want to work here. And even if I have to write to the Queen myself, I will not give up until I have reached my goal.")

a short dutch bibliography
  • E. Konig & J. Van Der Auwera, The Germanic Languages, (Routledge, London: 1994)
  • more to follow

some dutch links



Indo-European > Italic > Western Romance > Old French, Middle French

Old French is considered by philologists to be a blanket term for the vernacular Gallo-Romance dialects of northern France. It was these dialects which were most affected by the arrival of the Germanic Franks in the fifth century AD. Often called the Langue d'Oïl, this linguistic area eventually succumbed to the politically prestigious Francien variety of Paris, resulting in middle French and ultimately the modern standard itself.

The oldest written appearance of vernacular French is found in the Strasbourg Oaths, which, though it looks markedly different to its modern descendant, is agreed to be much closer to Old French than to original Latin. As the power of the Kings of France grew, so did their language. OF courtly literature was among the most respected in Europe. Heroic epics such as the La Chanson de Roland, comic yarns such as the Roman de Renart and the romances of the Grail Cycle gave French literature its foundation. Other Oïl varieties were eventually shunned, or fell out of use. Anglo-Norman, an important literary language in England, was one such variety, but it did not die without leaving its indelible mark on Middle English.

The Middle French period is usually said to have lasted from c.1340 - c.1610, and is usually characterised by the loss of noun-declensions. This was a turbulent era for France, which was ravaged by both the Hundred Years War and by bitter religious conflict. Regional dialects were still common in literature, and Latin was still the most common language for legal affairs.

In 1539 King François I passed the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts, which made French the sole official language of the law. This is generally seen as the first major step towards Modern Standard French, though in truth it was many centuries before regional dialects or the Occitan languages were truly superceded in everyday life.

examples of old & middle french

Pro Deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro commun salvament, d'ist di in avant, in quant Deus savir et podir me dunat, si salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo et in ajudha et in cadhuna cosa, si cum om per dreit son fradra salvar dift, in o quid il mi altresi fazet, et ab Ludher nul plaid numquam prindrai qui, meon vol, cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit.
From 'The Strasbourg Oaths', c.842. (Translation: 'For the love of God, and for the salvation of the Christian people and for our common salvation, from this day forward, in so far as God gives me knowledge and power, I will help this my brother Charles both in aid and in everything, as one ought by right to help one's brother, on condition that he does the same for me; and I will never undertake any agreement with Lothair which, by my consent, night be of harm to this my brother Charles.' Peter Rickard)

Franceis i fierent de coer e de vigur;
Paien sunt morz a millers e a fuls:
De cent millers n’en poënt guarir dous.
Dist l’arcevesques : ‘Nostre hume sunt mult proz ;
Suz ciel n’ad rei plus en ait de meillors.
Il est escrit en la Geste Francor
Que bons vassals out nostre empereür.’
From 'La Chanson de Roland' (lines 1438-1444), possibly late 11th C. (Translation: "The Franks have struck with courage and vigour; the pagans have died in swarms, by the thousand. They cannot save two from a hundred thousand men. It is written in the Frankish annals that our emperor has real vassals.’" Glyn Burgess)

Freres humains qui après nous vivez
N’ayez les cuers contre nous endurcis
Car se pitié de nous povres avez
Dieu en aura plus tost de vous mercis.
François Villon, L'Epitaphe Villon (Ballade des Pendus), lines 1-4, c.1462. (Translation: "Brothers who live when we are gone, do not harden your hearts against us. For if you have pity on our poor souls, God will sooner take pity upon you.").

a short old & middle french bibliography
  • Wendy Ayres-Bennet, A History of the French Language Through Texts (Routledge, London: 1996)
  • Peter Rickard, A History of the French Language (Routledge, London: 1993)
  • M.K. Pope, From Latin to Modern French (Manchester: 1934)
  • Jacques Chaurand, Nouvelle Histoire de la Langue Francaise (Seuil, Paris: 1999)
  • Simon Gaunt, Retelling the Tale: An introduction to Medieval French Literature (London: 2001)
  • E. Einhorn, Old French: a concise handbook (Cambridge: 1974)
  • more to follow

some old & middle french links


Modern Language: ITALIAN

Indo-European > Italic > Romance > Italian

As with German, it is often easy to forget that Italy is more of a mosaic of related dialects under the umbrella name of Italian, rather than a linguistically uniform entity. The language used by the media and taught in schools emerged from the need for a literary standard, and later as the official language of a unified state.

Modern Italian is a direct descendant of Latin, the mother of all the Romance languages. The standard is sometimes referred to as 'Tuscan', for it is closest to the speech of Tuscany. This is perhaps due to the choice made by Dante Alighieri to use a largely Florentine dialect when he wrote the Divine Comedy, a classic of Italian literature (though he nearly wrote it in Occitan, a far more renowned literary medium of the time).

It is the language of around sixty million people in Italy, but is also spoken officially in Switzerland, and can be found in parts of East Africa where Italy once held colonies. As in most Romance languages, the stress is distinctive, and usually falls on the penultimate syllable. Like German, Italian is pronounced as it is written; like Latin, but unlike French, Italian has long consonants (as in hanno).

Italian has given English many words, mostly relating to those fields in which Italians have usually excelled. Musical terms such as piano, allegro, opera, tempo; architectural terms such as cupola, balcony, fresco; culinary terms such as spaghetti, pasta, pizza, broccoli; and many more besides, such as ghetto, and perhaps most importantly for people in England, umbrella.

examples of italian

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura
esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
che nel pensier rinova la paura!.
Dante Alighieri, 'Inferno', canto one, The Divine Comedy, c.1310-14. (Translation: "Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost. Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say what was this forest savage, rough and stern, which in the very thought renews the fear." Longfellow, Columbia Univ.)

Intra regni bene ordinati e governati, a tempi nostri, è quello di Francia: et in esso si truovano infinite constituzione buone, donde depende la libertа e sicurtа del re; delle quali la prima è il parlamento e la sua autoritа. Perché quello che ordine quel regno, conoscendo l'ambizione de' potenti e la insolenzia loro, e iudicando esser loro necessario uno freno in bocca che li correggessi.
Niccolo Machiavelli, 'The Prince', 1505. (Translation: "Among the best ordered and governed kingdoms of our times is France, and in it are found many good institutions on which depend the liberty and security of the king; of these the first is the parliament and its authority, because he who founded the kingdom, knowing the ambition of the nobility and their boldness, considered that a bit in their mouths would be necessary to hold them in." W.K.Marriot)

a short italian bibliography
  • Martin Maiden, A Linguistic History of Italian (Longman: 1995)
  • more to follow...

some italian links


Modern Language: GERMAN

Indo-European > Germanic > West Germanic > German

As a standard language, Modern High German evolved primarily as a literary language. It is understood and used by most people within German-speaking central Europe, but it is fair to say that this region is still a colourful patchwork of related dialects that often take precedence over the standard in everyday use.

While it is the official language of ninety million people in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein, there are varieties of German found in smaller pockets, namely Belgium, France, Romania, Hungary, Russia, Italy and in the Pennsylvania Dutch communities of the USA (among others). The various dialects are usually grouped into 'Upper' or 'High' German (which includes Bavarian, Allemanic, Alsacian), 'Central' German, and 'Low' German or 'Plattdeutsch'. This distinction is made by the effects of the so-called High German Consonant Shift, in which many consonant sounds changed, such as k > ch, t > ss, d > t, etc. This can be seen in examples such as northern maken, dorp and appel and southern machen, dorf and apfel. English and Dutch compare in this way to German, for example Eng foot & Dut voet > Ger Fuss.

The earliest German texts are largely southern Old High German, namely the Bavarian Abrogans, essentially the first German dictionary. However, most of the texts from this period show large regional variations in orthography and style. The classical Middle High German period also betrays dialectal differences, but the vast majority of works are composed in Upper German. The first major attempt to standardize the dialects came in the 1520s with Martin Luther's Bible translation. German soon became one of the great languages of philosophy and theatre, but perhaps the most celebrated of all German writers was Goethe, whose Faust is one of the masterpieces of European literature.

German is known abroad by many names: allemands in French, tysk in Danish, tedesco in Italian, saksaa in Finnish, niemiecki in Polish, duits in Dutch, german in English. They call their language Deutsch, which ultimately derives from the old Germanic word for 'people'; in Carolingian times their tongue was commonly called lingua thiudisca, that is, language of the (Germanic) people.

examples of german

Ich bin der Geist, der stets verneint !
Und das mit Recht; denn alles, was entsteht,
Ist wert, daß es zugrunde geht;
Drum besser wär’s, daß nichts entstünde.
So ist denn alles, was ihr Sünde,
Zerstörung, kurz das Böse nennt,
Mein eigentlices Element.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 'Faust', part one, 1775. (Translation: "I am the spirit that doth still deny; And I am right; for everything that is by rights should topple down to the abyss: ergo, 'twere better if nothing had been. All that you call destruction, evil, sin, that is the element that I work in." G.M. Cookson)

Als die großen Feuer brannten
Und in Blut die Städte standen
Aus der Trefe krochen Spinn und Kakerlak
Vor dem Schloßtor stand ein Schlächter
Am Altar ein Gottverächter
Und es saß im Rock des Richters der Azdak.
Bertolt Brecht, 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle', scene V, 1945. (Translation: "Great houses turn to ashes / And blood runs down the streets / Rats come out of the sewers / And maggots out of the meat. / The thug and the blasphemer / Lounge by the altar-stone. / Now, now, now Azdak / Sits on the Judgement Throne." James & Tania Stern, with WH Auden)

1.1: Am Anfang schuf Gott Himmel und Erde.
1.2: Und die Erde war wüst und leer, und es war finster auf der Tiefe; und der Geist Gottes schwebte auf dem Wasser.
1.3: Und Gott sprach: Es werde Licht! Und es ward Licht.
1.4: Und Gott sah, daß das Licht gut war. Da schied Gott das Licht von der Finsternis.
Martin Luther's translation of the Bible, (Genesis) c1522.

a short german bibliography
  • R.E. Keller, The German Language (London: 1978)
  • Charles V.J.Russ (ed), The Dialects of Modern German (Routledge, London: 1990)
  • Patrick Stephenson (ed), The German Language and the Real World (Oxford: 1995)
  • Peter Eisenberg, German: in E. Konig & J. Van Der Auwera, The Germanic Languages, pp349-387 (Routledge, London: 1994)

some german links


Modern Language: FRENCH

Indo-European > Italic > Western Romance > French

Traditionally the language of international diplomacy and culture, French is the mother tongue of fifty-one million people in France, as well as four million in Belgium, over a million in Switzerland and six million in Canada. The legacy of France's colonial history means that French is the official language of many more countries, most of them in Africa.

Modern French ultimately descended from the Vulgar Latin spoken in the Ile-de-France, though it had been greatly influenced by the Germanic tongue of the Franks. France was traditionally divided into two dialect areas, the Langue D'Oïl in the north and the Langue D'Oc in the south (so named for the local words for 'yes'). Though the southern 'Occitan' (or 'Provençal') became an important language of Mediterranean trade and culture, it was the northern variety that eventually dominated.

The earliest French vernacular texts were the 9th century Strasbourg Oaths, but the flowering of the Old French literary period probably came with the chansons de geste, courtly poems that championed the tales of such figures as Charlemagne. The centuries leading up to the French Revolution in 1789 saw a concerted effort to codify and centralize the language (as well as the state), embodied by the foundation of the Académie française in 1635 (Ayres-Bennet, 1996: p178).

French has had a profound influence on many other languages, but none more so than English. So it is all the more surprising that those who govern the French language have taken measures to restrict the use of anglicismes. While words such as 'le weekend' and 'le shopping' have become very hard to shift, books such as Evitez le franglais, parlez francais offer advice to francophones who wish to give back many English loanwords. In 1994 a law was passed (the Toubon Law) officially protecting French in the media and in education. Such a law does not exist for English in the UK.

examples of french

A tant son pere aperceut que vrayment il estudioyt tresbien et y mettoyt tout son temps, toutesfoys qu'en rien ne prouffitoyt, et que pys est, qu'il en devenoyt fou, niays, tout reveux et rassoté.
François Rabelais, 'Gargantua', 1534. (Translation: "Then his father realized that in truth he was studying very well and applying all his time to it, that nevertheless he was becoming stupid, idiotic, completely foolish and feeble-minded." Ayres-Bennet, p144)

Il en a coûté sans doute pour établir la liberté en Angleterre; c'est dans des mers de sang qu'on a noyé l'idole du pouvoir despotique; mais les Anglais ne croient point avoir acheté trop cher leur lois. Les autres nations n'ont pas eu moins de troubles, n'ont pas versé moins de sang qu'eux; mais ce sang qu'elles ont répandu pour la cause de leur liberté n'a fait que cimenter leur servitude.
Voltaire, 'Lettres Philosophiques sur les Anglais', 1733. (Translation: "The cost of liberty has undoubtedly been high in England; it is in seas of blood that the idol of despotic power has been drowned; yet the English do not think that they have bought their laws too expensively. Other nations have suffered calamities just as great, and have shed as much blood; but the blood they spilt in defence of their liberties only enslaved them more.")

Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. J’ai reçu un télégramme de l’asile : «Mère décédée. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingués.» Cela ne veut rien dire. C’était peut-être hier.
Albert Camus, 'L'Etranger', 1942. (Translation: "Mum died today. Or perhaps yesterday, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: "Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely. That doesn't mean anything. It may have been yesterday.")

a short french bibliography
  • Wendy Ayres-Bennet, A History of the French Language Through Texts (Routledge, London: 1996)
  • Urban T. Holmes Jr & Alexander H. Schutz, A History of the French Language (New York: 1933)
  • Peter Rickard, A History of the French Language (Routledge, London: 1993)
  • Jacques Chaurand, Nouvelle Histoire de la Langue Francaise (Seuil, Paris: 1999)
  • M.K. Pope, From Latin to Modern French (Manchester: 1934)
  • Martin Harris & Nigel Vincent (eds), The Romance Languages (Routledge, London: 1990)
  • Yves Laroche-Clair & Bernard Pivot, Evitez le franglais, parlez français (Albin Michel, Paris: 2004)

some french links


Old Language: OLD ENGLISH

Indo-European > Germanic > West Germanic > Old English

Germanic tribes began migrating to Britain in the fourth and fifth centuries, bringing with them various dialects that became collectively known to modern scholars as Old English (OE). To the modern reader this ancestor more closely resembles German or Dutch than the language we speak today, yet the hundred most commonly used words in Modern English are of OE origin (Crystal, 2004: p124).

OE, also known as Anglo-Saxon, was much more of an inflected language than that of today. Many of the inflections were lost in the late OE and Middle English periods, probably due to the influence of the Danes and the French. OE is normally divided into the convenient dialect areas of West Saxon, Kentish, Northumbrian and Mercian (see Baugh & Cable: p52); many of today's British accents are testimony to this dialectal period. Most of the corpus of extant OE texts are later West Saxon in origin. After his defeat of the Vikings, Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, instigated a resurgence of West Saxon literacy. OE was not insular, however; Anglo-Saxon missionaries spread English influence around Europe, particularly in Germany.

The earliest English writing is found in runic manuscripts. Runes were common throughout Germanic Europe, and the most weel-known English runes are to be found on the Frank's Casket and the Ruthwell Cross. The latin script was later adopted, though certain runic characters such as thorn (þ) were kept.

Without a doubt the most famous OE poem is Beowulf, the first great heroic epic in English. Written in the traditional alliterative style, Beowulf is set in pre-migration, pre-Christian Scandinavia, and promotes values of courage, heroism and loyalty as well as painting a picture of the early-Germanic mead-hall culture.

examples of old english

Ða com of more under misthleoþum
Grendel gongan. Godes yrre bær.
Mynte se manscaða manna cynnes
Sumne besyrwan in sele þam hean.
From 'Beowulf', lines 710-713 (c.8th C, WSaxon) (Translation: 'Then from the moor under the misty slopes came Grendel advancing. He bore God's anger. The evil ravager intended to ensnare one of the race of men in that lofty hall.' E. Treharne: 2004)

Nū wē sculon herigean heofonrīces Weard
Meotodes meahte ond his mōdgeþanc,
Weorc Wuldorfæder, swā hē wundra ghwæs,
Ēce Drihten, ōr onstealde.
Hē ærest sceōp eorðan bearnum
Heofon tō hrōfe, hālig Scyppend.
Þa middangeard monncynnes Weard,
Ēce Drihten, æfter tēode
Fīrum foldan, Frēa ælmihtig.
Cædmon’s Hymn’, from Bede's 'Ecclesiastical History of the English People' (c. 7th C, WSaxon). (Translation: 'Praise we the Lord of the heavenly kingdom, God's power and wisdom, The works of His hand; as the Father of glory, Eternal Lord, Wrought the beginning of all His wonders! Holy Creatot! Warden of men! First, for a roof, O'er the children of earth, He stablished the heavens, and founded the world, and spread the dry land for the living to dwell in. Lord Everlasting! Almighty God!' C.W. Kennedy, 1916)

Nu scylun hergan hefaenricaes uard,
metudæs maecti end his modgidanc,
uerc uuldurfadur, sue he uundra gihuaes,
eci dryctin, or astelidæ.
He aerist scop aelda barnum
heben til hrofe, haleg scepen;
tha middungeard moncynnæs uard,
eci dryctin, æfter tiadæ
firum foldu, frea allmectig.

'Caedmon's Hymn', Northumbrian version.

a short old english bibliography
  • Bruce Mitchell & Fred C. Robinson, A Guide to Old English (Blackwell, Oxford: 1992)
  • Dorothy Whitelock (ed), Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Reader, 15th ed (Oxford: 1975)
  • Elaine Treharne (ed), Old & Middle English, 890-1400: An Anthology, 2nd ed (Blackwell, Oxford: 2004)
  • Dennis Freeborn, From Old English to Standard English, 2nd ed (Macmillan, London: 1998)
  • Richard Hogg, Introduction to Old English (Edinburgh: 2002)
  • Orrin C. Robinson, Old English and its Closest Relatives (Routledge, London: 1992)
  • Richard Marsden, The Cambridge Old English Reader (Cambridge: 2004)

old english links



Indo-European > Germanic > West Germanic > Middle English

For many philologists, ‘Middle English’ is little more than a convenient term for the collection of English dialects as they stood in the later middle ages, prior to standardization. Most agree that this period falls between the years 1100-1450. (Burrow/Turville-Petre: p3)

Old English was already evolving by the time of the Norman invasion, but from 1066 onwards the language of the governing classes was not English but French. Scribes and poets wrote predominantly in French and Latin, while the native English tongue, unfettered by a literary standard, was transformed by the influx of continental vocabulary. French loans were largely, but not exclusively, concerned with military, ecclesiastical, and judicial vocabulary. The basis of the grammar, however, remained solidly Germanic.

Due to the often striking differences between conventions of orthography, grammar and lexicon, the later medieval period has often been called a ‘dialect age’. Texts which date to the same period, such as Layamon’s Brut and The Owl and The Nightingale (shown below) are testament to this variance.

Perhaps the most well-known of Middle English authors to modern readers was Geoffrey Chaucer. His best known work was The Canterbury Tales, written towards the end of the fourteenth century. As an example of how people from different backgrounds and regions came together to share their stories and language, it is almost a metaphor for how the language itself was beginning to come together at the end of the later medieval era.

examples of middle english

Hail seo þu, Arður, aðelest kinge.
Ich æm þin a3e mon; moni lond Ich habbe þurhgan.
Ich con of treowrekes wunder feole craftes.
From 'Brut', by Layamon, lines 11425-11429, c.1200, poss. Worcestershire. (‘Good health to you, Arthur, most noble king, I am your own man; I have travelled through many lands. I know many marvellous skills of carpentry.’)

Ich was in one sumere dale,
In one suþe di3ele hale,
Iherde ich holde grete tale
An hule and one ni3tingale.
From 'The Owl and the Nightingale', lines 1-4, c.1200, SE England.

Quen þe maire with his meynye þat merveille aspied,
By assent of þe sextene þe sayntuaré þai kepten,
Bede unlouke þe lidde and lay hit byside;
Þai wold loke on þat lome quat lengyd withinne.
From 'St Erkenwald', lines 65-68, c.1390s, Cheshire.

A Knyght ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
To riden out, he loved chivalrie,
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie.
From ‘The Canterbury Tales (The General Prologue)’ by Geoffrey Chaucer, lines 43-46 (Riverside Chaucer edition), c.1390s, London.

a short middle english bibliography
  • J.A.Burrow & Thorlac Turville-Petre, A Book of Middle English, 2nd ed. (Blackwell, Oxford: 1996)
  • Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Benson (Oxford: 1987)
  • David Matthews, The Invention of Middle English (Pennsylvania: 2000)
  • Simon Horobin & Jeremy Smith, An Introduction to Middle English (Edinburgh: 2002)
  • Dennis Freeborn, From Old English to Standard English, 2nd ed (Macmillan, London: 1998)

middle english links

Modern Language: ENGLISH

Indo-European > Germanic > West Germanic > English

At the beginning of the 21st Century, English is recognised as having become the world's first truly global language. Spoken as a mother tongue by at least 350 million people (Dalby, 2004: p166), it is also the second language of more than a billion others. No language in history has been more widely spread, and it continues to grow.

English belongs to the western branch of the Germanic family, though centuries of Danish and (more prominently) French influence has meant that it now looks very different from its closest linguistic brother, Frisian. It first grew from the various West Germanic dialects spoken by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who settled in Britain from around the fourth century onwards. Subjugation by the French-speaking Normans following 1066 radically altered the shape of Old English; the term 'Middle English' is used to describe the period from around the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries in which the language metamorphosed into early Modern English. Shortly after the printing press was introduced in London in 1476, the standard began to emerge.

As England grew politically into a world power, so did the language itself. Its magpie tendency to borrow words from all over the world is now countered by the incessant adoption of English terminologies and vocabulary, particularly in media-hungry countries. This has resulted in various hybrid forms of local languages, such as Deutschlish and Spanglish (McArthur, 2003: p141, p201). The growth of Franglais has prompted the French to impose restrictions on the number of English words their language can adopt.

The varieties of English itself are, given its global status, numerous, though two stand out as yielding the most influence: British and American. Their differences are largely in terms of spelling and pronunciation - lexical variance is much smaller than you might imagine. Though many like the idea of 'two nations divided by common language', the truth is that their mutual intelligibilty, thanks largely to the power of global mass-communication, appears to be assured. It is far more likely that new 'English families' will emerge from the Englishes of Africa and Southern Asia; as India rises politically and economically, so will its form of English.

examples of modern english:

That England that was wont to conquer others
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my enduring death!

Early Modern English: 'Richard II', by William Shakespeare (c.1590s)

Mr Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character.
Modern English: 'Pride and Prejudice', by Jane Austen (c.1813)

Moon, stars and streetlamps burst back into life. A warm breeze swept the alleyway. Trees rustled in neighbouring gardens and the mundane rumble of cars in Magnolia Crescent filled the air again. Harry stood quite still, all his senses vibrating, taking in the abrupt return to normality.
Modern English: 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix', by J.K. Rowling (2003)

a short english bibliography:

  • Tom McArthur, Oxford Guide to World English (Oxford: 2003)
  • Albert C. Baugh & Thomas Cable, A History of the English Language (Routledge, London: 2002)
  • David Crystal, The English Language, 2nd ed. (Penguin, London: 2002)
  • David Crystal, English as a Global Language, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: 2003)
  • David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: 2004)
  • Ishtla Singh, The History of English (Hodder, London: 2005)
  • Dennis Freeborn, From Old English to Standard English (Macmillan, London: 1998)
  • Barbara Strang, A History of English (Methuen, London: 1970)
  • Gerry Knowles, A Cultural History of the English Language (Arnold, London: 1997)
  • Robert Burchfield, Unlocking the English Language (Faber & Faber, London: 1989)
  • The Cambridge History of the English Language (Cambridge: 1992-2001)
  • Kate Burridge, Blooming English (Cambridge: 2004)

english language links