5. Germanic and the Development of Old English

1. Compare the two contact situations described in this chapter (Celtic & Old English; and Old English & Old Norse, as spoken by the Vikings) and their effects on the development of English.

The Anglo-Saxons and Celts

The account of the Germanic tribes coming to the British Isles from mainland Europe is given by the Venerable Bede in his Latin history of England (Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum – Ecclesiastical History of the English People) – finished in 731, translated into OE in the 9th century. According to Bede, the Germanic tribes were invited by the Celts in order to help fight the Picts and Scots in the north – a more likely explanation is that the Germanic tribes arrived due to overpopulation of the homeland.

The largest invasion took place during the 5th and 6th century The majority of the incoming Germanic tribes consisted of the Jutes, the Saxons and the Angles. They brought the West Germanic dialects and inhabited approximately the area of today’s England and pushed the Picts and Scots to the north.

The Jutes – Kent, Isle of Wight, part of Hampshire

The Saxons – Wessex, Sussex, Essex -------- Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy (Kent, Wessex, Sussex, Essex, East Anglia, Northumbria

The Angles – East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria

After 800, four kingdoms emerged as politically viable – Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria

Celts as original inhabitants pushed to Cornwall, Wales and Brittany or assimilated into the Germanic culture. They were referred to by the Germanic tribes as Wealas (Welsh = ‘strangers’, ‘foreigners’, ‘slaves’)

During the late 6th century, the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons took place; firstly from Ireland, later from Rome:

– linguistically important: the Anglo-Saxons acquired the Roman alphabet from the Irish missionaries, Roman and Christian tradition of scholarship and literacy, Latin loan words entering the vocabulary.


The Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavians

Scandinavian invasions of the British Isles, beginning in the late 8th century, started off as isolated attacks, later the Vikings started settling down, by 870 only Wessex remained under Anglo-Saxon control.

878 – a pact between king Alfred of Wessex and the Danish King Guthrum --- establishing the Danelaw (area under Danish control).

After a period of relative peace, Wessex defeated in the Battle of Maldon (991) - the Danes rule in England until 1042, when the Anglo-Saxon rule was restored by Edward the Confessor.

The Viking raids and consequent colonization were linguistically important: the Scandinavian North Germanic dialects were closely related to the West Germanic dialect of Anglo-Saxons and thus permitted communication between the two groups. The large settlement of Scandinavians in northern England still visible in the region’s place names (e.g. Sheffield, Whitby, Scarborough). The Scandinavians adapted to the Anglo-Saxon lifestyle and the contact between the two languages was significant (assimilation, intermarriages).


2. Remember that two exceptions are mentioned in connection with Grimm’s Law. Describe them and try to explain why one is traditionally mentioned as a part of the Grimm’s Law, while the other one as a separate (though directly related) change.

When Grimm's law was discovered, two types of irregularities were spotted as well. These exceptions from the Grimm’s law involve firstly reflexes of the PIE voiceless stops, which appear in Germanic as voiced fricatives (and later usually as voiced stops) rather than as the voiceless fricatives. For example the word father, evolved from PIE phater to fader in ProtoGermanic. Secondly, PIE *s is also affected, shifting first to *z and then to *r.

We can still observe these alternations in the ModE pairs was/were, lost/(for)lorn.

It was Karl Verner who discovered the reasons for these irregularities. He realized that it was matter of a conditioned sound change brought about by the place of the accent in the word. Hence, the law is If a PIE voiceless stop is in a voiced environment, then it will appear in Germanic as a voiced fricative (or stop) when the PIE accent does not fall on the immediately preceding syllable (i.e. vowel).

Basically, Verner observed that the lack of stress is associated with voicing, and we can see that in Modern English in the pairs off (a stressed adverb and hence voiceless) and of (an unstressed preposition and hence voiced).

In such a system the accent in a word can fall on any syllable (depending on the word and how it is inflected). This accentual system is retained in Sanskrit and Classical Greek. An important change between PIE and Germanic, however, is the development of a system of fixed ‘stress accent’, which depends on variations in loudness. In the fixed accentual system of Germanic, the accent falls always on the first or root syllable of the word. T

he original location of stress was often retained in Greek and early Sanskrit; in Germanic, though, stress eventually became fixed on the initial (root) syllable of all words.

The crucial difference between *patḗr and *bʰrā́tēr was therefore one of second-syllable versus first-syllable stress (cf. Sanskrit pitā́ versus bhrā́tā). Similarly, in PIE, the accent of the infinitive is on the first syllable (as it is in Greek).

So, we find the consonants expected by Grimm’s Law. However, the accent of the past participle is on the second syllable (as it is in Greek), not immediately preceding the consonant, and so these consonants are predicted by Verner's Law.

3. What is Proto-Germanic and what are its main branches?

Proto-Germanic is the parent language of the languages in the Germanic branch of Indo-European.

The speakers were a subgroup of the people who left the Indo-European homeland perhaps as early as the tenth century BCE. Because of geographical separation from other Indo-Europeans, they developed a distinct dialect, or language, over time.


West Germanic – High (German, Yiddish, Swiss German X Low (Plattdeutsch, Dutch, Afrikaans, Flemish, Frisian, ENGLISH)

North Germanic – West (Norwegian, Icelandic, Faeroese) X East (Sweidsh, Danish)

East Germanic – (Gothic, Vandalic, Burgundian) – all are extinct

4. How is Gothic important for the study of the history of English?

The oldest record of East Germanic is a translation of parts of the Greek New Testament into Gothic. This translation was made around 350 CE by a Bishop Wulfila (or Ulfilas), a Visigoth who was apparently fluently bilingual in Greek and Gothic (he may have had a Greek mother) and who adapted the Greek alphabet to write Gothic. His Bible translation is linguistically a very important document giving an extensive and accurate record of an older form of this language family.

5. Describe the grammatical and lexical changes from Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic.


- completed vs ongoing action in Germanic languages (vs. three-way aspectual distinction in PIE)


– expresses the concept of time

The system which developed in Germanic is especially simple, conflating the past and perfect stems of PIE to form the preterit tense, and retaining the present stems as the present tense. While we usually think of Modern English as having three tenses, we must keep in mind that we indicate only two tenses by simple inflection, e.g. walk (pres.) and walked (pret.), while we must use a periphrastic form, e.g. will walk/be going to walk, to indicate the future.


The way in which the preterit tense is expressed also changed. Germanic inherited from PIE a means of forming the preterit by ablaut (changing the root vowel) to indicate present, preterit, and past participle forms of the verb. We see evidence of this in Modern English in the strong (nowadays termed irregular) verbs such as begin/be gan/begun, write/wrote/written, drink!drank/drunk, where the preterit and past participle are distinguished from the infinitive (present) by different vowels. In Germanic, there are seven regular patterns of such vowel gradation. In addition to IE ablaut; Germanic innovated a second means of expressing the preterit, using a dental suffix, a term used to denote the final alveolar stops in Modern English. Today’s regular verbs, such as love/loved, walk/walked, load/loaded, form their past tense in this way, using -d, -t, or -ed. Jacob Grimm, a nineteenth-century grammarian (as well as a collector of Germanic fairy tales), called such verbs weak as opposed to strong. The origin of the dental suffix is obscure, although it is thought that it may derive from a form of the verb do which has become attached to the verb as a suffix. The weak pattern became the productive, or analogical, means of making preterit forms in Germanic. In Modern English, most verbs are weak, and any verb entering the language forms its preterit using a dental suffix. We can see this with an invented verb such as glick\ we instinctively form the preterit as glicked. The once-standard IE system of ablaut (which would give us something like glick/ glack/gluck) has given way to the Germanic innovation.


Germanic retained indicative (fact), imperative (command) but conflated optative, injunctive (unreality) and subjunctive (possibility) as the subjunctive which indicates all non-factual events apart from direct commands.


In addition to an active voice, PIE has a middle voice inflection, comparable to the ModE reflexive form {John burned himself) in which the subject is both acting and acted upon. The middle voice was lost in Germanic, except in Gothic, where it was retained in a limited way, and in Old Norse. In all other cases, a new phrasal passive takes its place.

Nominal system – case

The nominal system of Germanic simplified the case distinctions of PIE. Case is an indication, by means of inflection, of the function of a noun in a sentence: whether it is subject, object, indirect object, and so on. PIE inflects nouns for eight cases.

In Germanic, a number of these cases fell together, in what is called case syncretism, so that only five cases are marked:

« nominative (combining nominative and vocative).

• accusative,

• genitive,

• dative (combining ablative, locative, and dative),

• instrumental

Adjectival endings

The set of adjectival endings inherited from PIE came to be used when an adjective alone modifies the noun, e.g. gode batas ( ‘good boats’), but Germanic developed an additional set of adjectival endings which are used when modifiers other than an adjective, such as a demonstrative {this, that) or possessive adjective {my, your, his), occur with the noun, e.g.pa godan batas (‘these good boats’). Jacob Grimm called the former strong, or indefinite, and the latter weak, or definite.


A large number of words in Germanic, perhaps one-third, are not found in any of the other IE languages. These include such common words as brew, bride, death, earth, goose, gold, sea, soul, and weave. While these could conceivably be IE words lost in the other branches, it is also possible that they are neologisms or loan words from a non-IE language with which Germanic came into contact during the Common period. Without any direct evidence for such a substratum, we may only speculate about how this non-IE vocabulary entered Germanic.

6. Describe the Grimm’s Law: what was affected, how was it affected, what kind of change was it. Illustrate with examples.

One of the two most important sound changes affecting the history of English is the First Sound Shift, the other is the Great Vowel Shift.

The First Sound Shift consist of Grimm’s Law and Verner’s Law.

Grimm’s Law is a phonological change which affected all the stop consonants of PIE and it was described in detail by Jacob Grimm in his grammar of German in 1828, hence the name Grimm’s Law.

Grimm’s Law affects only the stop consonants of PIE; it does not affect the one fricative *s, the liquids *1 and *r, the nasals *m and *n, or the glides *w and *j, which remain unchanged in Germanic. It affected all the Germanic languages and is dated between 1000 and 400 BCE. Its causes are unknown.

It happens in three parts:


All voiceless stops in PIE became the corresponding voiceless fricatives in Germanic, that is:

p>f (PIE pəter > OE fæder) = father

t>θ (trei > θreo) = three

k>x [chá] or h (in initial positions) [krewə > hreaw] = raw

kw > xw or hw (in initial position) [kw od > hwæt] = what

Note that [x] represents a voiceless velar fricative, a sound not found in Modern English, and that the superscript [w] represents a sound produced with lip rounding.

2.Voiceless stops

All the voiced stops in PIE become the corresponding voiceless stops in Germanic. There is no change in position or in manner of articulation, just in voicing.


PIE kan(n)abi > OE hænep > ModE hemp = cannabis


PIE dekm > ModE ten


PIE genu > OE cneo = knee


PIE gwei > OE cwicu = living

3. Voiced aspirated stops > voiced fricatives

All voiced aspirated stops in PIE become the corresponding voiced fricatives. Later, the voiced fricatives become voiced stops in Germanic. The net effect is that they lose aspiration.

Bh> b PIE bhrater > OE broþor

Dh > d PIE əndhero > OE under

Gh > g PIE wegh (ride) >OE weg (road)

Gwh > g or w PIE gwher >OE warm

7. What is relative chronology and how can it be applied to Grimm’s Law, Verner’s Law, Germanic Accent Shift and Second Germanic Sound Shift?

Relative chronology is when two or more changes can be put in chronological order relative to each other. This is usually possible because the result of one change would have been different if it had preceded or followed the other.

Because of the change to a fixed accent system in Germanic, the conditions for Verner’s Law are obscured: the accent always appears on the first syllable in Germanic, even when it was originally on another syllable in PIE.

While this fixing of stress makes it difficult to determine the conditions for Verner’s Law, it does allow us to order the changes involved. We can tell that they must have occurred in the following sequence:

1. Grimm’s Law

2. Verner’s Law

3. Accent shift

8. What is a drag/pull chain and a push chain?

In a drag chain, one sound shifts, leaving a gap which is filled by the shift of another sound. The first sound thus ‘drags’ the second sound into its place. It’s typical for consonantal sifts, like Grimm’s Law.

The opposite mechanism, a push chain, in which one sound begins to encroach upon the position of another sound and eventually ‘pushes’ it into a new position, is more common with vowel shifts because vowels can shift in incremental amounts.

9. Briefly describe the major historical events from the coming of the Romans to Britain until the 11th century. Focus especially on the events that had an important influence on the development of English.

A. the settlement of England by Germanic tribes in the fifth century

B. their Christianization beginning in the late sixth century

C. and the invasion and colonization of England by Scandinavians in the eighth to the tenth centuries

11. What is the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy? Name the major Old English dialects and the original Germanic tribes with which they are associated.

The Heptarchy (from the Greek "seven" and "to rule") is a collective name applied to the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of south, east and central England during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, conventionally identified as seven: East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex and Wessex. The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms eventually unified into the Kingdom of England.

The four major dialects recognized correspond more or less to the areas settled by the different Germanic tribes:

1. Kentish, spoken in Kent and part of Hampshire;

2. West Saxon, spoken in the rest of the area south of the Thames (except for Celtic-speaking Cornwall);

3. Mercian, spoken in the area between the Thames and Humber rivers (except for Celtic-speaking Wales)

4. Northumbrian, spoken in the area north of the Humber River (except Celticspeaking Scotland).

Mercian and Northumbrian are sometimes grouped together as Anglian, since they bear many similarities. Mercian and Northumbrian are sometimes grouped together as Anglian, since they bear many similarities and are found in areas of strong Norse influence.