A Grammar of Proto-Germanic

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Winfred P. Lehmann

Jonathan Slocum, ed.

Copyright © 2005-2007 by the Linguistics Research Center,
University of Texas at Austin.
All Rights Reserved


This grammar of Proto-Germanic is designed to provide a comprehensive but concise treatment of the language from approximately 2500 B.C. to the beginning of our era. All linguistic components are taken into consideration. The pragmatic component is dealt with in the Introduction, and to some extent in chapter six (on semantics and culture), in which the semantic component is the major topic; chapters two to five treat the grammatical component, with separate chapters devoted to phonology, inflectional morphology, derivational morphology, and syntax.

Discussion of details, as of special forms of words, is kept to a minimum on the grounds that these are better presented in etymological and other dictionaries, or in editions of texts. Similarly, only major or distinctive works on the grammar are listed. Treated since the early days of historical linguistics in the early nineteenth century, as by Jacob Grimm in four large volumes, a full bibliography is enormous; it can be accessed through bibliographic journals like those of the Indogermanische Gesellschaft or the Modern Language Association as well as the International Linguistic Bibliography.

However extensive earlier work may have been, it was devoted almost entirely to phonology and inflectional morphology. Accordingly, Proto-Germanic was not conceived as a whole, nor as a characteristic structure: it was treated as a reflex of the Indo-European reconstructions presented by leading specialists of the past like Brugmann and Meillet. But, as can scarcely be stated too frequently, Brugmann was explicit in pointing out that his Indo-European was not the result of historical reconstruction but rather a compilation of comparable data in its dialects, especially Sanskrit, Greek and Latin. When Proto-Germanic was related to such a compilation, it was assumed to be a direct reflex of the material published by Brugmann and others applying the same principles, rather than the reflex of an earlier language.

We assume a single Germanic language, with a common core of speakers, on the basis of elements common to all its dialects such as ablaut in phonology, comparable inflection of nouns, adjectives, pronouns and verbs, comparable syntactic structure, and comparable vocabulary (e.g. for kinship terms). We also assume that speakers of its dialects left that common core at different times, as is clear from linguistic data. Germanic does not reflect the augment, which must have been introduced into Indo-Iranian, Greek and Armenian after the Indo-European community began breaking up. Accordingly, Brugmann's compilation is based largely on data of a stage that does not apply to Germanic.

A realistic reconstruction of Proto-Germanic, then, must be made largely on the basis of evidence from its dialects. Treatment of that evidence also requires consideration of such matters as the period of time after the flourishing of the proto-language when the dialect was attested, the type of material that has survived, much of which is translated from Greek and Latin, and the body of data, most of which is ecclesiastical. Yet among the various proto-languages that have been reconstructed, Proto-Germanic may be one of the most realistic because of the highly detailed examination of the attested material over the past two centuries, the relative retention of vocabulary and grammatical structure as determined from study of the other Indo-European dialects, and the relevance of the reconstruction to the civilization as postulated on the basis of archeological and historical data.

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

  • 1. Introduction
  • 1.1. Definition of Proto-Germanic
  • 1.2. The Available Data
  • 1.3. The Linguistic Methods
    • 1.3.1. The Comparative Method
    • 1.3.2. The Method of Internal Reconstruction
    • 1.3.3. The Use of Residues
  • 1.4. Examination of the Results of such Applications by General or Typological Principles
  • 1.5. Specific Language Types
    • 1.5.1. Government and Agreement Languages
    • 1.5.2. VO and OV Languages
  • 1.6. The Phonological Structure of Languages
  • 1.7. The Syntactic Structure of Languages
  • 1.8. The Semantic Structure of Languages
  • 1.9. The Relationship of Germanic to the Other Indo-European Languages
  • 1.10. The Development of Germanic

II. Phonology

  • 2. Phonology
  • 2.1. The Phonological System
  • 2.2. The Segmental Phonemes of Proto-Germanic
  • 2.3. Relation of the PGmc Segmental Phonemes to those of PIE
  • 2.4. Exceptions to the Major Changes of Consonants
  • 2.5. Reflexes of the Indo-European Labio-velars
  • 2.6. Reflexes of the Indo-European Resonants
    • 2.6.1. Lengthening of Proto-Germanic /y/ and /w/
    • 2.6.1a. Evidence for Laryngeals in Proto-Indo-European
    • 2.6.1b. Reflexes of [y w] in Germanic when Adjacent to Laryngeals
    • 2.6.2. Development of PGmc -g- and -k- in the Neighborhood of Laryngeals with -w-
  • 2.7. The Late Proto-Germanic Vowel System
    • 2.7.1. The Phonological Status of PGmc [e] and [i]
    • 2.7.2. The Phonological Status of PGmc [u] and [o]
    • 2.7.3. The Long Vowel System
    • 2.7.4. Late Proto-Germanic Diphthongs
  • 2.8. The Supra-segmentals of Late Proto-Germanic
    • 2.8.1. The Intonation Pattern
    • 2.8.2. The Three Stress Accents
    • 2.8.3. Effect of the Stress on Final Syllables
  • 2.9. Morphonology
    • 2.9.1. Ablaut and the Laryngeals
    • 2.9.2. Germanic Morphonology as Exemplified in the Verb System
    • 2.9.2a. Vocalic Variation
    • 2.9.2b. Consonantal Variation
  • 2.10. The Conservatism of the Germanic Phonological System

III. Inflectional Morphology

  • 3. Inflectional Morphology
  • 3.A.1. Introduction on Syntax
  • 3.A.2. Inflectional Morphology; Classes of Words
  • 3.1. Inflection of Substantives
  • 3.2. Inflection of Nouns
  • 3.3. The Vowel Stems
    • 3.3.1. The o- stems
    • 3.3.2. The ā- stems
    • 3.3.3. The yo- and yā- stems
    • 3.3.4. The wo- and wā- stems
    • 3.3.5. The i- and u- stems
    • 3.3.6. Development of Noun Inflection in Proto-Germanic
  • 3.4. Inflection of Pronouns
    • 3.4.1. Personal Pronouns
    • 3.4.2. Demonstrative Pronouns
    • 3.4.3. Demonstratives with Further Extensions; Relative Pronouns
    • 3.4.4. The Anaphoric Pronoun
    • 3.4.5. The Interrogative Pronouns
  • 3.5. Inflection of Adjectives
    • 3.5.1. The Strong Inflection of Adjectives
    • 3.5.2. The Weak Inflection of Adjectives
    • 3.5.3. The Comparison of Adjectives
  • 3.6. The Numerals
  • 3.7. Inflection of Verbs
    • 3.7.1. Origin of the Tense System
    • 3.7.2. The Strong Verb System
    • 3.7.3. The Four Classes of Weak Verbs
  • 3.8. The Inflected Forms
  • 3.9. The Preterite-Presents
  • 3.10. The Uses of the Forms

IV. Derivational Morphology

  • 4. Derivational Morphology
  • 4.1. Types of Affixed Nominals by Meaning
  • 4.2. Forms of Nominal Suffixes
    • 4.2.1. Derivation with Reflexes of -t- and Accompanying Vowels
    • 4.2.2. Derivation with Reflexes of -j-
    • 4.2.3. Derivation with Reflexes of -n-
    • 4.2.4. Derivation with Reflexes of -l-
    • 4.2.5. Derivation with Reflexes of -r-
    • 4.2.6. Derivation with Reflexes of Further Suffixes
    • 4.2.7. Derivation with Nouns as Suffixes
  • 4.3. Verbal Suffixes and the Bases to which they were Added
    • 4.3.1. Additional Suffixes
  • 4.4. Derivation of Verbs by Means of Prefixes
  • 4.5. Derivation of Nouns by Means of Prefixes
  • 4.6. Compound Nouns
  • 4.7. Pronominal Compounds
  • 4.8. Derivation of Adjectives in Comparison
  • 4.9. Formation of Adverbs from Adjectives
  • 4.10. Conclusion: Types of Derivation and Their Semantic Development

V. Syntax

  • 5. Syntax
  • 5.1. Structure of the Sentence as SOV
    • 5.1.1. Evidence for OV Order in Simple Clauses
    • 5.1.2. Order in Comparative Constructions
    • 5.1.3. The Use of Postpositions
    • 5.1.4. Placement of Titles after Proper Names
    • 5.1.5. Word Order in Equational Sentences
    • 5.1.6. Evidence in Modifying Constructions
    • 5.1.6a. Relative Clauses Indicated by Particles
    • 5.1.6b. Demonstrative Pronouns Used to Introduce Relative Clauses
    • 5.1.7. The Use of Limiting Adjectives in Weak Inflection
    • 5.1.8. OV Order for Adjectives and Genitives
    • 5.1.9. Word Order in Marked Constructions
  • 5.2. The Word Order of Questions
  • 5.3. Subordinate Clauses and Compound Sentences
    • 5.3.1. Relative Clauses
    • 5.3.2. Participial Constructions Comparable to Relative Clauses
    • 5.3.3. Object and Adverbial Clauses
  • 5.4. Expression of Negation
  • 5.5. Expression of Voice: Middle and Passive Constructions
  • 5.6. Expression of Tense and Aspect
  • 5.7. Expression of Uncertainty and Modality
    • 5.7.1. Expression of Possibility
    • 5.7.2. Voluntative Expressions
    • 5.7.3. Expression of Obligation or Necessity
    • 5.7.4. Expression of Causation
    • 5.7.5. Expression of Command
  • 5.8. Sentence Adverbials
  • 5.9. The Germanic Sentence Structure and its Development

VI. Semantics and Culture

  • 6. Semantics and Culture
  • 6.1. The Culture of the Speakers of Proto-Germanic
    • 6.1.1. Religion
    • 6.1.2. Economic and Personal Practices
  • 6.2. The Kinship System and Family Structure
  • 6.3. The Household
  • 6.4. Construction
  • 6.5. Occupations
  • 6.6. The Economy
    • 6.6.1. The Numerals
    • 6.6.2. The Way of Life of the Germanic Peoples
  • 6.7. The Plant World
  • 6.8. Nature
  • 6.9. Words for Transportation
  • 6.10. Conclusions on the Bearing of the Semantic Structure of PGmc for Evidence on the Culture of the Speakers

VII. Texts

  • 7. Texts
  • 7.1. Gothic
  • 7.2. Old English
  • 7.3. Old Saxon
  • 7.4. Old High German
  • 7.5. Old Norse / Icelandic

A. Bibliography

  • A. Bibliography


acc.   accusative
Arm.   Armenian
Av.   Avestan
Crim.Go.   Crimean Gothic
dat.   dative
du.   dual
Du.   Dutch
f. or fem.   feminine
Gaul.   Gaulish
gen.   genitive
Gk   Greek
Gmc   Germanic
Go.   Gothic
Hitt.   Hittite
Ind.   Indic
inst.   instrumental
Ir.   Irish
Iran.   Iranian
Lat.   Latin
Lett.   Lettish (Latvian)
Lith.   Lithuanian
m. or masc.   masculine
ME   Middle English
MHG   Middle High German
NE   New English
NHG   New High German
NLG   New Low German
nom.   nominative
nt. or neut.   neuter
OCS   Old Church Slavonic
OE   Old English
OFris.   Old Frisian
OHG   Old High German
OIr.   Old Irish
OLat.   Old Latin
ON   Old Norse
OPruss.   Old Prussian
OS   Old Saxon
OSV   Object Subject Verb
OSwed.   Old Swedish
OV   Object Verb
OVS   Object Verb Subject
PGmc   Proto-Germanic
PIE   Proto-Indo-European
pl. or plur.   plural
pret.   preterite (i.e. past)
ptc.   participle
Run.   Runic
sg. or sing.   singular
Skt   Sanskrit
SOV   Subject Object Verb
SVO   Subject Verb Object
Toch.   Tocharian
Umb.   Umbrian
VO   Verb Object
VOS   Verb Object Subject
Wel.   Welsh
WGmc   West Germanic

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