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Germanic Alphabet

Germanic tribes used three different alphabets for their writing. These alphabets partly succeeded each other in time.

The earliest of these was the Runic alphabet, also called Futhark, writing system of uncertain origin used by Germanic peoples of northern Europe, Britain, Scandinavia, and Iceland from about the 3rd century to the 16th or 17th century AD. Runic writing appeared rather late in the history of writing and is clearly derived from one of the alphabets of the Mediterranean area. Because of its angular letter forms, however, and because early runic inscriptions were written from right to left like the earliest alphabets, runic writing seems to belong to a more ancient system. Scholars have attempted to derive it from the Greek or Latin alphabets, either capitals or cursive forms, at any period from the 6th century BC to the 5th century AD. A likely theory is that the runic alphabet was developed by the Goths, a Germanic people, from the Etruscan alphabet of northern Italy and was perhaps also influenced by the Latin alphabet in the 1st or 2nd century BC. Two inscriptions, the Negau and the Maria Saalerberg inscriptions, written in Etruscan script in a Germanic language and dating from the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, respectively, give credence to the theory of Etruscan origins for runic.

After the 12th century, runes were still used occasionally for charms and memorial inscriptions until the 16th or 17th century, chiefly in Scandinavia. The Early Germanic script had 24 letters, divided into three groups, called ættir, of 8 letters each. The sounds of the first six letters were f, u, th, a, r, and k, respectively, giving the alphabet its name: futhark. The Anglo-Saxon script added letters to the futhark to represent sounds of Old English that did not occur in the languages that had used the Early Germanic script.

More than 4,000 runic inscriptions and several runic manuscripts are extant. Approximately 2,500 of these come from Sweden, the remainder being from Norway, Denmark and Schleswig, Britain, Iceland, various islands off the coast of Britain and Scandinavia, and other countries of Europe, including France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia.

The primary characteristic which distinguishes a runic alphabet from other alphabets is that each letter, or rune, has a meaning. For example, whereas "ay", "bee", and "cee" are meaningless sounds denoting the first three letters in our alphabet, the names of the first three runes, "fehu", "uruz", and "Þurisaz" are actual words in the Germanic language, meaning "cattle", "aurochs", and "giant", respectively. Runes also were thought to have magical and religious significance as well, thus transforming the simple process of writing into a magical act. They were also used for divinatory readings and to create magical spells.

Figure 3

Futhark Alphabet

Next comes Ulfila’s Gothic alphabet (4th century). This is the alphabet of Ulfila’s Gothic translation of the Bible, a peculiar alphabet based on the Greek alphabet, with some admixture of Latin and Runic letters.



The latest alphabet to be used by Germanic tribes is the Latin alphabet.


Date: 2015-01-29; view: 2585


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