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Linguistic Features of Germanic Languages


Phonetic peculiarities of Germanic Languages. Word Stress and its role in further development of Germanic languages


In ancient IE, prior to the separation of Germanic, there existed two ways of word accentuation: musical pitch and force stress (otherwise called dynamic, expiratory or breath stress). The position of the stress was movable and free, which means that it could fall on any syllable of the word a root morpheme, an affix or an ending and could be shifted both in form building and word-building. (cf. Russian: , , , etc.).

But these properties of the word accent were changed in PG. Force or expiratory stress became the only type of stress used. The stress was now fixed on the first syllable, which was usually the root of the word and sometimes the prefix; the other syllables suffixes and endings were unstressed. The stress could no longer move either in form-building or in word-building. This phenomenon has played an important role in the development of the Germanic languages, and especially in phonetic and morphological changes. Due to the difference in the force of articulation, the stressed and unstressed syllables underwent different changes: accented syllables were pronounced with great distinctness and precision, while unaccented became less distinct and were phonetically weakened. The differences between the sounds in stressed position were preserved and emphasised, whereas the contrasts between the unaccented sounds were weakened and lost. Since the stress was fixed on the root, the weakening and loss of sounds mainly affected the suffixes and grammatical endings. Many ending merged with the suffixes, were weakened and dropped. E.g. (the reconstructed word )PG *fiskaz Goth fisks Oicel fiscr OE fisc


The First or Proto-Germanic Consonant Shift (Grimm's Law)


Comparison with other languages within the IE family reveals regular correspondences between Germanic and non-Germanic consonants. It looks as if the Germanic consonants 'shifted' as compared with their non-Germanic counterparts. This phenomenon was first observed and later formulated in terms of phonetic law (1822) by (Rasmus Rask and Jacob Grimm. Hence its name- Grimm's Law. By Grimm's Law, which includes 3 acts, voiceless plosives (stops) developed in PG into voiceless fricatives (1 act); voiced aspirated plosives were shifted to pure voiced plosives or voiced fricatives; and voiced plosives changed into voiceless plosives (stops).


1 act 2nd act 3d act
p] [f] pater fadar [t] [θ] tres Þreis [ i:] [k] [h] cor(d) - heorte [b] [p] slepan [d] [t] treow [g] [k] - caru [bh] [b] bhrata broðor [dh] [d] vidhave widve [gh] [g] - Gast


[bh b - - p f ] [ dh d - t- θ ] [ gh g k h ]


The correspondences found between IE and Germanic consonants are interpreted in the following manner: the Germanic sounds are the result of a development of the original IE sounds caused by external and internal factors.


Verners Law


Careful investigation of Grimms Law revealed some inconsistencies, which were generally explained as exceptions to the rule. In some cases it is voiced stops rather than voiceless fricatives that correspond in Germanic to IE voiceless stop. For example,

Latin Greek Sanskrit Gothic Old English
Pater     pater pitar   fadar fæder
  [t]   [θ] ?? [d]  

The Danish scholar Karl Verner was the first to explain them as the result of further development of Germanic languages. According to Verner, all the early PG voiceless fricatives [f, θ, h] which arose under Grimms Law, became voiced between vowels if the preceding vowel was unstressed; otherwise they remained voiceless. The voicing of fricatives occurred in early PG at the time when the stress was not yet fixed on the root-morpheme.

[f v- b] seofon

[θ ð d] O Icel. hundrað hundert

[h g] Goth. swaihro OE sweger

[s z r] Lat. auris Goth. auso Icel. eyra (ear)

The change of [z] into [r] is called rhotacism.

As a result of voicing, there arose an interchange of consonants in the grammatical forms of the word, termed grammatical interchange. Part of the forms retained a voiceless fricative, while other forms acquired a voiced fricative. For example, heffen (Inf.) - huob Past sg.) heave; ceosan (choose) curon (Past pl.). Some modern English words retained traces of Verners Law: death dead; was- were, raise rear.

Throughout history, PG vowels displayed a strong tendency to change. The changes were of the following kinds: qualitative and quantitative, dependent and independent. Qualitative changes affect the quality of the sound, for example [o - a] or [p f]; quantitative changes are those which make long sounds short or short sounds long. For example,[ i i:]; dependent changes are restricted to certain positions when a sound may change under the influence of the neighbouring sounds or in a certain type of a syllable; independent changes or regular (spontaneous) take place irrespective of phonetic conditions, that is they may affect a certain sound in all positions. In accented syllables the oppositions between vowels were carefully maintained and the number of stressed vowels grew. In unaccented positions the original contrasts between vowels were weakened or lost; the distinction of short and long vowels in unstressed syllables had been shortened. As for originally short vowels, they tended to be reduced to a neutral sound, losing their qualitative distinctions and were often dropped in unstressed final syllables (fiskaz).

Strict differentiation of long and short vowels is regarded as an important characteristic of the Germanic group. Long vowels tended to become closer and to diphthongize, short vowels often changed into more open vowels. IE short [o] changed in Germanic into more open vowel [a] and thus ceased to be distinguished from the original IE [a]; in other words in PG they merged into [o]. IE long [a:] was narrowed to [o:] and merged with [o:]. For example, Lat. nox Goth. nahts; Lat. mater OE modor; Sans. bhra:ta OE bro:ðor .




Date: 2015-01-12; view: 1962

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