Лекция: Classification of Ancient Germanic Tribes


Record Languages Tribes Settlement
— 4th c. B.C. – Pytheas, Greek astronomer and geographer — 1st c. B.C. – Julius Caesar< Roman general and statesman — 1st c.A.D. – Pliny the Elder, Roman naturalist: classification of the Germanic tribes:     East Germanic     The Vindili (including the Goths and the Burgundians)     Eastern part of Germanic territory
  Western Germanic The Ingaevones North-western part of Germanic territory, the shores of the Northern Sea, modern Netherlands
    The Istsaevones The western part of the Germanic territory, on the Rhine (the Franks)
    The Hermiones Southern part of the Germanic territory (southern Germany)
  Northern Germanic The Hilleveones Scandinavia
— 2nd c. A.D. Cornelius Tacitus, Roman historian     Characterized the     social structure of the     old Germanic tribes


B. Material Culture

. According to Julius Caesar, the Germans were pastoralists, and the bulk of their foodstuffs—milk, cheese, and meat—came from their flocks and herds. Some farming was also carried out, the main crops being grain, root crops, and vegetables. Both the cattle and the horses of the Germans were of poor quality by Roman standards. The Iron Age had begun in Germany about four centuries before the days of Caesar, but even in his time metal appears to have been a luxury material for domestic utensils, most of which were made of wood, leather, or clay. Of the larger metal objects used by them, most were still made of bronze, though this was not the case with weapons. Pottery was for the most part still made by hand, and pots turned on the wheel were relatively rare. The degree to which trade was developed in early Germany is obscure. There was certainly a slave trade, and many slaves were sold to the Romans. Such potters as used the wheel—and these were very few—and smiths and miners no doubt sold their products. But in general the average Germanic village is unlikely to have used many objects that had not been made at home. Foreign merchants dealing in Italian as well as Celtic wares were active in Germany in Caesar's time and supplied prosperous warriors with such goods as wine and bronze vessels. But from the reign of Augustus onward, there was a huge increase in German imports from the Roman Empire. The German leaders were now able to buy whole categories of goods—glass vessels, red tableware, Roman weapons, brooches, statuettes, ornaments of various kinds, and other objects—that had not reached them before. These Roman products brought their owners much prestige, but how the Germans paid for them is not fully known.


C. Warfare


In the period of the early Roman Empire, German weapons, both offensive and defensive, were characterized by shortage of metal. Their chief weapon was a long lance, and few carried swords. Helmets and breastplates were almost unknown. A light wooden or wicker shield, sometimes fitted with an iron rim and sometimes strengthened with leather, was the only defensive weapon. This lack of adequate equipment explains the swift, fierce rush with which the Germans would charge the ranks of the heavily armed Romans. If they became entangled in a prolonged, hand-to-hand grapple, where their light shields and thrusting spears were confronted with Roman swords and armour, they had little hope of success. Even by the 6th century, few of the Germanic peoples had adequate military equipment.


D. Form of government

No trace of autocracy can be found among the Germans whom Caesar describes. The leading men of the pagi (kindred groups) would try to patch up disputes as they arose, but they acted only in those disputes that broke out between members of their own pagus. There appears to have been no mediatory body at this date. In fact, in peacetime there appears to have been no central authority that could issue orders to, or exercise influence over, all the pagi of which any one people was composed. In wartime, according to Caesar, a number of confederate chieftains were elected, but they were joint leaders and held office only in time of war. By Tacitus' time a new type of military chieftainship had come into being. For this office only the members of a recognized “royal clan,” such as is known to have existed among the 1st-century Cherusci and Batavians, the 6th-century Heruli, and others, were eligible. Any member of this royal clan was eligible for election, and the chieftainship was in no way hereditary. A chief of this type held office for life and had religious as well as military duties. He could be overruled by the council of the leading men, and his proposals to the general assembly of the warriors might be rejected by them. The degree of his influence depended largely on his own personal qualities. A rudimentary judicial apparatus had come into existence among the Germanic peoples by Tacitus' time. The general assembly elected a number of the leading men to act as judges, and these judges traveled through the villages to hear private suits. Each of them was accompanied by 100 attendants to lend authority to his decisions. A person who was found guilty by these judges had to pay a number of horses or cattle proportionate to the gravity of his offense. But many disputes (e.g., those arising from homicide, wounding, or theft) continued to be settled by the kindreds themselves, and the blood feuds to which they gave rise might continue from generation to generation. Long after the conversion to Christianity the German rulers found it difficult to stamp out the blood feud. .The monarchy did not become fully established in the Germanic world until German peoples had settled as federates inside the Roman Empire, and the leaders of the Ostrogoths in Italy, the Visigoths in Gaul and Spain, the Vandals in Africa, and so on are the first Germanic kings. Other famous German chieftains in this period, such as Athanaric and Alaric, who either lived outside the Roman frontier or whose peoples were not federates settled in the provinces under a treaty (foedus) to defend the frontier, seem to have had little more personal authority than the leaders described by Tacitus

.E. Conversion to Christianity.


Evidence suggests that before the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, none of the great Germanic peoples was converted to Christianity while still living outside the Roman frontier, but that all the Germanic peoples who moved into the Roman provinces before that date were converted to Christianity within a generation. The Vandals seem to have been converted when in Spain in 409–429, the Burgundians when in eastern Gaul in 412–436, and the Ostrogoths when in the province of Pannonia about 456–472. In all these cases the Germans embraced the Arian form of Christianity (Note 2); none of the major Germanic peoples became officially Catholic until the conversion of the Franks under Clovis (496) and of the Burgundians under Sigismund. The reason for their adoption of Arianism rather than Catholicism is very obscure. The last Germanic people on the European continent to be converted to Christianity were the Old Saxons (second half of the 8th century), while the Scandinavian peoples were converted in the 10th century. England had been converted in the 7th century.

3. Germanic Alphabets and Old Germanic Writings

Germanic tribes used 3 different alphabets for their writings which partly succeeded each other in time.

The earliest of these was the Runic alphabet (Note 3) each separate letter being called a rune. The word rune originally meant ‘secret’, ‘mystery’ and hence came to denote inscriptions believed to be magic. According to scholars, this alphabet was derived either from Latin or from some other Italic alphabet, close to Latin, in the 2nd c.A.D. somewhere on the Rhine or the Danube where the Germanic tribes came into contact with Roman culture. This alphabet was used by such tribes as the Goths, Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavians. The runes were used as letters, each symbol indicating a separate sound. Besides, a rune could also represent a word beginning with that sound and was called by that word. For example, the rune denoted the sound [θ], [ð] and was called ‘thorn’ and could stand for OE Þorn (NE thorn). The letters of the runic alphabet are angular, straight lines are preferred, curved lines are avoided. This is due to the fact that runic inscriptions were cut in hard material: stone, bone or wood. The shapes of some letters resemble those of Greek and Latin; others have not been traced to any known alphabet.

The number of runes in different OG languages varied from 28 to 33 runes in Britain against 16 or 24 on the continent. That is the number of runes in England was larger: new runes were added as new sounds appeared in English.

Neither on the mainland nor in Britain were the runes ever used for everyday writing or for putting down poetry and prose works. Their main function was to make short inscriptions on objects, often to bestow on them some special power or magic.

The two best known runic inscriptions in England are the earliest extant OE written records. One of them is an inscription on a box called the ‘Franks Casket, the other is a short text on a stone cross known as the Ruthwell Cross.The Franks Casket was discovered in the early years of the 19th c. In France, and was presented to the British Museum by a British archeologist A.W. Frank. The Casket is a small box of whale bone, its four sides are carved: there are pictures in the centre and runic inscription around. The longest of them, in alliterative verse, tells the story of the whale bone, of which the Casket is made.

The Ruthwell Cross is a 15ft tall cross inscribed and ornamented on all sides. The principal inscription has been reconstructed into a passage from an OE religious poem, The Dream of the Rood, which was also found in another version in a later manuscript.

Many runic inscriptions were preserved on weapons, coins, amulets, tombstones, rings, various cross fragments. Some runic insertions occur in OE manuscripts written in Latin characters. The total number of runic inscriptions in OE is about 40; the last of them belong to the end of the OE period.

Next came Ulfiala’s Gothic alphabet used in his translation of the Bible. It’s a peculiar alphabet based on the Greek alphabet with some admixture of Latin and Runic letters. (The Gothic alphabet should not be confused with the so-called Gothic script which is used in German writings and is a modified version of Latin script).

The latest alphabet to be used by the Germanic tribes is the Latin alphabet. It superceded both the Runic and the Gothic alphabets when a new technique of writing was introduced, namely that of spreading some colour or paint on a surface instead of cutting or engraving the letters. The material used for writing was either parchment or papyrus. Introduction of the Latin alphabet accompanied the spread of Christianity and Christian religious texts written in Latin.

Since the Latin alphabet was adequate to represent all the sounds of Germanic languages, it was adapted to the peculiar needs of the separate languages. For example, to denote the dental fricative [θ], [ð] the runic was used (derived from Latin D).

Ulfilas’s Bible, otherwise called the Silver Code (Codex Argenteus) is kept in Sweden. Along with other OG writings, next comes the Old High German Song of Hilderbrandt,a fragment of an epic, 8th century, and the Beowulf, an OE epic, probably written in the 8th c. Then come Old Icelandic epic texts collected in the so-called Older Edda comprising songs written down in the 13 c.


4. Linguistic Features of Germanic Languages


A. 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: домом, дома, дома, 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


B. 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.(See Lecture 1)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 reis [i:] [k] ® [h] cor(d) — heorte [b] ® [p] слабый – slepan [d] ® [t] древо – treow [g] ® [k]горе — caru [bh]® [b] bhrata – broðor [dh]® [d] vidhave –widve [gh]® [g] гость — 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.


C. Verner’s Law

Careful investigation of Grimm’s 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 fFder
  [t]   [›] ?? [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 Grimm’s 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 grammaticalinterchange. 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 Vener’s 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]; quantative 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, L nox Goth nahts; L mater OE modor; Sans bhra:ta OE bro:ðor .


Sources: 1) Расторгуева Т.А. История английского языка (на английском языке). М:, 2001б стр. 24-33, 63-65

2) Ильиш Б.А. История английского языка (на английском языке). Ленинград, 1973, стр.9-11, 30-32

3) Иванова И. И др. История английского языка. Санкт-Петербург, 2001, стр.7-9


Note 1

Netherlandic (Netherlandish) is a West Germanic language that is the national language of The Netherlands and, with French, one of the two official languages of Belgium. Although speakers of English usually call the Netherlandic of The Netherlands “Dutch” and the Netherlandic of Belgium “Flemish,” they are actually the same language. Netherlandic, which occurs in both standard and dialectal forms, is the language of most of The Netherlands, of northern Belgium, and of a relatively small part of France along the North Sea, immediately to the west of Belgium. Netherlandic is also used as the language of administration in Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles. Afrikaans, which is a derivative of Netherlandic, is one of the official languages of South Africa. The spoken language exists in a great many varieties ranging from Standard Netherlandic, or “General Cultured Netherlandic”)—the language used for public and official purposes, including instruction in schools and universities—to the local dialects that are used among family, friends, and others from the same village (these exist in far more variety than does the English of North America). Standard Netherlandic is characterized grammatically by the loss of case endings in the noun. In Belgium efforts were made to give Netherlandic equal status with French, which had assumed cultural predominance during the period of French rule (1795–1814). In 1938 Netherlandic was made the only official language of the northern part of Belgium. The use of Standard Netherlandic together with the local dialect is much more widespread among the people of The Netherlands than it is in Belgium. The dialects of the area bounded roughly by Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam are closer to Standard Netherlandic than are those of the other dialect areas. Together with English, Frisian, and German, Netherlandic is a West Germanic language. It derives from Low Franconian, the speech of the Western Franks, which was restructured through contact with speakers of North Sea Germanic along the coast (Flanders, Holland) in the period around AD 700. The earliest documents in the Netherlandic language date from approximately the end of the 12th century, although a few glosses, names, and occasional words appeared somewhat earlier.


Note 2

a Christian heresy first proposed early in the 4th century by the Alexandrian presbyter Arius. It affirmed that Christ is not truly divine but a created being. Arius' basic premise was the uniqueness of God, who is alone self-existent and immutable; the Son, who is not self-existent, cannot be God. Because the Godhead is unique, it cannot be shared or communicated, so the Son cannot be God. Because the Godhead is immutable, the Son, who is mutable, being represented in the Gospels as subject to growth and change, cannot be God. The Son must, therefore, be deemed a creature who has been called into existence out of nothing and has had a beginning. Moreover, the Son can have no direct knowledge of the Father since the Son is finite and of a different order of existence

.According to its opponents, especially the bishop Athanasius, Arius' teaching reduced the Son to a demigod, reintroduced polytheism (since worship of the Son was not abandoned), and undermined the Christian concept of redemption since only he who was truly God could be deemed to have reconciled man to the Godhead.


Note 3

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. There are at least three main varieties of runic script: Early, or Common, Germanic (Teutonic), used in northern Europe before about 800 AD; Anglo-Saxon, or Anglian, used in Britain from the 5th or 6th century to about the 12th century AD; and Nordic, or Scandinavian, used from the 8th to about the 12th or 13th century AD in Scandinavia and Iceland. 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 Fttir, 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. Anglo-Saxon had 28 letters, and after about 900 AD it had 33. There were also some slight differences in letter shape. The Scandinavian languages were even richer in sounds than Old English; but, instead of adding letters to the futhark to represent the new sounds, the users of the Nordic script compounded the letter values, using the same letter to stand for more than one sound—e.g., one letter for k and g, one letter for a, F, and o. This practice eventually resulted in the reduction of the futhark to 16 letters. Other varieties of runes included the Halsinge Runes (q.v.), the Manx Runes, and the stungnar runir, or “dotted runes,” all of which were variants of the Nordic 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.


Lecture 2


1. Modern Germanic Languages. Their Classification and Distribution.

· Families — (genetic classification

· Phyla (Types) — typological classification (language structure)

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