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A Grammar of Proto-Germanic

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

II. Phonology

III. Inflectional Morphology

IV. Derivational Morphology

V. Syntax

VI. Semantics and Culture

VII. Texts

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