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Brief Characteristics of Germanic Languages


1. The subject of the History of English

2. Brief characteristics of Germanic languages

2.1. Classification of Germanic languages

2.2. Germanic alphabets

3. Phonetic features of Germanic languages

3.1. Word stress

3.2. Changes of consonants

3.3. Changes of vowels

4. Basic peculiarities of grammar

4.1. A change in the word structure

4.2. The Noun

4.3. The Adjective

4.4. The Verb

5. Vocabulary

6. Summary: The basic features of Germanic languages

The Subject of the History of English


It is universal knowledge that the substance and form of a mother tongue can only be intelligible if its origin and gradual development have been traced. This is hardly possible, however, if the extinct forms of a language, its links with kindred living and dead languages are ignored.

Learning a foreign language implies its conscious understanding, including all the phenomena involved in it. Accordingly, mastering modern English involves awareness of historical peculiarities of development of its basic constituent parts, i.e. phonetic features, grammatical structure and vocabulary.

Learning the history of language may help us answer questions about the relationships among spelling, pronunciation, grammar and style. Familiarization with phonetic laws of the Germanic languages, Grimm’s and Verner’s Laws in particular, sound correspondences between words of Germanic and non-Germanic languages of the European family, e.g. Russian / Ukrainian vs. English / German, may facilitate oral translation when a dictionary is unavailable or cannot be used; this knowledge may also enable translators and interpreters to arrive at the correct understanding of the meaning of a word without resorting to any reference sources. The ability to recognize the origin of denizens (i.e. borrowed words used in a language) will help would-be interpreters to distinguish between the stylistically lofty, bookish words and Germanic native words, which will enable them to use comprehensible translation versions. For instance, in oral translations one-syllable Germanic words will be appropriate, whereas in written translations, e.g. of scientific texts, the interpreter, basing on the knowledge of the History of English, will use bookish and stylistically lofty words. That is why the subject of History of English is of paramount importance for those who study English to become linguists or translators.

The History of Language studies changes of this language in the process of its development. The subject of the History of Language is concerned with revealing the regularities of these changes in a language.

The major purpose of this course is to trace the development of the English language from its earliest forms to the present.

Upon completion of this course, students should be able to:

1. Recognize why English spelling and pronunciation are often different.

2. Summarize the relationship of English to other Indo-European languages.

3. Summarize the differences between Old English (OE), Middle English (ME) and New English (NE).

4. Identify words of early English origin, as well as words of more recent, non-English origin.

5. Use a dictionary and other resources to learn the etymologies of words and chart their changing in meaning and use.

In studying the history of language we are faced with a number of problems concerning the driving forces or causes of language changes. These causes can apparently be of two kinds: external and internal. In the first case, language is influenced by factors lying outside it, or extralinguistic factors: social changes, wars, conquests, migrations, cultural contacts and the like, which mostly influence the vocabulary of a language. On the other hand, many changes occur in the history of language which cannot be traced to any extralinguistic causes; the driving power in such cases is within the language itself. Most changes in the phonetics and grammatical structure of a language are due to internal causes.

Brief Characteristics of Germanic Languages

Germanic languages have resulted from individual development of Western Indo-European branch of dialects whose speakers had inhabited the shores of the Northern and Baltic Seas since the 3rd millennium BC.

Thespeakersof the earliest form of a distinct Germanic branch of Indo-European appear to have inhabited an area covering parts of what are now Denmark and southern Sweden. From their early homeland in the southern parts of Scandinavia the speakers of Germanic carried it in various directions over succeeding centuries.The process began about the 3rd century BC and was still active when the Anglo-Saxons came to Britain towards the middle of the 1st millennium AD. Increasingly differentiated forms of Germanic developed as different groups of speakers became more firmly separated from one another. At the beginning of AD Germanic tribes occupied vast territories in western, central and northern Europe. Three groups of Germanic peoples gradually detached themselves from the previously united Germanic tribal cluster and in the process brought into being three separate forms of Germanic language.

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