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A Change in the Word Structure

A change in the word structure was of great importance for the development of the Germanic morphological system. The common Indo-European notional word consisted of three elements: 1) the root,expressing the lexical meaning, 2) the inflexion or grammatical ending, showing the grammatical form, and 3) the stem-forming suffix,a formal indicator of the stem type. In Germanic languages the stem-forming suffix fuses with the ending, which makes the word structure a two-element one. The word was simplified. The original gram­matical ending, together with the stem-suffix formed a new ending:







Old Germanic



Root stem- suffix grammatical ending


Stem grammatical ending

Fig. 1. A Change in the Structure of Germanic Word

This can be illustrated by the following examples, in which the restored Proto-Germanic archetypes are given:

PG *fisk-a-z Goth. fisks ‘fish’

PG *mak-ōj-an OE mac-ian, Past Tense mac-ode ‘ make, made’

(In Goth fisks the stem-suffix was dropped, in OE macian, macode it merged with the ending, preserving one of the sounds – [i] or [o].)

The simplification of the word structure and the loss of stem-suffixes as distinct components may have been caused by the heavy Germanic word stress fixed on the root.

The Noun

Germanic nounshad a well-developed case system with four cases (Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative) and two number forms (singular and plural). They also had the category of gender (feminine, masculine and neuter). Grammatical gender was not connected with the biological gender, like in Modern German, Russian, Ukrainian and some other languages. The division of all nouns into three genders was traditional.

Nouns fell into four groups according to the type of their stem (which originally ended either in a vowel or a consonant). Groups of nouns with different stem-suffixes made distinct types of declension. The original grammatical endings were alike for most nouns, e.g. Nom, sg -z, Dat. -i, Acc. -m. When these endings fused with different stem-suffixes, each group of nouns acquired a different set of endings. The division of nouns into declensions resting on the stem-suffixes is not peculiar to Germanic alone; it is also found in other IE languages (some types of declension in Germanic correspond to certain declensions in non-Germanic languages, e.g. ō-stems correspond to the first declension in Latin and Russian (their stem-suffix is -a: Germanic -ō has developed from IE -ā; Germanic a-stems correspond to the second declension in Latin and in Russian (o-stems in both these languages, since IE [o] became [a] in Germanic). In Old Germanic languages there were the following types of substantive stems:

1) vocalic stems: -a-, -ō-, -i-, -u-stems;

2) n-stems;

3) stems in other consonants: -s-and –r-stems;

4) root-stems.

Germanic languages preserved the old classification of nouns, added other distinctive features to the noun paradigms and, as a result, had a complicated system of noun declensions in the early periods of history.


The Adjective

Declension of adjectives in Old Germanic languages is complicated and finds no parallel in other Indo-European languages. In Latin, for example, declension of adjectives does not basically differ from that of nouns. In Germanic languages things are different. The Germanic adjectiveshad two types of declension, strong and weak. Most adjectives could be declined both in accordance with the strong and weak type. The adjective agreed with the noun in gender, case and number and by its type of declension expressed the idea of definiteness (weak declension) or indefiniteness (strong declension). This meaning was later expressed by a new grammatical class of words – the article.

The adjective had degrees of comparison, the forms of which were in most instances formed with the help of suffixes -iz/ōz and –ist/-ōst. As in mаnу Indo-European languages, some adjectives used different roots for different forms, e.g. Goth. leitils—minniza—minnists ‘little – less – the least’.

In Germanic languages all nominal parts of speech, i.e. nouns, adjectives, numerals, pronouns, participles and even the infinitive, were declined. The system of declension was well developed and very complicated, including nominal and pronominal types of declension.

The Verb

The verbal system of Old Germanic languages consists of different elements. The main mass of verbs are strong verbs, which derive their past tense and past participle by means of gradation, and weak verbs, which derive these forms by means of a suffix –d- (-t-).

Besides these two large groups, there are also the preterite-present verbs with a peculiar system of forms and a few irregular verbs which do not belong to any of the preceding groups.

The terms strong and weak were proposed by J. Grimm; he called the verbs strong because they had preserved the richness of form since the age of the parent-language and in this sense could be contrasted to weak verbs lacking such variety of form. From the verbs the terms were extended to noun and adjective declensions.

Weak verbs are a specifically Germanic innovation, for the device used in building their principal forms is not found outside the Germanic group. They built the Past tense and Participle II by inserting a special suffix between the root and the ending. The suffix – PG –ð– is referred to as the dental suffix, as [ð] is an interdental fric­ative consonant. The use of the dental suffix is seen in the following forms of weak verbs in OG languages:

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