How to learn languages – Germanic languages

We are now close to the end of this series, having looked at all major Western Latinate and Germanic languages as well as Scandinavian.

Phonologically Germanic languages tend to be less vocalic and reliant on harder consonantal sounds, thus often rather harsher sounding than the likes of French and Italian.

Generally Germanic languages retain a distinct neuter gender, although many do not distinguish masculine from feminine. The most noteworthy distinction from Latin-based languages, however, is perhaps the more restrictive verb, which is marked for only two tenses (past and present, also with no imperfect) and which displays a much less widespread subjunctive mood.

In terms of vocabulary, Germanic languages are more likely to build single words where Latin-based languages rely more on phrases. Borrowings from Latin, French and English are common across all of them, however.

Germanic languages have come to be more common in science (including linguistics itself), but less so in music. Debate rages about whether this is a consequence of their basic character.

We did omit Insular Nordic languages, which have very few speakers but are fascinating because of their conservative nature (Icelandic retains verb endings for person and noun/adjective markers for four cases and three genders, as well as old letters and systems of phonological umlaut), and actually modern English itself (a Germanic language fundamentally, but now something of a hybrid). We do have enough, however, to help learn one major Germanic language from knowledge of another.

I will do a final review next week answering any queries which have arisen as best I can.


3 thoughts on “How to learn languages – Germanic languages

  1. Alan Burnside says:

    Ian… I’m off to Russia for 11 days shortly. Any hints on Russian? Alphabet is a nightmare. Regards Alan



    • Haha – not really, I only did a short course in advance of a similar trip some years ago!

      The key point is there are (in practice£ no articles or verb “to be”. So “Is the airport far?” is just literally “Airport far?”

      Which seems easy until you get to the case system!

  2. […] Germanic languages derive from what is referred to by linguists as “Proto-Germanic”, spoken at the same time as Classical Latin. They display simpler verb forms (with only two tenses, rare use of subjunctive mood and even in some cases elimination or near elimination of verbal and some adjectival agreement) but a broadly more complex noun (albeit simplified in some modern standards), with the neuter case maintained at least in some form across the board. The first major written text in Germanic is in fact in the now extinct East Germanic language of Gothic, contemporaneous with the Roman emperor Constantine. […]

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