Monday, September 19, 2005

Just Another GerManic Monday

Last week I skimmed the surface of the Gothic Language and suggested (in a comment) that all the old Germanic languages had a lot in common. I thought I'd show a little of the similarites (and predictable differences) between Gothic and Old English, which is a little more familiar to my readers.

To start off, let's look at the Lord's Prayer in both languages. First Gothic (in the Latin alphabet, for your sanity):

       Atta unsar, þu in himinam,
       weihnai namo þein,
       qimai þiudinassus þeins,
       wairþai wilja þeins,
5     swe in himina jah ana airþai.
       hlaif unsarana þana sinteinan gif uns himma daga,
       jah aflet uns þatei skulans sijaima,
       swaswe jah weis afletam þaim skulam unsaraim,
       jah ni briggais uns in fraistubnjai,
10  ak lausei uns af þamma ubilin.

Now in Old English:

       Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum,
       si þin nama gehalgod,
       to becume þin rice,
       gewurþe ðin willa,
5     on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.
       urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg,
       and forgyf us ure gyltas,
       swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum,
       and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge,
10  ac alys us of yfele. soþlice.

There are a lot of cognates in common (Go./OE): unsar/ure  'our'; þu/þu  'Thou'; in/on  'in'; himinam/heofonum 'heaven'; namo/nama  'name'; þein/þín  'thine'; qimái/becume  'come'; waírþái/gewurþe (from waírþan/weorþan)  'become'; wilja/willa  'will'; swe/swa  'as'; ana/on  'on'; aírþái/eorðan  'earth'; hláif/hláf  'loaf/bread'; daga/todæg  'day/today'; uns/us  'us'; weis/we  'we'; ak/ac  'but'; láusei/alys  'loose/deliver'; af/of  'of/from'; ubilin/yfele  'evil'.

Go. unsar beside OE ure happens because the 's' in Gothic became 'r' in many cases in all the other Germanic languages. This is called rhotacization, and can also be seen in the two languages that preserved a descendant of the Germanic noun ending -az: viz., -s in Gothic but -r in Old Norse. (So whereas OE has deað (death), Gothic has dauðus but ON has dauðr.)

Another predictable difference between Gothic and OE is a "breaking" of vowels. If you're from Manitoba or Wisconsin and travel to the Southern US, you will experience what the Goths must have thought the Angles and Saxons were doing to their vowels: creating diphthongs out of "pure" vowels. Look at the words for "earth" above: rþái in Gothic beside eorþan in OE; waírþan in Go. beside OE weorþan.

NOTE on 'ai' in Gothic: By Wulfila's time, the letters /ai/ in Gothic were probably universally pronounced with the "short e" sound in ModE "end", however this combination comes from two distinct etymological sources, so that scholars mark /ai/ differently in different situations. The combination /ái/ is pronounced like "eye", whereas /aí/ represents the e sound in "end". (Now in the US, when this short 'e' sound comes before an r, most people turn it into the 'a' sound as in 'air'; whereas growing up in the Northeast, I acquired a very distinct short-e sound even before the letter 'r' (i.e., I have different vowels for 'merry' and 'Mary'). In this, the Northeast is more like Gothic, where as the more standard American accent more approximates the shift that took place in Old English.)

Some more factors of comparison between OE and Go. are as follows:

1. OE, at least in West Saxon, isn't all that fond of the combination a + nasal, so it turns the a into an o. E.g.: mon for 'man'; ond for 'and'.

2. OE and its continental cousin, Old Saxon (=Old Low German), had a tendency to remove nasals before the letters f, þ, and s. E.g.: OE and OS fíf 'five' for Go. fimf; OE and OS us 'us' beside Go. unsis and Old High German uns; OE ure 'our' for Go. unsar (see above); OE cuþ 'known' for Go. kunþs

3. Vowels. OE tended to have e-related vowels where Gothic had a-related ones. The following vowel changes can often be seen from Gothic to OE:
  a) Go. áu becomes OE ea (a diphthong with the ae-sound of 'cash' plus the uh-sound of 'pun'). E.g.: Go. dauþus became OE deað
  b) Go. ái becomes OE a. E.g. Go. stáins became OE stán 'stone'; Go. hláifs became OE hláf  'loaf/bread'.
  c) Go. ê and a sometimes become OE æ. E.g., OE bæron 'bore' (plural) beside Go. bêrun; OE dæg 'day', beside Go. dags and ON dagr.

Hmm. dagr. Arrrrg.


Derek the Ænglican said...

Doh! Blogger ate my comment last night...

Thanks for posting this--it clears up the relation between the two. Personally, I always wonder about a "Battle of Maldon" type scenario--if a guy is on one side of a tidal estuary yelling in his language to a guy on the other side, will they both be able to understand the other's language... (or is it just poetic license...)

King Alfred said...

Well certainly by the time of the Battle of Maldon, Old English and Old Norse were different enough that they would have needed translators.

And yet when you have a situation like in the North of England and Scotland were many Norse were settling in Anglo-Saxon speaking areas, two things happen.

1) On the part of the Norse-speakers, they eventually picked up the language that they enountered there.
2) On the part of the native Anglians, they became somewhat familiar with Norse by listening and hearing words that the two shared. So if you're a Northumbrian Anglian with two words for young people--bearn and cild, and you hear the Norse using the word barn, you'll use bearn for the sake of being understood. Meanwhile in the south it was cild that became dominant.

Hence today's standard English 'child' but Scots-English 'bairn'.

Derek the Ænglican said...

Well, I still regard an Anglo-Scandanavian monk as the most likely candidate for the Beowulf author.

Bryce said...

This is such an interesting blog. I love language analyses, and you offered such insight. Thank you!

Here is a great website in Gothic that I think you might enjoy:

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