The Germanic Peoples

The Germanic peoples are historically defined linguistically, as the people who spoke languages derived from Proto-Germanic (which is judged to have evolved in 1500-1000 BCE and broken up around 1000 BCE). There are three branches of Germanic languages: West, East, and North Germanic. The East Germanic branch is represented only by languages that are now extinct - particularly Gothic and its offshoots. The North Germanic branch is Old Norse and all the languages derived from it (Danish and Swedish are in an East Norse subset and Icelandic, Faroese, and the Nynorsk variety of Norwegian in West Norse). The West Germanic group includes Anglo-Saxon (Old English), High (Alpine) German (the ancestor of modern standard German), several Frisian dialects, and in the same branch Dutch, Flemish, Low German (Plattdeutsch, dialects of northwest Germany and the Pennsylvania "Dutch"), and from Dutch, Afrikaans. We thus have a picture of an unknown number of tribal groupings entering Europe and fanning out, their languages diverging, but the Goths appear to have been a separate group, and the Norse and the rest to have developed different dialects among themselves relatively late. Note that the word German refers to only two of these languages, which call themselves Deutsch. This is cognate to the English word Dutch - and is descended from a (Proto-Germanic, hence the asterisk indicates a reconstruction) word *ţeudiskaz meaning "of the people" - Anglo-Saxon ţéodisc. Germanic refers to all the languages and all the tribes - peoples - who(se languages) are "Germanish."

Map created by Wiglaf, Wikimedia Commons

Distribution of forms of Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, continental German languages, and Crimean Gothic c. 900 CE. This is the approximate extent of Old Norse and related languages in the early 10th century. The red area is the distribution of the dialect Old West Norse; the orange area is the spread of the dialect Old East Norse. The pink area is Old Gutnish, yellow is Old English, and the green area is the extent of the other Germanic languages with which Old Norse still retained some mutual intelligibility. The blue area shows the distribution of the Crimean Gothic dialect.

[1. Old Norse, ca 900 image from,_ca_900.PNG]


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