Contact and the history of Germanic languages

Roberge, Paul T. (2010-03)

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The Germanic languages are, as the phrase suggests, a group of languages that trace their origin to a common ancestor and constitute a branch of the Indo-European language family. Prior to the beginning of the present era, Germanic is presumed to have been “a fairly homogenous linguistic and cultural unit” ( Prokosch 1939 : 26). Proto-Germanic (in German Urgermanisch ) is the hypothetical “parent” language existing at a given point in time: “We assume a single Germanic language, with a common core of speakers, on the basis of elements common to all its dialects” ( Lehmann 2007 : Preface). Lehmann (1977 : 287), who does not take account of possible pre-Germanic linguistic encounters, asserts further that “we … have good evidence to conclude that Germanic was little influenced in structure by external contacts leading to interference until approximately the middle of the first millennium B.C.” After the formation of Proto-Germanic at the turn of the fifth century BCE, external influences come to be considerable. Over the course of approximately a millennium and a half, the ancestral language fragmented into dialects, which ultimately gave rise to the universally recognized independent languages of the European metropole, in all their varieties: English, German, Dutch, and Frisian comprise the West Germanic group; Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish – together with the insular Scandinavian.....

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