Germanic is one of the branches of the Indo-European (IE) language family, spoken by the Germanic peoples who were settled north and east along the borders of the Roman Empire.
It is characterised by a number of unique linguistic features, most famously the consonant change known as Grimm's law.
Some Germanic languages developed runic alphabets of their own.
Some unique features of Germanic are:
- The levelling of the IE tense system into past and present (or common)
- The use of a dental suffix (/d/) instead of vowel alternation to indicate past tense. This probably originated as a form of "did". That is, for example, *"I help did." became "I helped.", replacing the earlier "I holp." (which survives in some dialects).
- The presence of two general conjugations of verbs: weak (regular) and strong (irregular). English has 161 strong verbs; all are of native English origin. So long as the English consonants don't change, additional strong verbs cannot seep into the language.
- The use of strong and weak adjectives. Modern English adjectives don't change except for comparative and superlative; this was not the case with Old English, where adjectives were inflected differently depending on whether they were preceeded by an article or demonstrative, or not.
- The consonant shift known as Grimm's Law.
- The abundance of non-IE roots[?]. It's been suggested that up to 80% of Germanic roots are of non-IE origin, including universal actions such as "bite" and "chew" and all sea terms except "boat". These roots may have been borrowed from the so-called Battle-axe people.
- The shifting of stress onto the root of the stem. Though English has an irregular stress, native words always have a fixed stress regardless of what's added to them. This is arguably the most important change.
All Germanic languages are thought to be descended from a hypothetical Proto-Germanic.
Note that divisions between subfamilies of Germanic are rarely precisely defined; most form continuous clines[?], with adjacent dialects being mutually intelligible and more separated ones not.
We mention here only the principal or unusual dialects when a more precise article contains a larger tree; for example, many Low Saxon dialects are discussed on Low Saxon besides just Standard Low Saxon and Plautdietsch.
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