Germanic languages

The Germanic languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family spoken natively by a population of about 515 million people[nb 1] mainly in Europe, North America, Oceania and Southern Africa. The most widely spoken Germanic language, English, is also the world's most widely spoken language with an estimated 2 billion speakers. All Germanic languages are derived from Proto-Germanic, spoken in Iron Age Scandinavia.

Germanic
Geographic
distribution
Worldwide, principally Northern, Western and Central Europe, the Americas (Anglo-America, Caribbean Netherlands and Suriname), Southern Africa, and Oceania
Linguistic classificationIndo-European
  • Germanic
Proto-languageProto-Germanic
Subdivisions
ISO 639-2 / 5gem
Linguasphere52- (phylozone)
Glottologgerm1287
European Germanic languages

World map showing countries where a Germanic language is the primary or official language
  Countries where the first language of the majority of the population is a Germanic language
  Countries or regions where a Germanic language is an official language but not a primary language
  Countries or regions where a Germanic language has no official status but is notable, i.e. used in some areas of life and/or spoken among a local minority

The West Germanic languages include the three most widely spoken Germanic languages: English with around 360–400 million native speakers;[2][nb 2] German, with over 100 million native speakers;[3] and Dutch, with 24 million native speakers. Other West Germanic languages include Afrikaans, an offshoot of Dutch, with over 7.1 million native speakers;[4] Low German, considered a separate collection of unstandardized dialects, with roughly 4.35–7.15 million native speakers and probably 6.7–10 million people who can understand it[5][6][7] (at least 2.2 million in Germany (2016)[6] and 2.15 million in the Netherlands (2003));[8][5] Yiddish, once used by approximately 13 million Jews in pre-World War II Europe,[9] now with approximately 1.5 million native speakers; Scots, with 1.5 million native speakers; Limburgish varieties with roughly 1.3 million speakers along the DutchBelgianGerman border; and the Frisian languages with over 500,000 native speakers in the Netherlands and Germany.

The largest North Germanic languages are Swedish, Danish and Norwegian, which are in part mutually intelligible and have a combined total of about 20 million native speakers in the Nordic countries and an additional five million second language speakers; since the Middle Ages, however, these languages have been strongly influenced by Middle Low German, a West Germanic language, and Low German words account for about 30–60% of their vocabularies according to various estimates. Other extant North Germanic languages are Faroese, Icelandic, and Elfdalian, which are more conservative languages with no significant Low German influence, more complex grammar and limited mutual intelligibility with other North Germanic languages today.[10]

The East Germanic branch included Gothic, Burgundian, and Vandalic, all of which are now extinct. The last to die off was Crimean Gothic, spoken until the late 18th century in some isolated areas of Crimea.[11]

The SIL Ethnologue lists 48 different living Germanic languages, 41 of which belong to the Western branch and six to the Northern branch; it places Riograndenser Hunsrückisch German in neither of the categories, but it is often considered a German dialect by linguists.[12] The total number of Germanic languages throughout history is unknown as some of them, especially the East Germanic languages, disappeared during or after the Migration Period. Some of the West Germanic languages also did not survive past the Migration Period, including Lombardic. As a result of World War II and subsequent mass expulsion of Germans, the German language suffered a significant loss of Sprachraum, as well as moribundity and extinction of several of its dialects. In the 21st century, German dialects are dying out[nb 3] as Standard German gains primacy.[13]

The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic, also known as Common Germanic, which was spoken in about the middle of the 1st millennium BC in Iron Age Scandinavia. Proto-Germanic, along with all of its descendants, notably has a number of unique linguistic features, most famously the consonant change known as "Grimm's law." Early varieties of Germanic entered history when the Germanic tribes moved south from Scandinavia in the 2nd century BC to settle in the area of today's northern Germany and southern Denmark.


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