Episode 22: Early Germanic Grammar

We look at the grammar of the early Germanic tribes. The decreasing use of inflexions is explored. Elements of modern English grammar are identified within the original Germanic language.

10 thoughts on “Episode 22: Early Germanic Grammar

  1. Thank you for your interesting podcast. Actually, Old English did have a dual for the first and second person. Cf. Obst/Schleburg 2004. p. 40.


    • Hi Hanspeter,

      Yes, you are correct. There was a dual form attested in early Old English documents. However, that dual form appears to have disappeared around the 10th century. So the bulk of Old English documents produced in the 10th and 11th centuries don’t have that dual form. However, I got the time frame wrong in this episode when I suggested that the dual form was never present in Old English. (By the way, I did mention those dual forms when I discussed Old English pronouns in Episode 54: Pronouns Pros and Cons.)

  2. 马跳了
    The horse jumped.

    You don’t have to specify when to do past tense in Chinese. You just add a 了。 It isn’t really a word, it indicates tense. Also, it can operates on the clause, not necessarily the word. It can be used like -ed, but doesn’t have to be.
    Otherwise you were right about Chinese.

  3. I’m really enjoying this series, even though I’m way behind you. I will catch up.

    It occurred to me to wonder whether, in addition to the stress factor you mention, the loss of inflections in Proto-Germanic may have been caused by the mixing of languages and cultures you’ve previously mentioned. In general, that process doess tend to result in simplification of grammar.

    By the way, one other inflection modern English has kept is the possessive of nouns – the ‘s, which is a reduction of the Old and Middle English -es.

    • Hi Nyki.

      I think most modern linguists agree that the simplification of English grammar (especially the loss of inflectional endings) was highly influenced by interactions between English speakers and Norse speakers after the settlement of the Danelaw, and interactions with French speakers after the Norman Conquest. I am not sure if similar influences played a role in shaping Proto-Germanic grammar. Also, I discuss the evolution of English inflections in later episodes – including the modern -‘s genitive ending.

  4. Hi Kevin,

    Do you know much about the origins of the modern sibilant German letter which resembles an upper case “B” and is pronounced “es-tsett?” I’m curious as to where it came from and why it’s absent from English.


    • Hi Avery. It was a development within German and was originally a combination of S and T, thus its name in German. It represented a specific sound within German. I have not really studied its history, but here is a link to a Wikipedia article that does mention its development within German: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%9F.

  5. Hi Kevin,

    Your podcasts continue to amaze: I never thought I would find an essay on Early Germanic Grammar interesting. Great job.

    I was wondering if the comparative forms like ‘larger’ were a dual holdover from Old German, like the 1st person pronoun you discussed (and which we no longer have). It would seem that the comparative isn’t really necessary except that it indicates a paired comparison.

    • Thanks for the feedback! Yes, the comparative ‘-er’ suffix and the superlative ‘-est’ suffix are both derived from the inflections used in the older Proto-Germanic language. However, those suffixes underwent quite a bit of change between Proto-Germanic and Old English.

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