Old English and Its Closest Relatives: A Survey of the Earliest Germanic Languages / Edition 1by Orrin Robinson
Pub. Date: 10/01/1993
Publisher: Stanford University Press
At first glance, there may seem little reason to think of English and German as variant forms of a single language. There are enormous differences between the two in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, and a monolingual speaker of one cannot understand the other at all. Yet modern English and German have many points in common, and if we go back to the earliest
At first glance, there may seem little reason to think of English and German as variant forms of a single language. There are enormous differences between the two in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, and a monolingual speaker of one cannot understand the other at all. Yet modern English and German have many points in common, and if we go back to the earliest texts available in the two languages, the similarities are even more notable.
How do we account for these similarities? The generally accepted explanation is that English and German are divergent continuations of a common ancestor, a Germanic language now lost. This book surveys the linguistic and cultural backgrounds of the earliest kown Germanic languages, members of what has traditionally been known as the English family tree: Gothic, Old Norse, Old Saxon, Old English, Old Frisian, Old Low Franconian, and Old High German.
For each language, the author provides a brief history of the people who spoke it, an overview of the important texts in the language, sample passages with full glossary and word-by-word translations, a section on orthography and grammar, and discussion of linguistic or philological topics relevant to all the early Germanic languaes but best exemplified by the particular language under consideration. These topics inclued the pronunciation of older languages; the runic inscriptions; Germanic alliterative pietry; historical syntax, borrowing, analogy, and drift; textual transmission; and dialect variation.
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First off this book could have just as well been titled "The Germanic Language Family" since it covers the Nordic family of languages as well as Dutch, Frisian and the German languages equally. Mr. Robinson does a wonderful job covering a subject which ranges from the history of the major Migration Era Germanic tribes to the High German Consonant shift, gemination, fricatives and other building blocks of Phonology. There is also some discussion of syntax, grammar with a fascinating side-trip into epic poetry. But don't be afraid - if you jump into this book you'll quickly discover that the author expertly guides you through the concepts (large and small) to the point where reading verses in ancient Gothic is possible, even for a reader like me who hasn't used the word garund in over 30 years and can say only a few words in a non-English language.