Grimm's law

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Grimm's law (also known as the First Germanic Sound Shift or the Rask's-Grimm's rule), named for Jacob Grimm, is a set of statements describing the inherited Proto-Indo-European (PIE) stops as they developed in Proto-Germanic (PGmc, the common ancestor of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family) in the 1st millennium BC. It establishes a set of regular correspondences between early Germanic stops and fricatives and the stop consonants of certain other centum Indo-European languages (Grimm used mostly Latin and Greek for illustration). As it is presently formulated, Grimm's Law consists of three parts, which must be thought of as three consecutive phases in the sense of a chain shift:[1]

The chain shift can be abstractly represented as:

Here each sound moves one position to the right to take on its new sound value.

The voiced aspirated stops may have first become voiced fricatives before hardening to the voiced unaspirated stops "b", "d", and "g" under certain conditions; however, some linguists dispute this. See Proto-Germanic phonology.

Grimm's law was the first non-trivial systematic sound change to be discovered in linguistics; its formulation was a turning point in the development of linguistics, enabling the introduction of a rigorous methodology to historical linguistic research. The "law" was discovered by Friedrich von Schlegel in 1806 and Rasmus Christian Rask in 1818. It was elaborated (i.e. extended to include standard German) in 1822 by Jacob Grimm, the elder of the Brothers Grimm, in his book Deutsche Grammatik.


In detail

Further changes following Grimm's Law, as well as sound changes in other Indo-European languages, can sometimes obscure its effects. The most illustrative examples are used here.

  • Note: Proto-Germanic *gw from Proto-Indo-European *gʷʰ has undergone further changes of various sorts. After *n it was preserved as *gw, but later changed to *g except in Gothic. Elsewhere, it became either *w or *g during late Proto-Germanic.

This is strikingly regular. Each phase involves one single change which applies equally to the labials (p, b, bʰ, f) and their equivalent dentals (t, d, dʰ, þ), velars (k, g, gʰ, h) and rounded velars (kʷ, gʷ, gʷʰ, hw). The first phase left the phoneme repertoire of the language without voiceless stops, the second phase filled this gap but created a new one, and so on until the chain had run its course.

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