West Germanic languages

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The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three traditional branches of the Germanic family of languages and include languages such as German, English, Dutch, Afrikaans, the Frisian languages, and Yiddish. The other two of these three traditional branches of the Germanic languages are the North and East Germanic languages.

Contents

History

Origins and characteristics

The Germanic languages are traditionally divided into three groups: West, East and North Germanic.[1] Their exact relation is difficult to determine from the sparse evidence of runic inscriptions, and they remained mutually intelligible throughout the Migration Period, so that some individual varieties are difficult to classify. Dialects with the features assigned to the western group formed from Proto-Germanic in the late Jastorf culture (ca. 1st century BC). The West Germanic group is characterized by a number of phonological and morphological innovations not found in North and East Germanic, such as:[2]

  • The loss of w after ng.
  • Gemination of consonants (except r) before /j/.
  • Replacement of the 2nd person singular preterit ending -t with -i.
  • Loss of word-final -z. This made the nominative and accusative of many nouns identical. Old High German preserves it (as -r) only in single-syllable words.
  • The development of a gerund.

Nevertheless, many scholars doubt whether the West Germanic languages descend from a common ancestor later than Proto-Germanic, that is, they doubt whether a "Proto-West-Germanic" ever existed.[2] Rather, some have argued that after East Germanic broke off from the group, the remaining Germanic languages, the Northwest Germanic languages, divided into four main dialects:[3] North Germanic, and the three groups conventionally called "West Germanic", namely

Evidence for this view comes from a number of linguistic innovations found in both North Germanic and West Germanic,[2] including:

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