Germanic Languages

Germanic Languages, subfamily of the Indo-European languages consisting of around 58 languages. Germanic languages are spoken by more than 480 million people in Northern and Western Europe, North America, South Africa, and Australia. In their structure and evolution they fall into three branches:

1. East Germanic (extinct): the Gothic language and some other extinct languages. Substantial information survives only for Gothic.
2. North Germanic: West Scandinavian group includes—the Icelandic language, the Nynorsk Norwegian language, and Faroese; East Scandinavian group includes—the Danish language, Bokmål Norwegian, and the Swedish language.
3. West Germanic, the largest group in this category: English group—the English language and Scots (See also American English); Frisian group—the Frisian language; Low Saxon-Low Frankonian group-the Dutch Language, the Flemish Language, Low German (Plattdeutsch), and Afrikaans; High German group—the German language or High German, the Yiddish language, and others.

The Germanic languages are grouped together because of the similarities that exist between their phonology, grammar, and vocabulary, and because they are thought to have derived from one ancient language (Proto-Germanic). Their similarities can be attributed to the first Germanic sound shift, which occurred when the Germanic language separated from Indo-European (See Grimm’s Law; Verner’s Law).

In terms of unwritten regional dialects, the Scandinavian languages (North Germanic group) form a single speech area of high mutual intelligibility (except for Icelandic, which was long isolated and retains many archaisms), within which Danish has diverged the most. The West Germanic languages form another dialect continuum. In both areas, speech varies gradually from one village to the next, although over wide distances greater differences accumulate. Also, in both areas more than one literary norm arose, corresponding to political and historical divisions. These norms are what are usually meant by terms such as Swedish language. See also Runes.

Selected statistical data from Ethnologue: Languages of the World, SIL International.

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