Proto-Germanic language

Map of the pre-Roman Iron Age in Northern Europe showing cultures associated with Proto-Germanic, c. 500 BC. The red shows the area of the preceding Nordic Bronze Age in Scandinavia; the magenta-colored area towards the south represents the Jastorf culture of the North German Plain.

Proto-Germanic (abbreviated PGmc; also called Common Germanic) is the reconstructed proto-language of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages.

Proto-Germanic developed from pre-Proto-Germanic into three branches during the first half of the first millennium of the Common Era: West Germanic, East Germanic and North Germanic, which however remained in contact over a considerable time, especially the Ingvaeonic languages (including English), which arose from West Germanic dialects and remained in continued contact with North Germanic.

A defining feature of Proto-Germanic is the completion of the process described by Grimm's law, a set of sound changes that occurred between its status as a dialect of Proto-Indo-European and its gradual divergence into a separate language. As it is probable that the development of this sound shift spanned a considerable time (several centuries), Proto-Germanic cannot adequately be reconstructed as a simple node in a tree model but rather represents a phase of development that may span close to a thousand years. The end of the Common Germanic period is reached with the beginning of the Migration Period in the fourth century.

The alternative term "Germanic parent language" may be used to include a larger scope of linguistic developments, spanning the Nordic Bronze Age and Pre-Roman Iron Age in Northern Europe (second to first millennia BC) to include "Pre-Germanic" (PreGmc), "Early Proto Germanic" (EPGmc) and "Late Proto-Germanic" (LPGmc).[1] While Proto-Germanic refers only to the reconstruction of the most recent common ancestor of Germanic languages, the Germanic parent language refers to the entire journey that the dialect of Proto-Indo-European that would become Proto-Germanic underwent through the millennia.

The Proto-Germanic language is not directly attested by any coherent surviving texts; it has been reconstructed using the comparative method. Fragmentary direct attestation exists of (late) Common Germanic in early runic inscriptions (specifically the second-century AD Vimose inscriptions and the second-century BC Negau helmet inscription),[2] and in Roman Empire era transcriptions of individual words (notably in Tacitus' Germania, c. 90 CE[3]).

Archaeology and early historiography

The expansion of the Germanic tribes
750 BC – AD 1 (after The Penguin Atlas of World History, 1988):
   Settlements before 750 BC
   New settlements 750–500 BC
   New settlements 500–250 BC
   New settlements 250 BC – AD 1
Some sources also give a date of 750 BC for the earliest expansion out of southern Scandinavia along the North Sea coast towards the mouth of the Rhine.[4]
The early East Germanic expansion (1st and 2nd centuries AD): Jastorf culture (blue), Oksywie culture (red), Przeworsk culture (yellow/orange); eastward expansion of the Wielbark culture (light-red/orange).

The Proto-Germanic language developed in southern Scandinavia (Denmark, south Sweden and southern Norway), the Urheimat (original home) of the Germanic tribes.[5] It is possible that Indo-European speakers first arrived in southern Scandinavia with the Corded Ware culture in the mid-3rd millennium BC, developing into the Nordic Bronze Age cultures by the early 2nd millennium BC.[citation needed] Proto-Germanic developed out of pre-Proto-Germanic during the Pre-Roman Iron Age of Northern Europe. According to the Germanic substrate hypothesis, it may be influenced by non-Indo-European cultures, such as the Funnelbeaker culture, but the sound change in the Germanic languages known as Grimm's law points to a non-substratic development away from other branches of Indo-European.[note 1] Proto-Germanic itself was likely spoken after c. 500 BC,[8] and Proto-Norse from the 2nd century AD and later is still quite close to reconstructed Proto-Germanic, but other common innovations separating Germanic from Proto-Indo-European suggest a common history of pre-Proto-Germanic speakers throughout the Nordic Bronze Age.

Early Germanic expansion in the Pre-Roman Iron Age (5th to 1st centuries BC) placed Proto-Germanic speakers in contact with the Continental Celtic La Tène horizon.

A number of Celtic loanwords in Proto-Germanic have been identified.[9] By the 1st century AD, Germanic expansion reached the Danube and the Upper Rhine in the south and the Germanic peoples first entered the historical record. At about the same time, extending east of the Vistula (Oksywie culture, Przeworsk culture), Germanic speakers came into contact with early Slavic cultures, as reflected in early Germanic loans in Proto-Slavic.

By the 3rd century, Late Proto-Germanic speakers had expanded over significant distance, from the Rhine to the Dniepr spanning about 1,200 km (700 mi). The period marks the breakup of Late Proto-Germanic and the beginning of the (historiographically-recorded) Germanic migrations. The first coherent text recorded in a Germanic language is the Gothic Bible, written in the later 4th century in the language of the Thervingi Gothic Christians, who had escaped persecution by moving from Scythia to Moesia in 348.

The earliest available coherent texts (conveying complete sentences, including verbs) in Proto-Norse begin in c. 400 in runic inscriptions (such as the Tune Runestone). The delineation of Late Common Germanic from Proto-Norse at about that time is largely a matter of convention. Early West Germanic text is available from the 5th century, beginning with the Frankish Bergakker inscription.

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