Good day, Guten Tag, Goddag... Sound familiar?
What is a Germanic language?
A Germanic language is a language that originates from the Indo-European (IE) language family. They are often percieved by people as being rather 'harsh' sounding languages because of their common use of approximants and throaty sounds, as opposed to Romance languages such as French or Italian, which are thought of as being smooth, flowing, attractive and romantic (hence the name!)
So which languages are Germanic?
To list all of the Germanic languages would be a pretty time-consuming job to say the least! But picking a few of the more common Germanic languages to show you as examples, there is English, German, Dutch, Swedish and Norwegian, to name a few. To give you an example of how each of these fall into the same category, take the phrase "Good day" (as in "hello"). In German this is said as "Guten Tag", in Norwegian "God dag", in Swedish "Goddag" and in Dutch "Dag". We can see there is a very close connection between these words and can therefore see why these languages were separated from, say, French - "Bonjour" - Italian - "buon giorno" - and Spanish - "buenos dias".
The IE Language Family
I always imagine the IE Language Family as a gigantic 'family tree' which brakes off into 3 main branches, and from those branches come lots of little branches and then twigs. To explain myself, the IE Language Family breaks into 3 main branches:
- North Germanic languages
- East Germanic languages
- West Germanic languages
These then branch off into:
- North Germanic languages > East languages and West languages
- East Germanic languages > Gothic, Vandalic, Burgundian
- West Germanic languages > High German, Low German, Low Franconian, Anglo-Frisian,
which then branch into:
- North Germanic languages > East languages and West languages > (East) Danish, Swedish, Norwegian Bokmal, (West) Icelandic, Faroese, Norn and Norwegian Nynorsk
- East Germanic languages > Gothic, Vandalic, Burgundian, Crimean Gothic
- West Germanic languages > High German, Low German, Low Franconian, Anglo-Frisian > (High German) German, Yiddish, Luxembourgish, (Low Franconian) Dutch, which then leads to Afrikaans, (Anglo-Frisian) English, Scots and Frisian languages (North Frisian, West Frisian and Saterland Frisian)
A bit of background
English is a major language throughout the world. It is spoken in 10 different countries - in the UK, America, Canada, Australia, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, the Philippines, Jamaica and Singapore - not to mention it's taught in many countries to children from a very early age. English used to be considered a 'pauper's' language, as French used to be the language in government, but drastic changes took place over time and consequently English has now become one of the most used languages throughout the world.
German is spoken by approximately 105 million native speakers throughout the world and about 80 million non-native speakers; that's to say, 95% of Germany's population, 89% of Austria's and 65% of Switzerland's use German as their mothertongue. Like English, it is widely taught in schools worldwide.
Norwegian, part of the West Scandinavian speaking community, is spoken by over 5 million people around the world. The countries in which it is spoken include Norway, of course, the US, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland.
2009 By Daniella Wood