On the phylogenetic status of East Germanic, May 19, 2023

On the phylogenetic status of East Germanic
May 19, 2023, at 9:30 a.m., 136 / Celetná 20

Institute of Ancient Near Eastern Studies invites you to the lecture of Ronald I. Kim (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań).

By current consensus, the Germanic languages may be classifed into three subgroups, called East, North, and West; the latter two in turn belong to a higher-order grouping, Northwest Germanic. In contrast to North and West Germanic, both characterized by numerous isoglosses, East Germanic is usually defined in terms of its relative archaism; furthermore, the sole East Germanic language known from connected texts is Bible Gothic of the 4th-6th cc. AD. This raises two questions: to what extent does it make sense to speak of a subgroup encompassing only one language; and what light can the meager remains of other languages shed on the status of East Germanic?
This talk examines the evidence of Crimean Gothic, Vandalic, and Burgundian and argues that none of the features traditionally regarded as diagnostic of East Germanic constitutes support for a subgroup in the phylogenetic sense. The only innovation of Bible Gothic common to all of these languages is the nonlow reflex of PGmc *ē, which may rather be an archaism; in addition, Crimean Gothic shares fortition of PGmc *jj and pronominal N.NOM/ACC.SG -ata. Raising of long mid vowels, monophthongization of PGmc *ai and *au, and weakening of unstressed vowels may reflect diffusion or parallel innovation. It follows that East Germanic should be viewed not as a subgroup, but as a peripheral set of varieties that lost contact early on with the rest of Germanic; this conclusion accords with the historical and archeological record.

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