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The Primitive Germanic Vowel-system.


34. From what has been said in 13-33, we arrive at the following vowel-system for the prim. Germ. language:

Short vowels a, e, i, u

Long āē, ē, ī, ō, ū

Diphthongs ai, au, eu

Note. āē was an open e-sound like OE. āē. ē had the sound of the ē in NHG. reh, roe. The origin of this vowel has not yet been satisfactorily explained. It is important to remember that it is never the equivalent of Indo-Germanic ē which appears as āē in prim. Germanic. See 49, 50.


35. This system underwent several modifications during the prim. Germanic period, i. e. before the parent language became differentiated into the various separate Germanic languages. The most important of these changes were:


36. a + ŋx became āc, as Goth. OS. OHG. fāhan, OE fōn, from *faŋcanan., to catch, seize, cp. Lat. pangō, I fasten Goth. āhta (inf. agkjan), OS. thāhta (inf. thenkian), OHG dāhta (inf. denken), OE. ōhte, from older *aŋcta, he thought, cp. O.Lat. tongeō, I know. Every prim. Germanic ā in accented syllables was of this origin. Cp. 19.

note.The ā in the above and similar examples was still a nasalized vowel in prim. Germ., as is seen by its development to ō in OE. The ī ( 37) and ū ( 39) were also nasalized vowels in prim. Germanic.


37. e became i under the following circumstances:

1. Before a nasal + consonant, as Goth. OE. OS. bindan, OHG. bintan, to bind, cp. Lat. of-fendimentum, chin-cloth, of-fendix, knot, band, Gr. penqeroz, father-in-law; Gr. pente, Goth. fimf, OHG. fimf, finf, five. This explains why OHG. bintan, to bind, and helfan, to help, belong to the same ablaut-series. See 178. s

This i became ī under the same conditions as those by which a became ā ( 36), as Goth.eihan, OS. thīhan, OHG. dīhan, OE. ēon, from *iŋcanan, older *eŋcanan, to thrive. The result of this sound-law was the reason why the verb passed from the third to the first class of strong verbs ( 176), cp. the isolated pp. OS. gi-thungan, OE. ge-ungen, full-grown.

2. When followed by an i, ī, or j in the same or the next syllable, as Goth. OS. OHG. ist, OE. is, from *isti, older *esti, cp. Gr. (esti, is; OHG. irdīn, earthen, beside rda, earth Goth. midjis, OE. midd. OS. middi, OHG. mitti, Lat. medius, from an original form *medhjos, middle; OS. birid, OHG. birit, he bears, from an original form *bhreti, through the intermediate stages *bredi, *bridi, *bridi, beside inf. beran.

3. In unaccented syllables, as OE. fēt, older fōēt, from *fōtiz, older *fōtez, feet, cp. Lat. pedes, Gr. podez..


38. i, followed originally by an , or ē in the next syllable, became e when not protected by a nasal + consonant or an intervening i or j, as OE. OS. OHG. wer, from *wiraz, older *wiros, man, cp. Lat. vir; OE. OHG. nest, nest, cp. Lat. nīdus, from *nizdos. In. historic times, however, this law has an exceedingly great number of exceptions owing to the separate languages having levelled out in various directions, cp. e.g. OHG. quc beside OE. cwic, quick, alive, cp. Lat. -vīvos (vīvus); OHG. lbara beside OE. lifer, liver; OHG. lbēn beside OE. libban, to live; OHG. lccōn beside OE. liccian, to lick, OHG. wssa beside wissa, / knew.


39. u, followed originally by an ă, ŏ or e in the next syllable, became o when not protected by a following nasal + consonant or an intervening i or j, as OHG. joh, OE. geoc, yoke, cp. Lat. jugum, Gr. zugon; OE. OS. god, OHG. got, god, from an original neuter form *ghutm, beside OHG. gutin, goddess; OHG. fol (vol) from an original form pins, full, beside OHG. fulli, fullness; OE. geholpen, pp. of helpan, to help, OS. giholpan, OHG. giholfan, beside OE. gebunden, pp. of bindan, to bind, OS. gibundan, OHG. gibuntan; OE. budon, OHG. butun, we offered, beside pp. OE. geboden, OHG. gibotan.

Every prim. Germanic o in accented syllables was of this origin. Cp. 17.

u became ū under the same circumstances as those by which a and i became ā and ī, as pret. 3rd pers. sg. Goth. ūhta, OS. thūhta, OE. ūhte, OHG. dūhta, seemed, beside inf. Goth. ugkjan, OHG. dunken, to seem.


40. From what has been said in 34-39, it will be seen that the prim. Germ. vowel-system had assumed the following shape before the differentiation into dialects of the Germanic parent language :

Short vowels a, e, i, o, u

Long ā, āē, ē, ī, ō, ū

Diphthongs ai, au, eu

The further development of these sounds in Old High German will be briefly discussed in the following chapter.


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