Gothic - DOC by liwenting


Lesson 1
                                    1. INTRODUCTION

       Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known
primarily from Codex Argenteus, a 6th century copy of a 4th century Bible translation.
        As a Germanic language, Gothic is a part of the Indo-European language family. It is
the Germanic language with the earliest attestation but has no modern descendants. The oldest
documents in Gothic date back to the 4th century. The language was in decline by the mid-6th
century, due in part to the military defeat of the Goths at the hands of the Franks, the
elimination of the Goths in Italy, and geographic isolation. The language survived in the Iberian
peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal) as late as the 8th century, and Frankish author Walafrid
Strabo wrote that it was still spoken in the lower Danube area and in isolated mountain regions
in Crimea in the early 9th century (Crimean Gothic).
       There are only a few surviving documents in Gothic, not enough to completely
reconstruct the language. The largest body of surviving documentation consists of codices
written and commissioned by the Arian bishop Ulfilas (also known as Wulfila, 311-382), who
was the leader of a community of Visigothic Christians in the Roman province of Moesia
(modern Bulgaria/Romania). He commissioned a translation of the Greek Bible into the Gothic
language, of which roughly three-quarters of the New Testament and some fragments of the Old
Testament have survived.
       The translation was apparently done in the Balkans region by people in close contact
with Greek Christian culture. It appears that the Gothic Bible was used by the Visigoths in
Iberia until about 700 AD, and perhaps for a time in Italy, the Balkans and what is now
Ukraine. Apart from Biblical texts, the only substantial Gothic document which still exists, and
the only lengthy text known to have been composed originally in the Gothic language, is the
"Skeireins", a few pages of commentary on the Gospel of John.
       As an Indo-European language, Gothic is related to most of the major languages of
Europe (except Finnish and Hungarian), and most closely related to the Germanic languages:
English, German (Low and High), Dutch, Frisian, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Icelandic.
Though it has its own unique points of development, it still stands very close to the
reconstructed "Primitive Germanic" from which all these languages derive. So a knowledge of
Gothic is practically indispensable to a historical study of the Germanic languages.
       A speaker of any Germanic language will find a very large number of cognate words in
any Gothic text. Speakers of those languages will consequently find the vocabulary of Gothic
very easy to learn.

       Like other archaic Indo-European languages, Gothic is an inflecting, "synthetic"
language, in which noun and verb endings are of great importance in determining the meaning
of a sentence. In this respect it is closer to Latin, Greek or Armenian than, say, English or
       The Gothic noun has four cases: Nominative, Accusative, Genitive, and Dative, and
two numbers, Singular and Plural. Three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter) are
distinguished; these have no necessary connection with the natural gender of the object named
(Gth. stains “a stone”, is masculine; Gth. barn “a child” is neuter; Gth. baurgs “a city” is
       One of the most striking characteristics of the Germanic languages is the division of
nouns between those with weak declensions (generally those where the root word ends in an -n)
and those with strong declensions (those whose roots end in a vowel or an inflexional suffix
indicative of a pronoun).
        A. Strong Declension:             B. Weak Declension             C. Minor Declensions:

1.      roots ending in -a, -ja, -wa      all roots ending in -n,        roots ending in -r, en -
        (masculine and neuter)            (all three genders)            nd and vestigial endings
                                                                         in other consonants
2.      roots ending in -o, -jo and -wo   roots ending in -an, -jan, -
        (feminine)                        wan (masculine);
3.      roots ending in -i (masculine     roots ending in -on and -ein
        and feminine)                     (feminine);
4.      roots ending in -u
        (all three genders)

       The adjectives also decline according to gender, number, and case, and also have that
tricky Germanic distinction between "strong" and "weak" forms (some adjectives are only
strong, some are only weak, most are both but prefer weak forms when used with the
article/demonstrative pronoun).
                                            English             Gothic
                      weak declension     the long man sa lagga manna
                      strong declension (a) long man ains laggs manna

       The verbs are also inflected. There are two main types, strong and weak; the strong can
be divided into seven different groups. Unlike those of English, the Gothic strong verbs are not
"irregulars"; they are very common, and have very regular patterns. The weak verbs are actually
somewhat more complicated; there are four different weak conjugations, but they mostly differ
in the vowel preceding the final consonant. There are some other verbs that conjugate a bit
oddly, mostly the very common "modal" verbs (can, may, must, shall, etc.), "be" and "will", and
a few others.
       The verb has three persons, two numbers in the 3rd person and three in the 1st and
2nd person where a dual is also distinguished to refer to "we two" or "you two". There are a
present and preterite tense, and an indicative and subjunctive mood, which decline in all
persons and numbers; an infinitive, present participle, and past participle; the latter two
decline as adjectives.
       The pronouns, like the nouns, decline in four cases, and (except for the 1st and 2nd
personal pronouns) are distinguished according to gender as well. The declensions are
somewhat complicated, but there is a typical set of "pronominal" endings (distinct from the
endings on nouns, but often like the adjectival endings).
       Prepositions are followed by nouns in specific cases, most often the accusative or dative,
but occasionally the genitive; sometimes by more than one case with change of meaning of the

                                             Lesson 1
                                        1. THE ALPHABET

         The Gothic alphabet closely resembles the Greek uncial alphabet of the fourth century
AD. Where the Greek uncials proved insufficient for rendering some of the sounds, Roman or
runic letters were borrowed.However, rather than work with the Gothic alphabet itself, scholars
generally work with a transliteration using the Roman alphabet, augmented with two additional
characters and with the acute accent mark.

  Letter              Pronunciation                               Environment

     a        [a], as o in “son”

              [ā], as a in “father”

     b        [v], as v in “have”                                between vowels

              [b], as b in “bob”                                    otherwise

              [ŋ], as n in “sing”                                 before k, g, q

              [x], as ch in “Bach”                after a vowel, or before a voiceless consonant
              [ḡ],   as   Õ    in     Armenian.                  between vowels

              [g], as g in “go”                                  mainly initially

     d        [ð], as th in “father”                             between vowels

              [d], as d in “did”                                    otherwise

     e        [ē], as a in “gate”

     q        [kw], as qu in “queen”

     z        [z], as z in “buzz”

     h        [x], as ch in “Bach”                      before a consonant or when final

              [h] as h in “Hand”                             initially before a vowel

     þ        [θ], as th in “with”

     i        [i], as i in “with”

     k        [k], as k in “kick”

     l        [l], as l in “lazy”

      m         [m], as m in “mouth”

      n         [n], as n in “nose”

       j        [j], as y in “you”

      u         [u], as o in “do it”

                [ū], as oo in “boot”

      p         [p], as p in “pin”

       r        [r], trilled r

       s        [s], as s in “hiss”

       t        [t], as t in “tin”

      w         [u], as oo in “boot”                     between consonants, finally after a consonant

                [w], as w in “with”                                             otherwise

       f        [f], as f in “fat”

      x1        [k], as k in “kick”

      ƕ         [xw], as ch w in “Bach was”

      o         [ō], as o in “phone”

           The duration of doubled consonants is roughly twice that of their single counterparts. For
example, Gth. inn “within” has the prolonged n sound in English “penknife”, while Gth. in
“into” has the short n of English “cannon”;
           Gth. fulla “full” has the prolonged l of English “call later”, while Gth. fula “foal” has
the short l of English “caller”.
           Similarly Gth. atta       “father” has the prolonged t of English “Fat Tuesday”, and
likewise for other consonants.
           The exception to this practice is gg in Gth. figgrs which is used to represent the the
sound of ng [ŋ] in English “finger”. This practice extends to all velars, so that g before any
velar represents the same nasal sound before that velar. For example, gk in Gth. drigkan
represents the nasal plus unvoiced velar plosive as in the corresponding English “drink”; gq in
Gth. sigqan “sink” represents roughly the sound of nkw in English “inkwell”.
  x is used to spell the first letter in Xristus “Christ”, and a handful of other names of Greek or Hebrew origin but not

        Some sounds of the Gothic language are represented by diagraphss. Specifically, the
long i [ī] is represented by ei.
         The digraph ai has a threefold distinction. It represents:
        1. the short vowel [e] found in Modern English “pen”.
        2. the long version of the same sound.
        3. diphthong formed by its two constituents, namely the sound of i in Modern English
        In transcription, these three values are distinguished by placement of an acute accent
mark: aí is [e], ai is [e:], and ái is [ai].2
        A similar threefold distinction holds for the diagraph au:
        1. aú is the vowel sound found in Modern English “pot”,
        2. au is a long version of the same sound, as in Modern English “bought”
        3. áu is represented by “ou” in Modern English “about”.
        The diagraph iu represents a falling diphthong (i.e. a diphthong accented on its first
element) much like the “eu” of Modern English “reuse” when the re carries the stress. The
situation is summarized in the following chart.

                             Diagraph                  Pronunciation

                                  ei                [ī], as ee in “meet”

                                  aí                  [e], as e in “bet”

                                  ai       [e:] same as above, but prolonged

                                  ái                [ai], as i in “white”

                                  aú                  [ɔ], as o in “pot”

                                  au       [ɔ], same as above, but prolonged

                                  áu              [au], as ou in “about”

                                  iu               [íu], as eu in “reuse”

                                            2. CONSONANTS
        Gothic consonants are classified according to three principles: the manner of articulation,
the place of articulation and the work of vocal cords. According to the manner of articulation
two classes of consonants are distinguished – noise consonants and sonorants. Considering the

 When ai, au appear before vowels as in (saian “to sow”; trauan “to trust”) they are pronounced as long monopthongs
and are not marked with any accent.

manner of          articulation and the work of the vocal cords the following system of the Gothic
consonants can be presented as follows:

                                                  Labials Dentals Palatals Velars Labiovelars

                                                          p        t         k        q

                                                          f   θ, s           h       hw

                         Voiced stops                     b        d         g

                         Voiced fricatives:               v   z, ð

                         Nasals:                      m            n

                         Liquids:                                 l, r

                         Glides:                                         j            w

                                                2.1 NOISE CONSONANTS
           Voiceless stops /p/, /t/, /k/ are designated by the corresponding letters of the Latin
alphabet <p>, <t>, <k>.
           /kw/ is designated by the letter <q> and is pronounced as the combination of the stop /k/
and the bilabial /w/.
           Voiceless fricatives /f/, /s/ are designated by the corresponding Latin letters <f>, <s>.
           /þ/ is pronounced as English voiceless [θ] and it is designated by the corresponding runic
letter <þ>3.
           /x/ is designated by letter <h> after a vowel ( jah “and” , nahts “night” ) , and by the
letter <g> after a vowel ( mag “may” ), or before voiceless consonants- dags “day”, magt
           /xw/ is a constrictive labio-velar sound, which is designated by a particular letter- ligature

<ƕ>, in the post-vocalic position: saƕ “saw”.
           Aspirated glottal sounds /h/ and /hw/ are designated by the corresponding letters <h> and

<ƕ> in initial position before a vowel: hailjan “to heal”, ƕas “who”. Voiced stops /b/, /d/, /g/

and voiced fricative /ƀ/ ( similiar to English [v]), /đ/ ( close to English [ð]), and /ʒ/ ( close to
Armenian fricative /Õ/) are designated by corresponding Latin in different positions:
    in some texts [θ] is designated by the diagraph th.

           1. letters <b>, <d>, <g> denote stops /b/, /d/, /g/:
           a) in initial position – biudan “to order”, diups “deep”, giban “to give”
           b) when doubled (except <g>)4: rabbei “teacher”, iddja “was going”
           c) after a consonant: lamb”lamb”, land “country”, fairguni “mountain”

           2. letters <b>, <d>, <g> denote fricatives / ƀ/, /đ/, /ʒ/ between vowels: giban “to
give”, bidjan “to ask for”, managos “many”.

                                                     2.2 SONORANTS
           Gothic nasal sonorants /m/, /n/ are designated by corresponding Latin letters <m>, <n>.
           Velar /ŋ/ was a positional variant of the phoneme /n/ and was met only in the phonetic
context next to velar stops /g/, /k/. This variant of nasal consonant is designated by the letter
<g> before /k/: drigkan [driŋkan] “to drink”, before /g/: gaggan [gaŋan] “to go”, and before
/q/: [sigqan] “to sink”.
            Liquids /r/ and /l/ are designated by the corresponding Latin letters <r>, <l>.
           Semi-vowels /j/ and /w/ could interchange with the vowels /i/, /u/. Probably they were
consonant variants of the given vowels. Cf:, pl.form- sunjus “sons” gen. case, pl.form
suniwe “son”
                                                         3. VOWELS
           The system of the Gothic vowels may similarly be represented as follows.

                                                        Front         Back
                                       High           /i/ /ī/         /u/ /ū/

                                        Mid          /e/ /ē/          /o/ /ō/

                                       Low                            /a/ /ā/

           Long /ī/ is designated by diagraph ei - galeiþan [galīþan]. Short /i/ is presented by letter
i: bindan “to tie”.
           Long /ē/ and /ō/ are designated by letters e and o accordingly: gēbum “ we gave”, sōkan

“to look for”. Short /e/ and /o/ are designated by diagraphss ai , au before consonants r, h, ƕ

    When doubled “gg” denoted nasal [ŋ] eg. triggws “faithful”.

sai ƕan [sehwan] “to see” , taihun [tehun] “ ten” , bairan [beran] “to carry”; gaþlauhum

[gaθlohun] “they ran away”, waurþans [ worθans] participle II of the verb wairþan “ to
       Gothic long / ā / is very seldom met in phonetic context and is also designated by letter
a. Short /a/ is designated by letter a - faran “to go”;
       Both variants of the sound (long /ū/ and short /u/) are designated by letter u - bugian
[bugjan] “to buy” and brukjan [ brūkjan] “to use”.
       Thus, the system of long vowels included 5 phonemes:/ī/, /ū/, /ē/, /ō/, /ā/. The short
vowels comprised only 3 phonemes: /i~e/, /u~o/, /a/. Short vowels /e/ and /o/ are not

independent phonemes, but more open variants of /i/, /u/ before /r/, /h/, / ƕ/.

                                      PRACTICAL ASSIGNMENT
       Here is the The Lord's Prayer in Gothic.
       Practice reading it.
                      Gothic                                          English

                                                  Our father who art in heaven hallowed be thy
Atta unsar þu in himinam weihnai namo þein

qimai þiudinassus þeins wairþai wilja þeins       Thy kingdom come thy will be done

swe in himina jah ana airþai.                     as in heaven so on earth.

hlaif unsarana þana sinteinan gif uns himma
                                                  Our daily bread give us this day

jah aflet uns þatei skulans sijaima               And forgive us guilty as we are

swaswe jah weis afletam þaim skulam unsaraim As we also forgive our debtors

jah ni briggais uns in fraistubnjai               Also do not bring us into temptation

ak lausei uns af þamma ubilin                     But free us from this evil

unte þeina ist þiudangardi jah mahts              For thine is the kingdom and the power

jah wulþus in aiwins.                             And glory in eternity.


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