Indo-European Language 1

Required for all:

 1.     Compare and contrast the language you have chosen to study and your native language (and any other languages you have studied, if you like). Consider each languages’ syntax and grammar, as well as vocabulary matters, such as cognates, derivatives or borrowed words. (minimum 300 words)


German is one of the many language that English has stolen from, and as English itself is a Germanic language, there are many similarities between the two that English speakers will notice.  Grammatically, in German there are four cases: nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive.  These show up in English as well, though often in a more vague sense than they do in German.  One of the first differences I noticed between German and English was that nouns are gendered.  They are male, female, or neutered.  These cases and gendered nouns are clearly linked in German, while they are not evident in English:


Nominative Accusative Dative Genitive
I ich mich mir mein
you (singular/plural) du/irh dich/euch dir/euch dein/euer
him er (der) ihn (den) ihm (dem) sein (dessen)
her sie (die) sie (die) ihr (der) ihr (deren)
it es (das) es (das) ihm (dem) sein (dessen)
they sie (die) sie (die) ihnen (denen) ihre (deren)
we wir uns uns unser
you (formal) Sie Sie Ihr Ihnen


When considering syntax, German is very lax compared to English.  The differing endings of words thanks to case and gender in German allow word placement within a sentence to be flexible.  The subject will have a nominative ending.  The direct object will have an accusative ending.  The indirect object will have a dative ending.  If there is something showing possession, it will have a genitive ending.  The verb in German will always take second position if it is a declarative sentence.  In a question or command, the verb will always come first.


In addition, because English has borrowed heavily from German, there are many cognates in older words, loan words that have been borrowed long enough that they’re part of the English language now, as well as Anglicized words and -ieren verbs for more modern words.  Some cognates, for example: house = Haus, brother = Bruder.  These are pronounced somewhat similarly, and would be recognizable to speakers of both languages when they are used in context.  Loan words are similar to these cognates, except that they are identical in spelling but may have a slightly different pronunciation or meaning.  Some examples of loan words are kindergarten, angst, and delicatessen (or deli, as we’re more familiar with). The Anglicized words are often more modern, and are nearly always gender neutral.  For example, das Fax and das Email are gender neutral and mean fax and email.  Verbs that end in -ieren are another type of word that has been influenced by the English language, such as fotographieren (to photograph) and reparieren (to repair).



2.     Based on what you understand about the language studied, linguistics in general, and your knowledge of the associated culture(s), briefly describe how the characteristics of the language may reflect the attributes, history or values of the associated culture(s). (minimum 300 words)

There are many moments in history and in linguistics that have allowed for the development of what we know today as modern German.  In her book German: Biography of a Language, Sanders narrows down the main events in the life of German as a language to six major turning points that correspond with historical events (5).

The first turning point was when a pre-Germanic language split off from its PIE roots.  This moment in history is perhaps the most pivotal and telling in the values of the people.  Sanders references the work of David W. Anthony in his book The Horse, The Wheel, and Language. As the Germanic speaking peoples moved west they took their culture, values, and language with them.  They were able to travel quickly and extended distances because they had domesticated the horse and learned the skill of horseback riding.  The Germanic language they brought took hold in the lands they moved into because of three main aspect of these people culture.  First they became a dominant force in trading and in politics because they valued their oaths and kept their word.  They were welcomed by the regions they traveled to because of this trust and also because of their strong rules regarding hospitality.  They believed in the value of trade more than war, meaning they incorporated themselves and their language into these societies rather than conquering them.  They made themselves a desirable class of people to be respected and welcomed rather than feared and hated.

The final reason, and the main way the Germanic language took hold, was because of the rituals, specifically rites of passage, and feasts that contained speech and songs in their Germanic tongue (Sanders 22).   Because the Germanic speaking people were welcomed into the new cultures and regions, and merged themselves in rather conquering, the people of the western regions began to learn the new language so that they could make better trade alliances, marry into the new blood, and participate in the rituals and feasts.  There would have been a period of bilingualism, but eventually the new, Germanic language took hold because as the children of the western regions saw the technological advances that the Germanic speaking people brought with them and the elite status they held in society, the old language would have become stigmatized and the Germanic language became preferable (Mallory 258).

The remaining five turning points are still important in the history of the German language, though aren’t quite as telling regarding the cultural as the first point.  The second and third turning points in German’s linguistic history deal with moving further down the IE language tree.  When the Germanic tribes were victorious over the Romans, the Germanic language split off from the romance languages (Sanders 44).  Then, with the Second Sound Shift, the Germanic languages split into the variations that would lead to German and English (the Northern Germanic languages that include Norse, split off before this sound shift).  This is the shift that explains why English words sound different than German words that have the same meaning and often even look similar (93).

The fourth turning point regarding the history of the German language is when the Bible that was published in German.  This allowed the common people to read in their own language and split off German into many dialects.  It allowed for more independent cities, towns, and villages (Sanders 117).  The fifth and sixth turning points are more modern in their history. In the 1800s many German-speaking areas were politically unified into a country.  This unification allowed the new Germany to become a world power and the language to become a world language.  People around the globe now had a reason to learn German so that, like with the first turning point, they could become involved in trade and politics with Germany (157).  The final turning point in German’s history involves the two world wars which first stigmatized the German language, and then with the cultural and moral recovery of Germany, the language has begun to restore some of it’s standing (175).


Required-one of the following:

3.     Copy of college transcript for any Indo-European language (minimum one semester/quarter with at least a grade of “B”).

German Transcripts from The Ohio State University

Works Cited:

 Mallory, J. P. In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archeology and Myth. London:

Thames and Hudson, 1991. Print.

Sanders, Ruth H. German: Biography of a Language. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.


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