How to make a realistic naturalistic Germanic language

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Titus Flavius
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How to make a realistic naturalistic Germanic language

Post by Titus Flavius »

As in the title. What is important when making a germlang and how to make it realistic?
ω - near-close near-back unrounded vowel.
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Re: How to make a realistic naturalistic Germanic language

Post by Salmoneus »

Titus Flavius wrote: 20 Jul 2021 14:21 As in the title. What is important
Whatever you want to be important!
how to make it realistic?
Same way as any other a posteriori language:
- plausible sound changes
- plausible grammatical developments
- elements (to a great or lesser degree depending on taste) of similarity with other Germanic languages.

However, it depends to som extent on what sort of Germanic language this is. Germanic languages can broadly be divided into "Old Germanic" languages, and "Modern Germanic Languages" ('Old Germanic' is a term that's actually used; I don't know if 'Modern Germanic' is, but it's the obvious counterpart).

Old Germanic languages have a great deal in common with one another, because they have only diverged a short distance from reconstructable Proto-Germanic, and they have tended to develop in similar ways. Among Old Germanic languages of the same branch (Western, Northern, Eastern), it can even be hard to unambiguously decide which language a given short text actually belongs to; even when there are clear sound changes dividing the languages, there's typically a lot in common grammatically. Old Germanic tends to be highly inflected, with relatively free (or at least complex) word order.

Modern Germanic languages have tended to evolve away from Old Germanic to varying degrees, and sometimes in different directions; it's less clear how much of what is shared between these languages is due to 'inherent' tendencies in the languages, and how much is due to sprachbund effects, so there's more room for a conlanger to diverge from the patterns. Nonetheless, there's a general direction of travel: phonologically and morphologically, a pattern of heavy stress tends to result in the loss or merger of many endings, and the loss of unstressed vowels; word length can be maintained with patterns of open vowel lengthening, while the quality of lost vowels can be maintained through umlaut effects; syntactically there's a trend toward a more rigid V2 word order, which means there's going to have to be some constructions for topic/focus/etc that don't rely just on word order.

From a conlanging point of view, there's also of course the possibility of future Germanic languages (Future English is always a favourite).


A Germanic language can be anything you want. But typically, you're going to end up worrying an awful lot about verbs.

First, Proto-Germanic has a huge number of ablauting strong verbs. Their ablaut patterns will tend to break up over time due to sound changes, creating a bewildering variety of verb classes, or even, as in English, a nightmarish surfeit of effectively completely irregular verbs. Even the weak verbs happen to be set up in such a way as to tend to produce multiple classes over time (due to things like umlaut and consonant cluster simplification). Meanwhile, analogy will tend to reconstruct new predictable classes despite the diachronically-produced irregularities. You can also end up creating difficult clusters that semantic clarity won't let you regularly simplify, perhaps leading to irregularities. And the difficulty of strong verbs will probably lead to a lot of them being either reformed as weak verbs or else replaced by weak verbs.

Second, a lot of verb endings are weakly distinguished to begin with, and the Germanic tendency toward unstressed and final reductions will tend to result in a lot of mergers, or outright loss. This can make it hard to distinguish persons (encouraging fixed word orders and/or cliticisation of pronouns), and can also lead to the loss of verbal categories.

Third, Germanic verbs don't have many categories anyway - no morphological perfect, no morphological progressive, no morphological causative, no morphological passive, only two morphological moods (one of which is vulnerable to sound change) and so on. This needn't necessarily provoke the creation of many periphrastic constructions for TAM purposes... but it probably will.

Fourth, a lot of Germanic verbs are distinguished by prepositional prefixes. [In Old English: an-, at-, be-, for-, to-, off-, etc]. Sound changes will probably result in many mergers among these prefixes, or even their total loss, requiring new derivations - eg, English phrasal verbs. This may produce complicated syntax, particularly as Germanic didn't inherit a completely strict distinction between adverbs and prepositions.

To put it another way: Germanic is a language family in which you can have sentences like "that will be the tunnel I will have had to have him come on up out of from down under through after down over in there!"...

Some of these issues also apply in theory to nouns, but they will tend to be less of a problem. Partly because the potential collapse in forms is so extreme in nouns that it forces analogical consolidation into fewer noun classes. That said, the plural of the most common masculine paradigm is a problem waiting to happen! [English -s derives from an irregular plural invented in Ingvaeonic]

Phonologically, the combination of umlaut effects, a tendency to break long vowels, and diphthongs (both inherited and novel) threatens to lead to baroque and unwieldy vowel systems, subject to many mergers and shifts.
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