Puneet Varma (Editor)

Crimean Gothic

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Native to  formerly Crimea
Writing system  unknown
Extinct  by the 18th century(?)
Glottolog  crim1255
Language family  Indo-European Germanic East Germanic Gothic Crimean Gothic

Crimean Gothic was a Gothic dialect spoken by the Crimean Goths in some isolated locations in Crimea until the late 18th century.



The existence of a Germanic dialect in the Crimea is attested in a number of sources from the 9th century to the 18th century. However, only a single source provides any details of the language itself: a letter by the Flemish ambassador Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, dated 1562 and first published in 1589, gives a list of some eighty words and a song supposedly in the language.

Busbecq's information is problematic in a number of ways: his informants were not unimpeachable (one was a Greek speaker who knew Crimean Gothic as a second language, the other a Goth who had abandoned his native language in favour of Greek); there is the possibility that Busbecq's transcription was influenced by his own language (a Flemish dialect of Dutch); there are undoubted misprints in the printed text, which is the only source.

Nonetheless, much of the vocabulary cited by Busbecq is unmistakably Germanic and was recognised by him as such:

(Note: In the (Biblical) Gothic examples, medial -gg- represents the sound /ŋg/, a feature of Classical Greek orthography adopted by Ulfilas)

Busbecq also cites a number of words which he did not recognise but which are now known to have Germanic cognates:

Busbecq mentions a definite article, which he records as either tho or the (which may be either a gender difference, or an allophonic pronunciation much as with English "the", which is pronounced either /ðə/ or /ðiː/), and possibly attesting to Crimean Gothic's having retained /θ/ or /ð/ like English, at least in some positions.

A possible Gothic speaker was freed by Mondorf, a Jesuit in 1750.

Identification and classification

While the initial identification of this language as "Gothic" probably rests on ethnological rather than linguistic grounds — that is, the speakers were identified as Goths therefore the language must be Gothic — it shares a number of distinctive phonological developments with the Gothic of Ulfilas's Bible. For example, the word ada "egg" shows the typical Gothic "sharpening" of Proto-Germanic *-jj- into -ddj- (as in Ulfilian Gothic iddja "went" from PGmc. *ijjē), being from Proto-Germanic *ajja-.

There are also examples of features preserved in Crimean Gothic and Biblical Gothic but which have undergone changes in West and North Germanic. For example, both Crimean Gothic and Biblical Gothic preserve Germanic /z/ as a sibilant, while it became /r/ in all other Germanic dialects. Crimean Gothic and Biblical Gothic both preserve the medial -d- in Proto-Germanic *fedwōr (stem *fedur-) "four", attested as fyder in the former and fidwōr in the latter. This -d- is lost in all North and West Germanic languages, which have forms descending from *fewōr or *feur; Old English fēower, Old Saxon fiuwar, Old High German fior, Old Norse fjórir.

However, there are problems in assuming that Crimean Gothic represents simply a later stage in the development of the Gothic attested in Ulfilas' Bible. Some innovations in Biblical Gothic are not found in Crimean Gothic, for example:

  • Crimean Gothic preserves Germanic /e/, whereas in Biblical Gothic it has become /i/, e.g. Crimean Gothic reghen, suuester, Biblical Gothic rign, swistar
  • Crimean Gothic preserves Germanic /u/ before /r/ whereas Biblical Gothic has /au/, e.g. Crimean Gothic vvurt, Biblical Gothic waurþi.
  • However, there are also similarities with developments in West Germanic, such as the change of /þ/ to a stop seen in Crimean Gothic tria (cf. Biblical Gothic þriu). Several historical accounts mention the similarity to Low German and the intelligibility of Crimean Gothic to German speakers, with the Dutch-speaking Busbecq's account being by far the most important.

    There are two alternative solutions: that Crimean Gothic presents a separate branch of East Germanic, distinct from Ulfilas' Gothic; or that Crimean Gothic is descended from the dialect of West Germanic settlers who migrated to the Crimea in the early Middle Ages and whose language was subsequently influenced by Gothic.

    Both of these were first suggested in the 19th century and are most recently argued by Stearns and Grønvik, respectively. While there is no consensus on a definitive solution to this problem, it is accepted that Crimean Gothic is not a descendant of Biblical Gothic.

    The song quoted by Busbecq is less obviously Germanic and has proved impossible to interpret definitively. There is no consensus as to whether it is in fact Crimean Gothic.


    Crimean Gothic Wikipedia

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