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Gothic language

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Crimean Gothic

ISO 639-2

Writing system
Gothic alphabet

Gothic language

Oium, Dacia, Pannonia, Dalmatia, Italy, Gallia Narbonensis, Gallia Aquitania, Hispania, Crimea.

mostly extinct by the 8th or 9th century, remnants may have lingered into the 18th century

Language family
Indo-European Germanic East Germanic Gothic

Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a sixth-century copy of a fourth-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable text corpus. All others, including Burgundian and Vandalic, are known, if at all, only from proper names that survived in historical accounts, and from loanwords in other languages such as Portuguese, Spanish, and French.


As a Germanic language, Gothic is a part of the Indo-European language family. It is the earliest Germanic language that is attested in any sizable texts, but it lacks any modern descendants. The oldest documents in Gothic date back to the fourth century. The language was in decline by the mid-sixth century, partly because of the military defeat of the Goths at the hands of the Franks, the elimination of the Goths in Italy, and geographic isolation (in Spain the Gothic language lost its last and probably already declining function as a church language when the Visigoths converted to Catholicism in 589). The language survived as a domestic language in the Iberian peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal) as late as the eighth century and, in the lower Danube area and in isolated mountain regions in Crimea, apparently as late as the early ninth century. Gothic-seeming terms found in later (post-ninth century) manuscripts may or may not belong to the same language.

The existence of such early attested texts makes it a language of considerable interest in comparative linguistics.

History and evidence

Only a few documents in Gothic survive, not enough for completely reconstructing the language. That is especially true considering that most Gothic corpora are translations or glosses of other languages (namely, Greek), so foreign linguistic elements most certainly influenced the texts. These are the primary sources:

  • The largest body of surviving documentation consists of codices written and commissioned by the Arian bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila, 311–382), 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 Ulfilas translations are collected in the following codices:
  • Codex Argenteus (Uppsala), including the Speyer fragment: 188 leaves
  • The best-preserved Gothic manuscript and dating from the sixth century, it was preserved and transmitted by northern Ostrogoths in modern Italy. It contains a large part of the four Gospels. Since it is a translation from Greek, the language of the Codex Argenteus is replete with borrowed Greek words and Greek usages. The syntax in particular is often copied directly from the Greek.
  • Codex Ambrosianus (Milan) and the Codex Taurinensis (Turin): Five parts, totaling 193 leaves
  • It contains scattered passages from the New Testament (including parts of the Gospels and the Epistles), of the Old Testament (Nehemiah), and some commentaries known as Skeireins. The text likely had been somewhat modified by copyists.
  • Codex Gissensis (Gießen): One leaf, fragments of Luke 23–24 was found in Egypt in 1907 and was destroyed by water damage in 1945.
  • Codex Carolinus (Wolfenbüttel): Four leaves, fragments of Romans 11–15
  • Codex Vaticanus Latinus 5750: Three leaves, pages 57/58, 59/60, and 61/62 of the Skeireins
  • A scattering of old documents: alphabets, calendars, glosses found in a number of manuscripts and a few runic inscriptions (between three and 13) that are known or suspected to be Gothic: Some scholars believe that these inscriptions are not at all Gothic. Several names in an Indian inscription were thought to be possibly Gothic by Krause.
  • A small dictionary of more than 80 words and a song without translation, compiled by the Fleming Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, the Habsburg ambassador to the court of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul from 1555 to 1562, who was curious to find out about the language and by arrangement met two speakers of Crimean Gothic and listed the terms in his compilation Turkish Letters: These terms date from nearly a millennium later than Ulfilas, so are not representative of his language. Busbecq's material also contains many puzzles and enigmas and is difficult to interpret in the light of comparative Germanic linguistics.
  • Reports of the discovery of other parts of Ulfilas' Bible have not been substantiated. Heinrich May in 1968 claimed to have found in England 12 leaves of a palimpsest containing parts of the Gospel of Matthew.

    Only fragments of the Gothic translation of the Bible have been preserved. The translation was apparently done in the Balkans region by people in close contact with Greek Christian culture. The Gothic Bible apparently was used by the Visigoths in Iberia until about 700 AD, and perhaps for a time in Italy, the Balkans, and Ukraine. In exterminating Arianism, many texts in Gothic were probably expunged and overwritten as palimpsests or collected and burned. Apart from Biblical texts, the only substantial Gothic document that 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.

    Very few secondary sources make reference to the Gothic language after about 800. In De incrementis ecclesiae Christianae (840/2), Walafrid Strabo, a Frankish monk who lived in Swabia, speaks of a group of monks, who reported that "even now certain peoples in Scythia (Dobrudja), especially around Tomis spoke a sermo Theotiscus ('Germanic language'), the language of the Gothic translation of the Bible, and they used such a liturgy.

    In evaluating medieval texts that mention the Goths, many writers used the word Goths to mean any Germanic people in eastern Europe (such as the Varangians), many of whom certainly did not use the Gothic language as known from the Gothic Bible. Some writers even referred to Slavic-speaking people as Goths. However, it is clear from Ulfilas' translation that despite some puzzles the language belongs with the Germanic language group, not with Slavonic.

    The relationship between the language of the Crimean Goths and Ulfilas's Gothic is less clear. The few fragments of Crimean Gothic from the 16th century show significant differences from the language of the Gothic Bible although some of the glosses, such as ada for "egg", could indicate a common heritage, and Gothic mena ("moon"), compared to Crimean Gothic mine, can suggest an East Germanic connection.

    Generally, the Gothic language refers to the language of Ulfilas, but the attestations themselves are largely from the 6th century, long after Ulfilas had died. The above list is not exhaustive, and a more extensive list is available on the website of the Wulfila project.

    Alphabet and transliteration

    Ulfilas's Gothic, as well as that of the Skeireins and various other manuscripts, was written using an alphabet that was most likely invented by Ulfilas himself for his translation. Some scholars (such as Braune) claim that it was derived from the Greek alphabet only while others maintain that there are some Gothic letters of Runic or Latin origin.

    This Gothic alphabet has nothing to do either with blackletter (also called Gothic script), which was used to write the Latin script from the 12th to 14th centuries and evolved into the Fraktur writing later used to write German or with the sans-serif type fonts sometimes called "Gothic".

    A standardized system is used for transliterating Gothic words into the Latin script. The system mirrors the conventions of the native alphabet, such as writing long /iː/ as ei. There are two variant spelling systems: a "raw" one that directly transliterates the original Gothic script and a "normalized" one that adds diacritics (macrons and acute accents) to certain vowels to clarify the pronunciation or, in certain cases, to indicate the Proto-Germanic origin of the vowel in question. The latter system is usually used in the academic literature.

    The following table shows the correspondence between spelling and sound for vowels:


  • This "normalised transliteration" system devised by Jacob Grimm is used in some modern editions of Gothic texts and in studies of Common Germanic. It signals distinctions not made by Ulfilas in his alphabet. Rather, they reflect various origins in Proto-Germanic. Thus,
  • is used for the sound derived from the Proto-Germanic short vowels e and i before /h/ and /r/.
  • ái is used for the sound derived from the Proto-Germanic diphthong ai. Some scholars have considered this sound to have remained as a diphthong in Gothic. However, Ulfilas was highly consistent in other spelling inventions, which makes it unlikely that he assigned two different sounds to the same digraph. Furthermore, he consistently used the digraph to represent Greek αι, which was then certainly a monophthong. A monophthongal value is accepted by Eduard Prokosch in his influential A Common Germanic Grammar. It had earlier been accepted by Joseph Wright but only in an appendix to his Grammar of the Gothic Language.
  • ai is used for the sound derived from the Common Germanic long vowel ē before a vowel.
  • áu is used for the sound derived from Common Germanic diphthong au. It cannot be related to a Greek digraph, since αυ then represented a sequence of vowel+spiral (fricative) consonant, which Ulfilas transcribed as (aw in "normalised transcription") in representing Greek words. Nevertheless, the argument based on simplicity is accepted by some influential scholars.
  • The "normal environment of occurrence" refers to native words. In foreign words, these environments are often greatly disturbed. For example, the short sounds /ɛ/ and /i/ alternate in native words in a nearly allophonic way, with /ɛ/ occurring in native words only before the consonants /h/, /hʷ/, /r/ while /i/ occurs everywhere else (nevertheless, there are a few exceptions such as /i/ before /r/ in hiri, /ɛ/ consistently in the reduplicating syllable of certain past-tense verbs regardless of the following consonant, which indicate that these sounds had become phonemicized). In foreign borrowings, however, /ɛ/ and /i/ occur freely in all environments, reflecting the corresponding vowel quality in the source language.
  • Paradigmatic alterations can occur either intra-paradigm (between two different forms within a specific paradigm) or cross-paradigm (between the same form in two different paradigms of the same class). Examples of intra-paradigm alternation are gawi /ɡa.wi/ "district (nom.)" vs. gáujis /ɡɔː.jis/ "district (gen.)"; mawi /ma.wi/ "maiden (nom.)" vs. máujōs /mɔː.joːs/ "maiden (gen.)"; þiwi /θi.wi/ "maiden (nom.)" vs. þiujōs /θiu.joːs/ "maiden (gen.)"; taui /tɔː.i/ "deed (nom.)" vs. tōjis /toː.jis/ "deed (gen.)"; náus /nɔːs/ "corpse (nom.)" vs. naweis /na.wiːs/ "corpses (nom.)"; triu /triu/?? "tree (nom.)" vs. triwis /tri.wis/ "tree (gen.)"; táujan /tɔː.jan/ "to do" vs. tawida /ta.wi.ða/ "I/he did"; stōjan /stoː.jan/ "to judge" vs. stauida /stɔː.i.ða/ "I/he judged". Examples of cross-paradigm alternation are Class IV verbs qiman /kʷiman/ "to come" vs. baíran /bɛran/ "to carry", qumans /kʷumans/ "(having) come" vs. baúrans /bɔrans/ "(having) carried"; Class VIIb verbs lētan /leː.tan/ "to let" vs. saian /sɛː.an/ "to sow" (note similar preterites laílōt /lɛ.loːt/ "I/he let", saísō /sɛ.soː/ "I/he sowed"). A combination of intra- and cross-paradigm alternation occurs in Class V sniwan /sni.wan/ "to hasten" vs. snáu /snɔː/ "I/he hastened" (expected *snaw, cf. qiman "to come", qam "I/he came").
  • The carefully maintained alternations between iu and iw suggest that iu may have been something other than /iu/. Various possibilities have been suggested (for example, high central or high back unrounded vowels, such as [ɨ] [ʉ] [ɯ]); under these theories, the spelling of iu is derived from the fact that the sound alternates with iw before a vowel, based on the similar alternations au and aw. The most common theory, however, simply posits /iu/ as the pronunciation of iu.
  • Macrons represent long ā and ū (however, long i appears as ei, following the representation used in the native alphabet). Macrons are often also used in the case of ē and ō; however, they are sometimes omitted since these vowels are always long. Long ā occurs only before the consonants /h/, /hʷ/ and represents Proto-Germanic nasalized /ãː(h)/ < earlier /aŋ(h)/, still non-nasal /aː/ did not occur in Proto-Germanic. It is possible that the Gothic vowel still preserved the nasalization. Non-nasal /iː/ and /uː/ occurred in Proto-Germanic, however and so long ei and ū occur in all contexts. Before /h/ and /hʷ/, long ei and ū could stem from either non-nasal or nasal long vowels in Proto-Germanic; it is possible that the nasalization was still preserved in Gothc but not written.
  • The following table shows the correspondence between spelling and sound for consonants:

  • /hʷ/, which is written with a single character in the native alphabet, is transliterated using the symbol ƕ, which is used only in transliterating Gothic.
  • /kʷ/ is similarly written with a single character in the native alphabet and is transliterated q (with no following u).
  • /ɡʷ/, however, is written with two letters in the native alphabet and hence gw. The lack of a single letter to represent this sound may result from its restricted distribution (only after /n/) and its rarity.
  • /θ/ is written þ, similarly to other Germanic languages.
  • Although [ŋ] is the allophone of /n/ occurring before /ɡ/ and /k/, it is written g, following the native alphabet convention (which, in turn, follows Greek usage), which leads to occasional ambiguities, e.g. saggws [saŋɡʷs] "song" but triggws [triɡɡʷs] "faithful" (cf. English "true").
  • Phonology

    It is possible to determine more or less exactly how the Gothic of Ulfilas was pronounced, primarily through comparative phonetic reconstruction. Furthermore, because Ulfilas tried to follow the original Greek text as much as possible in his translation, it is known that he used the same writing conventions as those of contemporary Greek. Since the Greek of that period is well documented, it is possible to reconstruct much of Gothic pronunciation from translated texts. In addition, the way in which non-Greek names are transcribed in the Greek Bible and in Ulfilas's Bible is very informative.


  • /a/, /i/ and /u/ can be either long or short. Gothic writing distinguishes between long and short vowels only for /i/ by writing i for the short form and ei for the long (a digraph or false diphthong), in an imitation of Greek usage (ει = /iː/). Single vowels are sometimes long where a historically present nasal consonant has been dropped in front of an /h/ (a case of compensatory lengthening). Thus, the preterite of the verb briggan [briŋɡan] "to bring" (English bring, Dutch brengen, German bringen) becomes brahta [braːxta] (English brought, Dutch bracht, German brachte), from the proto-Germanic *braŋk-dē. In detailed transliteration, when the intent is more phonetic transcription, length is noted by a macron (or failing that, often a circumflex): brāhta, brâhta. This is the only context in which /aː/ appears natively whereas /uː/ is found often enough in other contexts: brūks "useful" (Dutch gebruik, German Gebrauch, Icelandic brúk "use").
  • /eː/ and /oː/ are long close-mid vowels. They are written as e and o: neƕ [neːʍ] "near" (English nigh, Dutch nader, German nah); fodjan [foːdjan] "to feed".
  • /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ are short open-mid vowels. They are noted using the digraphs ai and au: taihun [tɛhun] "ten" (Dutch tien, German zehn, Icelandic tíu), dauhtar [dɔxtar] "daughter" (Dutch dochter, German Tochter, Icelandic dóttir). In transliterating Gothic, accents are placed on the second vowel of these digraphs and to distinguish them from the original diphthongs ái and áu: taíhun, daúhtar. In most cases short [ɛ] and [ɔ] are allophones of /i, u/ before /r, h, ʍ/. Furthermore, the reduplication syllable of the reduplicating preterites has ai as well, which was probably pronounced as a short [ɛ]. Finally, short [ɛ] and [ɔ] occur in loan words from Greek and Latin (aípiskaúpus [ɛpiskɔpus] = ἐπίσκοπος "bishop", laíktjo [lɛktjoː] = lectio "lection", Paúntius [pɔntius] = Pontius).
  • The Germanic diphthongs /ai/ and /au/ appear as digraphs written ⟨ai⟩ and ⟨au⟩ in Gothic. Researchers have disagreed over whether they were still pronounced as diphthongs /ai/ and /au/ in Ulfilas's time (4th century AD) or had become long open-mid vowels: /ɛː/ and /ɔː/: ains [ains] / [ɛːns] "one" (German eins, Icelandic einn), augo [auɣoː] / [ɔːɣoː] "eye" (German Auge, Icelandic auga). It is most likely that the latter view is correct, but as it is indisputable that the digraphs ⟨ai⟩ and ⟨au⟩ represent the sounds /ɛː/ and /ɔː/ in some circumstances (see below), and the ⟨aj⟩ and ⟨aw⟩ were available to clearly represent the sounds /ai/ and /au/. Furthermore, the digraph ⟨aw⟩ is in fact used to represent /au/ in foreign words (such as Pawlus "Paul"), and alternations between ⟨ai⟩/⟨aj⟩ and ⟨au⟩/⟨aw⟩ are scrupulously maintained in paradigms were both variants occur (e.g. taujan "to do" vs. past tense tawida "did"). Evidence from transcriptions of Gothic names into Latin suggests that the sound change had occurred very recently when Gothic spelling was standardized: Gothic names with Germanic au are rendered with au in Latin until the 4th century and o later on (Austrogoti > Ostrogoti). The digraphs ⟨ai⟩ and ⟨au⟩ are normally written with an accent on the first vowel (ái, áu) when they correspond to Germanic /ai/ and /au/.
  • Long [ɛː] and [ɔː] also occur as allophones of /eː/ and /uː, oː/ respectively before a following vowel: waian [wɛːan] "to blow" (Dutch waaien, German wehen), bauan [bɔːan] "to build" (Dutch bouwen, German "bauen", Icelandic búa "to live, reside"), also in Greek words Trauada "Troad" (Gk. Τρῳάς).
  • /y/ (pronounced like German ü and French u) is a Greek sound used only in borrowed words. It is transliterated as w in vowel positions: azwmus [azymus] "unleavened bread" ( < Gk. ἄζυμος). It represents an υ (y) or the diphthong οι (oi) in Greek, both of which were pronounced [y] in period Greek. Since the sound was foreign to Gothic, it was perhaps pronounced [i].
  • /iu/ is a descending diphthong ([iu̯] or [i̯u]: diups [diu̯ps] "deep" (Dutch diep, German tief, Icelandic djúpur).
  • Greek diphthongs: In Ulfilas's era, all the diphthongs of Classical Greek had become simple vowels in speech (monophthongization), except for αυ (au) and ευ (eu), which were probably still pronounced [aβ] and [ɛβ]. (They evolved into [av/af] and [ev/ef] in Modern Greek.) Ulfilas notes them, in words borrowed from Greek, as aw and aiw, probably pronounced [au, ɛu]: Pawlus [paulus] "Paul" (Gk. Παῦλος), aíwaggelista [ɛwaŋɡeːlista] "evangelist" (Gk. εὐαγγελιστής, via the Latin evangelista).
  • Simple vowels and diphthongs (original and spurious ones) can be followed by a [w], which was likely pronounced as the second element of a diphthong with roughly the sound of [u]. It seems likely that this is more of an instance of phonetic coalescence than of phonological diphthongs (such as, for example, the sound /aj/ in the French word paille ("straw"), which is not the diphthong /ai/ but rather a vowel followed by an approximant): alew [aleːw] "olive oil" ( < Latin oleum), snáiws [snɛːws] ("snow"), lasiws [lasiws] "tired" (English lazy).
  • Consonants

    In general, Gothic consonants are devoiced at the ends of words. Gothic is rich in fricative consonants (although many of them may have been approximants, it is hard to separate the two) derived by the processes described in Grimm's law and Verner's law and characteristic of Germanic languages. Gothic is unusual among Germanic languages in having a /z/ phoneme, which has not become /r/ through rhotacization. Furthermore, the doubling of written consonants between vowels suggests that Gothic made distinctions between long and short, or geminated consonants: atta [atːa] "dad", kunnan [kunːan] "to know" (Dutch kennen, German kennen "to know", Icelandic kunna).


  • The voiceless stops /p/, /t/ and /k/ are regularly noted by p, t and k respectively: paska [paska] "Easter" (from the Greek πάσχα), tuggo [tuŋɡoː] "tongue", kalbo [kalboː] "calf".
  • The letter q is probably a voiceless labiovelar stop, /kʷ/, comparable to the Latin qu: qiman [kʷiman] "to come". In later Germanic languages, this phoneme has become either a consonant cluster /kw/ of a voiceless velar stop + a labio-velar approximant (English qu) or a simple voiceless velar stop /k/ (English c, k)
  • The voiced stops /b/, /d/ and /ɡ/ are noted by the letters b, d and g. Like the other Germanic languages, they occurred in word-initial position, when doubled and after a nasal. In addition, they apparently occurred after other consonants,: arbi [arbi] "inheritance", huzd [huzd] "treasure". (This conclusion is based on their behavior at the end of a word, in which they do not change into voiceless fricatives, unlike when they occur after a vowel.)
  • There was probably also a voiced labiovelar stop, /ɡʷ/, which was written with the digraph gw. It occurred after a nasal, e.g. saggws [saŋɡʷs] "song", or long as a regular outcome of Germanic *ww: triggws [triɡʷːs] "faithful" (English true, German treu, Icelandic tryggur).
  • Similarly, the letters ddj, which is the regular outcome of Germanic *jj, may represent a voiced palatal stop, /ɟː/: waddjus [waɟːus] "wall" (Icelandic veggur), twaddje [twaɟːeː] "two (genitive)" (Icelandic tveggja).
  • Fricatives

  • /s/ and /z/ are usually written s and z. The latter corresponds to Germanic *z (which has become r or silent in the other Germanic languages); at the end of a word, it is regularly devoiced to s. E.g. saíhs [sɛhs] "six", máiza [mɛːza] "greater" (English more, Dutch meer, German mehr, Icelandic meira) ~ máis [mɛːs] "more, rather".
  • /ɸ/ and /θ/, written f and þ, are voiceless bilabial and voiceless dental fricatives respectively. It is likely that the relatively unstable sound /ɸ/ became /f/. f and þ are also derived from b and d at the ends of words and then are devoiced and become approximants: gif [ɡiɸ] "give (imperative)" (infinitive giban: German geben), miþ [miθ] "with" (Old English mid, Old Norse með, Dutch met, German mit).
  • /h/ is written as h: haban "to have". It was probably pronounced [h] in word-final position and before a consonant as well (not [x], since /ɡ/ > [x] is written g, not h): jah [jah] "and" (Dutch, German, Scandinavian ja "yes").
  • [x] is an allophone of /ɡ/ at the end of a word or before a voiceless consonant; it is always written g: dags [daxs] "day" (German Tag). In some borrowed Greek words is the special letter x, which represents the Greek letter χ (ch): Xristus [xristus] "Christ" (Gk. Χριστός). It may also have signified a /k/.
  • [β], [ð] and [ɣ] are voiced fricative found only in between vowels. They are allophones of /b/, /d/ and /ɡ/ and are not distinguished from them in writing. [β] may have become /v/, a more stable labiodental form (a case of fortition). In the study of Germanic languages, these phonemes are usually transcribed as ƀ, đ and ǥ respectively: haban [haβan] "to have", þiuda [θiu̯ða] "people" (Dutch Diets, German Deutsch, Icelandic þjóð > English Dutch), áugo [auɣoː] "eye" (English eye, Dutch oog, German Auge, Icelandic auga). When occurring after a vowel at the end of a word or before a voiceless consonant, these sounds become unvoiced [ɸ], [θ] and [x], e.g. hláifs [hlɛːɸs] "loaf" but genitive hláibis [hlɛːβis] "of a loaf", plural hláibōs [hlɛːβoːs] "loaves".
  • ƕ (also transcribed hw) is the labiovelar equivalent of /x/, derived from Proto-Indo-European *kʷ. It was probably pronounced [ʍ] (a voiceless [w]), as wh is pronounced in certain dialects of English and in Scots: ƕan /ʍan/ "when", ƕar /ʍar/ "where", ƕeits [ʍiːts] "white".
  • Sonorants

    Gothic has three nasal consonants, one of which is an allophone of the others, all found only in complementary distribution with them. Nasals in Gothic, like most other languages, are pronounced at the same point of articulation as either the consonant that follows them (assimilation). Therefore, clusters like [md] and [nb] are not possible.

  • /n/ and /m/ are freely distributed and so can be found in any position in a syllable and form minimal pairs except in certain contexts where they are neutralized: /n/ before a bilabial consonant becomes [m], while /m/ preceding a dental stop becomes [n], as per the principle of assimilation described in the previous paragraph. In front of a velar stop, they both become [ŋ]. /n/ and /m/ are transcribed as n and m, and, in writing, neutralisation is marked: sniumundo /sniu̯mundoː/ ("quickly").
  • [ŋ] is not a phoneme and cannot appear freely in Gothic. It is present where a nasal consonant is neutralised before a velar stop and is in a complementary distribution with /n/ and /m/. Following Greek conventions, it is normally written as g (sometimes n): þagkjan [θaŋkjan] "to think", sigqan [siŋkʷan] "to sink" ~ þankeiþ [θaŋkiːθ] "thinks". The cluster ggw sometimes denotes [ŋɡʷ], but sometimes [ɡʷː] (see above).
  • /w/ is transliterated as w before a vowel: weis [wiːs] ("we"), twái [twai] "two" (German zwei).
  • /j/ is written as j: jer [jeːr] "year", sakjo [sakjoː] "strife".
  • /l/ and /r/ occur as in other European languages: laggs (possibly [laŋɡs], [laŋks] or [laŋɡz]) "long", mel [meːl] "hour" (English meal, Dutch maal, German Mahl, Icelandic mál). The exact pronunciation of /r/ is unknown, but it is usually assumed to be a trill [r] or a flap [ɾ]): raíhts [rɛxts] "right", afar [afar] "after".
  • /l/, /m/, /n/ and /r/ may occur either between two other consonants of lower sonority or word-finally after a consonant of lower sonority. It is probabe that the sounds are pronounced partly or completely as syllabic consonants in such circumstances (as in English "bottle" or "bottom": tagl [taɣl̩] or [taɣl] "hair" (English tail, Icelandic tagl), máiþms [mɛːθm̩s] or [mɛːθms] "gift", táikns [tɛːkn̩s] or [tɛːkns] "sign" (English token, Dutch teken, German Zeichen, Icelandic tákn) and tagr [taɣr̩] or [taɣr] "tear (as in crying)".
  • Accentuation and intonation

    Accentuation in Gothic can be reconstructed through phonetic comparison, Grimm's law and Verner's law. Gothic used a stress accent rather than the pitch accent of Proto-Indo-European. It is indicated by the fact that long vowels [eː] and [oː] were shortened and the short vowels [a] and [i] were lost in unstressed final syllables.

    Just as in other Germanic languages, the free moving Indo-European accent was fixed on the first syllable of simple words. Accents do not shift when words are inflected. In most compound words, the location of the stress depends on its placement in the second part:

  • In compounds in which the second word is a noun, the accent is on the first syllable of the first word of the compound.
  • In compounds in which the second word is a verb, the accent falls on the first syllable of the verbal component. Elements prefixed to verbs are otherwise unstressed except in the context of separable words (words that can be broken in two parts and separated in regular usage such as separable verbs in German and Dutch). In those cases, the prefix is stressed. For example, with comparable words from modern Germanic languages:
  • Non-compound words: marka [ˈmarka] "border, borderlands" (English "march" as in the Spanish Marches; Dutch mark); aftra [ˈaftra] "after"; bidjan [ˈbidjan] "pray" (Dutch, bidden, German bitten, Icelandic biðja, English bid).
  • Compound words:
  • Noun second element: guda-láus [ˈɡuðalɔːs] "godless".
  • Verb second element: ga-láubjan [ɡaˈlɔːβjan] "believe" (Dutch geloven, German glauben < Old High German g(i)louben by syncope of the unaccented i).
  • Nouns and adjectives

    Gothic preserves many archaic Indo-European features that are not always present in modern Germanic languages, in particular the rich Indo-European declension system. Gothic had nominative, accusative, genitive and dative cases, as well as vestiges of a vocative case that was sometimes identical to the nominative and sometimes to the accusative. The three genders of Indo-European were all present. Nouns and adjectives were inflected according to one of two grammatical numbers: the singular and the plural.

    Nouns can be divided into numerous declensions according to the form of the stem: a, ō, i, u, an, ōn, ein, r, etc. Adjectives have two variants, indefinite and definite (sometimes indeterminate and determinate), with definite adjectives normally used in combination with the definite determiners (such as the definite article sa/þata/) while indefinite adjectives are used in other circumstances. Indefinite adjectives generally use a combination of a-stem and ō-stem endings, and definite adjectives use a combination of an-stem and ōn-stem endings. The concept of "strong" and "weak" declensions that is prevalent in the grammar of many other Germanic languages is less significant in Gothic because of its conservative nature: the so-called "weak" declensions (those ending in n) are, in fact, no weaker in Gothic (in terms of having fewer endings) than the "strong" declensions (those ending in a vowel), and the "strong" declensions do not form a coherent class that can be clearly distinguished from the "weak" declensions.

    Although descriptive adjectives in Gothic (as well as superlatives ending in -ist and -ost) and the past participle may take both definite and indefinite forms, some adjectival words are restricted to one variant. Some pronouns take only definite forms: for example, sama (English "same"), adjectives like unƕeila ("constantly", from the root ƕeila, "time"; compare to the English "while"), comparative adjective and present participles. Others, such as áins ("some"), take only the indefinite forms.

    The table below displays the declension of the Gothic adjective blind (English: "blind"), compared with the an-stem noun guma "man"(human) and the a-stem noun dags "day":

    This table is, of course, not exhaustive. (There are secondary inflexions of various sorts not described here.) An exhaustive table of only the types of endings that Gothic took is presented below.

  • vowel declensions:
  • roots ending in -a, -ja, -wa (masculine and neuter): equivalent to the Greek and Latin second declension in ‑us / ‑ī and ‑ος / ‑ου;
  • roots ending in , -jō and -wō (feminine): equivalent to the Greek and Latin first declension in ‑a / ‑ae and ‑α / ‑ας (‑η / ‑ης);
  • roots ending in -i (masculine and feminine): equivalent to the Greek and Latin third declension in ‑is / ‑is (abl. sg. ‑ī, gen. pl. -ium) and ‑ις / ‑εως;
  • roots ending in -u (all three genders) : equivalent to the Latin fourth declension in ‑us / ‑ūs and the Greek third declension in ‑υς / ‑εως;
  • n-stem declensions, equivalent to the Greek and Latin third declension in ‑ō / ‑inis/ōnis and ‑ων / ‑ονος or ‑ην / ‑ενος:
  • roots ending in -an, -jan, -wan (masculine);
  • roots ending in -ōn and -ein (feminine);
  • roots ending in -n (neuter): equivalent to the Greek and Latin third declension in ‑men / ‑minis and ‑μα / ‑ματος;
  • minor declensions: roots ending in -r, -nd and vestigial endings in other consonants, equivalent to other third declensions in Greek and Latin.
  • Gothic adjectives follow noun declensions closely; they take same types of inflexion.


    Gothic inherited the full set of Indo-European pronouns: personal pronouns (including reflexive pronouns for each of the three grammatical persons), possessive pronouns, both simple and compound demonstratives, relative pronouns, interrogatives and indefinite pronouns. Each follows a particular pattern of inflexion (partially mirroring the noun declension), much like other Indo-European languages. One particularly noteworthy characteristic is the preservation of the dual number, referring to two people or things; the plural was used only for quantities greater than two. Thus, "the two of us" and "we" for numbers greater than two were expressed as wit and weis respectively. While proto-Indo-European used the dual for all grammatical categories that took a number (as did Classical Greek and Sanskrit), most Old Germanic languages are unusual in that they preserved it only for pronouns. Gothic preserves an older system with dual marking on both pronouns and verbs (but not nouns or adjectives).

    The simple demonstrative pronoun sa (neuter: þata, feminine: so, from the Indo-European root *so, *seh2, *tod; cognate to the Greek article ὁ, ἡ, τό and the Latin istud) can be used as an article, allowing constructions of the type definite article + weak adjective + noun.

    The interrogative pronouns begin with ƕ-, which derives from the proto-Indo-European consonant *kʷ that was present at the beginning of all interrogratives in proto-Indo-European. That is cognate with the wh- at the beginning of many English interrogative, which, as in Gothic, are pronounced with [ʍ] in some dialects. The same etymology is present in the interrogatives of many other Indo-European languages": w- [v] in German, hv- in Danish, the Latin qu- (which persists in modern Romance languages), the Greek τ or π, the Slavic and Indic k- as well as many others.


    The bulk of Gothic verbs follow the type of Indo-European conjugation called 'thematic' because they insert a vowel derived from the reconstructed proto-Indo-European phonemes *e or *o between roots and inflexional suffixes. The pattern is also present in Greek and Latin:

  • Latin - leg-i-mus ("we read"): root leg- + thematic vowel -i- (from *o) + suffix -mus.
  • Greek - λύ-ο-μεν ("we untie"): root λυ- + thematic vowel -ο- + suffix -μεν.
  • Gothic - nim-a-m ("we take"): root nim- + thematic vowel -a- (from *o) + suffix -m.
  • The other conjugation, called 'athematic', in which suffixes are added directly to roots, exists only in unproductive vestigial forms in Gothic, just like in Greek and Latin. The most important such instance is the verb "to be", which is athematic in Greek, Latin, Sanskrit and many other Indo-European languages.

    Gothic verbs are, like nouns and adjectives, divided into strong verbs and weak verbs. Weak verbs are characterised by preterites formed by appending the suffixes -da or -ta, parallel to past participles formed with / -t. Strong verbs form preterites by ablaut (the alternating of vowels in their root forms) or by reduplication (prefixing the root with the first consonant in the root plus ) but without adding a suffix in either case. That parallels the Greek and Sanskrit perfects. The dichotomy is still present in modern Germanic languages:

  • weak verbs ("to have") :
  • Gothic: haban, preterite: habáida, past participle: habáiþs ;
  • English: (to) have, preterite: had, past participle: had ;
  • German: haben, preterite: hatte, past participle: gehabt ;
  • Icelandic: hafa, preterite: hafði, past participle: haft ;
  • Dutch: hebben, preterite: had, past participle: gehad ;
  • Swedish: ha(va), preterite: hade, supine: haft ;
  • strong verbs ("to give") :
  • Gothic: infinitive: giban, preterite: gaf ;
  • English: infinitive: (to) give, preterite: gave ;
  • German: infinitive: geben, preterite: gab ;
  • Icelandic: infinitive: gefa, preterite: gaf.
  • Dutch: infinitive: geven, preterite: gaf ;
  • Swedish: infinitive: giva (ge), preterite: gav ;
  • Verbal conjugation in Gothic have two grammatical voices: the active and the medial; three numbers: singular, dual (except in the third person) and plural; two tenses: present and preterite (derived from a former perfect); three grammatical moods: indicative, subjunctive (from an old optative form) and imperative as well as three kinds of nominal forms: a present infinitive, a present participle, and a past passive. Not all tenses and persons are represented in all moods and voices, as some conjugations use auxiliary forms.

    Finally, there are forms called 'preterite-present': the old Indo-European perfect was reinterpreted as present tense. The Gothic word wáit, from the proto-Indo-European *woid-h2e ("to see" in the perfect), corresponds exactly to its Sanskrit cognate véda and in Greek to ϝοἶδα. Both etymologically should mean "I have seen" (in the perfect sense) but mean "I know" (in the preterite-present meaning). Latin follows the same rule with nōuī ("I have learned" and "I know"). The preterite-present verbs include áigan ("to possess") and kunnan ("to know") among others.

    Word order

    The syntax of Gothic is similar to that of other old Germanic languages such as Old English and Old Norse. The word order of Gothic is fairly free like that of other heavily inflected languages with several noun cases. The natural word order of Gothic is assumed to have been like that of the other old Germanic languages; however, nearly all extant Gothic texts are translations of Greek originals and have been heavily influenced by Greek syntax.

    Some words that consisted of one word in Greek were rendered in more words in Gothic because they were otherwise untranslatable. Some of these instances give us clues of a possible native word order:

    2 Timothy 3:12 (they will suffer persecution) was translated as wrakos wrikkand (persecutions, object - they suffer, verb).

    1 Corinthians 1:20: Dwala gatawida (foolish - made)

    John 6:63: Liban taujiþ (life, object - makes, verb)

    The object is put in front of the verb, which happened in other verses that are not similar to the Greek.

    When the object was a personal pronoun, the verb came first:

    Matthew 27:5 was translated as Ushaihah sik (hanged, verb - himself, object).

    It is very likely that the verb preceded the object in Gothic since that order can be seen in other Old Germanic languages:

    Hildebrandslied, Old High German: garutun sê iro guðhamun (readied, verb - they, personal pronoun - their, possessive pronoun - battle-coverings, object)


    An important and archaic feature of Gothic, missing from all other Germanic languages, is the presence of various clitic particles placed in the second position in a sentence, in accordance with Wackernagel's Law; for example, ab-u þus silbin "of thyself?" has -u as a clitic indicating that a yes/no question is being asked, and the clitic is attached to the first word of the clause like -ne in Latin. It should be noted that the prepositional phrase without the clitic appears as af þus silbin: the clitic causes the reversion of originally voiced fricatives, unvoiced at the end of a word, to their voiced form; another such example is wileid-u "do you (pl.) want" from wileiþ "you (pl.) want". If the first word has a preverb attached, the clitic actually splits the preverb from the verb: ga-u-láubjats "do you both believe...?" from galáubjats "you both believe". Another such clitic is -uh "and", appearing as -h after a vowel: ga-h-mēlida "and he wrote" from gamēlida "he wrote", urreis nim-uh "arise and take!" from the imperative form nim "take". More than one such clitics can occur: diz-uh-þan-sat ijōs "and then he seized them (fem.)" from dissat "he seized" (notice again the voicing of diz-), ga-u-ƕa-sēƕi "whether he saw anything" from gasēƕi "he saw".

    Comparison to other Germanic languages

    For the most part, Gothic is known to be significantly closer to Proto-Germanic than any other Germanic language except for that of the (scantily attested) early Norse runic inscriptions, which has made it invaluable in the reconstruction of Proto-Germanic. In fact, Gothic tends to serve as the primary foundation for reconstructing Proto-Germanic. The reconstructed Proto-Germanic conflicts with Gothic only when there is clearly identifiable evidence from other branches that the Gothic form is a secondary development.

    Distinctive features

    Gothic fails to display a number of innovations shared by all Germanic languages attested later:

  • Lack of Germanic umlaut
  • Lack of rhotacism
  • The language has also preserved many features that have been lost mostly in other early Germanic languages:

  • Dual inflections on verbs
  • Morphological passive voice for verbs
  • Reduplication in the past tense of Class VII strong verbs
  • Clitic conjunctions that appear in second position of a sentence in accordance with Wackernagel's Law, splitting verbs from pre-verbs.
  • Lack of umlaut

    Most conspicuously, Gothic shows no sign of morphological umlaut. Gothic fotus, pl. fotjus, can be contrasted with English foot : feet, German Fuß : Füße, Old Icelandic fótr : fœtr, Danish fod : fødder. These forms contain the characteristic change /o:/ > /ø:/ (> Eng. /i:/, Germ. /y:/) due to i-umlaut; the Gothic form shows no such change.

    Lack of rhotacism

    Proto-Germanic *z remains in Gothic as z or is devoiced to s. In North and West Germanic, *z changes to r by rhotacism.

  • Gothic dius, gen. sg. diuzis
  • Old English dēor, gen. sg. dēores "wild animal" (Modern English deer)
  • Passive voice

    Gothic retains a morphological passive voice inherited from Indo-European but unattested in all other Germanic languages except for the single fossilised form preserved in, for example, Old English hātte or Runic Norse (AD 400) haitē "am called", derived from Proto-Germanic *haitaną "to call, command". (It should be noted that the related verbs heißen in modern German and heten in Dutch are both derived from the active voice of this verb but have the passive meaning "to be called" alongside the dated active meaning "to command".)

    The morphological passive in North Germanic languages (Swedish gör "does", görs "is done") originates from the Old Norse middle voice, which is an innovation not inherited from Indo-European.

    Dual number

    Unlike other Germanic languages, which retained dual number marking only in some pronoun forms, Gothic has dual forms both in pronouns and in verbs. Dual verb forms exist in the first and second person only and only in the active voice; in all other cases, the corresponding plural forms are used. In pronouns, Gothic has first and second person dual pronouns: Gothic/Old English/Old Norse wit "we two" (thought to have been in fact derived from *wi-du literally "we two").


    Gothic possesses a number of verbs which form their preterite by reduplication, another archaic feature inherited from Indo-European. While traces of this category survived elsewhere in Germanic, the phenomenon is largely obscured in these other languages by later sound changes and analogy. In the following examples the infinitive is compared to the third person singular preterite indicative:

  • Gothic saian "to sow" : saiso
  • Old Norse  : seri < Proto-Germanic *se
  • Gothic laikan "to play" : lailaik
  • Old English lācan : leolc, lēc
  • Classification

    The standard theory of the origin of the Germanic languages divides the languages into three groups: East Germanic (Gothic and a few other very scantily-attested languages), North Germanic (Old Norse and its derivatives, such as Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, and Faroese) and West Germanic (all others, including Old English, Old High German, Old Saxon, Old Low Franconian, Old Frisian and the numerous modern languages derived from these, including English, German, and Dutch). Sometimes, a further grouping, that of the Northwest Germanic languages, is posited as containing the North Germanic and West Germanic languages, reflecting the hypothesis that Gothic was the first attested language to branch off.

    A minority opinion (the so-called Gotho-Nordic Hypothesis) instead groups North Germanic and East Germanic together. It is based partly on historical claims: for example, Jordanes, writing in the 6th century, ascribes to the Goths a Scandinavian origin. There are a few linguistically significant areas in which Gothic and Old Norse agree against the West Germanic languages.

    Perhaps the most obvious is the evolution of the Proto-Germanic *-jj- and *-ww- into Gothic ddj (from Pre-Gothic ggj?) and ggw, and Old Norse ggj and ggv ("Holtzmann's Law"), in contrast to West Germanic where they remained as semivowels. Compare Modern English true, German treu, with Gothic triggws, Old Norse tryggr.

    However, it has been suggested that these are, in fact, two separate and unrelated changes. A number of other posited similarities exist (for example, the existence of numerous inchoative verbs ending in -na, such as Gothic ga-waknan, Old Norse vakna; and the absence of gemination before j, or (in the case of old Norse) only g geminated before j, e.g. Proto-Germanic *kunją > Gothic kuni (kin), Old Norse kyn, but Old English cynn, Old High German kunni). However, for the most part these represent shared retentions, which are not valid means of grouping languages. That is, if a parent language splits into three daughters A, B and C, and C innovates in a particular area but A and B do not change, A and B will appear to agree against C. That shared retention in A and B is not necessarily indicative of any special relationship between the two.

    Similar claims of similarities between Old Gutnish (Gutniska) and Old Icelandic are also based on shared retentions rather than shared innovations.

    Another commonly-given example involves Gothic and Old Norse verbs with the ending -t in the 2nd person singular preterite indicative, and the West Germanic languages have -i. The ending -t can regularly descend from the Proto-Indo-European perfect ending *-th₂e, while the origin of the West Germanic ending -i (which, unlike the -t-ending, unexpectedly combines with the zero-grade of the root as in the plural) is unclear, suggesting that it is an innovation of some kind, possibly an import from the optative. Another possibility is that this is an example of independent choices made from a doublet existing in the proto-language. That is, Proto-Germanic may have allowed either -t or -i to be used as the ending, either in free variation or perhaps depending on dialects within Proto-Germanic or the particular verb in question. Each of the three daughters independently standardized on one of the two endings and, by chance, Gothic and Old Norse ended up with the same ending.

    Other isoglosses have led scholars to propose an early split between East and Northwest Germanic. Furthermore, features shared by any two branches of Germanic do not necessarily require the postulation of a proto-language excluding the third, as the early Germanic languages were all part of a dialect continuum in the early stages of their development, and contact between the three branches of Germanic was extensive.

    Polish linguist Witold Mańczak had argued that Gothic is closer to German than to Scandinavian and suggests that their ancestral homeland was located southernmost part of the Germanic territories, close to present day Austria rather than in Scandinavia. Frederik Kortlandt has agreed with Mańczak's hypothesis, stating: "I think that his argument is correct and that it is time to abandon Iordanes' classic view that the Goths came from Scandinavia."


    The reconstructed Proto-Slavic language features several apparent borrowed words from East Germanic (presumably Gothic), such as xlěbъ, "bread", vs. Gothic hlaifs.

    Use of Gothic in Romanticism and the Modern Age

    Several linguists have made use of Gothic as a creative language. The most famous example is Bagme Bloma (Flower of the trees) by J.R.R. Tolkien, part of Songs of the Philologists. It was published privately in 1936 for Tolkien and his colleague E. V. Gordon.
    Tolkien's use of Gothic is also known from a letter from 1965 to Zillah Sherring. When she bought a copy of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War in Salisbury, she found strange inscriptions in it; after she found his name in it, she wrote him a letter and asked him if the inscriptions were his, including the longest one on the back, which was in Gothic. In his reply to her he corrected some of the mistakes in the text; he wrote for example that hundai should be hunda and þizo boko (of those books), which he suggested should be þizos bokos (of this book). A semantic inaccuracy of the text which he mentioned himself is the use of lisan for read, while this was ussiggwan. Tolkien also made a calque of his own name in Gothic in the letter, which according to him should be Ruginwaldus Dwalakoneis.

    The Thorvaldsen museum also has an alliterative poem, Thunravalds Sunau, from 1841 by Massmann, the first publisher of the Skeireins, written in the Gothic language. It was read at a great feast dedicated to Thorvaldsen in the Gesellschaft der Zwanglosen in Munich on July 15th, 1841. This event is mentioned by Ludwig Schorn in the magazine Kunstblatt from the 19th of July, 1841. Massmann also translated the academic commercium song "Gaudeamus" into Gothic in 1837.

    In 2012 professor Bjarne Simmelkjær Hansen of the University of Copenhague published a translation into Gothic of Adeste Fideles for the Roots of Europe.

    In Fleurs du Mal, an online magazine for art and literature, the poem "Overvloed" of Dutch poet Bert Bevers appeared in a Gothic translation.


    Gothic language Wikipedia

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