English/German split. When?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by skaught, Dec 2, 2010.

  1. skaught The field its covered in blood Valued Senior Member

    How long ago was there one language spoken that was the ancestor of both English and German. And what was this language?

    Also, how long ago was there one language that was the ancestor of English and Japanese. (I know this latter question may not be answerable, but roughly guessing???)
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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Proto-Germanic was spoken by the Germanic tribes of Scandinavia 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. In the mid-first millennium BCE some of them sailed across the Danish Straits into Jutland. As these newcomers spread out into the main body of Europe, Proto-Germanic split into Old Norse (Northern Germanic), Gothic (Eastern Germanic) and Old High German (Western Germanic). (This paradigm is greatly simplifed for the purposes of this discussion.)

    Around 400CE, when the Roman Empire collapsed and the Roman Legionnaires left Brittania to go fight battles at home, it could be said that Old High German was still, if not exactly a single language, at least a dialect continuum, meaning that any two neighboring tribes could understand each other but the two at the end might not. The Angles, Saxons and Jutes who took advantage of the vacuum of government in Britannia and sailed over to fill it are customarily said to have spoken "Anglo-Saxon," but in fact their speech may not have been enormously different from Frankish or any of the other dialects of northwestern Europe. At this time we can say that the Old High German was their common language.

    We don't have terribly good records of any aspect of European culture in the second half of the first millennium CE, because civilization came pretty close to breaking down. Nonetheless, the writings we have from "Angle Land" after the Anglo-Saxons marginalized and displaced the native Celtic population indicate that the language spoken there in 1000CE was not greatly evolved from the language that the Germanic invaders brought over. Quite a few Norse words were added because of constant contact with traders, adventurers, immigrants and bandits from Scandinavia, as well as many Latin words because the only Romans who stayed behind were the priests. But still, for most of that time it could be said, arguably, that Old High German was still one dialect continuum.

    1066CE is the date when everything in England changed, because of the invasion and conquest by the Norman French and their subsequent occupation of the country--an occupation that never truly ended because there has never been a discontinuity in English government since then. The Anglisc language underwent massive French influence in the first centuries of the second millennium. It almost became a creole, with words from both languages and a stripped-down grammar lacking the intricate rules of either language and highlighting their similarities. The phonetics underwent catastrophic evolution: the cardinal vowels A (ah), E (ay) and I (ee) shifted to their current pronunciations AY, EE and IGH, we lost the KH phoneme, we borrowed the ZH sound in words like "vision" from French, and many other changes took place. By the 1400s, when the Norman rulers stopped speaking French and adopted English, and the distinction between Norman and Saxon people became too blurry to maintain, they were speaking a language which we now call Middle English, a language that the Anglo-Saxons could not have understood.

    Meanwhile, the language of the Germanic people on the continent also fragmented and evolved, but not to the same extent. Modern German is recognizable as a descendant of Old High German, and Modern Dutch is easily seen to be closely related to German. In fact there is still a Germanic dialect continuum. The people of eastern Germany have a bit of a challenge understanding the people of northwestern Germany, whereas there are Dutch and German villages so close together that the inhabitants can understand each other with a little effort and patience. Nonetheless, none of these people could have understood Middle English.

    So the best answer to your question is that English and German became two separate, mutually incomprehensible languages sometime around 1200-1300CE.
    Whoa there. You're "assuming facts not in evidence," as lawyers say in court. We have absolutely no evidence to indicate that English and Japanese have a common ancestor.

    There are a multitude of language families on Earth, defined by the fact that no relationship can be found among them. English, Latin, Irish, Greek, Albanian, Russian, Latvian, Armenian, Farsi, Sanskrit and scores of other living and dead languages belong to the Indo-European family. We've traced its origin to the Pontic Steppe around 4000-5000BCE, when its speakers began to migrate in several directions.

    Other well-studied language families include Afroasiatic (Arabic, Hebrew, Egyptian, Ge-ez, Berber et al.), Sino-Tibetan (Chinese, Tibetan and several southeastern Asian languages), Austronesian (a huge family spread from Taiwan to Hawaii to Fiji to New Zealand to Malaysia and Indonesia), Finno-Ugric (Finnish, Estonian, Sami, Hungarian et al.); Turkic (Turkish, Kazakh, Uzbek, Kirgiz et al.), several language families in Africa, quite a few in Australia, and a legion of them in the Western Hemisphere. Japanese and Korean have no known relatives and are single-member families, i.e. they may have been more widespread at one time but all the other members died out.

    And there are lots of families I didn't mention and just as many that I don't even know about.

    At this stage of linguistic knowledge, we cannot say that all languages are descended from a single ancestor. The technology of spoken language may have been invented/discovered independently in many different places, just like the technologies of farming, pottery, clothing and the bow and arrow. Every language changes, quickly or slowly, so that after about ten thousand years there can be a complete turnover in vocabulary, grammar, syntax and phonetics... even in its people's perspective on the universe, which it reflects. (For example, Chinese has no gender and number in its nouns and no tenses in its verbs; that's just not important to them.)

    Look at the difference between English and Russian, and those two languages have only had five or six thousand years to diverge from one another. It's easy to see why, after twice that long, two languages like English and Japanese could be related, but we'll never figure it out.

    However, there has been a recent breakthrough that gives us hope. DNA analysis done just a couple of years ago proved that the Yenisei people of Siberia are fairly closely related to the Na-Dene people of North America--as close as you can be after being separated for about fifteen thousand years. So linguists quickly settled down to do an exhaustive comparison of their languages--which had never been done before, because after all there are only so many linguists on Earth and they can't do everything.

    To their shock, they discovered incontrovertible evidence that the Yenisei language is related to the Na-Dene language family--the second largest in North America, including Navajo, Apache, Tlingit, Mescalero, Hupa and dozens more. The family has been renamed Dene-Yeniseian.

    We have broken the ten thousand year barrier. We have found two languages with a common ancestor that goes back at least fifteen thousand years. Stick around and maybe we'll push that back further.
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  5. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    a great exposition. what was the 'incontrovertible evidence' for those language links for Dene-Yeniseian?
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    According to the Wikipedia article on the Dene-Yeniseian languages, it includes more than a hundred cognate morphemes and several verb prefixes, among other, more arcane discoveries. As a Google search will show, the University of Alaska research has not trickled down into lay publications. The Wikipedia article seems to cover everything the scholars have deigned to let us know without spending forty bucks on the book.

    Apparently the peer review on this was only completed this year. Wait another year and hopefully more info will be available to the public.
  8. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    Thanks. It was a little tough reading the cognate morphemes to see that they were the same. I suppose if I knew either language they would make more sense.

    Is the reference to the Caucasian language connection the same as Indo-European, or is that some other language group?
  9. skaught The field its covered in blood Valued Senior Member

    Separate language family. The Caucasian languages are spoken around the Caucasus Mountains, between the black sea and Caspian sea. According to Wikipedia, most of the languages in in the Caucasian family bear little relation to each other. The languages are broken into northeast Caucasian, spoken in Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, northern Azerbaijan, and northeastern Georgia, as well as in parts of Russia, Turkey, and the Middle East. Northwest Caucasian,spoken chiefly in parts of Russia, Abkhazia, and Turkey, with smaller communities scattered throughout the Middle East. And south Caucasian, spoken primarily in Georgia, with smaller groups of speakers in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia and Israel.
    They are unrelated to any other known languages. Except maybe a connection has been made between it and the Dene-Yeniseian languages, but I'm not sure of this.

    Joseph Stalin was originally from Georgia. I believe he spoke Georgian, a Caucasian language, and speaking Russian was apparently very difficult for him because of the vast differences between the languages. He had a terrible accent which he tried very hard to cover up and he had a very hard time with conjugation in Russian so he would often mumble the ends of his words.
  10. Lady Historica Banned Banned

    Apparently there is a resistance to Ruglish enough that Russia declared 2007 to be the year of the Russian language to support its purity. Like a person can stop languages from evolving in a world where ignorance is only covered by a language barrier. It just seems unscholarly to resist people learning a new language in their spare time. With words the victor is the one who lasts the longest without being spoken, but still being in the dictionary.

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