Gothic language: Wikis


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Spoken in Oium, Dacia, Italy, Gallia Narbonensis, Hispania.
Language extinction mostly extinct by the 8th century, remnants may have lingered into the 17th century
Language family Indo-European
Writing system Gothic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 got
ISO 639-3 got

Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th century copy of a 4th century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable corpus. All others, including Burgundian and Vandalic, are known, if at all, only from proper names that survived in historical accounts, and from loan-words in other languages like Spanish and French.

As a Germanic language, Gothic is a part of the Indo-European language family. It is the Germanic language with the earliest attestation but has no modern descendants. The oldest documents in Gothic date back to the 4th century. The language was in decline by the mid-6th century, due in part to the military defeat of the Goths at the hands of the Franks, the elimination of the Goths in Italy, and geographic isolation. The language survived in the Iberian peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal) as late as the 8th century, and Frankish author Walafrid Strabo wrote that it was still spoken in the lower Danube area and in isolated mountain regions in Crimea in the early 9th century (see Crimean Gothic). Gothic-seeming terms found in later (post-9th century) manuscripts may not belong to the same language.

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

Words in Gothic written in this article are transliterated into the Roman alphabet using the system described on the Gothic alphabet page.


History and evidence

leaf of the Codex Ambrosianus B

There are only a few surviving documents in Gothic, not enough to completely reconstruct the language.

The best preserved Gothic manuscript, the Codex Argenteus, dates from the 6th century and 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.
The Codex Ambrosianus 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. It is therefore likely that the text had been somewhat modified by copyists.
  • Codex Gissensis (Gießen): 1 leaf, fragments of Luke 23-24. It was found in Egypt in 1907, but destroyed by water damage in 1945.
  • Codex Carolinus: (Wolfenbüttel): 4 leaves, fragments of Romans 11-15.
  • Codex Vaticanus Latinus 5750: 3 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 3 and 13) that are known to be or suspected to be Gothic. Some scholars believe that these inscriptions are not at all Gothic (see Braune/Ebbinghaus "Gotische Grammatik" Tübingen 1981)
  • A small dictionary of more than eighty 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 are from nearly a millennium later and are therefore not representative of the language of Ulfilas. See Crimean Gothic.

There have been unsubstantiated reports of the discovery of other parts of Ulfilas' bible. Heinrich May in 1968 claimed to have found in England 12 leaves of a palimpsest containing parts of the Gospel of Matthew. The claim was never substantiated.

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. It appears that the Gothic Bible was used by the Visigoths in Iberia until circa 700 AD, and perhaps for a time in Italy, the Balkans and what is now 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 which 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.

There are very few references to the Gothic language in secondary sources after about 800. In De incrementis ecclesiae Christianae (840/2), Walafrid Strabo, 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), which was the language of the Gothic translation of the Bible, and used such a liturgy.[1] He also refers to the use of Ulfilas' bible in a region probably around Lake Constance[citation needed]. In the former case, the language spoken by the monks was probably an incipient Crimean Gothic.

In evaluating medieval texts that mention the Goths, it must be noted that 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 some Slavic-speaking people,like Croats, as Goths.

The relationship between the language of the Crimean Goths and Ulfilas' Gothic is less clear. The few fragments of their language from the 16th century show significant differences from the language of the Gothic Bible, although some of the glosses, such as ada for "egg", imply a common heritage, and Gothic mena ("moon"), compared to Crimean Gothic mine, clearly indicates that Crimean Gothic was East Germanic.

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.


Ulfilas' 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 (e.g. 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 with Blackletter (also called Gothic script), which was used to write the Roman alphabet from the 12th to 14th centuries and evolved into the Fraktur writing later used to write German.


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, we know 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' Bible is very informative.


Phon gotique2.svg
Phon gotique3.svg
  • /a/, /i/ and /u/ can be either long or short. Gothic writing distinguishes between long and short vowels only for /i/ - writing i for the short form and ei for the long (a digraph or false diphthong), in 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, where the intent is more phonetic transcription, length is noted by a macron (or failing that, often a circumflex): brāhta, brâhta. /uː/ is found often enough in other contexts: brūks "useful" (Dutch gebruik, German Gebrauch, Swedish bruk "usage").
  • /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, Swedish tio), dauhtar [dɔxtar] "daughter" (Dutch dochter, German Tochter). 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 is 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 ai and au in Gothic (normally written with an accent on the first vowel to distinguish them from ai, au < Germanic i/e, u). Some researchers suppose that they were still pronounced as diphthongs in Gothic, i.e. /ai/ and /au/, whereas others think that they have become long open-mid vowels, i.e. /ɛː/ and /ɔː/: ains [ains] / [ɛːns] "one" (German eins), augo [auɣoː] / [ɔːɣoː] "eye" (German Auge). In Latin sources Gothic names with Germanic au are rendered with au until the 4th century and o later on (Austrogoti > Ostrogoti). Long [ɛː] and [ɔː] 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", Swedish bo "live"), 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 most perhaps pronounced [i].
  • /iu/ is a descending diphthong, i.e. [iu̯] and not [i̯u]: diups [diu̯ps] "deep" (Dutch diep, German tief, Swedish djup).
  • Greek diphthongs: In Ulfilas' 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).


  Labials Dentals Alveolars Palatals Velars Labiovelars Laryngeals
Plosives p /p/ b /b/   t /t/ d /d/   ?ddj /ɟː/ k /k/ g /ɡ/ q /kʷ/ gw /ɡʷ/  
Fricatives f /ɸ, f/ b [β] þ /θ/ d [ð] s /s/ z /z/   g, h [x] g [ɣ] ƕ /ʍ/   h /h/
Approximants         j /j/     w /w/  
Nasals   m /m/     n /n/     g, n /ŋ/    
Laterals       l /l/        
Trills       r /r/        

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", Swedish: 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 stops probably had (non-phonemic) aspiration like in most modern Germanic languages: [pʰ, tʰ, kʰ]. Thus, the High German consonant shift seems to presuppose aspiration.
  • The letter q is probably a voiceless labiovelar stop, /kʷ/ ([kʷʰ]), comparable to the Latin qu: qiman [kʷiman] "to come". In the 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. To judge from the other Germanic languages, they were probably restricted to a word-initial position and the position after a nasal; in other positions they had affricative allophones. In the end of a word and before a voiceless consonant, they were most likely also devoiced: blinds [blints] "blind", lamb [lamp] "lamb".
  • 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, e.g. triggws [triɡʷːs] "faithful" (English true, German treu, Swedish trygg).
  • Similarly the letters ddj, which is the regular outcome of Germanic *jj, may represent a voiced palatal stop, /ɟː/: waddjus [waɟːe] "wall" (Swedish vägg), twaddje [twaɟːeː] " two (genitive)" (older Swedish tvägge).


  • /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, Swedish mer) ~ 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, when they 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, we find 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 fricatives only found 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" (Old Norse þióð/þiúð, Dutch Diets, German Deutsch > English Dutch), áugo [auɣoː] "eye" (English eye, Dutch oog, German Auge).
  • ƕ (also transcribed hw) is a labiovelar variant of /x/ (derived from the proto-Indo-European ). It probably was pronounced /ʍ/ (a voiceless /w/) as it is in certain dialects of English and is predominant in Scots, where it is always written as wh: ƕan /ʍan/ "when", ƕar /ʍar/ "where", ƕeits [ʍiːts] "white".


Gothic has three nasal consonants, of which one is an allophone of the others, found only in complementary distribution with them. Nasals in Gothic, like most 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 - they 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/ is used much as in English and other European languages: laggs [laŋks] "long", mel [meːl] "hour" (English meal,Dutch maal, German Mahl).
  • /r/ is a trilled /r/ (or possibly a flap /ɾ/): raíhts [rɛxts] "right", afar [afar] "after".
  • /l/, /m/, /n/ and /r/ act as the nucleus of a syllable ("vowels") after the final consonant of a word or between two consonants. This is also the case in modern English: for example, "bottle" is pronounced [bɒtl̩] in many dialects. Some Gothic examples: tagl [taɣl̩] "hair" (English tail, Swedish tagel), máiþms [mɛːθm̩s] "gift", táikns [tɛːkn̩s] "sign" (English token, Dutch teken, German Zeichen, Swedish tecken) and tagr [taɣr̩] "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 syllables.

Just as in other Germanic languages, the free moving Indo-European accent was fixed on the first syllable of simple words. (For example, in modern English, nearly all words that do not have accents on the first syllable—except when they have unaccented prefixes as in "beget" or "forgive"--are borrowed from other languages.) 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 where the second word is a noun, the accent is on the first syllable of the first word of the compound.
  • In compounds where 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, for example, separable verbs in German and Dutch) - in those cases, the prefix is stressed.

Examples: (with comparable words from modern Germanic languages)

  • Non-compound words: marka [ˈmarka] "border, borderlands" (English "march" as in the Spanish Marches); aftra [ˈaftra] "after"; bidjan [ˈbidjan] "pray" (Dutch, bidden, German bitten, Swedish bedja, English bid).
  • Compound words:
    • Noun second element: guda-láus [ˈɡuðalaus] "godless".
    • Verb second element: ga-láubjan [ɡaˈlauβjan] "believe" (Dutch geloven, German glauben < Old High German g(i)louben by syncope of the atonic i).



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, including the neuter gender of modern German and Icelandic and to some extent modern Dutch, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish - in opposition to the "common gender" (genus commune) which those languages apply to both masculine and feminine nouns. Nouns and adjectives were inflected according to one of two grammatical numbers: the singular and the plural.

One of the most striking characteristics of the Germanic languages is the division of nouns between those with weak declensions (generally those where the root word ends in an n) and those with strong declensions (those whose roots end in a vowel or an inflexional suffix indicative of a pronoun). This separation is particularly important in Gothic. While a noun can only belong to one class of declensions, depending on the end of the root word, some adjectives can be either strongly or weakly declined, depending on their meaning. An adjective employed with a particular meaning and accompanied by a deictic article, like the demonstrative pronouns sa, þata, or so which act as definite articles, took a weak declension, while adjectives used with indefinite articles had a strong declension.

This process is found in, e.g., German and Swedish, where adjectives are declined not only according to gender and number, but also according to indeterminate/determinate form:

German Swedish English Gothic
weak declension der lange Mann den långe mannen the long man sa lagga manna
strong declension (ein) langer Mann (en) lång man (a) long man ains laggs manna

Descriptive adjectives in Gothic (as well as superlatives ending in -ist and -ost) and the past participle may take either declension. Some pronouns only take the weak declension; for example: sama (English "same"), adjectives like unƕeila ("constantly", from the root ƕeila, "time"; compare to the English "while"), comparative adjectives, and present participles. Others, such as áins ("some"), take only the strong declension.

The table below displays the declension of the Gothic adjective blind (English: "blind") with a weak noun (guma - "man") and a strong one (dags - "day"):

Case Weak declension Strong declension
Singular Noun Adjective Noun Adjective
root M. N. F. root M. N. F.
Nom. guma blind- -a -o -o dags blind- -s -a
Acc. guman -an -o -on dag -ana -a
Gen. gumins -ins -ons dagis -is -áizos
Dat. gumin -in -on daga -amma ái
Nom. gumans blind- -ans -ona -ons dagos blind- -ái -a -os
Acc. gumans -ans -ona -ons dagans -ans -a -os
Gen. gumane -ane -ono dage -áize -áizo
Dat. gumam -am -om dagam -áim

This table is, of course, not exhaustive. (There are secondary inflexions, particularly for the strong neuter singular and irregular nouns among other contexts, which are not described here.) An exhaustive table of only the types of endings Gothic took is presented below.

  • strong declension :
    • roots ending in -a, -ja, -wa (masculine and neuter): equivalent to the Greek and Latin second declension in ‑us / ‑i and ‑ος / ‑ου;
    • roots ending in -o, -jo and -wo (feminine): equivalent to the Greek and Latin first declension in ‑a / ‑æ and ‑α / ‑ας (‑η / ‑ης);
    • roots ending in -i (masculine and feminine): equivalent to the Greek and Latin third declension in ‑is (acc. ‑im) and ‑ις / ‑εως;
    • roots ending in -u (all three genders) : equivalent to the Latin fourth declension in ‑us / ‑us and the Greek third declension in ‑υς / ‑εως;
  • weak declension (all roots ending in -n), equivalent to the Greek and Latin third declension in ‑o / ‑onis and ‑ων / ‑ονος or ‑ην / ‑ενος:
    • roots ending in -an, -jan, -wan (masculine);
    • roots ending in -on 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, en -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 while the plural was only used 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), the Old Germanic languages, including Gothic, are unusual in that they only preserved it for pronouns.

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. This is cognate with the wh- at the beginning of many English interrogatives which, as in Gothic, are pronounced with [ʍ] in some dialects. This 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, and the Sanskrit 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. This pattern is also present in Greek and Latin:

  • Latin - leg-i-mus ("we read"): root leg- + thematic vowel -i- (from *e) + 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", where suffixes are added directly to roots, exists only in unproductive vestigial forms in Gothic, just as it does 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. This parallels the Greek and Sanskrit perfect tenses. This 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 (ge)habt ;
    • Icelandic: hafa, preterite hafði, past participle haft ;
    • Dutch: hebben, preterite had, past participle (ge)had ;
    • 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 inflexions 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 tense); 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 - some conjugations use auxiliary forms.

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

Gothic compared to other Germanic languages

For the most part, Gothic is known to be significantly closer to Proto-Germanic than any other Germanic language, excepting of that of the (scantily attested) early Norse runic inscriptions. This 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.

Gothic fails to display a number of innovations shared by all later-attested Germanic languages. Most conspicuously, Gothic shows no sign of morphological umlaut. Gothic fotus, pl. fotjus, can be contrasted with English foot : feet, German Fuß : Füße, Danish fod : fødder, Swedish fot : fötter. These forms contain the characteristic change /o:/ > /ø:/ (> Eng. /i:/, Germ. /y:/) due to i-umlaut; the Gothic form shows no such change.

Proto-Germanic *z remains in Gothic as z or is devoiced to s. In North and West Germanic, *z > r. E.g. Gothic drus (fall), Old English dryre.

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 Danish hedde "is/am called". Gothic verbs also retain verbs marked for dual number, which is absent from the other Germanic languages.

Gothic possesses a number of verbs which form their preterite tense 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 3rd person singular preterite indicative:

"to sow" Gothic saian : saiso. Old Norse  : seri < Proto-Germanic *sezō.

"to play" Gothic laikan : lailaik. Old English lācan : leolc, lēc. Modern Swedish "leka"

The grouping of Gothic

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 numerous modern languages derived from these). The North Germanic and West Germanic languages are further grouped into the Northwest Germanic languages, indicating 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. This is partly based 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 where 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.[2] There are a number of other posited similarities (e.g. 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 *kunjam > 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 while A and B don't change, then A and B will appear to agree against C. However, this example of a shared retention in A and B is not necessarily indicative of any special relationship among the two. Similar claims of similarities between Old Gutnish (Gutniska) and Old Norse are also based on shared retentions rather than shared innovations.

Another commonly given example is that Gothic and Old Norse verbs have the ending -t in the 2nd person singular preterite indicative, while the West Germanic languages have -i. In this case, neither ending is clearly a retention or innovation. Mainstream linguists would tend to say 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 on 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 chose the same ending.

It must in any case be borne in mind that 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.


The Lord's Prayer in Gothic:
Gothic English
(literal translation)
Atta unsar þu in himinam Our father, thou in heaven,
weihnai namo þein holy be thy name.
qimai þiudinassus þeins Thy kingdom come,
wairþai wilja þeins thy will be done,
swe in himina jah ana airþai. as in heaven also on earth.
hlaif unsarana þana sinteinan gif uns himma daga Our bread (loaf), the everyday, give us this day,
jah aflet uns þatei skulans sijaima And forgive us, who are in debt,
swaswe jah weis afletam þaim skulam unsaraim As we also forgive our debtors.
jah ni briggais uns in fraistubnjai And do not bring us into temptation,
ak lausei uns af þamma ubilin But free us from the evil (one).
unte þeina ist þiudangardi jah mahts For thine is the kingdom and the might
jah wulþus in aiwins. And glory in eternity.


  1. ^ Alice L. Harting-Correa, "Walahfrid Strabo's libellus de exordiis et incrementis quarundam in observationibus ecclesiasticis rerum. A translation and liturgical commentary", Leiden-New York-Köln: Brill, 1996 (ISBN 90 04 09669 8), p. 72-73. Discussion between W. Haubrichs and S. Barnish in D. H. Green (2007), "Linguistic and Literary Traces of the Ostrogoths", The Ostrogoths from the Migration Period to the Sixth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective, Sam J. Barnish and Federico Marazzi, edd., part of Studies in Historical Archaeoethnology, Volume 7, Giorgio Ausenda, series ed. (Oxford: Boydell Press, ISBN 978 1 84383 074 0.), p. 409 and n1.
  2. ^ J. B. Voyles, Early Germanic Grammar (1992), pp25-6

See also


  • F. Mossé, Manuel de la langue gotique, Aubier Éditions Montaigne, 1942
  • W. Braune and E. Ebbinghaus, Gotische Grammatik, 17th edition 1966, Tübingen
    • 20th edition, 2004. ISBN 3-484-10852-5 (hbk), ISBN 3-484-10850-9 (pbk)
  • Wilhelm Streitberg, Die gotische Bibel , 4th edition, 1965, Heidelberg
  • Joseph Wright, Grammar of the Gothic language, 2nd edition, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1966
    • 2nd edition, 1981 reprint by Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-811185-1
  • W. Krause, Handbuch des Gotischen, 3rd edition, 1968, Munich.

External links

Gothic language edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Simple English

The Gothic language is an extinct Germanic language. It is the East Germanic language, with the biggest number of texts surviving today. It had died out by the 8th century, perhaps the early 9th century. It was spoken by the Goths.

Probably one of the best known works of the language is Wulfila's translation of the Bible. This work is known as the Wulfila Bible (or Gothic Bible). This translation was done in the 3rd century.

Other websites

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