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The West Germanic Gemination English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1870 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Throughout history, the studies addressed to analyze the evolution of Proto-Germanic characteristics have provoked much interest in linguists due to its subsequent impact on the development of the English language. The West Germanic Gemination has been one of the most studied Proto-Germanic features because of the lack of awareness about the origin of this phenomenon which has caused disparate explanations about the development of this phenomenon. This paper addresses the different explanations about the origin of the West Germanic Gemination, the phonological and morphological development carried by its origin and its consequences in the development of English.

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The West Germanic Gemination (WGG) was a phonetic process of consonant lengthening which occurred in most varieties of West Germanic and permitted distinguish this language from other Germanic varieties. It owed its name to the graphic representation of the geminate letter, which was symbolized by a double graph; however, the geminate letters were not pronounced doubling, but long. They could also be represented by colon (:); as for example satjan ‘set’ could be represented as sat:jan. Consonants were geminated if they were followed by a ‘j’. However, there were certain restrictions to the proposed definition: this phenomenon could only occur when the vowel preceding the geminated consonant was a short one and the consonant /r/ could not geminate. Following these arguments, WGG could be represented as VCj > VC:jV. Historically, this process has lead to the majority of the geminate consonants in Old English although the Gemination has been lost in all varieties of English. However, there are current spoken languages ​​like Italian which present geminate consonants in words as ‘penne’ which means macaroni. The Gemination occurred at the beginning of Christianity (Lass) and it was an innovation among West Germanic speakers (northern Netherlands and Germany).

There are mainly two competing theories that addressed the cause of the West Germanic Gemination origin. On one hand, one theory is that the WGG that is, the / j / assimilates the characteristics of the consonant that precedes it. On the other hand, other theories argue that the germination process is determined by the syllable boundaries. As the above theories demonstrate, the causes which show the origin of the West Germanic Gemination are subject to speculation but the process itself has been described and analyzed carefully.

Kurath defended that the lengthening of the consonant was the result of the assimilation of letter ‘j’ which preceded the geminated consonant adopting its features:

This theory is reflected in weak verbs of Class I. Most of weak verbs of Class I show consonant Gemination because the present is constituted by a-j *. There are three types of weak verbs inside this Class: those which do not present ‘t’ or ‘d’ suffix in the present or in the past, those which present j-suffix in the present but not in the past and those which present j-suffix in the present and i-suffix in the past. Gemination was showed by those verbs which possessed a short stem-syllable / VC /, for instance byÄ‹Ä¡an ‘to by’, clyppan ‘to embrace’ or fremman ‘to perform’. However, the Gemination was not only present in the verbs of class I, but also it was present in some verbs known as ‘weak-present’ strong verbs; they share some features with verbs of the weak class in present tense and some features with strong verbs in the past tense as they mark their past tense through changes in the root vowel, as biddan ‘ask’, Sittan ‘sit’ or scieppan ‘make’.

The conjugation of any verb belonging of Class I, as for example ‘fremman’, it can be observed that Gemination can only occurred in the first person singular and in the plural of the present tense and the in the entire present participle of the verb conjugation. However, the second and third person singular of present tense did not show Gemination as any of the forms of the past tense:




1 sing: iċ fremme

2 sing: þÅ« frem(e)st

3 sing: hÄ“ frem(e)þ

plural: fremman

1 sing: iċ fremede

2 sing: þÅ« fremedest

3 sing: hē fremede

Present participle: fremmende

It can be also noted that in addition to the Gemination, the first person singular and plural of the present tense showed umlaut. However, the second and third person singular of the present tense and the whole preterite showed umlaut although they did not show Gemination. The umlaut was a phonological process characteristic of Germanic languages ​​in which a front vowel or semivowel following a back vowel was assimilated becoming the back vowel in a front one. In this way, if the ‘j’ was next to the ‘i’ in a final position and after a consonant, the ‘j’ was vocalized as ‘i’. The historical explanation about the existence of Gemination in the first person singular, the present and the preterite is that they only had ‘j’ without ‘i’.

Therefore, it can be affirmed that In the / j / environment were produced important morphological and phonemic alterations since all single consonants could geminate after short vowels when they were followed by / j /. However there was one exception to this rule: all consonants could geminate except / r /. The interpretation usually given to explain this exception is that / r / resists Gemination because OE / r /

However, this definition provoked long or overlong syllables. In this way, it can be observed in the examples used by Kurath in his definition of Gemination that this process is only permitted in the consonant of simple syllables as /VC/:







VVCj -> *VVCCj

VVCj -> *VVCCj

VCCj -> *VCCCj

VCj -> VCCj

(Lass Anderson 1975: 265).

For this reason, the assimilation theory was rejected and replaced by a theory which defends that the origin of the Gemination is the structure of the syllable. This theory presents two points of view based on Proto-Germanic syllabification: the first one is defended by Sievers, who explained the Gemination basing on the circumflex accent and the second one is defended by Kauffman who affirms that the explanation lies in the limits of the syllable.

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Sievers assumed the syllabic division as tautosyllabic (sa.tjan) and he explained the West Germanic Gemination basing on circumflex accent. In order to explain his theory, Sievers based his arguments on Lautphys’ theory (Lautphys 98 ff): a syllable containing a short vowel is pronounced as a long vowel, due to its position next to a consonant, as in akja , alja. The circumflex accent could only be applied in the way that the second part of the accent was manifested in the following consonant. For this reason, the following consonant was longer, this is the reason used by Sievers in order to explain the Gemination:

Sievers developed a law (called Sievers’ Law) based on the dichotomy of the syllable (the existence of long and short syllables) to analyze the origin of the different endings presented in some Gothic ja-stem. To address the origin of these word endings. However, this theory presented a problem as some words as * herÄ‘ija- showed a root structure as /-VCCVCV-/ which is ‘too long’. Similarly, there were also too long sequences following the Gemination after a long vowel. This was the case of the word * sokjan (so:k:jan) whose structure would be / VVCCCVC /. It suggests that Gemination could not occur if it would create syllable with three X-slots in the rhyme. If there had been Gemination in words with long vowels preceding the consonant, forms like *so:k:jan would have arisen’ (APUNTES). Therefore, it can be deduced that both West Germanic Gemination as Sievers Law presented the same problem (3 or 4 members post-vowel cluster ); therefore Gemination could not occur in words as so:k:jan because they would present 3 X-slots in the rhyme and they would violate a constrain on possible syllables.

Although Sievers’s law presented these problems, it also explained one of the general causes of West Germanic Gemination. The alternation defined by the law of Final Vowel Law (Sievers’ law) was the same that defined by the WGG. This theory showed a restriction on the Gemination of the stem-syllables which produced neutralizations. It would have much relevance in later historical developments. One of the consequences of these analyzes was the elimination of ‘j’ in those cases in which Gemination had provoked overlong syllables. (Search )

On the other hand, Kauffmann assumed proto-Germanic syllabification, on the contrary of Sievers, as the consonant and semivowel were heterosyllabic, they were in different syllables (ak.ia al.ia). He also argued that these forms were subjected to a limit of displacement of the syllable in West German Gemination. Thus, the word in * satjan ‘set’, letter ‘t’ belonged to the first syllable but it would also become part of the second because of the articulation of [t] would be prolonged.

Despite of the word used in the example is a Germanic one, the contraposition of the two points of view of the assumption of the Proto-Germanic syllable argued by Sievers and Kauffmann would be:

Sievers affirmed that the consonant + vowels sequences were tautosyllabic and arguing that this theory explained better the West Germanic Gemination.

Kauffmann argued that West Germanic Gemination was caused by a shift in syllable boundary y he affirmed that the consonant and the semivowel were heterosyllabic.

Furthermore, Prokosch completed both theories when he noticed the imprecision of them when he analyzed the phonological details of the Gemination. He suggested that consonants were lengthened before the West Germanic [j] while it became palatal and that the habit of articulating long consonants was subsequently extended to the ways in which the extension appeared before w, l, r, m and n.

Although Germanic Gemination process has been studied carefully Germanic as the environments previous to ‘j’, the letter which allow germination, there are numerous and diverse theories showing the origin of that process. Some theories defend the cause of assimilation as Gemination but this theory is refuted by those who base their theories on syllable structure arguments, theories far more consistent than assimilation because they respond to many more issues. However, these theories turn also show different views. Analyzing all these aspects, we can see that the assimilation is produced by both phonological and morphological, ie assimilation theory is complemented by that of the syllable. (Falta terminar)


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