West Germanic

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This page forms part of an etymology course that gives an outline of the development of English. It is written in a sequence that you may want to follow. The best place to start, if you want to follow the whole course, is Etymology course, or, if you are only interested in English, Development of English. You may also arrive at any of these articles from other links. For more information about the history of English, you should of course read a good history of the language, such as Baugh (1993), Strang (1970), or Crystal (2005)

West Germanic is a Language family, one of three broadly linked sub-families in a larger group ("extended family", perhaps?) called the Germanic family, one of several in the Indo-European super-family. It is the most important of the relationships of the English language. Its other principal extant members are

  • German
    • - including Yiddish (derived from jüdisch, the German form of 'Jewish'), the dialect of German used mostly among European and North American Jews - see also Jewish languages in Europe. OED (1921) gives this under its etymology: "Anglicization of German jüdisch /ˈjyːdɪʃ/ Jewish; the full German name is jüdisch deutsch 'Jewish-German'. The English word has been adopted in German as jiddisch." Cf. Judaeo-Georgian.
  • Frisian
  • Dutch
    • - including the dialects spoken mostly in Belgium and called Flemish
  • Afrikaans (a close descendant of Dutch, of which it is sometimes labelled a dialect. It is the development of the language by the South African settlers ('Afrikaners') of the Cape Colony, Dutch from 1652 to 1795). In the nineteenth century. Afrikaans was usually called Cape Dutch.

West Germanic languages that are no longer spoken include Old English, Old High German and other more obscure languages. The dialect variability over time and over space was considerable, and it can be hard to distinguish, for example in England whether a written text was written in Anglian or Saxon.

One of the traditional names for Old English was Anglo-Saxon: this is now not used by scholars, as it can be ambiguous for specialists, who use the term in a very precise sense: as OED says, "Anglo-Saxon, when used [in this dictionary] is restricted to the Saxon as distinguished from the Anglian dialects of Old English" [meaning 'the Saxon spoken in what became England']. (Other forms of Saxon were spoken in the ancestral homelands of what is now Germany, of which Saxony (Sachsen) is a federal state.)