LINGUIST List 30.3834

Thu Oct 10 2019

Review: Germanic; Historical Linguistics; Linguistic Theories: Fulk (2018)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 04-Jul-2019
From: Matteo Tarsi <>
Subject: A Comparative Grammar of the Early Germanic Languages
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Book announced at

TITLE: A Comparative Grammar of the Early Germanic Languages
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Germanic Linguistics 3
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2018

REVIEWER: Matteo Tarsi, University of Iceland


Fulk’s Comparative Grammar of the Early Germanic Languages is a comprehensive overview of the early Germanic languages and a possibly full bibliographical guide to the most important studies in the field. Special attention has been put on providing recent bibliographical information, whenever possible. The intended audience for this book is mainly students. As the author states in the preface, there has not been published a comprehensive comparative study of the early Germanic languages in English since 1939 (p. xiv). Thus, the aim of the author is that of filling this quite impressive gap in the field.

The book consists of twelve chapters. The first chapter is introductory and it is dedicated to general aspects of Germanic comparative linguistics such as the position of Germanic in the Indo-European language family and its internal tripartite division into North, West and East Germanic. The issue of Northwest Germanic and Ingvæonic is addressed specifically. The theory embraced by the author is that of an initial branching of Germanic into Northwest and East Germanic. In addition, the classification of Germanic languages is also addressed from a linguistic-historical perspective, i.e. the author provides a concise account of the historical debate on the classification of the Germanic languages. This is done also by listing and critically discussing the main isoglosses between East and North Germanic and by pointing out the fallacies of the Gotho-Nordic theory. Reference is specifically made to further discussion of the relevant issues in the subsequent sections of the book. Central problems in the linguistic, as well as cultural, debate on Germanic are also briefly presented in the introductory chapter. These include the substrate influence on Germanic, Germanic loanwords in Finnish and the provenance of the Goths. The introduction provides the reader with the necessary foundations of the study of the Germanic languages: the structure of this branch of Indo-European and the main issues or matters of debate in the field.

Chapters 2 to 6 are dedicated to the phonology of Germanic. Chapter 2 illustrates the prosodic features of Germanic together with its syllable structure. This is done with reference to the evolution of Proto-Germanic from Proto-Indo-European. Chapter 3 addresses the vowel system of Proto-Germanic and its emergence from Indo-European. Some discussion is offered on specific issues such as the sources of ē2 or apophony in Germanic. Summary tables of vowel developments from Proto-Indo-European to the various oldest Indo-European languages and from Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic are provided at the end of the chapter. Chapter 4 is devoted to changes of stressed vowels in Germanic. These are presented in a gradual fashion, according to the classificatory model adopted by the author (PIE > PGmc and subsequent branching of PGmc into NWGmc and EGmc). The different Germanic languages are specifically addressed in separate subchapters. Chapter 5 is concerned with vowel changes in unaccented (or less accented) syllables. The issue of trimoric vowels is specifically dealt with. Siever’s law is presented in a separated subchapter. Chapter 6 presents the consonant inventory of Germanic, its evolution from PIE and relative developments in the single Germanic languages. The main sound laws of the Germanic consonant inventory, Grimm’s law and its corollary, Verner’s law, are introduced in separate subchapters, and so are their chronology and exceptions to Grimm’s law. Other consonant developments common to Germanic, or only to part of it (e.g. the Verschärfung), are addressed here. The discussion moves then on to the exposition of consonant changes and related problems in the single Germanic languages.

Chapters 7 to 12 are devoted to inflectional morphology. Chapter 7 presents the morphology of nouns in Germanic, its development from Proto-Indo-European and its classification in Germanic linguistics. Single subchapters are usefully dedicated to the discussion of the origin and development of the different Germanic inflections. Chapter 8 gives an account of pronouns in Germanic. The chapter is further organized into four parts, each addressing a different typology of pronoun (personal, anaphoric, demonstrative, other). Chapter 9 is dedicated to adjectives. The discussion is organized into three parts (strong declension, weak declension and comparison of adjectives). Chapter 10 addresses numerals in Germanic, cardinals, ordinals and others (distributive, multiplicative, etc.). Chapter 11 presents adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions. The last chapter is devoted to presenting the Germanic verbal system. The chapter is divided into six parts. Part I presents the Proto-Indo-European background of the Germanic verb. In this part issues concerning the development of the verbal system from PIE to PGmc are addressed (verb categories, aspect, tenses, types of PIE verbal stems, inflectional endings, middle voice, moods, non-finite verb forms, verb particles). Part II offers an overview of the restructuring of the PIE verbal system in Germanic. Part III presents the Germanic strong verb. The discussion is organized in two sections: A, stem formation, and B, inflection. Part IV is dedicated to the Germanic weak verb. After a general introduction where the issue of the origin of the dental suffix is discussed, the four Germanic weak verb classes are presented in single subchapters. Part V is devoted to preterite present verbs. Part VI addresses the athematic verbs.A very detailed reference list together with a useful and detailed index verborum are provided at the end of the book. Synoptic tables are supplied widely in the book, whenever needed, in particular for noun, adjective and verb inflection. This makes it easier for the book to be used as reference. A list of tables is, however, missing and should be added in a second edition.


Fulk’s book offers a dense and rather complete exposition of its subject matter. The structure of the book is solid, logical and easy to understand. It is in line with the classical way of exposition found in numerous grammars.

The author not only provides the reader with the necessary discussion on the single topics, but he also enrichens it with extensive reference to relevant literature, especially when a more detailed discussion was out of the scope of his work or when reference had to be made specifically to grammars of single old Germanic languages. In particular, and in accordance with his own words in the preface, Fulk provides the reader with different extant interpretations of single phenomena or issues whenever needed, at times favoring one over another, but never omitting to support his choice. Flaws in Fulk’s account of and approach to the subject matter are minimal to such an extent that, given the aim of the book, it is quite useless to point them all out, because they, in my opinion, do not inficiate the value of the book as a whole and its usefulness as a research and reference tool. As an example of the flaws encountered in the book, I can provide the following: in discussing productivity of class I of strong verbs in Germanic, the author says that it could accommodate new members well into the West Germanic period. Being this true, the author quotes the renowned Latin loan scrībere. In a footnote, the author is of the opinion that English is the source for the verb in the other West Germanic languages but that is not possible in light of the semantics of the verb in Old English, which never means ‘to write’. The same applies for ON skrifa, which the author believes to be an Old English loan into Old Norse. Moreover, the author, perhaps a bit uncritically, concedes that the issue of whether the Germanic verb is a loan or a native lexeme is still open to debate. He cites Orel’s Handbook of Germanic Etymology (s.v. *skrībanan) as the main source but Orel’s view is impressively outdated, cf. my overview of the topic in Tarsi 2019. One would of course expect the few typos to be amended in a second edition, should it appear one day. Of course, the experienced Indo-Europeanist might find himself sometimes at odds with Fulk’s approach to Proto-Indo-European, which is of a mainly introductory nature. It should, however, be borne in mind that Germanic is the main focus of Fulk’s book. The author’s exposition of the single phenomena in the different old Germanic languages possibly betrays his own main fields of specialization, above all Old English.

Fulk’s Comparative Grammar is a fairly up-to-date bibliographical guide and detailed overview of phonology and inflectional morphology of the old Germanic languages. As stated in the book, Fulk’s Comparative Grammar is mainly intended for students. The book could be easily used as a basis for a comprehensive course on the foundations of comparative Germanic linguistics as well as on specific topics such as the verbal system. The way the book is organized makes it also easy to use alongside other, more general or more specific, handbooks. I have in mind handbooks of comparative Indo-European linguistics or single Germanic languages. It should also be relatively easy for the user to compare the notions in Fulk’s handbook with those provided by other scholars. Apart from the main intended audience for this book, I believe that researchers will also profit from this reference work, which is freely available on the publisher’s website as PDF. The choice of publishing such a work in Open Access is, I believe, very much appreciated in the field in which John Benjamins has firmly established itself as a first-class publishing house.


Orel, Vladimir 2003. A Handbook of Germanic Etymology. Leiden/Boston: Brill.

Tarsi, Matteo 2019. Lat. scrībere in Germanic. NOWELE 72(1). 42-59.


I am a last-year Ph.D student in Icelandic Linguistics at the University of Iceland, Reykjavík. My research focuses on the interplay between loanwords and native words in Old and Middle Icelandic. Among my other research interests are: history of linguistics (especially in the 18th century), etymology, loanword studies, comparative Germanic linguistics and language planning and policy studies.

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