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Article

Early Modern English  

Terttu Nevalainen

In the Early Modern English period (1500–1700), steps were taken toward Standard English, and this was also the time when Shakespeare wrote, but these perspectives are only part of the bigger picture. This chapter looks at Early Modern English as a variable and changing language not unlike English today. Standardization is found particularly in spelling, and new vocabulary was created as a result of the spread of English into various professional and occupational specializations. New research using digital corpora, dictionaries, and databases reveals the gradual nature of these processes. Ongoing developments were no less gradual in pronunciation, with processes such as the Great Vowel Shift, or in grammar, where many changes resulted in new means of expression and greater transparency. Word order was also subject to gradual change, becoming more fixed over time.

Article

(High) German  

Simon Pickl

(High) German is both a group of closely related West Germanic varieties and a standardized language derived from this group that comprises a wide range of dialects and colloquial varieties in addition to its standardized form. The two terms have related, and to an extent overlapping, but distinct meanings: German refers to a Standard Average European language spoken predominantly in Central Europe by some 96 million speakers and by minority speech communities around the globe. High German has a double meaning: On the one hand, it is another term for Standard German. On the other hand, it refers to the High German linguistic group within West Germanic, the linguistic basis for the German language. As such, it is defined by the High German consonant shift, a sound change that affected Germanic obstruents and set it apart from its immediate neighbors within (West) Germanic, that is, Low German and Low Franconian. The High German consonant shift around the 7th century, together with the onset of written transmission in the 8th century, marks the beginning of the history of (High) German. Traditional dialects perpetuate patterns of areal variation that arose in the wake of this sound change. Standard German developed out of High German written varieties, especially based on East Central German, through processes of leveling, koineization, metalinguistic reasoning, and codification. During that process, the emergent supra-regional norm superseded Low German in northern Germany and Upper German regional norms in the south, as well as influencing spoken registers, but (Standard) German remains a pluricentric and pluriareal language. Today, colloquial, regional varieties that combine features of Standard German and traditional dialects dominate oral language use, and in social media the written language, too, is developing new colloquial forms that build on standard orthography as well as on regional, informal forms of spoken language usage.

Article

Swedish  

Erik M. Petzell

Swedish is a V2 language, like all Germanic except English, with a basic VO word order and a suffixed definite article, like all North Germanic. Swedish is the largest of the North Germanic languages, and the official language of both Sweden and Finland, in the latter case alongside the majority language Finnish. Worldwide, there are about 10.5 million first-language (L1) speakers. The extent of L2 Swedish speakers is unclear: In Sweden and Finland alone, there are at least 3 million L2 speakers. Genealogically, Swedish is closest to Danish. Together, they formed the eastern branch of North Germanic during the Viking age. Today, this unity of old is often obscured by later developments. Typologically, in the early 21st century, Swedish is closer to Norwegian than to Danish. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was great dialectal variation across the Swedish-speaking area. Very few of the traditional dialects have survived into the present, however. In the early 21st century, there are only some isolated areas, where spoken standard Swedish has not completely taken over, for example, northwestern Dalecarlia. Spoken standard Swedish is quite close to the written language. This written-like speech was promoted by primary school teachers from the late 19th century onward. In the 21st century, it comes in various regional guises, which differ from each other prosodically and display some allophonic variation, for example, in the realization of /r/. During the late Middle Ages, Swedish was in close contact with Middle Low German. This had a massive impact on the lexicon, leading to loans in both the open and closed classes and even import of derivational morphology. Structurally, Swedish lost case and verbal agreement morphology, developed mandatory expletive subjects, and changed its word order in subordinate clauses. Swedish shares much of this development with Danish and Norwegian. In the course of the early modern era, Swedish and Norwegian converged further, developing very similar phonological systems. The more conspicuous of the shared traits include two different rounded high front vowels, front /y/ and front-central /ʉ/, palatalization of initial /k/ and /g/ before front vowels, and a preserved phonemic tonal distinction. As for morphosyntax, however, Swedish has sometimes gone its own way, distancing itself from both Norwegian and Danish. For instance, Swedish has a distinct non-agreeing active participle (supine), and it makes use of the morphological s-passive in a wider variety of contexts than Danish and Norwegian. Moreover, verbal particles always precede even light objects in Swedish, for example, ta upp den, literally ‘take up it’, while Danish and Norwegian patterns with, for example, English: tag den op/ta den opp, literally ‘take it up’. Furthermore, finite forms of auxiliary have may be deleted in subordinate clauses in Swedish but never in Danish/Norwegian.

Article

Yiddish  

Lea Schäfer

The Yiddish language is directly linked to the culture and destiny of the Jewish population of Central and Eastern Europe. It originated as the everyday language of the Jewish population in the German-speaking lands around the Middle Ages and underwent a series of developments until the Shoah, which took a particularly large toll on the Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jewish population. Today, Yiddish is spoken as a mother tongue almost exclusively in ultra-Orthodox communities, where it is now exposed to entirely new influences and is, thus, far from being a dead language. After an introductory sketch, information on the geographical distribution and number of speakers as well as key historical developments are briefly summarized. Particularly important are the descriptions of the various sociolinguistic situations and the source situation. This is followed by a description of various (failed) attempts at standardization, as well as the geographical distribution and surveys of the dialects. The following section describes the status of Yiddish in the early 21st century, which overlaps with the sociolinguistic situation of Orthodox Yiddish. Finally, the linguistic features of modern Eastern Yiddish (dialects, standard, and Orthodox) are presented. In this context, linguistic levels and structures in which Yiddish differs from other (standard) Germanic languages are also discussed. Since Yiddish, as a language derived from Middle High German, is particularly close to German varieties, the differences and similarities between the two languages are particularly emphasized.