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date: 28 March 2017


This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.

Apart from runic inscriptions, Gothic is the earliest attested language of the Germanic family, dating to the 4th century. Along with Crimean Gothic, it belongs to the branch known as East Germanic. The bulk of the extant Gothic corpus is a translation of the Bible, of which only a portion remains. The translation is traditionally ascribed to Wulfila, who is credited with inventing the Gothic alphabet. The many Greek conventions both help and hinder interpretation of the Gothic phonological system. As in Greek, letters of the alphabet functioned as numerals, but the late letter names were from runic.

Gothic inflectional categories include nouns, adjectives, and verbs. Nouns are inflected for three genders, two numbers, and four cases. Various stem types inherited from Indo-European constitute different form classes in Gothic. Adjectives have the same properties, and are also inflected according to so-called weak and strong forms, as are Gothic verbs. Verbs are also inflected for three persons and numbers; past and nonpast tense; an indicative and a non-indicative mood (here called optative); and voice. The mediopassive survives in Gothic partly as a synthetic passive and partly in innovated periphrastic formations, with middle and anticausative functions taken over by reflexive-type structures.

In syntax, Gothic had null subjects as an option, mostly in the third person singular. Aspect was effected primarily by prefixes, which have many other functions, and aspect was not consistently indicated. Absolute constructions with a participle occurred in various cases with functional differences. Relativization was primarily effected by relative pronouns built on demonstratives plus a complementizer. Complementizers could be used with subordinate clause verbs in the indicative or optative. A switch to the optative was triggered by irrealis, matrix verbs that do not permit a full range of subordinate tenses, expression of a hope or wish, potentiality, and several other conditions. Many of these are also relevant to matrix clauses (independent optatives).

Essentials of linearization include prepositional phrases, postposed genitives, (normally) postposed possessive adjectives, and preposed demonstratives. Verb-object order predominates, but there was much Greek influence. Verb-auxiliary is native Gothic.