Russian Greek Old English

Пена fama (foam)


Пять fiv (five)

Три ðrie

Ты þū

Кров, кровля hrōf

kardia heorte

octo eahta

The specific peculiarities of consonants constitute the most remarkable distinctive feature of the Germanic linguistic group. Comparison with other languages within the IE family reveals regular correspondences between Germanic and non-Germanic consonants. Thus we regularly find [f] in Germanic where other IE languages have [p]; cf. e.g., E full, R Fr plein; wherever Germanic has [p], cognate words in non-Germanic languages have [b] (cf. E pool, R). Consonants in Germanic look “shifted” as compared with the consonants of non-Germanic languages. The alterations of the consonants took place in PG, and the resulting sounds were inherited by the languages of the Germanic group.

The changes of consonants in PG were first formulated in terms of a phonetic law by Jacob Grimm in the early 19th c. and are often called Grimm’s Law. It is also known as the First or Proto-Germanic consonant shift.

By the terms of Grimm’s Law voiceless plosives developed in PG into voiceless fricatives (Act I); IE voiced plosives were shifted to voiceless plosives (Act II) and IE voiced aspirated plosives were reflected either as voiced fricatives or as pure voiced plosives (Act III).



Another important series of consonant changes in PG was discovered in the late 19th c. by Danish scholar, Carl Verner. They are known as Verner’s Law. Verner’s Law explains some correspondences of consonants which seemed to contradict Grimm’s Law and were for a long time regarded as exceptions. According to Verner’s Law all the PG voiceless fricatives [f, θ, x] which arose under Grimm’s Law and also [s]inherited from PIE, became voiced between vowels if the proceeding vowel was unstressed; in the absence of these conditions they remained voiceless. The voicing occurred in early PG at the time when the stress was not yet fixed on the root-morpheme. The process of voicing can be shown as a step in succession of consonant changes in prehistorically reconstructed forms; consider, e.g. the changes of the second consonant in the word father

PIE early PG late PG

Pater > faθar > fa’ ðar > > faðar

Verner's Law accounts for the appearance of voiced fricative or its later modifications [d] in place of the voiceless [θ] which ought to be expected under Grimm’s Law. In late PG, the phonetic conditions that caused the voicing had disappeared: the stress had shifted to the first syllable.


Voicing of Fricatives in Proto-Germanic (Verner’s Law)

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