plural inflections in Germanic languages

Nino83

Senior Member
Italian
Hello everyone.

I was wondering why Germanic languages have different inflections for the plural of "a-stem" strong nouns.
I looked at some word and I've found an explanation, but I'm not sure if it is right.

This is the declension of the Proto-Germanic word *dagaz (day):

Nominative *dagaz > *dagōz, -ōs
Accusative
*dagą > *daganz
Genitive *dagas, -is > *dagǫ̂
Dative *dagai > *dagamaz

It seems that there were a voiceless /s/ and a voiced /z/.
The first is present in all Germanic languages in the singular genitive case today.
The second, is present in all Germanic languages in the nominative singular case, while in the nominative plural case some languages had /z/ and other languages had /s/, it seems that they are Old English and Old Saxon.
Now, it seems that /z/ was deleted in all Germanic languages, except in Old Norse, where /z/ > /r/. This is mantained in Icelandic, while in Swedish and in Norwegian/Danish it was dropped in the singular and mantained in the plural.

Then we have:
- languages that had /s/ in nominative plural: dæġ > dagas (Old English), dag > dagas (Old Saxon), day > days (English)

- languages that had /z/ and dropped it: dag > daga (Old Dutch), tag > taga (Old High German), dag > dagen (Dutch, regularized), Tag > Tage (High German)

- languages that had /z/ > /r/: dagr > dagar (Old Norse), dagur > dagar (Icelandic), dag > dagar (Swedish, Nynorsk), dag > dager (Bokmål), dag > dage (Danish)

Is it the right explanation?

Other two questions:
Why Low German lost plural /s/ from Old Saxon to Middle Low German? Was it due to the High German or to the Dutch influence?
Why was there this difference between Old Saxon and Old English and the other Germanic languages in the nominative plural?
 
  • Yes, this is the most widespread explanation of the development of the Germanic Nom. Pl. in the thematic masculine declension.

    Another possibility is that both languages have generalized the Acc. Pl. form, where -s<*-nz (in Old High German we find in both Nom. and Acc. Pl.; both Old English and Old Saxon drop n before fricatives [fünf : five, Gans : goose] and word-finally this probably made *-z>-s more stable).

    Also, sometimes the Ingaevonic (Old English and Old Saxon) forms are compared with the Indo-Iranic -āsas (e. g. Vedic vr̥kāsas) formed from *-ōs with an additional *-es from the consonant stems (i. e. PIE *-o-es>*-ōs + one more *-es at a later period). Such an extended ending (cognate to the Indo-Iranic one or formed independently) would have produced the late Common Germanic *-ōsiz~-ōziz, and further *-ōsiz>*-ōs>-os~-as in Old Saxon and Old English and *-ōziz>*-ōr>-ar in Old Frisian (also an Ingaevonic language). This ending thus would be an Ingaevonic dialectal peculiarity. The Gothic ending -os (o is a long sound in Gothic) can come from either variant: -ōs, *-ōz, *-ōsiz and *-ōziz.
     
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    Nino83

    Senior Member
    Italian
    thank you for those theories, ahvalj.

    And what about Middle Low German, that lost the plural /s/ of Old Saxon?
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    And what about Middle Low German, that lost the plural /s/ of Old Saxon?
    Which plural -s exactly do you mean? Middle and Modern Low German is full of -s plurals. Only High German has no native -s plurals. The contemporary -s plurals are all 18th century innovations (copying the French plural).
     
    thank you for those theories, ahvalj.

    And what about Middle Low German, that lost the plural /s/ of Old Saxon?
    That's beyond my competence, but I guess this can be explained by the mixed origin of the later Low German, which goes back to both Ingaevonic (Saxon) and Istaevonic (Franconian) dialects. The latter didn't possess the -os ending in the thematic masculine Nom. Pl.: probably the late medieval and modern forms are generalizations of that asigmatic ending.
     

    Nino83

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Which plural -s exactly do you mean? Middle and Modern Low German is full of -s plurals. Only High German has no native -s plurals. The contemporary -s plurals are all 18th century innovations (copying the French plural).

    For example, Old Saxon had plural /s/ in words like dagas, wulfas.

    In this page seems that all those nouns that have plural /s/ in Low German end with unstressed /er, el, en, un/, other than in loanwords, that is the rule present in Dutch language.

    I'm speaking about strong masculine (a-stem) nouns.
    It seems that in Old Saxon plural /s/ was the rule for these nouns.

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:Low_German_noun_plural_forms

    Another example, bōm > bōmos in Old Saxon but Boom > Bööm in Low German.

    http://www.plattmaster.de/gramm1.htm#Nouns
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I am not sure. There are enough s plurals left including historical a declensions, like Vagals. I am not sure there is a general law based on historical declension classes that had already lost there visibility in Middle Low German anyhow.
     

    Nino83

    Senior Member
    Italian
    The fact is that there are no many Low German dictionaries or books in English language.

    For example, for Dutch, we can say that, except those nouns ending in unstressed "el/em/en/er/aar/erd/e", after the diminuitive /je/ and loanwords, the /en/ plural of weak nouns became the general ending, while in German, strong masculine nouns retained /e/ (or /-/ when end in unstressed "er/el/en" or with the diminuitive "chen/lein").

    About Low German, there are very few resources in English language online.

    Scandinavian languages retained /r/ plurals while English extended /s/ to all nouns.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Sorry about the typo. The original vowel out of which that Schwa developed was a in OS/OE. I must have thought of that.
     
    Yes, this is the most widespread explanation of the development of the Germanic Nom. Pl. in the thematic masculine declension.

    Another possibility is that both languages have generalized the Acc. Pl. form, where -s<*-nz (in Old High German we find in both Nom. and Acc. Pl.; both Old English and Old Saxon drop n before fricatives [fünf : five, Gans : goose] and word-finally this probably made *-z>-s more stable).

    Also, sometimes the Ingaevonic (Old English and Old Saxon) forms are compared with the Indo-Iranic -āsas (e. g. Vedic vr̥kāsas) formed from *-ōs with an additional *-es from the consonant stems (i. e. PIE *-o-es>*-ōs + one more *-es at a later period). Such an extended ending (cognate to the Indo-Iranic one or formed independently) would have produced the late Common Germanic *-ōsiz~-ōziz, and further *-ōsiz>*-ōs>-os~-as in Old Saxon and Old English and *-ōziz>*-ōr>-ar in Old Frisian (also an Ingaevonic language). This ending thus would be an Ingaevonic dialectal peculiarity. The Gothic ending -os (o is a long sound in Gothic) can come from either variant: -ōs, *-ōz, *-ōsiz and *-ōziz.
    Tacitus mentions a tribe Eudoses (the citation can be found here: Auiones - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia), which are sometimes interpreted as the later Jutes (Jutes - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). If it turns out true, this -oses would be a good candidate for the direct attestation of the compound *-ōsiz~-ōziz. Jutes were an Ingaevonic tribe, so, geographically, it would fit as well.
     
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