Verschärfung in Old Norse and Gothic

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The main hypothesis presented in this paper is that the so-called Verschärfung
in Germanic (or Holtzmann’s Law) is an independent development in Gothic
and Old Norse as shown by structural similarities. The sound change was not of
Indo-European origin, but is a diphthongisation with stop articulation as the
final step. It will be shown that neither the Indo-European (IE) laryngeals nor
the IE accent played any role in the development of -ddj/-ggj and -ggw/-ggv in
Gothic and Old Norse. Germanic Verschärfung originated, we will argue, in a
structure like [eu.e/ei.e]. The conditions for the change were (i) a disyllabic
word-form, (ii) a short vowel as the first part of an -i or -u diphthong, (iii) glide
insertion [eu.we], and (iv) a change of the -u/i (or -w/j) part of the diphthong to
a fricative [ej'.we/ej'.je] as an intermediate step before stop articulation. The
fricative pronunciation occurred, we will argue, when the word-forms were in
accented position in the sentence. This resulted in an alternation between an
[ew.we] and [ej^.we], which became opaque, once the fricative changed to a
stop. This in turn leads to an analogical levelling of the stop to monosyllabic
word-forms. It will be shown, with examples from Old Norse, that the stop
articulation was original only in disyllabic word-forms, and spread to monosyllabic word forms. Crucial pairs are hçggva 'to hew’ (infinitive) and past tense
hjç. W e will show that an exact typological parallel is found in the history of
Faroese, and, with regard to accented sentence position, that we may find typological evidence from Danish dialects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-27
Number of pages13
JournalBulletin de l'Association de la noblesse française
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • Verschaerfung
  • Old Norse
  • Gothic
  • historical linguistics
  • fortition


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