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The Gothic language is an extinct Germanic language spoken by the Goths and particularly by the Visigoths. As a Germanic language, Gothic is a part of the Indo-European language family. It is the Germanic language with the earliest attestation, but it has no modern decendants. The oldest documents in Gothic data back to the 4th century. The language was in decline by the mid-6th century due to the military defeat of the Goths at the hands of the Franks, the elmination of the Goths in Italy, massive conversion to primarily Latin-speaking Roman Catholicism in Spain and geographic isolation. The language survived in Spain as late as the 8th century, and Frankish author Walafrid Strabo wrote that it was still spoken in the lower Danube area and in isolated mountain regions in Crimea in the early 9th century. Gothic-seeming terms found in later (post-9th century) manuscripts may not belong to the same language.

The existence of such early attested corpora makes it a langauge of considerable interest in comparative linguistics.

Documents in Gothic[edit]

There are only a few attested documents in Gothic, not enough to completely reconstruct the language.

  • The largest body of surviving documentation consists of texts written and commissioned by the Arian bishop Ulfilas (also known as Wulfila, 311-382), who was the leaders of a community of Visigoth Christians in the Roman province of Mesia (modern Bulgaria). He commissioned a translation of the the Greek Septuagint into the Gothic language. Of this translation, roughly three-quarters of the New Testament and some fragments of the Old Testament have survived. The best preserved manuscript, the Codex Argentus, dates from the 6th century and was preserved and transmitted by northern Italian Ostrogoths. It contains a large part of the four Gospels. The Codex Ambrosianus contains scattered passages from the New Testament (including parts of the Gospels and the Epistles), of the Old Testament (Nehemiah) and some commentaries known as Skeirens (see below). It is therefore likely that the text had been somewhat modified by copyists. Since it is a translation from Greek, the language of the Codex Argentus is replete with borrowed Greek words and Greek usages. The syntax in particular is often copied directly from the Greek.
  • Eight pages of commentaries on the Gospel of John known as Skeireins, or "Exegis".
  • A scattering of old documents: alphabets, calendars, glosses found in a number of manuscripts and a few inscriptions, some of which are written in the Runic alphabet.
  • A few dozen terms compiled by Ogier de Busbecq, a 14th century Flemish diplomat living in Crimea who listed them in his compilation Letters from Turkey. These terms are not representative of of the language of Ulfilas and are probably not really Gothic.

Generally, the Gothic language refers to the language of Ulfilas, but the attestations themselves are largely from the 6th century - long after Ulfilas had died. This list is not exhaustive, and a more extensive list is available on the website of the Wulfilas Project.


Complete article: Gothic alphabet

Ulfilas' Gothic, as well as that of the Skeireins and various other manuscripts, is written using an alphabet that was most likely invented by Ulfilas himself. This Gothic alphabet has nothing to do with Blackletter (also called Gothic script), which was used to write the Roman alphabet from the 12th to 14th centuries and evolved into the Fraktur writing later used to write German.


Phonology and Phonetics[edit]

Complete article: User:Diderot/Gothic phonology

Gothic underwent only the first consonontal mutation described by Grimm's law and Verner's law. It predates the second mutation characteristic of Old High German.

It is possible to determine more or less exactly how the Gothic of Ulfilas was pronounced, primarily through comparative phonetic reconstruction. Furthermore, because Ulfilas tried to follow the original Greek text as much as possible in his translation, we know that he used the same writing conventions as those of contemporary Greek. Since the Greek of that period is well documented, it is possible to reconstruct much of Gothic pronunciation from his text.




Gothic preserves many archaic Indo-European features that are not always longer present in modern Germanic languages, in particular the rich Indo-European declension system. Gothic had nominative, accusative, genitive and dative cases, as well as vestiges of a vocative case that was sometimes identical to the nominative and sometimes to the accusative. By comparison, Icelandic is the only modern Germanic language that preserves all those cases. (Not true!) The three genders of Indo-European were all present, including the neuter gender of modern German, Icelandic and Norwegian and to some extent modern Dutch, Danish and Swedish, in opposition to the "common gender" (genus commune) which applies to both masculin and feminin nouns. Nouns and adjectives were inflected according to one of two grammatical numbers: the singluar and the plural.

One of the most striking characteristics of this family of the Germanic languages is the division of nouns between those with weak declensions (generally those where the root word ends in an n) and those with strong declensions (those whose roots end in a vowel or an inflexional suffix indicative of a pronoun). This separation is particularly important in Gothic. While a noun can only belong to one class of declensions, depending on the end of the root word, some adjectives can be either strongly or weakly declined, depending on their meaning. An adjective employed with a particular meaning and accompanied by a deictic article, like the demonstrative pronouns sa, þata, or so which act as definite articles, took a weak declension, while adjectives used with indefinite articles had a strong declension.

This process is still sometimes found in German, where adjectives are declined:

  • weak declension: der gute Wein ("the good wine") ;
  • strong declension: guter Wein ("good wine").

Descriptive adjectives in Gothic (as well as superlatives ending in -ist and -ost) and the past participle may take either declension. Some pronouns only take the weak declension; for example: sama (English "same"), adjectives like unƕeila ("constantly", from the root ƕeila, "time"; compare to the English "while"), comparative adjectives, and present participles. Others only take strong declensions, like áins ("some").

The table below displays the declension of the Gothic adjective blind (English: "blind") with a weak noun (guma - "man") and a strong one (dags - "day"):

Cas Weak declension Strong declension
Singlular Noun Adjective Noun Adjective
root M. N. F. root M. N. F.
Nom. guma blind- -a -o -o dags blind- -s -a
Acc. guman -an -o -on dag -ana -a
Gen. gumins -ins -ons dagis -is -áizos
Dat. gumin -in -on daga -amma ái
Nom. gumans blind- -ans -ona -ons dagos blind- -ái -a -os
Acc. gumans -ans -ona -ons dagans -ans -a -os
Gen. gumane -ane -ono dage -áize -áizo
Dat. gumam -am -om dagam -áim

This table is, of course, not exhaustive. (There are secondary inflexion, particularly for the strong neutral singular and irregular nouns among other contexts, which are not described here.) An exhaustive table of the types of endings Gothic took is presented below. (Inflexion in Gothic is treated in a more exhaustive manner in a separate article.)

  • strong declension :
    • roots ending in -a, -ja, -wa (masculine and neuter): equivalent to the Greek and Latin second declension in ‑us / ‑i and ‑ος / ‑ου;
    • roots ending in -o, -jo et -wo (feminine): equivalent to the Greek and Latin first declension in ‑a / ‑æ and ‑α / ‑ας (‑η / ‑ης);
    • roots ending in -i (masculine et feminine): equivalent to the Greek and Latin third declension in ‑is (acc. ‑im) and ‑ις / ‑εως;
    • roots ending in -u (all three genders) : equivalent to the Latin fourth declension in ‑us / ‑us and the Greek third declension in ‑υς / ‑εως;
  • weak declension (all roots ending in -n), equivalent to the Greek and Latin third declension in ‑o / ‑onis and ‑ων / ‑ονος or ‑ην / ‑ενος:
    • roots ending in -an, -jan, -wan (masculine);
    • roots ending in -on et -ein (feminine);
    • roots ending in -n (neuter): equivalent to the Greek and Latin third declension in ‑men / ‑minis et ‑μα / ‑ματος;
  • flexions mineures : roots ending in -r, en -nd and vestigial endings in other consonants, equivalent to other third declensions in Greek and Latin.

Gothic adjectives follow noun declensions closely - they take same types of inflexion.


Gothic inherited the full set of Indo-European pronouns, including personal pronouns (including reflexive pronouns for each of the three grammatical persons), possessive pronouns, both simple and compound demonstratives, relative pronouns , interrogatives and indefinite pronouns. Each follows a particular pattern of inflexion (partially mirroring the nominative declension), just like other Indo-European languages. One particularly noteworthy characteristic is the preservation of the dual number, refering to two people or things, while the plural was only used for quantities greater than two. Thus, "the two of us" and "we" for numbers greater then two were expressed as wit and weis respectively. While proto-Indo-European used the dual for all grammatical categories that took a number (as did classical Greek and Sanskrit), Gothic is unusual among Indo-European languages in only preserving it for pronouns.

The simple demonstrative pronoun sa (neuter: þata, feminine: so, from the Indo-European root *so, *seh2, *tod; cognate to the Greek article ὁ, τό, ἡ and the Latin istud) can be used as an article, allowing constructions of the type definite article + weak adjective + noun.

The interrogative pronouns are also noteworthy for all beginning in ƕ-, which derives from the proto-Indo-European consonant *kw that was present at the beginning of all interrogratives in proto-Indo-European. This is cognate to the wh- at the beginning of many English interrogatives which, like in Gothic, are pronounced with [ʍ] in some dialects. This same etymology is present in the interrogratives of many other Indo-European languages" w- [v] in German, v- in Swedish, and the Latin qu- which persists in modern Romance languages, the Greek τ ou π (a derivation of *kw that is unique to Greek), and the Sanskrit k- as well as many others.

The details of pronominal inflexion in Gothic are described in a separate article.


The bulk of Gothic verbs follow the type of Indo-European conjugation called "thematic" because they insert a vowel derived from the reconstructed proto-Indo-European phonemes *e or *o between roots and inflexional suffixes. This pattern is also present in Greek and Latin:

  • Latin - leg-i-mus ("we read"): root leg- + thematic vowel -i- (from *e) + suffix -mus.
  • Greek - λυ-ό-μεν ("we untie"): root λυ- + thematic vowel -ο- + suffix -μεν.
  • Gothic - nim-a-m ("we take"): root nim- (German nehmen) + thematic vowel -a- (from *o) + suffix -m.

The other conjugation, called "athematic", where suffixes are added directly to roots, exists only in unproductive vestigial forms in Gothic, just as it does in Greek and Latin. The most important such instance is the verb "to be", which is athematic in Greek, Latin, Sanskrit and many other Indo-European languages.

Gothic verbs are, like nouns and adjectives, divided into strong verbs and weak verbs. Weak verbs are characterised by preterites formed by appending a suffix staring with a dental consonant -da / -ta parallel to past participles formed with / -t. Strong verbs form preterites by alternating vowels in their root forms or by doubling the first consonant in the root without adding a suffix, like the Greek and Sanskit perfect tenses. This dichotomy is still present in modern Germanic languages:

  • weak verbs ("to have") :
    • Gothic: haban, preterite habáida, past participle habáiþs ;
    • German: haben, preterite hatte, past participle (ge)habt ;
    • English: (to) have, preterite had, past participle had ;
    • Icelandic: hafa, preterite hafði, past participle haft ;
  • strong verbs ("to give") :
    • Gothic: infinitive giban, preterite gaf ;
    • German: infinitive geben, preterite gab ;
    • English: infinitive (to) give, preterite gave ;
    • Icelandic: infinitive gefa, preterite gaf.

Verbal inflexions in Gothic have two grammatical voices: the active and the passive; three numbers: singular, dual (except in the thrid person), and plural; two tenses: present and preterite (derived from a former perfect tense); three grammatical moods: indicative, subjunctive (from an old optative form) and imperative; as well as three kinds of nominal forms: a present infinitive, a present participle, and a past passive. Not all tenses and persons are represented in all moods and voices - some conjugations use auxiliary forms.

Finally, there are forms called "preterite-present" - old Indo-European perfect tenses that were reinterpreted as present tense. The Gothic word wáit, from the proto-Indo-European *woid-h2e ("to see" in the perfect tense), corresponds exactly to the Sanskrit cognate véda and the Greek Ϝοἶδα, both etymologically should mean "I saw" (in the perfective sense) but mean "I see" (in the preterite-present meaning). Latin follows the same rule with nōuī ("I knew" and "I know"). The preterite-present verbs include áihan ("to possess") and kunnan ("to know") among others.

Language codes[edit]


  • F. Mossé, Manuel de la langue gotique, Aubier, 1942 ;
  • W. Braune et E. Ebbinghaus, Gotische Grammatik, 17e édition 1966, Tübingen ;
  • W. Streitberg, Die gotische Bibel , 4e édition, 1965, Heidelberg ;
  • J. Wright, Grammar of the Gothic language, 2de édition, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1966 ;
  • W. Krause, Handbuch des Gotischen, 3e édition, 1968, Munich.

Related articles[edit]

External links[edit]