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Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Routledge; New Ed edition (12 May 1994)
This is the finest introductory comparative linguistic analysis of the early Germanic languages. Robinson writes in a lucid style that captures your interest even if some of the technical discussions found after the texts for each language might be beyond the interest of non-linguists. Still the reader is given the same text from the Gospel of Mark, The Parable of the Seed and the Sower, in five of the seven available old Germanic languages. Robinson works through time (diachronically) first introducing the reader to Gothic, then Old Norse, Old Saxon, Old English, Old Frisian, Old Low Franconian, and finally Old High German. Robinson helps the reader along by providing verbal similarities to the old Germanic words by placing similar English and German words alongside the texts. There is a glossary at the end of each chapter as well as a translation of the texts in the appendix. There is also a brief survey and comparison of the languages as they developed, primarily, but not exclusively, based on their relation to Gothic since it is by far the earliest of the Germanic languages. And so for example:
"Jah sum gaudras in airtha goda, jah gaf akran (acorn = fruit) urrinnando jah wahsjando (wachsend) jah bar (bore) ain (one) 30 jah ain 60 jah ain 100."
And some fell in earth good, and gave fruit going up and growing and bore one 30 and one 60 and one 100.
"En sumt kom (came) i gotha (good) jorth ok varth (ward) at avokti (wax) hundrath (hundred) hlutum meira (more) en hann sathi (sowed)"
But some came on good earth and became and grew one hundred times more than he sowed.Read more ›
E. L. WistyTOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 8 Jun. 2014
Covering Gothic, Old Norse, Old Saxon, Old English, Old Frisian, Old Low Franconian and Old Low German, each chapter on each language covers the orthography, phonology and a certain set of grammatical features enabling comparison between the languages. Each chapter also has short sample texts in the language - where possible this includes the parable of the sower to give a comparison, although a couple of the languages don't have a version of this so another text is selected instead. A glossary is given, and although there are translations in the back, the reader is encouraged to work through the passages and translate for himself.
Each chapter also begins with a potted history of the speakers of the language, and after the grammatical section each chapter has some sections considering other aspects of the language which may touch on one of more of the other languages too; so for example the chapter on Old Saxon has a section on Germanic poetry via examples from Old Saxon and also from Old Norse, as being two forms at either end of a spectrum.
There is also an introductory chapter followed by another with a grammatical overview of Germanic languages, and at the end a chapter considering the phylogenetic grouping of the languages, indicating that the standard division of East, North and West Germanic languages is not so simple as it seems and rather more problematical.
It's all at a relatively introductory level (pitched at undergraduate introductory text perhaps, but also accessible to the non-specialist and interested amateur) but none the worse for that. It's a good précis of comparative Germanic linguistics.
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134 of 140 people found the following review helpful
Exciting and eye-opening9 Sept. 2001
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This fantastic little tome makes me completely reevaluate my ideas about how languages should be taught. Employing only the most minimal amount of linguistics terminology, Robinson walks the reader through seven texts in related Germanic languages. At the period they were written, these were not even distinct languages, but merely dialects of what experts in diachronic linguistics call "Proto-Germanic." The reader begins to see the connections between languages almost immediately. This is what I mean by saying that this is how languages should be taught. Bringing in a substantial etymological component to language teaching somehow provides context for each word, which somehow makes it more interesting and gripping. For example -- here is a phrase in Old Frisian, which is a Germanic language that only grad students have ever heard of. The phrase is this, ""Thu skalt erja thinne feder and thine moder, thet tu theste langor libbe." Look familiar? If your life has ever brought you into contact with the Ten Commandments, it might remind you of the phrase "Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother, that you might longer live." That's good if you make that connection, because that's what it means. That isn't even in English! Isn't that cool?!?! The whole book is full of things like that. In terms of layout, Robinson begins with two introductory chapters in which he walks us through some of the more salient ideas in historical linguistics. The second chapter is very important to understand the bulk of the book. Please dwell on it, and try to read it through at least twice before moving on. Seriously, do this, it will only help. Then there are seven chapters on seven "dialects" of Proto-Germanic, followed up by an interesting little chapter on some controversial issues over which scholars wrangle. Each chapter has several recommendations for further reading at the end of the chapter. I myself have only tried out the recommendation for two of the chapters, Old Frisian an Old Norse, but Robinson's recommendations were terrific for me. One thing I need to mention -- there is a chart of correspondences in sounds and grammar, on pages 250-251. Somehow, this chart was left out of the table of contents. It is very helpful -- you might want to dog-ear page 250, so you can always find it easily for quick reference, as you're going through each chapter. Anyway, this book is great for the undergrad linguist, or for any armchair time traveller. Two thumbs up!
47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
An excellent, well-written book on the theme11 May 2000
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- It was amazing. In almost no time I found myself reading a text in Gothic, a language I never thought I'd ever master. The book summarizes the main common characteristics of the ancient Germanic languages, then moves on to describe 7 different languages individually. For each language the author describes significant features of its history, phonetics, and grammar. Moreover, for each language, a few short texts are presented to the reader. They are accompanied by a glossary with examples of words from modern English and German to ease the understanding of the words in the text. After the text a thorough vocabulary follows, where all the words are translated into English. Finally, at the end of the book there is complete translation of each text. The book is clearly based on strict linguistic principles and methods, it's well-structured, and the author is able to keep the balance and avoid too many details - after all, the aim is to give a comparative survey of the language family. But most important, the author isn't just a scholar - he also knows how to teach. I won't hesitate to recommend this book to anyone interested in comparative linguistics and the history of the Indo-European languages. However, knowledge of modern German is clearly an advantage when reading the text samples.
46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
A book to cherish8 Jan. 2003
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If you are seeking a nice, concise yet not superficial discussion on Gothic, Old Norse, Old English, Old Saxon, Old High German, Old Low Franconian and Old Frisian then you will find this book very interesting. It explains the main differences between these early Germanic languages, and per language it contains and discusses texts that have come down to us. And it reads like a novel. I particularly appreciate the discussion of Old Low Franconian (= Old Dutch, Old Netherlandic), the predecessor of modern Dutch that is the mother tongue of more than 20 million speakers in the Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium). Although there are very few extant texts in OLF this language has undergone few sound changes (compared to e.g. OE or OHG) and therefore is very well suited for the comparative linguistic discipline.
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Informative10 Feb. 2003
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Interesting reading. What I particularly liked was that each section was not just a dry listing of comparative morphosyntax between the different Germanic languages. Robinson starts each section with at least a few pages of history. This way, you can see what the people did, where they were, where they went, and with whom they interacted. He also treats each language as a dynamic construct in a dynamic environment, rather than something that just popped into existence in a vacuum. He makes a point at the end to discuss language features that occurred late due to social contact, or in some cases conquest.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Great help on early germanic studies4 Aug. 2000
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This book has been a great help on my home studies in old germanic languages. Well structured and well written, it offers a lot of information. I found the grammar summaries especially helpfull. Small detail: it is definitely a beginners study book and I can imagine that skilled scholars think it's too limited. For them the grammar summaries will be handy information only. For freshmen and newcomers it is highly recommended though. For extensive studies the book will have to be supported by an extensive reader with old germanic texts.