The Germanic Languages: Origins and Early Dialectal Interrelations Paperback – 30 Apr 1989
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A definite need [existed] for an up-to-date overall treatment of the early stages of the Germanic languages, including their mutual interrelationships and the relationship to the larger Indo-European language family, that could function as a basic text in an introductory course in Germanic linguistics and as a handy reference and refresher not only for more advanced students but also for linguists outside the field of Germanic who need a basic orientation. Now, I am happy to say, we have this work in English for all the world to read. - Diachronica; ""The Germanic Languages may easily be read by scholars with limited knowledge of Germanic philology. It provides a solid introduction to the debate generated by attempts at classification. In addition, it contains an extensive bibliography of related works and pays considerable attention to necessary background information."" - Language
About the Author
Hans Frede Nielsen is Associate Professor of English, Odense University, Denmark. He is the author of three books on Germanic and English historical linguistics.
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Hans Nielsen's comparative research of the historical Germanic languages is considered a cornerstone of early Germanic studies, and one would be hard-pressed to read a single journal article in the field without some type of reference to his corpus. As a doctoral student in this field, my copies of this book as well as Nielsen's "Old English and the Continental Germanic Languages" have been all but under my pillow for the past 5 years, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Though I am not specialized enough to account for any inconsistencies in his dealings with Proto Indo-European or non-Germanic languages, I would be shocked to learn that such accusations hold true considering the innumerable sets of learned eyes that have flipped through these pages over the last 20 years. A book as referenced as his does not simply get away with inconsistencies, especially in this field.
As it is with many high-level texts, this book does not hold your hand, and dives into the subject matter head first. Having a background in either historical language study or linguistics will help a great deal in processing some of the more technical aspects, but, unlike other books (see Gordon's Old Norse introduction), this text is not nearly as unapproachable for those just beginning in the field. Still, understand, this is not intended for those with a passing interest who want to pick up a simple overview of the topic and gain a general understanding. This is intended for research and classroom use, and is therefore naturally given to confusion for those who do not have other materials and aid.
For those with a much more general interest in the Germanic languages, I would recommend the following:
"The Germanic Languages" edited by Ekkehard König and Johan van der Auwera. Gives a much more flowing introduction and comparison of both historical and modern Germanic languages.
"Language and History in the early Germanic world" by D.H. Green. This is far more focused on history and gives an interesting account of interaction between the early Germanic people and other cultures.
As a student with a career in Indo-European studies in mind, I was very disappointed by Nielsen's work. In the first two chapters, he assumes that Germanic must be more closely related to some branches of Indo-European than others. Unfortunately, he doesn't accurately examine the evidence. For example, he says that Germanic and Italic must be very closely related because they both have the same root for "tongue" (Latin "dingua/lingua"), but this same root exists in Indo-Iranian and Slavonic and so must be a remnant from the proto-language instead of a shared innovation. The book is rather inefficiently organized and lacks editing, and it assumes that the reader already has some knowledge of Indo-European linguistics yet it covers ground any IEist would already know.
I lack the training to judge his discussion of the relationship of Germanic dialects to one another, but after his IE blunders, I don't trust him so much. If you are looking for a good overview of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, Routledge's THE GERMANIC LANGUAGES is a good resource. Stay away from this odd duck.