Is there any characteristic that is unique to the North Germanic languages (Swedish, Danish, Norweigan, Faroese, Icelandic) and the dead ones (such as Old West Norse, Old East Norse, Norn, Proto-Norse)

edit: I don't consider Elfdalian or Gutnish to be their own languages.

  • To all of them, or just to one or two? What features do you mean? Anyway, there are tons of them. Your question is too broad, please, add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.
    – Yellow Sky
    Feb 19 '15 at 12:02
  • And what do you mean by unique? Unique as opposed to other Germanic languages? To other IE languages? To all other languages of the world?
    – fdb
    Feb 19 '15 at 14:51
  • @fdb I guess the question is asking what are the shared innovations that enable North Germanic to be distinguished from its siblings as a distinct genetic group. To the OP: is that right? Feb 19 '15 at 22:02
  • 2
    Basically, you want to know about the North Germanic isoglosses. Lass 1997 mentions four North Germanic isoglosses, e.g. postposed article, neuter in /-t/ etc. (for further details and examples see Lass 1997, esp. pp. 145-146).
    – Alex B.
    Mar 7 '15 at 21:23

The loss of *h in all non-initial positions seems to be a distinctive North Germanic feature:

  • (before a consonant) Icelandic nótt "night" vs. Old English niht / neaht

  • (word-final) Icelandic "(I/he) saw" vs. OE seah

  • (medial) Icelandic tíu "ten" vs. Gothic taihun

This change has occurred in modern English, but it did not occur generally in the branch of Germanic that English comes from (as the Old English forms above show).

Another such feature is the mediopassive verb form: e.g., Icelandic sjá "to see" vs. sjást "to be seen, to see oneself, etc.". As far as I know, the mediopassive suffix -s(t) is only found in North Germanic.

  • Is the preaspiration in Icelandic nótt a later innovation? If not, it's not an instance of that sound change. Mar 9 '15 at 12:28
  • The tt in Old Norse nótt was a geminate produced by assimilation of h to t; preaspiration of geminate stop was dialectal in Old Norse. So the development was *nahts --> nátt --> /nouht/. Also, there is no reason to assume that Old Norse would have written /ht/ as tt, since they did wirte hl, hv, hn and hj. So yes, nótt is an instance of the sound change.
    – user9315
    Mar 9 '15 at 18:28

There is also the suffixation of the article (Icelandic epli-ð, Norwegian eple-t vs. English the apple)

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