I've noticed that in particular germanic languages have similar base words to english of which many times the only difference is that of the vowels. This would make sense seing as to how they are descended from the same language, but really what I'm wanting to know is whether or not there is a discernable pattern between english and one of these germanic languages. I have looked mainly at icelandic words and have found there to be a bit of a pattern or at least some basic rules which it seems to follow. For example, in from an icelandic to english compairison, A, O, E, and U will sometimes "turn into" an A in english, but only an E, or I will continue to be or turn into an I in english.

I have only checked some of the most common icelandic words, and some of the compairisons are a bit of a stretch as to how well they can be, in essence, transliterated. For example, the icelandic word, "með," meaning with, was a word I used to count as an exapmle of the icelandic E turning into an I. Additionally, since icelandic doesnt descend from english and vice versa, I don't know how well they can be compared since they have evolved differently and share less in common than english would with german or even another germanic language such as dutch.

What really I am asking is whether there is a pattern between certain words based off of their phonology or morphology that once can better use with germanic languages to be able to "predict" better what a word might have derived from.

  • 3
    Icelandic "með" and English "with" are not cognates. So the comparison between them will not tell you anything about sound changes.
    – fdb
    Mar 13, 2016 at 11:14
  • @fdb I though that maybe it was a phonetic cognate since ð sounds near completely the same as the english "th," the only major difference is the M vs. The W at the begining of the word. Mar 13, 2016 at 14:27
  • Presumably there are correspondences for vowels, since there are vowel changes listed in Index Diachronica. It should theoretically be possible to construct the possible vowel correspondences between two languages on the list (say Early Modern English and Standard German) using these change lists, and then test to see how well they work. I haven't done it though. chridd.nfshost.com/diachronica/index-diachronica.pdf
    – Mr. Nichan
    May 28, 2019 at 11:35

1 Answer 1


Since Germanic languages descend from a single Proto-Germanic parent language, and sound change (neogrammarian, exceptionless) is responsible for a giant part of the language change, there will be regular and systematic sound correspondences between Germanic languages, albeit they can be often obscured by analogical changes and borrowings.

However, as it was noticed in the comment, for these correspondeces to work, one have to compare words that are truly cognates, i.e. they developed from a single word. Examples of such cognates would be:

English hound, German hund, Swedish hund, Icelandic hundur, Dutch hond

Vowel correspondence set derived from this cognate set (written in each language's own ortography) might not be proper to all the ou, o and u 's in these languages. As I stated before, one still has to consider such things as analogy, borrowings and conditioned sound changes.

To notice true and regular correspondences, whole language's systems have to be carefully examined and compared.

It can be often slightly easier to notice when it comes to consonants. In early Medieval times a consonant chain sound change occured in the Old High German dialects, that ,among others, involved spirantization of stops. What it left is a nice image of some consonant correspondences that can be seen, especially between Modern High German and English. Examples:

machen : make

schlafen : sleep

dass : that


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