Across West Germanic Languages, what sound changes have been most common since 1000 CE? For example, has there been much epenthesis (vowel insertion) or syncope (dropping middle vowels) or metathesis (transposing sounds, as in flutterby becoming butterfly)? Other historical processes?

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    Interesting question. In my experience, normally it will help if you explain the context or why you're interested in this information.
    – Louis Rhys
    Apr 15, 2012 at 6:03
  • The West Germanic languages are enormously widely spoken, with about half a billion speakers and oer 50 languages including Frisian, High German, Low German, Yiddish, Luxembourgish, Dutch, Afrikaans, Scots and of course all the many varieties of English. I'd be surprised if there were many consistent changes across this entire group, but of course I'd be eager to learn if there have been. Apr 15, 2012 at 15:18
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    @ Louis Rhys: I'm afraid the context is off-topic. I want Germanic-looking vocabulary for a conlang I'm writing. Subjecting real Low German vocabulary to common sound changes should do the trick. Apr 15, 2012 at 17:01
  • How about lenition? The 'weakening' of sounds. I'm not sure how common it is, but worth looking into. Apr 15, 2012 at 21:12
  • Actually, the context is helpful IMO. If you're limiting it to Low German instead of West Germanic as a whole, the question is probably much more answerable. But remember - if you subject Middle Low German to actual sound changes, you'll end up with Modern Low German :) Apr 16, 2012 at 2:05

3 Answers 3


This chart at Wikipedia gives an overview of the consonant changes of Low German compared to other West Germanic languages and may be helpful to you.

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For sound changes that happened after ca. 1000 there are some candidates:

  • th-stopping: Essentially all continental Germanic languages stopped their th's to d's, including Frisian
  • unrounding of umlauts vowels: /y/ -> /i/ and /ø/ -> /e/ happened in English, Yiddish, and is frequently encountered in German dialects
  • apocope of final e/schwa: Still an active process in German dialects
  • diphthongisation of long vowels: /hu:s/ -> /haus/ and /mi:n/ -> /main/ happened independently in High German and English
  • I agree with your points. Concerning the þ-stopping, I would add that, to my knowledge, it sometimes resulted in /t/ in Frisian like in Scandinavian. But are you sure that the continental West Germanic languages kept the dental fricative(s) up until ca. 1000? Dec 12, 2018 at 19:20
  • A partial answer to the timing of th stopping can be found here: linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/20184/… Dec 13, 2018 at 7:49

Well, since 1000 CE... That makes it a lot more difficult. I'm not sure if any of these changes may have happened earlier.

Reduction of unstressed vowels to schwa. Happened in English, Dutch, Low Saxon, German and more languages.

Loss of gemination.

Regarding the diphthongisation of long vowels that jknappen mentioned: That happened in Dutch too (didn't happen in Low Saxon, Limburgish/Ripuarian Frisian(except open syllables), most Alemannic German). mîn- en /maɪ̯n/ de /maɪ̯n/ nl /mɛi̯n/, lûs- en /laʊ̯s/ de /laʊ̯s/ nl /lœy̯s/.

  • Arguably schwa always and irregularly surfaces in speech, but only phoneticly, not phonemically (Ger machen~machn; En diligent - I don't even know how it's spelled which is not always indicative anyhow; En my~muh; Ger der die das vs En the vs Fr l'; so called subvocal, I believe, on the one hand, and foreign speakers simplifying an arbitrary gender system in case of the articles on the other hand). Do you have a proper example?
    – vectory
    Dec 13, 2018 at 12:53
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    Schwa [ə] is considered a phoneme /ə/ in German, English, Dutch and French. Dec 13, 2018 at 16:37
  • I think the sound change is undisputed. But true, the old schwa was often apocopated, as jknappen mentioned. > "Do you have a proper example?" An example for what? I didn't understand that. Dec 13, 2018 at 16:42
  • A before-after example, but you have already given one: /ˈd͡ʒɝmən/ ;) it's not a complete example without an Old English form and it's origin is unclear still. For comparison: /fɹɛnt͡ʃ/
    – vectory
    Dec 13, 2018 at 18:34
  • There is no Old English form, since this is a loan word. Dec 13, 2018 at 18:44

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