I am trying to understand how umlaut came to be as a marker for various inflectional forms in Germanic. The obvious answer is that there was i-umlaut, a-umlaut, u-umlaut, R-umlaut, breaking and various other processes that caused a succeeding syllable's quality to change the preceding one. This does not seem to explain the alteration fully.

Why did German level the umlauted variants into most plural forms of the language and level them out of singular forms? It also levelled them out of n-stems and largely out of feminines (with a few exceptions such as Mutter - Mütter) and into various etymologically non-umlauted words. Old Norse largely just left the umlauts be, so what the Germans did seems quite mysterious. There does not seem to be enough of a correlation between "plural = umlauted" to analogically induce such a change? E. g. datives never have an i in the plural, but (generally?) have one in the singular and yet modern German forms always have an umlaut in the plural if there is one.

Is there anything I could read or any info I'm missing?

  • When the vowel in a final syllable is changed by adding a particular ending, look to the vowel in the ending. As it happens, there was an E (a front vowel) and it fronted the previous vowel by anticipation quite a lot of the time, producing "umlauted" front vowels (really rounded front vowels in most cases, which often decayed to unrounded ones like English).
    – jlawler
    Feb 16, 2023 at 19:25
  • @jlawler I don’t understand what your comment is in reference to here. It seems to be just a kind of introduction to what umlauting is, which the asker clearly knows already… Feb 16, 2023 at 19:46
  • 2
    The literature on the historical development of German umlaut is in the neighborhood of massive. You kind of have to take this to be a construction-specific problem, for example "Why is the subjunctive pattern the way it is". This is really an extremely language-specific issue, which has been addressed in German SE. z.B german.stackexchange.com/questions/65780/…
    – user6726
    Feb 16, 2023 at 20:59
  • @jlawler that is exactly what I wasn't asking
    – Hlakkar
    Feb 20, 2023 at 12:04
  • @user6726 Is there any place I can find this treasure trove of umlaut-literature on German and/or other languages without having to spend hundreds of bucks or needing to join a university?
    – Hlakkar
    Feb 20, 2023 at 12:14


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