The Germanic Mosaic: Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Society

By Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay | Go to book overview

9
Languages and Peoples in Contact: Early Germanic and Early Finnic

THOMAS W. JUNTUNE

The Germanic peoples have never lived in isolation: throughout their existence, they have lived as neighbors to other peoples, they have lived among other peoples, or others have lived in their midst. What kinds of relationships did they have with their neighbors? What effects did these contacts have on the Germanic peoples and languages or on their neighbors? In this chapter I would like to examine briefly some early contacts between Germanic tribes and their eastern, Finno-Ugric neighbors, the Finns, and the implications these contacts have for our understanding of the Germanic period.

When dealing with prehistory, the methods used differ significantly from those used when studying contemporary contacts. Though we have no original documents from the time, no sociological or sociolinguistic surveys, no tape recordings or field workers' notes, there is evidence which can assist us in reconstructing early history: evidence from the languages themselves in vocabulary and structural features, and evidence from archaeology. While it is probably impossible to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that specific archaeological finds can be connected with speakers of a specific language, one can suggest probable scenarios consistent with the available facts.

In the north, contacts between Germanic and Finnic peoples probably go back to the earliest Germanic, if not before. The most obvious evidence for this comes from Finnish words, such as kuningas, "king"; rengas, "ring"; and kaunis, "beautiful," which reflect Germanic forms older than any otherwise attested. While such lexical similarities had long been noted, it was not until Vilhelm Thomsen's 1869 dissertation, which became known in the German translation of 1870, that the study of these linguistic relations acquired a rigorous scientific basis. He concluded that the initial contacts took place around the Baltic in the first centuries of our era ( 1870: 124). This, with minor variations, has been the generally accepted position in Germanistic scholarship

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