Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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Grimm's Law and Verner's Law Notes

Posted: Mar 05, 2007 14:03;
Last Modified: May 23, 2012 19:05

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Grimm’s Law

Grimm’s law concerns an unconditioned sound change that affects all
Indo-European stops. In this change (examples mostly from Brinton and Arnovick),

Voiceless stops became voiceless fricatives

PIE PGmc Examples
Voiceless stops Voiceless fricatives
*p *f PIE *peisk- vs. OE fisc ‘fish’
*t PIE *tenu ‘to stretch’ vs. PDE thin
*k *x or *h (word-initial) PIE *krewə ‘raw meat/blood’ vs. OE hrēaw ‘raw’
*kw *xw or *hw (word-initial) PIE *kwod ‘what’ vs. OE hwæt ‘what’

Voiced stops became voiceless stops

PIE PGmc Examples
Voiced stops Voiceless stops
*b *p PIE *kan(n)abi- ‘cannabis’ vs. PDE hemp
*d *t PIE *dekm vs. PDE ten
*g *k PIE *grənom vs. PDE corn
*gw *kw PIE *gwei- vs. OE cwicu ‘alive’

Voiced aspirated stops became voiced fricatives and then voiced stops.

PIE PGmc Examples
Voiced aspirated stops Voiced fricatives Voiceless Fricatives
*bh *b PIE *bhrāter vs. OE broþer
*dh *d PIE * əndhero- vs. OE under
*gh *g or *h (word-initial) PIE *wegh vs. OE weg ‘road, way’
*gwh w *g or *w PIE *gwher ‘to heat’ vs. OE warm

Verner’s law

The first group mentioned above (voiceless stops) underwent an additional change in certain contexts due to the change from variable accent in Indo-European to fixed initial accent in Germanic. When these sounds appeared in a voiced environment (i.e. not initially or finally or next to other voiceless consonants) and were not immediately proceeded by the Indo-European stress, they went on to become a voiced stop. Under the same conditions, Indo-European */s/ became Germanic */r/.

PIE PGmc Examples
Voiceless stops Voiced fricatives Voiced stops
*p *b PIE *septm vs. Gothic síbun ‘seven’
*t *d PIE *pətēr vs. OE fæder ‘father’ (medial sound: d rather than t)
*k *g PIE *dukā vs. OE togian ‘tow’
*s *z *r PIE *ghaiso ‘stick’ vs. OE gār ‘spear’

A mnemonic

A useful way of remembering these sound changes (taught to me by Philip Rusche of UNLV) is to diagram each row of the above tables as a triangle:

To find the result of Grimm’s law, go one step clockwise around the triangle. Thus using the first triangle, we can see that PIE *bh became Gmc *b, PIE *b became Gmc *p, and PIE *p became Gmc *f. Verner’s law only affects the consonants at the top of the triangle. To see what they became after the effect of Verner’s law, go two steps clockwise around the triangle: so PIE *p became Gmc *b when it was subject to Verner’s law.

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