How to Use Waíhts and Waíht in Gothic?

Written by Dyami Millarson

There is a difference between the usage of waíhts and waíht in Gothic:

  • Gothic feminine noun waíhts + adjective may be used to translate something/anything + adjective: waíhts hweita, something/anything white.
  • Gothic neuter noun waíht + ni may be used to translate nothing: ni waíht hēr hweitata ist, nothing is white here.

Observe that the grammatical gender of waíhts and waíht is different: the former is feminine, the latter is neuter. This matters for the correct declension of the adjective in Gothic, as seen in the examples above where the femine form hweita and the neuter form hweitata are used.

The Hindeloopen Frisian nâât and niks, Molkwerum Frisian (currently extinct) naat and *niks, Schiermonnikoog Frisian and Terschelling Frisian net and niks, Shire Frisian net, neat and niks, Sagelterlandic Frisian nit and niks, Heligolandic Frisian ni (from *nit) and niks, English not and naught, Dutch niet, niets and niks, Groningen Low Saxon (Gronings) nait and niks, and German nicht and nichts are derived from the Ancient Germanic equivalent of the Gothic expression ni…waíht.

Waíht is chiefly used with ni. However, ahen waíht is used without ni, it denotes something/anything that can be counted, i.e., waíht when used in isolation is a kind of countable unit: twōs waíhts, two units.

This semantic force, which distinguishes waíht from waíhts, may also be felt intuitively from the neuter gender, as waíht is more like an abstract thing than waíhts, which seems to denote something much more tangible due to its feminine gender. A feminine thing is more relatable, intimate and may be touched, but a neuter thing is more abstract, it exists rather in the mind and cannot easily be touched, which is also why the Goths would have been tempted to use waíht for expressing nothing, which expresses an untouchable abstraction, something that cannot be touched while it is absent or non-existent.

Gothic waíhts and waíht are ultimately derived from the same etymological source: they were basically the same word once upon a time. The semantic distinction only appeared later as a result of there being two forms with different grammatical genders, which led to the specialisation of the usage of these two forms accoeding to the semantic force that was intuitively assigned to or associated with each gender.

The feminine noun waíhts may also refer to any entity or essence, its meaning is much broader than that of waíht. The word pair waíhts-waíht is related to the English word wight, which refers to a kind of spirit in English folklore, and the English wight is in turn related to the Old Norse vættr, which is a kind of spirit as well (the Icelanders, who speak a modern variety of Old Norse and inherited the concept from their Norse ancestors, still believe in this spirit to this day). The Goths may easily have used the feminine word waíhts to refer to any spirit found in nature. The Gothic waíhts, not unlike its Old Norse equivalent, would have been experienced in much the same way as the Japanese kami. The Goths were animists like the traditional-minded Japanese, Koreans, Mongolians and Chinese today.

3 comments

  1. This is fascinating… I love words and appreciate so much the way you have unpacked this and woven in the significance of gender and it’s usage in different areas. Thank you.

    Like

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