Is Reviving the Gothic Language Useless?

Written by Dyami Millarson

A page from Joseph Wright’s monumental Gothic primer.

I wrote about the rationale for the revival of the Wangerooge Frisian language in my recent in-depth article on the Wangerooge Frisian language. In the case of the Wangerooge Frisian revival, this also means the simultaneous revival of the Weser Frisian branch, which had previously gone extinct with the death of Wangerooge Frisian. I argued in the section on the rationale for bringing back Wangerooge Frisian that reviving the language implies reconnecting to the geography and history of Wangerooge, evidently on the deepest possible spiritual level due to the special relationship of the language with the island. Reconnecting with the land and ancestors is something that might make sense to people. However, why would reviving a language like Gothic that has been gone for centuries make any sense? Isn’t reviving Gothic useless?

For starters, an argument can be made that learning any dead language like a living language and consequently mastering it to a very high degree of fluency is beneficial. Active mastery of a language changes one’s perspective on a language and it makes one much more attentive to detail than one is with passive mastery alone. I have witnessed this with Latin and Ancient Greek. Reviving the Gothic language – when done correctly – could definitely help with the study of the Gothic language. Passive mastery has brought us so far in our understanding of the language, yet we could achieve much more by mastering this language to the highest degree possible; active mastery will definitely help us reach new heights of understanding. While passive mastery is a key to knowledge, active mastery is a key to wisdom; the more fluent we become, the wiser we become.

The next argument, which I mainly want to focus on, is the notion that the Gothic language offers an escape into an alternate reality. People may feel attracted to the alternate reality that Gothic has to offer. I do not see why this wouldn’t be a valid argument for learning to speak and write Gothic. After all, this is also a valid argument for reading and writing books. One might argue that writing and reading novels is nonsensical, but novels offer us alternate realities we can escape into. These alternate realities stimulate our imagination, they offer us inspiration and help us find a (new) purpose in life. There are countless books to choose from, yet people still read books. Some books are more read than others. There are, likewise, countless languages to choose from, and some languages are more studied than others.

The huge amount of books that exist is never an argument against reading and writing books; the diversity of the world’s languages can never be an argument against reviving Gothic. Indeed, there are so many books to choose from, but why do we pick this or that book? It is just a spontaneous feeling, a spark of interest, a sense of curiosity. We as humans just do things and often discover meaning later; we are adventurers. Among the countless people on earth, there will always be enough people to read one particular book on some peculiar topic; there will, therefore, also be enough people for learning this or that particular language. When we pick up a language, it usually starts with a spontaneous feeling that led us to think: “Wouldn’t it be great to speak this language? I can imagine myself doing that.” It is no different with Gothic, and the advantage of speaking Gothic is the experience of reality that is specific to Gothic.

When one truly speaks a language, one can fully experience what the world is like from the perspective of that language. This is much harder to comprehend when one has only passive mastery of the language. Approaching the world in a Gothic way allows one to truly get an understanding of how a Goth might analyse the world we live in. Adopting a language so as to experience the world through the perspective of that language is a highly interesting philosophical undertaking. I regard adopting languages as philosophical investigations of the human experience. We can get so many different human experiences through languages, and that is why it is fascinating to adopt a language like Gothic. I do, consequently, not regard the revival of Gothic as useless. I support the active use of the Gothic language as a valid way of human expression and that is why I have occasionally blogged in the Gothic language; like with other languages, I write in Gothic when I feel inspired to share something in that language or when I am in the mood to experience a Gothic perspective on things.

A great contribution to any language is the expression of original thoughts; when we express original thoughts – rather than translated thoughts – in a language, we truly learn to appreciate a language and we will get the opportunity over time to develop questions, reveal trains of thought, share emotions and find answers that make it worthwhile for others to learn that language. The more one uses a language for expressing original thoughts, the higher the likelihood that others will find something of use in learning that language; useful content is a great contribution to any language.

There is a lot of useful philosophical, historical and scientific content in the Latin language, for instance, and this same kind of content can be generated in any other language as long as we keep focusing on sharing original ideas rather than translating whatever has already been said in other languages. Originality is a sign that a language is truly alive, and human originality is what adds the greatest value to any language. A healthy focus on being original should always be part of language revival efforts, an excessive focus on translation can easily derail efforts in that the language is not being used to generate interesting original content. If there is nothing original that is said in a language, one may easily get the impression that there is nothing unique about that language; this impression may be false, but it does serve as a reminder that original content is vitally important. When one is a blogger, one is a content creator and therefore blogging in endangered languages is highly beneficial to the cause of those languages. Additionally, blogging in Gothic will help the Gothic language.

The revival of the Gothic language means the revival of the East Germanic branch – like the revival of Wangerooge Frisian means the revival of Weser Frisian. What does this practically mean? Well, to me, it means that an entire branch of human experience is being revived. Having East Germanic alongside North and West Germanic is valuable. Personally, I enjoy comparing the West Germanic, North Germanic and East Germanic perspectives on things – both similarities and differences between North, West and East Germanic are worth knowing. There are many tiny details that alter one’s perspective. For instance, Gothic may have different genders for words than Old High German or Old Norse despite being descended from the same Germanic parent language – not to mention that cognate words may have slightly to wildly different meanings in these languages despite the fact that they have the same linguistic origin. Gender is linked with how one perceives a concept; gender-specific associations are encoded into the concepts that nouns express. A case in point is the fact that the word for murder is neuter in Gothic, apparently anyone can commit it, while the word for murder is masculine in Old High German, apparently it is a male thing; this is an interesting difference in perspective. The noun tagr tear is neuter in Gothic, apparently men and women can cry, the German cognate Zähre tear is female, apparently crying is associated with females, and the Old High German cognate zahar tear and the Old English cognate tēar tear are male, apparently drops of liquid are male. Although the reason for these gender changes ostensibly appears to be chiefly morphological, the perspective on the concept itself changed along with the gender. Another example is verbs; it is highly interesting to study the stock of verbs and what they express. While it is possible to find relatively small differences in nouns and verbs, these tiny details build up into huge differences once the sentence-building starts; small differences accumulate into big differences, and that is how a language’s uniqueness truly comes to the surface.

10 comments

  1. You certainly do think differently when you speak another language. It opens your mind to new ways of looking at things.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I can’t say as anything is truly useless. For my part, I owe Gothic revivalists no small debt for their enriching Runic studies. If for no other reason, and I reckon there are many reasons.

    The alternative reality argument hits home. It’s why I tried teaching myself Old English as a boy, to make life have a little meaning and feel like my language was my own.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am glad to know this group exists. A student of the languages that connect PIE being the prime source of that, and Semitic [esp. North-Western] have opened my eyes to several things: 1) the current lack of a true English Grammar as such (it is a bastard child of Latin and Anglo-Saxon, with some Norman-French in the soup–pardon the mixed metaphor), and perhaps it is too fluid even to create one at this time as most airlines use English as the 1st or 2nd announcing language 2) aware that languages do not translate well. We have word-failures in real English word at times and use borrowed ones–Weltanschauung, Schadenfreude, entente, quid pro quo, as well as untranslatable words that get misunderstood by word-for-word translators (Hebrew Hesed and Greek agape)

    I will be visiting…

    Like

  4. I think you project is wonderful! I hope you will someday have the opportunity to read “Braiding Sweet Grass”. The author is learning her, mostly lost, Native American language.
    Best wishes.

    Like

  5. Very interesting read… We in India always studied English language and literature with its origins dating back to Chaucer… A perspective into the attitude of the Gothic times is necessary for the successful revival of a language, I feel

    Like

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