How to Say Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow in the Gothic Language

Written by Dyami Millarson

This is a floral motif on one of the front pages of the second edition of Balg’s translation of Braune’s Gothic grammar.

The Gothic term for today is ᚺᛁᛗᚨ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ (hima daga), which is attested in the following sentences which demonstrate to us how the term is used:

ᚺᛚᚨᛁᚠ ᚢᚾᛊᚨᚱᚨᚾᚨ ᚦᚨᚾᚨ ᛊᛁᚾᛏᛁᚾᚨᚾ ᚷᛁᚠ ᚢᚾᛊ ᚺᛁᛗᚨ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ. 
Hlaif unsarana þana sintīnan gif uns hima daga. 
Give us today our daily bread. 
[Gothic Bible, Matthew 6:11.] 
ᚺᛁᛗᚨ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ ᚨᚢᚲ ᛁᚾ ᚷᚨᚱᛞᚨ ᚦᛁᚾᚨᛗᚨ ᛊᚲᚨᛚ ᛁᚲ ᚹᛁᛊᚨᚾ.
Hima daga auk in garda þīnama skal ik wisan.
Today, furthermore, in thy house I shall be. 
[Gothic Bible, Luke 19:5.] 
ᛞᚢᚷᚨᚾ ᚦᚨᚾ ᚱᛟᛞᛃᚨᚾ ᛞᚢ ᛁᛗ ᚦᚨᛏᛁ ᚺᛁᛗᚨ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ ᚢᛊᚠᚢᛚᚾᛟᛞᛖᛞᚢᚾ ᛗᛖᛚᚨ ᚦᛟ ᛁᚾ ᚨᚢᛊᚨᛗ ᛁᛉᚹᚨᚱᚨᛁᛗ.
Dugan þan rōdjan du im þatī hima daga usfulnōdēdun mēla þō in ausam izwaraim.
Then he began to say to them that today the scriptures were fulfilled in your ears.
[Gothic Bible, Luke 4:21.] 
ᚦᚨᛏᛁ ᚷᚨᛒᛟᚱᚨᚾᛊ ᛁᛊᛏ ᛁᛉᚹᛁᛊ ᚺᛁᛗᚨ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ ᚾᚨᛊᛃᚨᚾᛞᛊ. 
Þatī gaborans ist izwis hima daga nasjands.
Thus is born to you today the saviour. 
[Gothic Bible, Luke 2:11.]  

The Gothic term ᚺᛁᛗᚨ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ (hima daga) is related to German heute today, East Frisian Low Saxon hüüt today, Bernese Swiss German hütt today, Luxembourgish haut today, Dutch heden nowadays and huidig contemporary, Old English ᚻᛖᚩᛞᛇᚷ (hēodæġ) today, Hindeloopen Frisian joo today, Shire Frisian hjoed today, Gaasterland Frisian joei today, júed today which may be reconstructed for Schiermonnikoog Frisian, joed today which may be reconstructed for East and West Terschelling Frisian, and joe today which may be reconstructed for Molkwerum Frisian. Latin hodiē today is etymologically unrelated to the aforementioned terms, but it is a similar formation that arose independently.

The Gothic terms for tomorrow are ᛞᚢ ᛗᛟᚱᚷᛁᚾᚨ (du morgina), ᚷᛁᛊᛏᚱᚨᛞᚨᚷᛁᛊ (gistradagis) and ᛁᚾ ᚦᚨᛗᚨ ᚨᚠᚨᚱᛞᚨᚷᚨ (in þama afardaga), which are attested in the following sentences which demonstrate to us how the terms are used:

ᛗᚨᛏᛃᚨᛗ ᛃᚨᚺ ᛞᚱᛁᚾᚲᚨᛗ, ᚢᚾᛏᛖ ᛞᚢ ᛗᛟᚱᚷᛁᚾᚨ ᚷᚨᛊᚹᛁᛚᛏᚨᛗ.
(Matjam jah drinkam, untē du morgina gaswiltam.) 
We eat and drink, because tomorrow we die. 
[Gothic Bible, 1 Corinthians 15:32.] 
ᛃᚨᚺ ᚦᚨᚾᛞᛖ ᚦᚨᛏᚨ ᚺᚨᚹᛁ ᚺᚨᛁᚦᛃᛟᛊ ᚺᛁᛗᚨ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ ᚹᛁᛊᚨᚾᛞᛟ ᛃᚨᚺ ᚷᛁᛊᛏᚱᚨᛞᚨᚷᛁᛊ ᛁᚾ ᛟᚺᚾ ᚷᚨᛚᚨᚷᛁᚦ ᚷᚢᚦ ᛊᚹᚨ ᚹᚨᛊᛃᛁᚦ, ᚺᚹᚨᛁᚹᚨ ᛗᚨᛁᛊ ᛁᛉᚹᛁᛊ ᛚᛁᛏᛁᛚ ᚷᚨᛚᚨᚢᛒᛃᚨᚾᛞᚨᚾᛊ?
Jah þandē þata hawi haiþjōs hima daga wisandō jah gistradagis in ohn galagiþ guþ swa wasjiþ, hwaiwa mais izwis lītil galaubjandans?
And if God so clothes the grass of the meadow, which exists today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow (= the other day), how you not more, little believing ones?   
[Gothic Bible, Matthew 6:30.]   
ᛃᚨᚺ ᚹᚨᚱᚦ ᛁᚾ ᚦᚨᛗᚨ ᚨᚠᚨᚱᛞᚨᚷᚨ.
(Jah warþ in þama afardaga.)
And it happened the next day.
[Gothic Bible, Luke 7:11.]  

The Gothic term for yesterday has proved elusive, as it is not attested, or is it?

If ᚷᛁᛊᛏᚱᚨᛞᚨᚷᛁᛊ (gistradagis) in Gothic works anything like Old Norse ᛁ ᚴᛁᛅᛦ (í gjár) or ᛁ ᚴᛅᛦ (í gær), then ᚷᛁᛊᛏᚱᚨᛞᚨᚷᛁᛊ (gistradagis) means both yesterday and tomorrow, which means the Gothic term for yesterday is actually attested although its use in the sense of yesterday is not attested. This hypothesis is actually semantically suggested by the use of the term ᚷᛁᛊᛏᚱᚨᛞᚨᚷᛁᛊ (gistradagis) to mean tomorrow, because (a) this term should have passed through an original semantic stage where it meant yesterday like in the other Germanic languages such as the Frisian languages, (b) the new sense of yesterday should have been derived from tomorrow whilst these senses are semantically close in that they both mean ‘(an)other day’, and (c) if the previous two assumptions are correct, which they most likely are, then the old and the new senses should have existed side by side in Gothic. If these 3 assumptions are correct, then they account for the ‘unexpected’ attested sense of ‘tomorrow.’

Would it prove the hypothesis incorrect if ‘tomorrow’ turned out to be the original sense? Not necessarily. If ‘tomorrow’ were the original sense, we would have to account for the attested sense of ‘yesterday’ in the other Germanic languages. As pointed out in assumption (b), tomorrow and yesterday are semantically very close. No matter which of the two senses is the original one, the fact remains that the senses are semantically intertwined. This may also have something to do with the Germanic sense of time and fate. If the Germanic peoples believed that the past flows into the future and vice versa, they might easily have united these concepts. I have noticed more often that the Germanic peoples poetically or artistically ‘confused’ or conflated opposite concepts as if they were synonyms; these mergers seem to be philosophical in nature, as Germanic culture apparently permitted this ambiguity conceptually.

A conscious or cultural preference for ambiguity may also have had something to do with mystery religion (polytheistic mysticism). My impression is that the Germanic peoples were fascinated with such mergers as well as found them to be practical for their cultural needs. They were effectively eliminating contrasts, whilst their worldview appears to have been adverse to making clear distinctions between things. Germanic languages have no future tense (which is a point with potential philosophical implications which Bauschatz also raised attention to) and this seems to have coincided with a culture that conceptually merged future and past, conflated posteriority and anteriority, and thus lived in an eternal present, which is similar to the way Chinese, who have a polytheistic cultural background like the Germanic peoples of yore, experience the world by living in the present rather than in the past or future.

Wilhelm Braune also hypothesised that the term may have had two contrasting meanings (at least, clearly contrasting from our perspective and probably not from the Germanic perspective):

gistra-dagis, adv. (214), to-morrow; Mt. VI, 30. [Either an error, for afar-daga, or it means both yesterday and to-morrow; cp. ON. ígær, to-morrow, yesterday; OHG. êgestern, day after to-morrow, day before yesterday; gistra < gis- (cp. Lt. hes-ternus, yesterday) + -tra; dagis is gen. of dags.]

[Balg, Gerhard H & Braune, Wilhelm. A Gothic Grammar With Selections for Reading and a Glossary. Second Edition. Page 166.] 

The hypotheses about ᚷᛁᛊᛏᚱᚨᛞᚨᚷᛁᛊ (gistradagis) having two meanings and ᚨᚠᚨᚱᛞᚨᚷᚨ (afardaga) meaning tomorrow are not mutually exclusive. As part of the preposition phrase ᛁᚾ ᚦᚨᛗᚨ ᚨᚠᚨᚱᛞᚨᚷᚨ (in þama afardaga) in the next day, ᚨᚠᚨᚱᛞᚨᚷᛊ (afardags) is attested in the sense of next day. ᚨᚠᚨᚱᛞᚨᚷᚨ (afardaga) in the adverbial sense of the next day is not attested without preposition and ᛗᛟᚱᚷᛁᚾᚨ (morgina) in the sense of tomorrow is likewise not attested without preposition. I might add that if ᚨᚠᚨᚱᛞᚨᚷᚨ (afardaga) is possible as a way to express tomorrow, then ᚠᛟᚱ(ᚨ)ᛞᚨᚷᛁᛊ (for(a)dagis) or ᚾ ᚦᚨᛗᚨ ᚠᛟᚱ(ᚨ)ᛞᚨᚷᚨ (in þama for(a)daga) is also possible as a way to express yesterday. It is hard to decide between ᚠᛟᚱᚨ- (fora-) and ᚠᛟᚱ- (for-) and they may both have occurred. After all, both ᚠᛟᚱᚨᚺᚨᚺ (forahāh) curtain and ᚠᛟᚱᚺᚨᚺ (forhāh) curtain are attested in Gothic, demonstrating that both prefixes can exist side by side and the use of one or the other makes no semantic difference at all.

The related expression ᚨᚠᚨᚱ ᛞᚨᚷᚨᚾᛊ (afar dagans) after some days is included in Balg’s translated version of Braune’s Gothic grammar as well:

afar, prep. (217), (1) w. dat.: after, according to; Mk. I, 7. 17. 20. II. Cor. V, 10. (2) w. acc.: after (only of time); afar dagans, after sum days; Mk. II, 1; afar þatei, after that, when; Mk. I, 14. Skeir. VII, c. [< af + compar. suff. -ar. OHG. avar, abur, MHG. aver, aber, NHG. aber- (in compos.), further, again, aber, conj., but. Cf. OE. eafora, m., posterity, child.]

[Balg, Gerhard H & Braune, Wilhelm. A Gothic Grammar With Selections for Reading and a Glossary. Second Edition. Page 135.] 

Based on ᚨᚠᚨᚱ ᛞᚨᚷᚨᚾᛊ (afar dagans), one may surmise that ᚨᚠᚨᚱ ᚺᛁᚾᚨ ᛞᚨᚷ (afar hina dag) after today, ᚠᛟᚱ ᚺᛁᚾᚨ ᛞᚨᚷ (for hina dag) before today and ᚠᚨᚢᚱᚨ ᚺᛁᛗᚨ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ (fora hima daga) before today also existed.

A similarly vague expression, which does not distinguish ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’ and also exists in the Frisian languages, is ᚦᚨᛗᚨ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ (þama daga) that day. To construct this expression, I used the temporal dative which the Goths also used for constructing ᚺᛁᛗᚨ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ (hima daga). The use of the preposition in with this expression is also possible (see the antepenultimate paragraph of this article for more information on the use and the omission of the preposition). Likewise, the expression ‘that day’ also exists with a preposition in Frisian. For instance, (òp) die dei (on) that day exists in Hindeloopen Frisian; die dei basically just means the other day, any day other than today.

Furthermore, whilst ‘yesterday’ has the sense of ‘other day’ as previously explained, the options of expressing yesterday in Gothic may include ᚨᛚᛃᚨᛞᚨᚷᛁᛊ (aljadagis) and ᚨᚾᚦᚨᚱᛞᚨᚷᛁᛊ (anþardagis). Frisian languages also use the word ‘other’ to denote anteriority. This way of expressing observed in the Frisian languages may be based on an ancient tradition of using the word ‘other’ for dealing with time.

Old Norse ᚴᛁᛅᛦ (gjár) and ᚴᛅᛦ (gær) yesterday are related to Latin herī yesterday and Ancient Greek χθές (chthés) yesterday. Just like for example Old Norse ᛘᛅᛚ (mál) corresponds to Gothic ᛗᛖᛚ (mēl), we may reconstruct Gothic ᚷᛖᛊ (gēs) for Old Norse ᚴᛁᛅᛦ (gjár) and ᚴᛅᛦ gær; Gothic ᚷᛖᛊ (gēs) is presumably an adverb like the Latin and Ancient Greek cognates.

Is ᚨᛁᚱᛞᚨᚷᛁᛊ (airdagis) a possible way to express yesterday? The Old Norse plural ᛅᚱᛏᛅᚴᛅᛦ (árdagar) and Old English plural ᛇᚱᛞᚪᚷᚪᛋ (ǣrdagas) mean days in the past, former days, days of yore, past times. These terms clearly express anteriority. The Old English singular ᛇᚱᛞᚪᚷ (ǣrdag) means early day, morning. Curiously, eerdaags expresses posteriority in Dutch. This shows again that the senses of future and past are conflated in Germanic. The Gothic temporal genitive form ᚨᛁᚱᛞᚨᚷᛁᛊ (airdagis) would answer the Dutch temporal genitive form eerdaags.

We moeten dat eerdaags maar eens doen. 
We should do that one of these days. 

Aalde deggen [Hilarides’ spelling] is attested in Classical Hindeloopen for past days. Nij is used in Shire Frisian to mean next or coming. For instance, nije wike means coming/next week. So may new and old be used in the same way in Gothic as well? It does not seem unthinkable. ᛁᚾ ᚦᚨᛁᛗ ᚨᛚᚦᛃᚨᛁᛗ ᛞᚨᚷᚨᛗ (in þaim alþjaim dagam) in the old days and ᛁᚾ ᚦᚨᛁᛗ ᚾᛁᚢᛃᚨᛁᛗ ᛞᚨᚷᚨᛗ (in þaim niujaim dagam) in the new days could have been used to distinguish the past and present. However, these expressions are very long and they therefore sound poetical. Are there any possible expressions built upon ᚨᛚᚦᛁᛊ ᛞᚨᚷᛊ (alþis dags) and ᚾᛁᚢᛃᛁᛊ ᛞᚨᚷᛊ (niujis dags), then, that might be more practical for daily use? One might think of using the temporal genitive to construct such expressions: ᚨᛚᚦᛁᛊ ᛞᚨᚷᛁᛊ (alþis dagis) and ᚾᛁᚢᛃᛁᛊ ᛞᚨᚷᛁᛊ (niujis dagis) are shorter expressions that might be used to express yesterday and tomorrow.

The prepositional expression in mijn jonge jaren (in my young years) is used in Dutch to denote one’s youth and the Shire Frisian equivalent is yn myn jonge jierren. Such an expression is similar to ᛁᚾ ᚦᚨᛁᛗ ᚨᛚᚦᛃᚨᛁᛗ/ᚾᛁᚢᛃᚨᛁᛗ ᛞᚨᚷᚨᛗ (in þaim alþjaim/niujaim dagam) in the old/new days and is thinkable in Gothic as well. The Dutch/Shire Frisian expression may be translated to Gothic as ᛁᚾ ᛗᛁᚾᚨᛁᛗ ᛃᚢᛜᚨᛁᛗ ᛃᛖᚱᚨᛗ (in mīnaim jungaim jēram). The opposite of ᛃᚢᛜᛊ (jungs) young in Gothic is ᛊᛁᚾᛁᚷᛊ (sinīgs) old and consequently one may come up with the expression ᛁᚾ ᛗᛁᚾᚨᛁᛗ ᛊᛁᚾᛁᚷᚨᛁᛗ ᛃᛖᚱᚨᛗ (in mīnaim sinīgaim jēram). One may also replace the dative plural ᛃᛖᚱᚨᛗ (jēram) with the dative plural ᛞᚨᚷᚨᛗ (dagam) in these two expressions.

Wikipedians came up with the form ᚠᛖᚱᚾᛁᚾ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ (fernīn daga), which they spelled as faírnin daga, for yesterday. The use of the weak declension is incorrect here as it should be ᚠᛖᚱᚾᚨᛗᚨ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ (fernama daga), as the strong dative masculine singular of the Gothic adjective ᚠᛖᚱᚾᛊ (ferns) previous, which matches with the dative singular masculine noun ᛞᚨᚷᚨ (daga), is not ᚠᛖᚱᚾᛁᚾ (fernin) but ᚠᛖᚱᚾᚨᛗᚨ (fernama). An alternative is ᚠᛖᚱᚾᛃᚨᛗᚨ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ (fernjama daga). ᚠᛖᚱᚾᛊ (ferns) previous is related to ᚠᛖᚱᚾᛁᛊ (fernīs) old, which is a synonym of ᚨᛚᚦᛁᛊ (alþīs) old and is included in Balg’s translated Gothic grammar of Braune as well:

faírneis, adj. (128), old; Mk. II, 21, 22. [< *faírna- (< *faír-; cp. faírra) + suff. -na. OE. fyrn (cp. Siev., § 302), ME. furn, former, OHG. firni, MHG. virne, NHG. firn, old.]

[Balg, Gerhard H & Braune, Wilhelm. A Gothic Grammar With Selections for Reading and a Glossary. Second Edition. Page 153.] 

It should be noted, however, that the dative form ᚠᛖᚱᚾᛃᚨᛗᚨ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ (fernjama daga) and ᚠᛖᚱᚾᚨᛗᚨ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ (fernama daga) might be used with the preposition in just like ᚨᚠᚨᚱᛞᚨᚷᚨ (afardaga). However, it is also possible it was used without preposition just like ᚺᛁᛗᚨ ᛞᚨᚷᚨ (hima daga). Likewise, Latin has similar cases where a preposition may either be used or omitted. In such cases, a preposition may be included for clarity and when the meaning is sufficiently clear from the context, it may be omitted.

In contrast to ᚠᛖᚱᚾᛁᛊ (fernīs) and ᚨᛚᚦᛁᛊ (alþīs), ᛊᛁᚾᛁᚷᛊ (sinīgs) is used solely to describe people just like ᛃᚢᛜᛊ (jungs) old.

There is a multitude of genuinely Germanic-looking ways to express anteriority and posteriority in Gothic one may come up with.

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  1. Gothic is a style in architecture and in typography. As far as I know, it isn’t an literary style or a language. But then again, nice read. You put a lot of effort in it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You may enter ‘Gothic language’ in Google search to verify what I am going to say next: The Gothic language is an East Germanic language. English, Dutch, and German belong to West Germanic. Swedish, Icelandic, and Danish belong to North Germanic. Gothic, as an East Germanic language, is very important for the historical-linguistic analysis of Germanic languages. Gothic has similar historical-linguistic value as Old Norse, Old High German, Old Saxon, Old Dutch, Old Frisian, and Old English.

      Liked by 1 person

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