How to Revive the Gothic Language?

/ˈbloːma/ is the Gothic word for flower.

I wrote an article on the rationale behind the revival of the Gothic language last year. The present article will be a basic how-to guide for reviving the Gothic language. I say basic because I promise to keep it simple. This how-to guide for reviving Gothic will by no means be as comprehensive as a book on reviving the Gothic language, but comprehensiveness is not the purpose of the article; if this article can give you an impression of what needs to be done, then the goal of this article has been achieved. I will deal with 3 aspects of reviving Gothic in this article: (1) pronunciation, (2) grammar and vocabulary, (3) making friends. As an introduction to these topics, I will narrate my personal history with regards to the study of the Gothic language.

I already had a keen interest in the Gothic language in the year 2010. I found a letter yesterday from early 2010 where I listed Gothic as one of the languages that I was particularly interested in. When I expressed special interest in a language, it usually meant that I was already studying the pronunciation in preparation of learning the vocabulary and grammar. I also found evidence from 2012 that I studied the Gothic language intensively, which meant I learned the grammar and vocabulary. I did this together with Giovanni Pinto. The current article – as well as other articles from this year on Gothic – may be regarded as a celebration of the 10th anniversary of my Gothic language challenge.

The purpose of my intensive studies in 2012 was to become a speaker and writer of Gothic. I thought to myself: if people can learn English as a living language from books, then why not Gothic? It was always my ultimate ideal to become a speaker of a language I was interested in. Whenever I study a language intensively, my goal is always to become fluent in it. My intensive Gothic studies of 2012 were a precursor to my Frisian studies from 2016 to present. When I studied Gothic, I applied my current methodology for the first time. The methodology involves pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and making friends. Over the years, I perfected the methodology I used for Gothic.

My Gothic learning methods of 2012 were based on a history of trial and error involving Latin and Ancient Greek that mostly started around 2008. So my methods for studying Gothic had naturally evolved from earlier methods that were focused on acquiring Latin and Ancient Greek. I had learned from what worked and from what did not work. To me, the successful acquisition of Latin and Ancient Greek in the modern world was a problem that needed solving. My aim was always ambitious, since it was my dream to master Latin and Ancient Greek actively, and since I could not give up on my ideals of becoming a Latin and Ancient Greek speaker somehow, I kept devising and testing new methods for how to go about this. Gothic became my test for the latest methods I had developed. I thought to myself that if my methodology for learning Gothic were successful, I would apply it to all other languages.

There was always a lot of cross-influence between the methods I used for one language and another. Whenever I saw something was successful, I would apply it to all other languages. My methods of language-learning have been relatively stable since the successful Gothic trial in 2012, and they have become more heavily focused on a three-item formula of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary. My progress between now and 2012 consists of further simplification resulting in increased efficiency of the old learning methods. If my old 2012 self were to compete against my 2022 self in a language challenge, my younger self would be surprised at my current efficiency, which enables me to achieve more with less effort.

Since I am a problem-solver, I have never stopped solving problems I encountered as I was learning languages. My language-learning picked up pace from 2016. The experience of learning many Frisian languages only made me simplofy my methods more and more, so that I could learn languages with more efficiency, which would lead to faster results despite reduced efforts. I would describe my methodology for learning languages as scientific in nature. I form hypothesis and test them, and I keep repeating this process forever. So my language-learning is extremely focused on problem-solving, simplification, and efficiency. I have simplified my language-learning methods to the point where I wonder whether I even have a method.

People have often askes me about my method. They ask me: what is your secret? All I can say is just learn pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar. Keep it simple. You may also want to become proficient in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) for studying pronunciation, parts of speech for studying vocabulary, and grammatical terminology for studying grammar. On top of that, being well-versed in the comparative method, linguistic reconstruction, etymology and language classification always helps. Although linguists may claim that linguistics is not necessarily about language-learning, I have nevertheless found that studying linguistics is quite useful and inspiring for improving one’s language-learning methods. Two fields of linguistics are really indispensable: phonetics and historical linguistics (philology). I would recommend anyone to study these fields of linguistics if they are open to being inspired on their language-learning journey in life.

I have trained various students to use the same methods as I use, and they achieve similar results. It does, nevertheless, requite a great deal of instruction and guidance. Usually phonetics is hard for students and they do not understand IPA, so studying pronunciation is harder for them. Mostly students rely on my efforts, since it takes a lot of time to become well-versed in phonetics, historical linguistics, the comparative method, language reconstruction, etc. They can skip all that by just following my example. I teach by example, and so I tell students to just imitate me if they wish to achieve the same results; I have already paved the way and all they need to do is simply follow down that road.

I do not expect my students to pick up linguistics books, start reading diligently every day and to basically become a fullblown linguist after countless of hours of study, although I would not discourage them from doing so – to the contrary. All I realistically expect of them, however, is to learn from what works for me, and learn to notice what they themselves do right or wrong. Keeping it simple is important. People can achieve a lot in that way. However, if they truly want to achieve the best possible results, they will have to study linguistics with me. But again, that is not strictly necessary. You can get pretty far without knowledge of linguistics and I would suggest a language learner start with that. If that goes well, it is always an option to study linguistics in search of scientific inspiration for improving one’s language-learning methods, particularly phonetics and historical linguistics will be useful for this purpose.

Besides phonetics and historical linguistics, applied linguistics (especially revival linguistics and field linguistics) and psycholinguistics (especially language acquisition and second-language acquisition) may be worth one’s time and consideration. I could name many more relevant fields as well, but this article is not about studying linguistics. Suffice it to say that all of linguistics is interesting for the curious mind, but some fields of linguistics are more interesting than others when one has a specific goal. If you want to get a quick idea of the fields of linguistics, just read this Wikipedia page and if you want to familiarise yourself with the basics of linguistics, then go to this Wikipedia page, and then if you wish to get serious about linguistics, it is necessary to pick up a book (an academic one at that), read it from cover to cover, finally summarise its contents for yourself, then pick up another book, and repeat the process; after a few years of rinse and repeat as well as selecting and reading the right books for your academic development, you will be well-versed in linguistics after having consumed dozens of academic books – if not at least a hundred!

After all, it is quite possible to become a self-taught linguist who is on the same level as university-trained linguists since the academic books one requires for achieving the same level of knowledge – and higher – are publicly available. Universities and similar institutions have no monopoly on training excellent linguists in this modern day and age, anyone outside the university system – if they have enough money and resources, or if they have a good nearby library with plenty of academic books on linguistics, or maybe if they are good at online piracy – can become a linguist.

Now let me return to Gothic: I will focus on the practical aspects of pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary in this article. I will also pay attention to the social factors involved in the revival of Gothic, such as how the language is spread, how to connected with others, etc. It is obvious that there has to be some kind of plan for community-building, but for that to have any meaning, there need to be people who are proficient in Gothic. First and foremost, reviving Gothic is really about learning Gothic in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Once you have learned to speak and write Gothic fluently, a world world of opportunities opens to you for passing on your knowkedge to others. Success is attractive, and you need to achieve success first. I really want to emphasise this. Creating a Gothic study group should not be your number 1 priority, but success should be, at least if you are serious about reviving Gothic.

Pronunciation

The sounds of a language – I have always repeated this to my students – are the building blocks of a language. So when you study IPA, you are studying all the attested building blocks of human languages. Attested in reference to building blocks here means that there is evidence for the existence of the building blocks and that evidence comes from languages that phoneticians have studied. IPA is basically a summary of all that phoneticians have learned about building blocks that human languages use. So, IPA is as essential to the study of pronunciation as learning the periodic table is to chemistry. You may do without IPA, but you can achieve so much more with modern IPA, since it helps you reason about sounds more clearly. Other phonetic alphabets may, of course, be used for the same purpose, but I recommend sticking to IPA because it is way better if we all use and are familiar with the same phonetic alphabet, so we can all understand each other and learn from each other and correct each other when needed.

When we all agree that knowledge of IPA is essential, we can move on to the next issue: how to figure out the Gothic sounds if there are no contemporary guides on Gothic pronunciation? Well, simply reconstruction. If you wonder about how to revive Gothic, start with reconstructing the Gothic pronunciation, because the reconstruction of the pronunciation of the Gothic language is key to reviving Gothic. Reconstructing sounds comes down to studying all the letters and fixed letter combinations that exist in Gothic and using IPA for indicating what sounds you believe those letters to represent. You can have fun with reconstruction and learn by trial and error – I tried a lot of wacky hypotheses in the past, and my openness to experimenting taught me a lot about proper reconstruction.

I have always had a knack for comparing languages. This became perhaps more and more pronounced from 2008 onwards. What I learned over the years is that both indigenous and borrowed vocabulary can give you clues about how a language was pronounced. You can compare indigenous Gothic vocabulary with modern and ancient Germanic languages, and this comparison will be fruitful for figuring out the pronunciation of Gothic. Let us take the Gothic word for wolf, for instance. First, we find that this word was spelled as 𐍅𐌿𐌻𐍆𐍃, which may be transliterated as wulfs. The information obtained purely from the spelling may be used for finding cognates. In fact, 𐍅𐌿𐌻𐍆𐍃 (wulfs) has many modern Germanic cognates, such as Shire Frisian wolf, German Wulf and Swedish ulv, which give a clear impression about the nature of the consonants and stem vowel of the Gothic word as well as a confirmation that our transliteration of 𐍅𐌿𐌻𐍆𐍃 must be correct. For instance, the stem vowel u must be a back vowel, w must be a /w/-sound, l must be a liquid, and f must be a fricative. Based on the attested spelling of the Gothic word for wolf and based on the Germanic cognates, the Gothic word 𐍅𐌿𐌻𐍆𐍃 (wulfs) may be represented in IPA as /ˈwulfs/. Information from the phonological history of modern Germanic languages may be used for reconstructing Gothic pronunciation. The Gothic /w/ of /ˈwulfs/ in is not pronounced as in German, but as in English and Elfdalian, because the English and Elfdalian [w]-value for the /w/ is elder than the German [v]-value.

There are countless modern Germanic words we may compare with indigenous Gothic words, and this tells us a great deal about the language. Furthermore, we may use information from other ancient Germanic languages as well, and it is even possible to use Proto-Germanic for some guidance. Nevertheless, it is also relevant to incorporate data from identifiably foreign words that have entered into the Gothic vocabulary. For instance, the foreign word 𐌺𐌰𐌹𐍃𐌰𐍂 (kaisar), which is related to Ancient Greek καῖσαρ (kaisar), which comes from Latin caesar, tells us that Gothic /ai/ is pronounced like Ancient Greek ai and Latin ae. We may suspect that all three are diphthongs, but since Gothic /ai/ may also stand for /ɛ/, and Ancient Greek ai and Latin ae developed into /ɛ/ and /eː/ respectively, we may still feel uncertain about whether they represent monophthongs or diphthongs. So, in this case, we need to take a look at other Germanic languages again: we may compare Dutch keizer and German Kaiser with the aforementioned forms, and what we should notice immediately is that the two Germanic forms exhibit diphthongs. This, in turn, tells us not just something about Gothic, but also about Latin and Ancient Greek.

As you can see, it is important for the proper reconstruction of Gothic sounds to possess some knowledge of (the pronunciation and vocabulary of) modern Germanic languages such as Dutch, German and Swedish for comparison with the Gothic indigenous vocabulary as well as classical languages, namely Ancient Greek and Latin, for comparison with the Gothic borrowed vocabulary. Given the undeniable importance of these languages for the linguistic comparison that is required for the reconstruction of Gothic pronunciation based on Gothic indigenous and borrowed vocabulary, I actually highly suggest you acquire some knowledge of the other languages first before you delve into reconstructing Gothic pronunciation. I was already well-acquainted with relevant languages for comparison with Gothic before I embarked on the journey of reconstructing Gothic pronunciation, and so I believe actually understanding the methodology of reconstruction and being able to replicate the results of others are prerequisites for studying Gothic pronunciation. After all, reconstruction is a science and science is about the reproducibility of findings/results/conclusions. What matters is that if you wish to be a leader for a Gothic study group, you have to be the one who can reproduce and teach how to reproduce findings with regards to Gothic pronunciation. So you have to do your homework properly, and that means studying relevant languages. The more you know about those languages, the more you will be able to back up your findings with evidence and explain the findings of others who used evidence from the same languages.

Grammar and Vocabulary

A Primer of the Gothic Language (1899) or Grammar of the Gothic Language (1910) may be used for the study of the grammar and vocabulary of the Gothic language. The former title is an earlier edition of the latter title. Both titles are authored by Joseph Wright, who was also the teacher of J.R.R. Tolkien. I found this fun fact out only later when I was already well-acquainted with the works of Joseph Wright. So, it is perhaps also a fun thought that by using any of these two titles, J.R.R. Tolkien’s teacher can be your teacher as well!

The structure of Joseph Wright’s grammar is very useful. You get grammatical paradigms and he provides plenty of examples. You can treat those examples as vocabulary you ought to memorise. When you have studied the accidence and learned all of the vocabularies that are found below the paradigms, you may move on to the list of words in the back of the book and learn all the words that are listed there. If you find the alphabetical order inconvenient, just copy the vocabulary and reorganise it in a way that you find easier to memorise.

Just keep repeating all the paradigms, vocabularies under the paradigms, and the words from the list of words in the back of the book. If you never give up, you will succeed. It just requires a lot of memorisation. You can aid your memory by applying your knowledge: make simple example sentences with words you are learnong, especially the ones you find difficult to remember. However, do not overdo it with the sentence-making, since you may be wasting valuable time you could have used for rote memorisation. What truly matters is that you memorise all words, and you should never lose focus when it comes to the goal of memorising all words.

When you have a decent understanding of the vocabulary and grammar, you can give compilation (i.e., text-writing) a try. The best recommendation I can give you in this regard is to become a Gothic language blogger. From my own experience, I can tell you that blogging has really helped my languages. In the past few years, I have frequently resorted to blogging as one of my tools for learning Frisian languages. Usually after studying or reconstructing the pronunciation of a Frisian language (I frequently apply the same reconstructive methods to Frisian languages as I applied to Gothic, Latin, Ancient Greek, Old Norse, and Old English), learning the vocabulary, and grammar, I will start blogging at some point. I have, however, learned a lot of Frisian languages in recent years that I have not yet blogged in, but that was because I was making haste, and to achieve higher efficiency, I had to further simplify my procedures to speed up the learning process to the maximum degree.

Making Friends

When you have done your homework properly as I strongly suggest you do, and you have something to show for it, you can start looking for friends. You do not necessarily need to have achieved the highest level of proficiency in Gothic, but you need to have a good basis. From that point, you can easily set up your own Gothic study group and improve your Gothic togerher with others. Ultimately, the revival of Gothic has to be an immersive experience. So I strongly recommend you find (online) friends to use the Gothic language with, whether it be via written or spoken mediums.

It is possible to just join others’ groups, but I am strongly in favour of telling people how to set up their own group, because the more groups are being created, the more widespread the revival of the Gothic language will become. Also, a disadvantage of just joining others’ groups without doing your homework is that you will be at the complete mercy of others’ follies and mistakes – you need some kind of basis in order to have some quality control.

I have to be honest, there is a whole lot of garbage out there, which has been produced by people who did not do their homework and simply started sharing wrong information out of ignorance – which is really annoying if you ask me. Since I have been involved in reviving Gothic many years, I have seen all the pitfalls, and I have been able to avoid these, since I did my homework; I have always studied Gothic diligently and as a result, I can use the Gothic language actively. So, if you are new to the concept of learning Gothic in order to use it as a living language, I suggest you follow in the same footsteps as me and study diligently before you engage with anyone on the internet or in real life to study and practise Gothic with.

When I studied Gothic with Giovanni Pinto, I already had a good basis, and although we helped each other on some issues, we mostly studied independently. We did not engage in a premature exchange of what would essentially have amounted to nonsense; instead, we focused on our work and we simply absorbed the information, particularly grammar and vocabulary, without bothering each other too much. We did practise pronunciation together by reading texts and words aloud together, and we made sure to imitate each other’s pronunciation perfectly so as to guarantee that we would speak exactly the same, of course based on the scientific reconstruction of the Gothic pronunciation. Another activity we did together is testing each other’s knowledge of paradigms and vocabulary. That is how we made ourselves useful to each other rather than a big nuissance or hindrance.

If the stated goal is Gothic revival, then social connection with other students of Gothic should not be for trivial fun, but it should be the reward for hard work. Gothic community-building is important especially at a later stage where you have achieved fluency in Gothic: you know how to write blog articles in Gothic, and so you can also speak Gothic. Before that, avoid nonsensical interactions because these may be complete distractions that could lead you astray with wrong or misleading indormation, which is bound to waste even more of your precious time. I am telling this as someone who believes in maximum efficiency for attaining specific aims. We are all short on time. So we cannot afford to lose time and not achieve our goals.

When you start building a Gothic-speaking community, I suggest you keep it small. Focus on quality rather than quantity. Having a few people you can practise with – even if it is just one friend – is totally enough. There is no need for a big community. In fact, you can easily achieve better results with a manageably small study group than an outsized community of enthusiasts. So, for efficiency’s sake, I highly encourage people to split up into smaller, more effective groups rather than concentrate on building a single large community or a few such communities. Also, just treat your study group as a small group of best friends. People have only a handful of best friends in life, maybe 1, maybe 2, maybe 3, maybe 4, but probably not much more than that. When you study Gothic intensively together in a small group, expect to build friendships for life. Not just the quality of your Gothic will be higher, but also the quality of your social connection.

So, all in all, I caution against building large communities since this will probably not help. Instead, I recommend building small Gothic-speaking study groups that are highly efficient. Such study groups may all be regarded as Gothic clans, and my strategy for Gothic revival may therefore be summarised as the ‘Gothic clan strategy’ as I recommend making small immersive groups where doing your Gothic homework, as I explained in the section on grammar and vocabulary, is expected and where you can build deep social bonds through using the language at an advanced level. The purpose of small groups is to encourage individual studies and coordinate group studies well. After a period of setting up such small study groups successfully, different groups may seek to connect and interact with each other as well. Cross-group interaction will be the next stage, but such interaction will only be fruitful if people have worked hard in their own group to actually achieve sonething in terms of Gothic fluency. The most constructive cross-group interactions will, therefore, be competitions, which will encourage groups to keep working hard.

Let me also say a final word on large groups and how they could play a constructive role in the popularisation of the revival of Gothic or the ‘Gothic as a living language’ concept. If large groups encourage the formation of small groups and facilitate the linking of people for such a purpose, they are playing a constructive role. Large groups can also play a role in facilitating inter-group competitions, which will help the groups to make more of an effort to improve their Gothic reading and writing skills. If large groups realise their limitations and therefore decide to follow Operation X recommendations, they can make themselves exceptionally useful for the cause of Gothic as a living language; this would be a win-win situation for everybody.

Whether or not Operation X recommendations are followed or discarded by others, I follow the recommendations of our foundation, I believe in them and the people who work closely with me do as well. So our work continues regardless of what others do, I am simply willing to share our expertise based on what we have learned through trial and error over the years, and if others choose to follow in the same footsteps as us, we only commend them and we are, of course, willing to offer advice and support if asked. Sharing experience and knowledge can only be beneficial for Gothic as a living language, and that is why this article, which will hopefully reach kindred souls, exists at all!

6 comments

  1. In my Germanic philology studies we had a monographic course on Gothic in the Crimea . A group of Gothic speakers was discovered mid-19th C and some 100 odd words were transcribed, which we analysed.

    In my view, they were very close to modern German e.g. iel =heil. Getting to the core value was arduous as the transcriber’s input, albeit subconscious, was present but hard to edit out.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The spelling of the attested vocabulary of Gothic native to Crimea was probably influenced by the contemporary spellings of Dutch and German. For instance, the Crimean Gothic reghen (rain) looks like (16th-century) Dutch and schuuester looks like German.

      The man who wrote the Crimean Gothic vocabulary down was Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq (1522-1592), who was born in the Spanish West Flanders and he served the Austrian monarchy (Flanders speaks Dutch and Austria speaks German). So, knowing Busbecq’s background, we can contextualise the Dutch-German spelling of the Crimean Gothic material from the 16th century.

      It is fascinating that Busbecq’s Crimean Gothic material proves that East Germanic, the branch to which Gothic belongs, still survived for a time in Crimea, while East Germanic had apparently died out everywhere else. It is a story that is eerily similar to that of Wangerooge Frisian, which was the last living member of the Weser Frisian group.

      I have made an effort to revive Wangerooge Frisian in 2021, and in doing so, I have simultaneously made an effort to revive Weser Frisian; for by bringing back Wangerooge Frisian, one inevitably brings back Weser Frisian as well.

      What Is Wangerooge Frisian? Where Is It Spoken? Why Learn It?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks for background info about the transcriber, which I had forgotten about.
        I found Germanic philology was a fascinating area of study.
        All best wishes for every success with your Gothic revival project

        Liked by 2 people

        • You are most welcome. Germanic philology is a fascinating area of study indeed. Thank you for all your wishes. I will definitely not give up on Gothic; for the language is a part of me. I wish you a wonderful day!

          Liked by 2 people

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