|Gothic Nominal Declension: Variation in Proper Nouns|
Despite having an extensive system of noun declension, some Gothic nouns still fail to follow patterns of regularity. Among these is a long list of Gothic proper nouns: names of people, personal names, and names of places. Upon initial evaluation of these nouns, there appears to be very little if any order to their declension. However, when separating into the three categories mentioned above, some order seems to surface from the chaos. There is limited attention given to this topic in the literature, but those who have addressed it seem to agree to some extent that there just may be, if not actual regularity among the data, at least some explanation for the irregularities.
1. Overview of Literature
Although a great deal of scholarly interest has been devoted to the study of Greek and Latin loan words in Gothic and other Germanic languages, detailed analyses of proper names in particular -- place, tribe, or personal names -- are truly scarce. In many survey articles, short passages, often only a few sentences, mention that the declension of foreign names in Gothic is problematic; beyond that, only a few authors present paradigms or attempt to unravel the seeming mysteries of proper-name declination. The mid-19th century seems to have been most fruitful in this regard: many scholarly articles, among them Treitz, Ebel, and Delbrück, present detailed explanations at least of loan words (such as apaustaulus, aggilus, etc.), with occasional mention of proper names where the citations seem appropriate. Gaebeler's article, written in 1921, is much more helpful, and an entire section of this 118-page analysis is devoted to a discussion of foreign name declension; we shall examine his findings in greater detail below. Modern grammars do not seem inclined to deal with the subject at any great depth; Braune/Ebbinghaus does include a brief mention of some of the clearer declined forms, although problematic issues are generally avoided, and he reaches the conclusion that "feste Regeln über ihre Flexion im Gotischen lassen sich zur Zeit nicht geben" (85). Rosemarie Lühr's article provides an impressive overview of foreign words in Gothic; in combination with the work of Gaebeler, thus, a fair analysis of the situation can be made. Unfortunately, most of Gaebeler's and Lühr's presentation focuses on paradigmatic examples, and they posit very little in the way of explanation for the apparent inconsistencies in the cited Gothic forms. A modern approach to this problematical issue, one that attempts to discuss both historical development and foreign influence rather than treating the language as a static whole, has yet to be made. Hopefully the work of Hassell/Houseman will shed some light on this issue; their findings, although not yet firmly established, could also be drawn into our discussion.
Some of the declension tendencies we will be looking at include:
2. Place Names
Both Lühr and Gaebeler make an important distinction, seemingly ignored by other authors, between two main types of foreign place names in Gothic: the names of countries, cities or regions which were part of the Roman Empire or Asia, with whom the Goths even before Wulfila would have had some measure of contact, and, by contrast, those place names which were not known to the Goths, mostly more obscure places in Greece and the colonies, which first came into Gothic with Wulfila's translation. The first group, to which pre-Wulfilan Gothic speakers had already become accustomed -- they are obviously attested only in the singular -- inflect in a mix between feminine o-stems (like giba) and feminine i-stems (like ansts), that is: the nominative and accusative forms show o-stem endings, while the genitive takes an i-stem ending, the dative being identical in both o- and i-stems.
The rather unusual choice of -áis for the genitive of this inflection is explained in different ways: Lühr claims that the -s, a productive genitive marker, was merely added to the dative form of -ái, while Gaebeler takes a more diachronic view, positing that these forms began as pure o-stems on the model of giba, but under influence of the Völkernamen (see below), which showed a mix of i-stem endings, the genitive (which he cites as consistently the first case to show paradigmatic change), took on the i-stem ending as well, -os becoming -áis while all other cases remained the same. He also makes the dubious claim that this inflection became productive in Gothic, with "new" foreign words showing these case markings as well; this productivity, however, is somewhat disproven by the low frequency of these forms in Wulfila's translation, as well as by the high numbers of the second paradigm.
The second group of place names, those foreign regions which were new to the Goths at the time of Wulfila's translation, show a much heavier influence from Greek; in fact, Lühr claims that they merely take the Greek endings. For the most part, however, this second group of place names falls into the following paradigm, certainly modeled on the Greek but consistent within Wulfila's Gothic usage:
Although Bethania for the most part fits this paradigm, it does show some unusual markings, for which Gaebeler claims to have an explanaion. Gaebeler concludes that for the case of Bethania, Wulfila did not just adapt the Greek endings to Gothic morphology, but took over the Greek inflection entirely; he insists, however, that Wulfila was not slavishly copying his original, but that these forms seemed logical to him: "aus dem Sprachgefühl des Übersetzers sind sie abzuleiten." (71)
Somewhat surprisingly, Gaebeler designates these two groups with different names: the first group, cities known to the Goths, he calls "Lehnwörter," since assumedly they had become common parlance in Gothic before the time of Wulfila; the second group, however, he does not consider to be loan words, but merely "Fremdwörter." He does note, however, that the process of assimilating loan words is just that -- a process -- and that Wulfila was in many ways continuing the loan-word assimilation with his translation, making these new places into Gothic words that would be generally accepted.
A third type of place name was uninflected in the original language, but Wulfila occasionally tries to inflect these in his translation. Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem fit into this category; mostly they show no endings in the nominative, dative, or accusative, except for the sporadic o-stem markings, while the genitive usually does inflect, either with an -s or an -os:
Generally, Wulfila does seem to have looked to the Greek inflectional systems to guide his translation; some authors have claimed that he followed the Greek paradigms as often as possible, but the evidence does not support this. Wulfila often breaks with the original inflection: a prime example is when he uses the names of tribes instead of place names, for example saying, in Mrk 7:31, "at marein Galeilaie," the sea of the Galileens, rather than making a genitive of the place name Galeilaia.
The names of groups of people seem to be the most regular of our three categories. They appear to follow one of two possibilities:
I. Like Akaius, they may simply decline as masculine i-stems, according to Gaebeler's claim (though the limited distribution of this place within the corpus makes it hard to validate this claim; we only have genetive plural forms appearing, which are indistinguishable from other declensions).
II. A "Mischform" is the more common alternative here. In this form Völkernamen decline exactly like u-stems (cf. Hassall/Houseman loan endings) in the singular. In the plural, however, the endings are a mix of i- and u-stems (N,G = i-stems; A,D =u-stems).
Personal names in Gothic exhibit the following tendencies:
5. Potential for further research
The limited amount of research done on the topic perhaps warrants further investigation and search for a single cohesive theory on the declension of proper names in the Gothic language. The little progress we have made/seen here indicates that some regularity, though obscure, does indeed exist. Suggestions for further research would certainly have to include a part of the data that we have left unmentioned: the declension of Old Testament names found in the Nehemiah fragment which, according to Robinson, exhibits yet more variation.
Written and © Nancy Thuleen and Mike Lind in 1997 for German 755 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
If needed, cite using something like the following:
Lind, Mike and Nancy Thuleen. "Gothic Nominal Declension: Variation in Proper Nouns." Website Article. 18 December 1997. <http://www.nthuleen.com/papers/755gothpaper.html>.