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Gothic Nominal Declension: Variation in Proper Nouns

0. Introduction

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:

  • foreign words which entered Gothic at different times
  • Christian words from the major Biblical stories known before Wulfila's use of them
    • these pre-Wulfilan forms often show a final vowel preserved from the original language, and Latin/Greek inflectional endings which are "eingepaßt" (Lühr140) into the Gothic paradigms, often with somewhat chaotic results

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.

      Feminine i-stem          Feminine o-stems          "Achaia" Ortsname     
N        ansts        giba        -a   
A        anst        giba        -a   
G        anstáis        gibos        -áis   
D        anstái        gibái        -ái   

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:

 "Iudaia" Ortsname

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:

 "Iaírusalem" Ortsname
      -a / -
      -os / -s
      -ái / -

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.

3. Völkernamen

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).

4. Personennamen

Personal names in Gothic exhibit the following tendencies:
• when uninflectable in the original language, Wulfila felt he had to inflect them in Gothic (most of the time): Lühr claims that undeclinable forms went against Wulfila's "Sprachgefühl" (149), Gaebeler also mentions the "Abneigung gegen unflektierte Formen" (67)

 • these uninflected forms are generally those ending in a consonant other than -n

 • they become Gothic masc. a-stems

 • or they take a strange mix of no particular type (Gaebeler sets out several, 61)

 • Greek -[omicron][varsigma] stems consistently become Gothic u-stems (sunus)

 • Greek -[iota][varsigma] stems either take a mix between Greek inflection, masc. a stems, and u-stems, e.g. Iohannes and Iskariotes:

 Mischform Personenname (Greek -[iota][varsigma])
      -e / -a

 • Greek -[alpha][varsigma] stems become Gothic n-stems, but sporadically retain the nominative -s, e.g. Satana(s) - 5 times with -a, twice with -as, Zakaria(s) - vocative occurs with just -a:

 Personenname n-stems
      -a / -as

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.


 1."Achaia" Ortsname

  Akaija (Achaia)
2 Cor 1:1 - mith allaim thaim weiham thaim wisandam in allai Akaïjai
2 Cor 9:2 - unte Akaja gamanwida ist fram fairnin jera
      (Manuscript B has "Axaïa" here)

 2."Iudaia" Ortsname

  Galeilaia (Galilee)
Mat 27:55 - thozei lastidedun afar Iesua fram Galeilaia
Jhn 7:1 - hwarboda Iesus ... in Galeilaia
Luk 8:26 - thatei ist withrawairth Galeilaia
Mrk 3:7 - jah filu manageins us Galeilaia lastidedun
Skr 8:26 - ibai jah thus us Galeilaia is?
Luk 2:39 - gawandidedun sik in Galeilaian
Mrk 1:39 - in swnagogim ize and alla Galeilaian
Luk 1:26 - was aggilus Gabriel fram guda in baurg Galeilaias sei haitada Nazaraith
Mrk 1:9 - qam Iesus fram Nazaraith Galeilaias
  Bethania (Bethany)
Jhn 11:18 - wasuh than Bethania nehwa Iairuaulwmiam
Mrk 11:11 - usiddja in Bethanian mith thaim twalibim
Jhn 11:11 - wasuh than sums siuks, Lazarus af Bethanias
Mrk 8:22 - jah qemun in Bethaniin
Jhn 12:1 - ... in Bethanijin
Mrk 11:12 - usstandandam im us Bethaniin
Luk 19:29 - bithe nehwa was Bethsfagein jah Bethanijin

 3. "Iaírusalem" Ortsname
      -a / -
      -os / -s
      -ái / -

  Iairusalem (Jerusalem)
Jhn 12:12 - qimith Iesus in Iairausaulwmai
Luk 2:22 - brahtedun ina in Iairusalem
Luk 6:17 - af allamma Iudaias jah Iairusalem
Neh 7:2 - jah Ananeiin fauramathlja baurgs Iairusalems
Luk 2:42 - usgaggandam than im in Iairusaulwma bi biuhtja dulthais

 1. Masculine i-stem Völkername
      gards / gardeis
      gard / gardins
      gardis / garde
      garda / gardim

1 Cor 16:15 - thatei sind anastodeins Akaïje
2 Cor 11:10 - in landa Akaje

 2. Mischform Völkername i/u stems
      -us / -eis
      -u / -uns
      -áus / -e
      -áu / -um

  Fareisaieis (Pharisee)
Luk 7:36 - bath than ina sums Fareisaie ... in gard this Fareisaiaus
Luk 7:37 - in razna this Fareisaiaus
Mat 5:20 - thize bokarje jah Fareisaie
Luk 6:2 - ith sumai Fareisaie qethun di um
Mrk 12:13 - insandidedun du imma sumai thize Fareisaie
Jhn 7:48 - ainshun thize reike ... aiththau Fareisaie
Skr 8:18 - ni ainshun reike aiththau Fareisaie
Skr 8: 22 - ni ainshun reike jah Fareisaiei
Luk 5:33 - siponjos Iohannes fastand ... samaleiko jah Fareisaiei
Mat 9:11 - jah gaumjandans Fareisaieis qethun
Jhn 8:13 - qethun du imma thai Fareisaieis
Luk 5:21 - dugunnun thagkjan thai bokarjos jah Fareisaieis
Jhn 7:45 - du thaim auhumistam gudjam jah Fareisaium
Luk 17:20 - fraihans than fram Fareisaium
Php 3:5 - bi witoda Fareisaius
Luk 7:39 - gasaihwands than sa Fareisaius
Skr 8:23 - sa raihtis Fareisaius was
  Galeilaius (Galilee-person)
Mat 26:69 - thu wast mith Iesua thamma Galeilaiau
Jhn 6:1 - galaith Iesus ufar marein tho Galeilaie jah Tibairiade
Mrk 7:31 - qam at marein Galeilaie
Mrk 14:70 - Galeilaius is ("you are a Galatian")
Mat 26:71 - jah sa was mith Iesua thamma Nazoraiau
Jhn 18:5 - hwana sokeith?...Iesu, thana Nazoraiu
Mrk 16:6 - Iesu sokeith Nazoraiu thana ushramidan
Luk 18:37 - thatei Iesus Nazoraius thairhgaggith
Mrk 10:47 - thatei Iesus sa Nazoraius ist
Mrk 14:67 - jah thu mith Iesua thamma Nazoreinau wast
Mrk 1:24 - fralet, hwa uns jah thus, Iesu Nazorenai, qamt fraqistjan uns?
Luk 4:34 - let! hwa uns jah thus, Iesu Nazorenu? qamt fraqistjan unsis?

 1. Masculine a-stem Personenname
      dags / dagos
      dag / dagans
      dagis / dage
      daga / dagam
 2. Masculine u-stem Personenname
      sunus / sunjus
      sunu / sununs
      sunáus / suniwe
      sunáu / sunum
 3. Mischform Personenname (Greek -[omicron][varsigma])
      -e / -a
 4. Masculine n-stem Personenname
      -a / -as

  Esaeias (Isaiah)
Jhn 12:39 - qath Esaeias
Rom 15:12 - jah aftra Esaeias qithith
Jhn 12:38 - thata waurd Esaeiins praufetaus usfullnodedi
Luk 3:4 - in bokom waurde Esaeiins praufetaus
Mat 8:17 - thata gamelido thairh Esaïan praufetu
1 Cor 14:21 - "Esaias" is written as a "Randglosse"
Mrk 7:6 - qath du im thatei waila praufetida Esaïas bi izwis thans liutans
Rom 9:27 - ith Esaïas hropeith bi Israel
Mrk 1:2 - swe gamelith ist in Esaiin praufetau
Luk 4:17 - bokos Eisaeiins praufetus
Luk 1:13 - ni ogs thus, Zakaria
Luk 1:59 - jah haihaitun ina afar namin attins is Zakarian
Luk 1:5 - was gudja namin Zakarias
Luk 1:12 - ja gadrobnoda Zakarias gasaihwands
Luk 1:18 - jah qath Zakarias
Luk 1:67 - jah Zakarias ... gafullnoda
Luk 1:21 - jah was managei beidandans Zakariins
Luk 1:40 - jah galaith in gard Zakariins
  Helias (Savior, Heiland, also Elijah)
Luk 9:19 - (they call you) Heleian
Luk 9:54 - swe jah Heleias gatawida
Luk 4:25 - in dagam Heleiins
Mat 27:47 - qethun thatei Helian wopeith sa
Mrk 8:28 - (they call you) Helian
Mat 11:14 - sa ist Helias
Luk 4:26 - insandiths was Helias
Mrk 9:13 - ju Helias qam
Luk 9:33 - heithros thrins, aina thus jah aina Mose jah aina Helijin
Mrk 9:5 - hlijans thrins, thus ainana jah Mose ainana jah ainana Helijin
  Satanas (Satan)
Jhn 13:27 - than galaith in jainana Satana
1Th 2:18 - jah analatida uns Satana
2 Cor 11:14 - unte silba Satana gagaleikoth sik
Mrk 8:33 - gagg hindar mik, Satana
Luk 10:18 - <ik> gasahw Satanan
Mrk 3:23 - hwaiwa mag SatanasSatnanan uswairpan?
Mrk 4:14 - qimith Satanas jah usnimith
Mrk 1:13 - jah was ... fraisans fram Satanin
2 Cor 2:11 - ei ni gaaiginondau fram Satanin
2 Cor 12:7 - aggilus Satanins

Selected Bibliography:

Braune, Wilhelm, and Ernst Ebbinghaus. 1981. Gotische Grammatik. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
Ebel, H. 1855. "Bemerkungen zur gothischen Deklination." Kuhns Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachwissenschaft 4: 138-160.
Delbrück, Berthold. 1870. "Die Deklination der Substantiva im Germanischen insonderheit im Gotischen." Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 2:381-407.
Gaebeler, Kurt. 1911. "Die griechischen Bestandteile der gotischen Bibel." Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 43:1-118.
Lehmann, Winfred P. 1986. A Gothic Etymological Dictionary. Leiden: E.J. Brill.
Lühr, Rosemarie. 19??. "Zur Deklination grieh. und lat. Wörter in Wulfilas got. Bibelübersetzung." (We are missing some of the bibliographical information here!)
Streitberg, Wilhelm, ed. 1919. Die Gotische Bibel. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.
Tollenaere, Felicien de, and Randall L. Jones. 1976. Word-Indices and Word-Lists to the Gothic Bible and Minor Fragments. Leiden: Brill.
Treitz, Wilhelm. 1867. "Über die Deklination der starken Substantiva im Gotischen." Kuhns Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachwissenschaft 16: 344-356.

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>.