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Some of the phonetic changes taking place in Indo-European languages are accounted for by

Grimms Law, a simplified version of which is provided in Figure 3.7. The figure shows the
correspondence between a Sanskrit sound and an English, Dutch, or other Germanic sound.
Sanskrit: p t k b d g bh dh gh
Germanic: f h p t k b d g
Figure 3.7. Grimms Law, or the First Consonant Shift
According to Grimm,
1. The voiceless stops became voiceless fricatives, It means p, t, k in Indo-European changed
to an f, , k in the Germanic languages.
2.

Examples of this shift are Latin ped, which corresponds to English foot; Latin tenuis, which parallels
thin; and Latin centum, which corresponds to hundred. Notice that [p, t, k] are voiceless stops and
they become voiceless fricatives, [f, , h]; the change is frication. This accounts for the first set of
three. The other sounds can be grouped similarly. The second set, [b, d, g], are voiced stops changing
into voiceless stops. Examples of this devoicing are Latin turba crowd corresponding to Old
English thorp town, Latin decem to English ten, and Latin ager to English acre. Some of these
correspondences are trickier to spot because other changes have occurred as well. For instance,
there is metathesis in the spelling of acre and deletion of the middle consonant in decem. What
happens to the [k] sound in decem? The third set of changes involves the aspirated voiced stops [bh,
dh, gh], fairly common in Sanskrit, evolving into voiced stops, i.e. losing aspiration. For example,
bhrata corresponds to brother, dhwer to door, and ghosti to guest. These can all be found by looking
up the etymology of the English word in the OED. In Latin and Greek, the aspirated stops from
Sanskrit are voiceless fricatives: ghosti is hostis guest and bhrater is frater. The exact
correspondences are: Sanskrit bh with Latin f and Greek ph; Sanskrit dh with Latin f and Greek th;
and Sanskrit gh with Latin h and Greek ch.
Aspirated voiced stops become regular voiced stops, voiced stops in turn become voiceless stops,
and voiceless stops become fricatives. This could be characterized as a push-chain or a drag-chain.
Sanskrit bh/dh/gh
Latin f/f/h > Germanic b/d/g
Greek ph/th/ch
A History of the 38 English Language Examples of this change taking place at the beginning of words
are provided in (1) (except for b > p which is hard to find word-initially). Sanskrit is the first form
given (except for kanab which is Old Persian), Latin the second, and English the third. It is important
to remember that the change takes place only once in a word: dhwer corresponds to door but the
latter does not change to toor:
(1) bhrater-frater-brother
dhwer-foris-door
ghordho-hortus-yard (< Old English geard)
pitr-pater-father
tu-tu-thou
krnga-cornu-horn
kanab-cannabis-hemp (< Old English henep)
danta-dentis-tooth
jna-gnoscere-know/ken
Thus, Grimms Law distinguishes Germanic languages from languages such as Latin and Greek and
modern Romance languages such as French and Spanish. The latter are closer to Latin, and keep
pre and padre, respectively, for father. The change probably took place a little over 2,000
years ago. Within Germanic, many changes have taken place that help differentiate languages such
as English, German, and Swedish.