Old Frankish  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Old Frankish was the language of the Franks and it is classified as a West Germanic language. Once it was spoken in areas covering modern Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and adjacent parts of France and Germany.

The Franks are descended from Germanic tribes from the Nordic countries that settled parts of the Netherlands and western Germany during the early Iron Age. From the 4th century they are attested as moving from the Roman Empire into what is now the southern Netherlands and northern Belgium. In the 5th and 6th century they expanded their realm and dominated Roman Gaul completely as well as client states such as Bavaria and Thuringia.

Old Frankish has introduced the modern French word for the nation, France (Francia), to mean "land of the Franks". By the year 800 Frankish had evolved into Old Low Franconian (including Old Dutch) in the area that was originally held by Franks of the 4th century (e.g.Flanders), while in Picardy and Île-de-France it was replaced by Old French as the dominating language.

Old Frankish has also left many etymons in the Walloon language, even more than in French, and not always the same ones.

The language of the Franks managed to survive as Old Low Franconian in the north but it was superseded by French in the south. It had some impact on Old French. Old Frankish is almost entirely reconstructed from loanwords in Old French, and from Old Dutch, but in 1996 an intriguing find was made of what appears to be a Frankish inscription.

The sword sheath of Bergakker

It is known from Roman sources that the Franks settled the region between the main rivers in the Netherlands known as the Betuwe. After many attempts to drive them off, the Roman general (later emperor) Julian the Apostate granted them this territory together with the Scheldt valley (Toxandria) in 358. However, there are preciously few remains to attest to their presence in the Betuwe. In 1996 a leather sword sheath was found near the town of Bergakker, near Tiel, with a runic inscription. Such writing was known from the Frisian neighbors but it was not known that the Franks had used it as well. The find sparked a lot of discussion and some of the runes are hard to read. However, there is consensus that the find dates from the period 425-450 and that the inscription is most likely Frankish.

Bernard Mees interprets the runes as haþuþȳwas ann kusjam logūns, meaning "Haþuþȳw's. I(he?) bestow(s) a brand (sword) upon (to) the chosen." The author also argues that the words show characteristics that correspond to the ones claimed for the later Old Low Franconian or its western branch Old Dutch. If this interpretation holds, this inscription could be viewed as the oldest phrase in (Old) Dutch.

One characteristic is the fact that the first and last word end in s rather than a voiced z. This could indicate that final obstruent devoicing — today a shared characteristic of High German, Low German and Dutch alike — happened already in this early period. In Old Saxon it also occurred, but a number of centuries later.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Old Frankish" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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