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The Real Gothic Alphabet

The Goths were one of the most important "barbarian" tribes responsible for the downfall of the Roman Empire and the politics of early Medieval Europe. By the 4th century CE, the Goths were becoming Christianized. At this time, the Goths wrote their language using their version of the Futhark alphabet, but it was deemed to be a pagan invention. Except for a few Norse inscriptions in runes, records of Gothic are older than those for any other Germanic language.

The Gothic alphabet was used in all manuscripts written in Gothic and found in Europe. It is traditionally believed that the Gothic alphabet's 27 letters, consisting of 25 modified Greek symbols and 2 runes, were invented by bishop Wulfila, also known as Ulfilas (311-383), a Greek missionary responsible for the conversion of the Goths to Christianity. His invention of the Gothic alphabet took the Greek alphabet, added letters from Latin and Futhark alphabets, and created a new alphabet to write the Gothic language. This meant that, for the first time in the Germanic world, writing could be used for the dissemination of ideas. The alphabet was used until the 6th century, and was only written in the Gothic language. The Ostrogoths of ancient Germany and Italy and the Visigoths of Eastern Europe and Spain spoke Gothic.

Gothic Alphabet

The Origin and Structure of the Gothic Alphabet

The Goths spoke a Germanic language, unique not only in that it is the earliest documented Germanic language, but also in that it is the only language in a completely separate branch of the Germanic family unrelated to any other surviving Germanic languages.

Gothic Alphabet Details

The letter names are recorded in a 9th century manuscript of Alcuin (Codex Vindobonensis 795). Most of them seem to be Gothic forms of names also appearing in the rune poems. The names are given in the reconstructed form of the Gothic words, followed by the spelling of their actual attestation.

Note that there are two letters that don't stand for any sounds. This is because they were originally adopted from Greek only for their numeric value. Later, these letters came to represent sounds like the th in thin and a breathy wh respectively. While most of the letters are taken from the Greek alphabet directly, a few are innovated to accurately express Gothic phonology. Regarding the letters' numeric values, most correspond to that of the Greek numerals. The Classical Greek alphabet doubled as a number system, and each letter had a number associated with it. The Gothic alphabet continued this tradition, and so in the case of Gothic, the first row of letters have numeric values of 1 to 9, the second row from 10 to 90, and the third row from 100 to 900.

In most of Europe, the Gothic alphabet and language slowly faded into obscurity by the 9th century CE. The Gothic language survived in the Crimea but it too became extinct around the 17th century CE.

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