Skip to Content

What language is closest to Germanic?

Determining which language is closest to Germanic can be a complex question with many factors to consider. However, by examining key elements like grammar, vocabulary, sound changes and language family trees, linguists have identified several candidates for the language most similar to Germanic.

How Closeness Between Languages Is Measured

Linguists use several criteria to determine how closely related two languages are:

  • Shared vocabulary and cognates – Words that have a common origin
  • Similar grammar structures and syntax
  • Common phonological or sound changes
  • Mutual intelligibility – How easily speakers can understand each other
  • Language family trees – How recently two languages diverged from a common ancestor

No single factor definitively determines how close two languages are. But by analyzing the evolution and relationships between languages, linguists can quantify degrees of relatedness.

The Germanic Language Family

Germanic is a branch of the Indo-European language family. Some key features of Germanic languages include:

  • Grammatical gender and extensive case systems
  • Verbs come at the second position in main clauses
  • Compound words are frequently formed
  • The sound changes known as Grimm’s Law and Verner’s Law

The Germanic family consists of three main branches:

  • West Germanic – English, German, Dutch, Yiddish, Luxembourgish
  • North Germanic – Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese
  • East Germanic – Gothic (extinct), Vandalic (extinct), Burgundian (extinct)

Candidates for Closest Language to Germanic

Based on linguistic research, these languages have been identified as contenders for the closest relatives to Germanic:


Frisian is a West Germanic language spoken by about 500,000 people mainly in the Netherlands. Key facts about Frisian:

  • Closest living language to English
  • Speakers can generally understand German and Dutch
  • Grammar and vocabulary are similar to Old English
  • Frisian underwent different phonological changes from other West Germanic languages

Overall, Frisian exhibits the closest lexical and grammatical similarity to English and modern Germanic languages.


Dutch is a West Germanic language spoken by about 24 million people, mainly in the Netherlands and Belgium. Notable facts:

  • Dutch grammar and syntax are very close to German
  • Dutch speakers can understand German better than any other language
  • Dutch underwent similar phonological changes to German (High German consonant shift)
  • Dutch vocabulary and morphology have diverged more from German than Frisian

The close ties between Dutch and German vocabulary, sounds and grammar make it one of the closest living relatives to German.


Luxembourgish is a West Germanic language spoken by about 500,000 people in Luxembourg. Interesting points about Luxembourgish:

  • Derived from the Moselle Franconian dialect of Old High German
  • Similar to a dialect of German, but became standardized as a distinct language
  • Most speakers also know German and French
  • Mutual intelligibility with German is very high

The origins of Luxembourgish make it very closely related to German, essentially a Germanic dialect that developed independently.


Yiddish is a High German-derived language historically spoken by Ashkenazi Jews. Facts about Yiddish:

  • Originated around 950-1250 AD from Middle High German
  • Incorporated vocabulary and components from Hebrew and Slavic languages
  • Uses the Hebrew alphabet instead of the Latin alphabet
  • Still mutually intelligible with some German dialects

Despite absorbing components of other languages, Yiddish retains a close affinity with German due to its Middle High German roots.


Scots is a West Germanic language descended from Old English spoken in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Noteworthy details:

  • Diverged from Modern English around 1400-1700 AD
  • Preserves many features of Old and Middle English
  • Distinct Scots grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary
  • English speakers can still largely understand Scots

As a sister language to English within the Germanic family, Scots represents one of the closest living languages to preserve Germanic features.

Comparing the Candidates

To evaluate how closely related these languages are to Germanic, it is helpful to compare them across the linguistic criteria:

Language Shared Vocabulary Grammar Similarity Sound Changes Mutual Intelligibility Language Family Ties
Frisian High High Moderate Moderate Very Close
Dutch High High High High Very Close
Luxembourgish High High High Very High Very Close
Yiddish Moderate Moderate Moderate Low-Moderate Close
Scots Moderate Moderate Moderate Moderate Very Close

This comparison shows that overall, Frisian and Dutch exhibit the closest lexical, grammatical and phonological similarities to Germanic languages. Luxembourgish is also very closely related due to its near mutual intelligibility with German. While Yiddish and Scots share significant vocabulary and features with Germanic, they have diverged more over time.


Determining the language most similar to Germanic requires looking at multiple factors of language relationship. Overall, the evidence points to Frisian and Dutch as the closest living languages to Germanic in terms of shared vocabulary, grammar, sounds and language family ties. Luxembourgish and Yiddish also show very close affinity with Germanic, but have lower mutual intelligibility. Scots retains some old Germanic features, but has diverged more over centuries of independent development from English. While many languages hold ties to Germanic, Frisian and Dutch represent the closest living relatives based on linguistic research.