A principal branch of the Indo-European family of languages. They are grouped together because of strong similarities in phonology, grammar, and vocabulary, and all are thought to have derived from one ancient language, Proto-Germanic.
It is divided into three branches. The extinct East Germanic languages were spoken in the region centered on what is now Poland. The branch includes Gothic and the languages of the Vandals, Burgundians, and a few other tribes.
The North Germanic, or Scandinavian, languages extended as far west as Greenland and as far east as Russia during the Viking expansion of the early Middle Ages. The establishment of the Christian church in the region in the 11th and 12th centuries brought the introduction of the Roman alphabet to replace the old runic alphabet. The branch includes Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, Old Norse, and Faroese.
The West Germanic languages developed around the North Sea and in overseas areas colonized by inhabitants of the area. The branch includes Afrikaans, English, Netherlandic, German, Yiddish, and Frisian.