Talk:Germanic Peoples
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Talk:Germanic Peoples

Ethnic groups?

In the intro paragraph the first sentence states: "The historical Germanic peoples are a category of Northern European ethnic groups...", I don't think historians view the Germanic peoples in terms of ethnicity, but rather tribes. Perhaps, the sentence should read: "The historical Germanic peoples are a category of ancient Northern European tribes..." --E-960 (talk) 16:49, 15 April 2021 (UTC)

I'm fine with "tribes", but capitalized "Northern Europe" did not exist in antiquity, so I suggest "northern Europe" and remove the link to Northern Europe. The link makes it look more thingish than it actually is. -Austronesier (talk) 16:55, 15 April 2021 (UTC)
Agreed. --E-960 (talk) 11:51, 17 April 2021 (UTC)
I have no personal issue, but I know in the past some editors have expressed concerns about the term tribes.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 16:02, 17 April 2021 (UTC)
Tribal societies, than? --E-960 (talk) 12:16, 19 April 2021 (UTC)
"Tribes" comes with a bunch of problems: Namely, the ancient Germanic peoples were organized in groups that need not necessarily fall within the parameters of "tribes". The term has broadly fallen out of favor in anthropology since the 1970s. See Tribe#Controversy_and_usage_depreciation. :bloodofox: (talk) 22:49, 29 May 2021 (UTC)

Arminius vs. Hermann

Those pesky Germans are always getting things wrong aren't they? Here they insist on using a German name for one of their historical figures instead of a Roman one. Next thing you know they'll want us to say Beijing instead of Peking.

OK, let's concede that nobody knows what Arminius's birth name was. Nevertheless, I think it is incorrect to say that Germans "wrongly modernize" the name as Hermann. Even if the 16th-19th century innovation may have been ill founded etymologically, a nation has a right to name its own heroes. I suggest "interpreted as reflecting the name Hermann by Martin Luther" from the Arminius article. Dynasteria (talk) 21:55, 29 May 2021 (UTC)

This is the caption to the Hermannsdenkmal which, to me, seems out of place:
An event of the Young German Order at the "Hermannsdenkmal" monument to Arminius, in 1925. At the time, Germans learned to see Arminius (often wrongly modernized into "Hermann") as a "German".
It needs either more discussion or less. If more discussion, it should take place in the body of the article. Was Arminius not a German? Did Germans really "learn" about Arminius in 1925? If so, then why did they put up a memorial before that? Why is the word "German" put in quotation marks? Additionally, the assertions are made without attribution or citation. It seems a bit condescending and needs improving. Dynasteria (talk) 08:43, 31 May 2021 (UTC)
Made a change.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 09:07, 31 May 2021 (UTC)

Germanic peoples revisited

Can someone explain this from the lead paragraph?

The terms Germanic peoples and Germani are used to avoid confusion with the inhabitants of present-day Germany, including the modern German people and language.[note 3]

Note 3 doesn't explain anything to me. I wonder how modern German exists if it has nothing to do with historical German. Perhaps the word "Historically," could begin the sentence. But you'd have to point out that there is an inherent confusion of terms because the Germans call themselves and their country "die Deutschen/Deutschland", etc. All a bit much for an introductory paragraph. It could say, "For the purposes of this article ..." or "In academic writing ..." Dynasteria (talk) 22:21, 29 May 2021 (UTC)

In modern English, the term Germanic is used over German in this context, as German refers to inhabitants of modern day Germany. Of course, modern day German is a Germanic language but so are English, Swedish, Yiddish, etc. It's a quirk of modern English that easily leads to a lot of confusion. :bloodofox: (talk) 22:53, 29 May 2021 (UTC)
I've tweaked the sentence to make it more clear: "The terms Germanic peoples and Germani do not refer to the modern German people and language." --Andrew Lancaster (talk) 07:20, 30 May 2021 (UTC)
Maybe it could help if we add in note 3 that until the 20th century (or until now--remember that IP? *sigh*), the Germani were often called "ancient Germans" or even simply "Germans" (if not "Teutons") in scholarly and general usage. In the current version of the note, this obsolete and potentially confusing usage is only attributed to Todd, which gives a skewed perspective of historical English terminology. It's also odd to see that we mention that German and French have distinct terms for Germanen/Germains and Deutsche/Allemands as if this were something special. Virtually all languages on this planet do so, only English is (or used to be) semantically defective here. -Austronesier (talk) 11:45, 30 May 2021 (UTC)
I agree with the style of thinking. Concerning the confusion as it manifests here, you only need to look at the recent article history of Germans. I am however a bit concerned that we (including me, for sure) often end writing complex digressions which are essentially answers to every possible argument we expect. It is not exactly perfect to have such long footnotes in a lead, but they are there because of problems in the past. In turn this has led to people complaining that the lead now looks too scholarly etc. I also think we need to start to trim those a bit, and just handle those arguments when they come in the future? (At some point we have to hope we've stopped the problems of 2019, with constant additions of Luxemburgers, Afrikaaners and so on?) For my part I am therefore open to proposals but I'd be looking at them with that concern in mind. --Andrew Lancaster (talk) 12:48, 30 May 2021 (UTC)

Article POV

The first sentence of the Celts article strikes a radically different tone from the entire thrust of this article, which has been described above as deconstructing the concept of Germanic peoples:

The Celts are a collection of Indo-European peoples in parts of Europe and Anatolia identified by their use of the Celtic languages and other cultural similarities.

I strongly suggest a concerted effort be made to go through the article here and construct a genuine article out of what to me is blatantly slanted POV. The article works strenuously to tell the reader what the Germanic peoples were and are not, rather than what they were and are. The purpose of an encyclopedia is to make positive statements of fact. If anyone really has no idea what I'm talking about, I'll go through and find examples. As it is, the task of straightening out this article seems dauntingly laborious.

I would have suggested a section here on Germanic mythology but following that link I find a truly bizarre opening sentence:

Germanic mythology consists of the body of myths native to the Germanic peoples, they were Slavic, Latin, Greek and some Celtic-speaking communities in pre-Christian Northern Europe[1]--also known as Teutonic peoples.

Huh? No, sorry, Slavs, Latins, Greeks, and Celts were not Germans. But it sure does help to deconstruct an entire ethnicity if you can say they were just about anybody and everybody in the neighborhood. We don't, for example, say that the Iberian people were Moroccan and Basque despite their proximity. Dynasteria (talk) 21:35, 31 May 2021 (UTC)

The recent changes to the lead of Germanic mythology are really weird. But that's not "deconstruction", but rather betrays a CIR-problem of the novice editor who made the changes, and is totally unrelated to POV-issue of this article.
I think the main problem here is that "Definitions of Germanic peoples" is overly lengthy, and "Later debates" appears before the presentation of core facts (Classical subdivisions, History). The scope of Germani and thus what has to included in Germanic studies is matter of some debate, but nevertheless, Germanic peoples continue to be a coherent topic of modern scholarship, so the emphasis on the controversy at the very start is not ideal. It's like having "side effects" before "how to use" in leaflets of medical products. -Austronesier (talk) 07:35, 1 June 2021 (UTC)
OTOH, you could say that it is normal to have discussion about the latest terminology and basic definitions first, before discussions which use those definitions. Not only is that what we normally do, but with this topic there clearly is a tendency for visiting readers and editors to be arriving with older/unclear definitions already in mind. The most obvious one, just to put it out there, is the pressure to go back to define Germanic peoples on a linguistic basis, as part of the old model of ethnicities being in language trees. How do you avoid sliding back into that? Notes on other things:
  • Concerning things like mythology, see my remarks in another section about languages. I honestly think this article will be much easier to reassess and restructure when we remove the main discussion about any bigger separable topics to other specialized articles. Of course they should be mentioned here somehow.
  • Normally definitions need to explain what things are "not"?
  • One problem we keep having on this talk page is that people make vague remarks about POV but don't give examples. I fear that many of them would completely disagree with each other about which things are supposedly biased. (Probably most are actually just thinking Germanic peoples should be defined in linguistic terms. Some others find it frustrating that the article keeps saying they are NOT, when this should be obvious.) In other words, my best guess is that this is a case of everyone disliking a compromise. Such problems are common and normally resolvable but we are not discussing them very clearly.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 09:40, 1 June 2021 (UTC)
Concerning the Celts article I can see the attractions, but I also feel there are problems. The opening line quoted above defines them as "Indo European peoples". If you click on the link you get an article about Indo European languages. In the period of history under discussion, was there really any people or nation know as an Indo European people or nation? In other words, the implication of the sentence is that people's ethnicity can be identified by language family. Defining ethnicity by language, or even by mutually intelligible languages, is of course common and practical, and was also done by classical authors. But defining people by language families that only modern scholars can see the connections between is quite different.
In practice this probably does not cause much of a problem in the Celtic case. For example if you tweaked the sentence to say they were speakers of Celtic languages (which Romans treated as something still identifiable) and this is within the Indo-European family, then my technical concern would be resolved.
In the case of Germanic it is not quite so simple. The term does not seem to come from something people recognized themselves, but from geopolitical rhetoric, starting with Caesar. In this article we have to be able to deal in distinct ways with the original Germani originally on both sides of the Rhine whose linguistic category is unknown, the Germani from what is now Germany, who seem to have been Germanic speakers, and the Goths and other Ukrainian peoples who classical writers never ever called Germanic, and some modern authors also do not call Germanic.
The Celts article structure is a bit like our Suebi article, which covers the least controversial "core" part of the Germanic peoples concept, both in terms of being Germanic speaking, and known to both modern and ancient writers as Germanic. Potentially we could link better to that article? It could also do with some work.
I also think we should avoid, for example, just adding a note at the end of the article to say, in effect, "by the way, many scholars in this field would actually disagree with everything above".
I have not checked it much, but has the Celtic article not had much trouble with people wanting to make it about modern groups? That has been a big issue here.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 10:04, 1 June 2021 (UTC)
It seems to me the article kind of has to acknowledge somewhere that six modern nations in Europe speak a Germanic language and historically are descended from Germanic peoples. Perhaps it's unfortunate that there is a country named Germany (in English) and of course there is no country named "Celtia". As far as determining POV, one place to start would be by recognizing that relying on Greco-Roman definitions and observation is a little like asking the 16th century Spanish to write the history of the Aztecs: there may actually be a grain of truth among all the misinformation, but it's hard to tell which is which. Contemporary accounts are almost all we have but we also have archeological, anthropological, and genetic evidence, plus linguistic reconstructions. It would be important to clarify that the big divide among northern Europeans historically is among the Celts, the Slavs, and the Germans. The time and place of origin for these three are lost in prehistory, but they could still be pinned down a bit. Another form of POV is stating that so-and-so never used the term "Germanic" or that the people themselves never had a universal term for themselves. The Italians probably militate against the idea of calling themselves "just like the Spanish". Dynasteria (talk) 13:06, 1 June 2021 (UTC)
No, that's not a POV. It is really what expert sources say. The concept of Germanic peoples is different from some other classical groups in that respect. The evidence actually suggests that the term had an artificial origin lumping together peoples who probably originally had nothing to do with each other.
I have a different type of concern about your opening lines. I strongly oppose the idea of describing the Germanic peoples as the ancestors of any 6 specific modern European nations, and I don't see what problem this would solve. From past discussions and research, that can't be coming from good scholarly sources, and least of all from anyone who has ever thought about how population dynamics work in a small region like Europe. If we use a broad definition of Germanic peoples (including anyone who spoke a Germanic language) it is mathematically basically impossible for any modern European not to have a significant part of their ancestry from such peoples. But DNA spreads in a very different way to languages. Languages can switch back and forth. Whole parts of Europe switched from Germanic to Slavic and back to Germanic for example, without any necessary major change in population. Are such regions Germanic or Slavic? Trying to define ancestry as "Germanic" or "Slavic" on some other basis is even more speculative. As people who've been watching this article for some time will remember, the whole idea of having to decide such things is wrong to begin with, and even allowing compromises on this always spirals out of control.
I think this article has to be about a set of peoples from classical history. All previous RFCs etc have agreed. Technically, we could consider adding "classical history" to the article title, but we've never found good modern scholarly sources about modern Germanic peoples. Funnily enough, there really are peoples who identify as Celtic today, but the Celtic article does not seem to get distracted with modern claims. I don't see any claim there about which modern nations have Celtic DNA, but maybe I did not look hard enough?--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 13:56, 1 June 2021 (UTC)
It isn't clear to me why the article must have such a narrow focus given the broad nature of its theme. I will have to read through the archived discussions (some of which were placed there in the last few of days) and get up to date on these issues. However, I would caution against relying on experts who themselves are pushing a POV. Having achieved an age where my cynicism is earned rather than merely adopted, I tend to say that an expert with a POV is a redundancy and a dispassionately objective expert is either an oxymoron or a fallacy. In my opening line in this section I misspelled "tone" (now corrected) when that was really my main point. The tone of this article is wrong-headed. It comes across to me as negative. There were several people here very recently objecting strenuously to the article's overall direction and character. It would seem incumbent on the editors to work towards consensus.
But you could help by explaining why the ancestors of today's Germanic language speakers were not mainly Germanic peoples. I consider myself part of that group going back a couple of generations, so it is of personal interest to me--and several hundred million other people out there. Dynasteria (talk) 18:23, 1 June 2021 (UTC)
Your stated approach is not compatible with Wikipedia's mission. Everyone has a POV. It is NOT our mission on WP to chose the best POV, let alone to filter out POVs (which would be impossible), only to report the ones that managed to get the most recognition in the relevant field.
Concerning the ancestors of today's Germanic language speakers, I think you should re-read what I said. No one is denying that classical Germanic peoples have descendants today all over Europe. Of course they do, just like the Celts do. What is frankly ridiculous is the idea that we should publish essays here based on the assumption that the ancestry and/or ethnicity of Europeans today is simply a question of the language family which modern linguists say our main language is in. This is not just something scholars don't say. It is just self-evidently illogical. I've tried to explain it above, but I think you'll need to think it through. It is literally a case of doing the maths. Europe is a small peninsula in the greater scheme of things, and all over that peninsula everyone shares all the same ancestors in the classical period. There will be a point where pedigree collapse is so great that your set of ancestors in a certain generation is the same as the whole population of Europeans with descendants at that time. The classical period is a long time ago.
Languages, OTOH, come and go in each region depending upon economics and politics, but survey after survey, both modern and ancient DNA, shows that in every region Europeans are most closely related to whoever they live near, no matter what language they speak. (Cases which DON'T match that pattern are of course interesting. But they are rare.) Austrians are closer to Czechs than to Lowland Scots, and Flemings are closer to Walloons than to Norwegians, who are closer to Finns than to Swiss Germans.
Trying to distil the relevant bit for WP core content policy: there is no scholarly literature which tries to define which countries in modern Europe are the "true" descendants of the Germanic peoples (or Celtic peoples), which ones partial and so on, and so we have nothing to say on that. Such discussions appear on internet forums (and used to appear in Nazi literature and correspondence, for example when Hitler and his top advisors where you can see similar speculations about who is more pure, and who has a mixture) but these are not sources we can use here.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 19:16, 1 June 2021 (UTC)
I understand the concept of people moving around and of pedigree collapse. I'm not in favor of publishing essays. And no one said anything about racial purity. But that spectre of the Nazis may have something to do with how the article has been set up. I do appreciate your statement that the experts WP uses are the ones who managed to get the most recognition in their field. Again, I will go do some studying. Dynasteria (talk) 19:46, 1 June 2021 (UTC)
OK. The point about the Nazis is not meant to compare any editors to Nazis, but to emphasize that it is worth looking into the logical problems here. In population genetics there is mixture, but there are no fixed points, so to speak, because there are no pure races. There are only more or less isolated or non-isolated sets of people. Everything is relative. In the position of a "race" is now only a network of interbreeding, partly isolated groups, that can be as big as suburbs of Reykjavik or the whole of Europe. Each person is in lots of these groups at the same time, and the sets are changing. However, it is very tempting to look for fixed points when people are having casual discussions, and it is very tempting to base these on things like language families. Whenever people start arguing about whether a group of people is Germanic or Celtic in their ancient ancestry, which is a false dichotomy, they are thinking in terms of absolute reference points, or in other words, pure races which represent a kind of ideal in any such discussion. In fact the classical Celtic and Germanic peoples, who covered large, similar swathes of Europe, are the ancestors of all Europeans and so that type of purity concept is leading people down a dead-end path.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 21:57, 1 June 2021 (UTC)

Dynasteria maybe one small point you might be looking for, on the language front: Were Gothic and West Germanic mutually intelligible in classical times? For example, starting in the 3rd century when Goths appear on the Roman frontier, Shapur I described the Roman forces from all over the empire as made up of Germani and Goths. (I don't think anyone disagrees that by this time, these two groups were associated with specific languages. In the case of the Germani, this was an early form of what we now call West Germanic. Medieval writers still recognized West Germanic as a thing and called it teutonicus or thiudiscus. Only modern writers extend all terms sometimes to Norse or Gothic, which are quite distinct.) It is the linguists and philologists such as Dennis Green who keep insisting the answer is no: already in classical times Gothic was too different from West Germanic. The two groups came from vastly different places, but will have had contact in the military, and may well have recognized some similarities, but our scholarly sources have found no concrete evidence of this. There is speculation (mostly or maybe all from non-linguists like Liebeschuetz, in the context of arguing that the majority of scholars is wrong to stop writing about the Germanic peoples as one entity) but none of that speculation has led to academic consensus. --Andrew Lancaster (talk) 09:52, 2 June 2021 (UTC)

Austronesier and Dynasteria are raising valid points here. The structure of the article is incoherent, and there is an excessive focus on historical debates, with the article heavily favoring one side. The works of archaeologists and philologists are almost completely ignored. The text reads more like a polemic than an encyclopedic article. Krakkos (talk) 14:44, 2 June 2021 (UTC)

Yes of course they are raising valid points. Improvements are definitely needed. But I am not sure at all whether any two people are raising the same points yet. (Or... would be pleased by the same changes to the current compromise.) I think your own remarks are going in a third and different direction, because I have no idea which archaeologists and philologists you are talking about. Actually, I would have thought that the opening discussions about the complexity of the term are philology based, so some editors are asking for less philology? I also don't agree that these issues are just things in the past. This article is literally about a topic where almost all the main authorities currently writing have special discussions opening their works, explaining all the different ways they avoid the term, or the reasons that they don't. Heather, for example, uses the Latin word, but gives it a new meaning (Germanic speaking). Several experts avoid the concept entirely. So I mentioned above that one challenge we have here is to avoid having an article which has a section at the end which says that everything written above is actually disputed by experts on the topic. That would be worse.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 15:04, 2 June 2021 (UTC)
By the way, @Krakkos: Dynasteria raised a good point about a common Germanic culture. Was there a common culture? Were Goths more like Franks than like other Scythians in any way other than language? Of course there is no academic consensus, but we want to report all sides in any mainstream controversy. We have an article called Germanic culture which seems to have had problems defining itself, and an article called Early Germanic culture which is basically rough notes and WP:SYNTHESIS. I am not sure why these are not merged, but I know you have said in the past that you'd make a proper article. How was that going? It could help. I think that determining how to structure this article here partly depends upon which subjects we can separate out to other articles, whenever they are complex in their own right. Large articles are always difficult. This is not an ironic question. I know there is serious material such as the work of Dennis Green. You often write as if others are stopping you from representing their work, but I just think it is not what you are really interested in? I know Alcaios was interested. To be honest I learned a lesson from your splitting out of discussion about the Name of the Goths, from Goths which is now a decent article that has also been a step forward for the main article. I was very nervous when you did that, but in all honesty it worked and I think if we are careful there are more opportunities to improve long controversial articles this way.--Andrew Lancaster (talk) 16:53, 2 June 2021 (UTC)


@Austronesier: I would like to try to get some less vague ideas on the table. Looking at your comments so far, are you thinking of something like this?

  • Begin with a single general definition section, perhaps a little bigger than the current "General" one.
  • Rearrange all of the rest of the article into a chronological format, which covers not only events in that period, but also reports which imply changes to how Germanic peoples were seen.
  • Medieval situation and modern debates in sections at the end, also chronological.

I have been looking at this type of idea, also in the past. In theory, there are a lot of ways to restructure. Challenges:

  • Will readers have to look through the article to reconstruct a discussion about how to define the topic of the article?
  • Do we really want to keep the same level of detail, and indeed repetition, which we have in all sections? I have found it a challenge to see a way to do this which is matching what everyone wants. That is why the article still has a connection to the problems of 2019.

One of the problems we always face so far is that there are several sections near the top which have evolved from the specific interests of different editors, and which partly cover similar information from a different perspective. A classic example where there has been good friendly discussion recently is the very big section on Germanic languages. If all or most of these were fitted into a single chronological discussion things might be neater, but it would also break things up in complex ways. To me it seems any real solution must involve more shortening of such sections. Historically, I did a lot of shortening, with the stated aim of us moving main discussions to more articles. I slowed down with that idea, and since then things tended to get re-expanded. --Andrew Lancaster (talk) 10:22, 3 June 2021 (UTC)

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