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Theo Vennemann genannt Nierfeld (May 27, 1937 - ) is a German linguist known best for his work on historical linguistics, especially for his disputed theories of a Vasconic substratum and an Atlantic superstratum of European languages. He also suggested that the High German consonant shift was already completed in the early 1st century BC, and not in the 9th century AD as most experts believe.

Theories on the prehistory of European languages

Vennemann's controversial claims about the prehistory of European languages include the following:

  1. Vasconic, a hypothetical ancestor language of Basque, is a substratum of European languages, especially Germanic, Celtic, and Italic. This is evidenced by various loan words, toponyms, and structural features such as word-initial accent.
  2. The so-called Old European hydronymy, traditionally considered as Indo-European, is classified as Vasconic by Vennemann.
  3. Numerous toponyms that are traditionally considered as Indo-European by virtue of their Indo-European head words are considered Vasconic names that have been adapted to Indo-European languages through the addition of the suffix.
  4. Punic, the Semitic language spoken in classical Carthage, is a superstratum of the Germanic languages. According to Vennemann, Carthaginians colonized the North Sea region between the 6th and 3rd centuries BC; this is evidenced by numerous Semitic loan words in the Germanic languages, as well as structural features such as strong verbs, and similarities between Norse religion and Semitic religion. This theory replaces his older theory of a superstratum of an unknown Semitic language called "Atlantic".
  5. Punic is a substratum of the Celtic languages, as shown by certain structural features of Celtic.
  6. The Runic alphabet is derived directly from the Phoenician alphabet used by the Carthaginians, without intervention by the Greek alphabet.
  7. The Germanic sound shift is dated to the 6th to 3rd centuries BC, as evidenced by the fact that some presumed Punic loan words participated in it, while others did not.




(Passwort erforderlich)


Languages in prehistoric Europe


Historical Phonology
(except consonant shifts)

German and Germanic consonant shifts

Historical Morphology

Word order studies

(except word order studies)

Syntax and Semantics

Phonology and Morphonology

General Linguistics

Introductions to General Linguistics

Rhenish Matron names






Born May 27 in Oberhausen-Sterkrade, Germany
Full name: Theo Vennemann genannt Nierfeld


Elementary and highschool education; highschool diploma (Abitur) of Hoffmann-von-Fallersleben-Schule, Braunschweig


Student of mathematics, physics and philosophy, University of Göttingen


Student of mathematics, German philology, and philosophy, University of Marburg. State board examination (M.A. equivalent) "mit Auszeichnung"


Research associate, Linguistic Research Center, University of Texas at Austin (Director: Winfried P. Lehmann)


Student and teaching assistant in the Department of German, University of California, Los Angeles. Ph.D. in Germanic Languages "with distinction". Dissertation: "German phonology". Supervisor: Terence H. Wilbur


Assistant Professor of German, Department of German and Russian, University of California, Irvine


Assistant Professor, Associate Professor (1972), and Professor (1973) of Linguistics, University of California, Los Angeles


Visiting Professor, Linguistic Institute, LSA, at SUNY Buffalo


Visiting Professor, California Linguistic Institute, UC Santa Cruz


Guest Professor, Department of German, Free University, Berlin

1974 to 2005

Professor, Chair of Germanic and Theoretical Linguistics, Department of German Philology, University of Munich


Visiting Professor, University of Salzburg


Visiting Professor, Linguistic Summer Institute, University of Salzburg


Visiting Professor (SLE Professor), Joint Linguistic Institute of the LSA and the University of Salzburg


Vice Dean, Philosophische Fakultät für Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft II, University of Munich


Visiting Professor, Linguistic Institute, LSA, at UC Los Angeles


Dean, Philosophische Fakultät für Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft II, University of Munich

1 Oct. 2005

Emeritus, University of Munich

Nov. 2005

Visiting scholar, Sonderforschungsbereich "Mehrsprachigkeit", University of Hamburg

German citizen, unmarried, one daughter (born 1966)

Member of Rotary Club Munich International
Paper given at the Rotary Club: "English – a German dialect?"

Teaching areas:
  Grammar of Contemporary German; 
  History of the German language; 
  Theory of language incl. language change, especially phonology; 
Languages in prehistoric Europe.

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