|This biographical article relies on references to primary sources. (March 2010)|
Theo Vennemann (born 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 suggests 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. Born in Oberhausen-Sterkrade, he is currently a professor emeritus in Germanic and Theoretical Linguistics at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.
Theories on the prehistory of European languages
Vennemann's controversial claims about the prehistory of European languages include the following:
- A language family ancestral to Basque is a substratum of European languages, especially Germanic, Celtic, and Italic. Vennemann claims this could be evidenced by various loan words, toponyms, and structural features such as word-initial accent.
- The linguistic origin of Old European hydronymy, traditionally considered as Indo-European, is classified as Vasconic by Vennemann.
- Numerous toponyms that are traditionally considered as Indo-European by virtue of their Indo-European head words are instead names that have been adapted to Indo-European languages through the addition of a suffix.
- 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 an unknown Semitic substrate language he called "Atlantidic" or "Semitidic".
- Semitic is a substratum of the Celtic languages, as shown by certain structural features of Celtic, especially their lack of external possessors.
- The Runic alphabet is derived directly from the Phoenician alphabet used by the Carthaginians, without intervention by the Greek alphabet.
- 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.
Vennemann's book Europa Vasconica - Europa Semitica was reviewed in Lingua by linguists Philip Baldi and B. Richard Page, who made reasoned dismissals of a number of his proposals. Nevertheless, they concluded by saying:
We hope in this review to have made it clear that, while we disagree with part of what V has proposed, we also applaud his efforts to reassess the role and extent of language contact in the development of Indo-European languages in Europe. We remain eager to learn more about this fascinating approach to the prehistory of European language and culture.
- Kitson, P.R. (November 1996). "British and European River Names". Transactions of the Philological Society 94 (2): 73–118. doi:10.1111/j.1467-968X.1996.tb01178.x.
- English - a German dialect? Prof. em. Theo Vennemann, Ph.D. Rotary Club Munich International. 7 November 2005. 
- Baldi and Page, Lingua 116 (2006) 2183–2220. http://www.cls.psu.edu/pubs/pubs/LINGUA1158.pdf accessed 18 June 2010