|Region:||Originally between the Rhine, Alps, Elbe, and North Sea; today worldwide|
|Child2:||Low Franconian languages|
The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three traditional branches of the Germanic family of languages and include languages such as English, Dutch and Afrikaans, German, the Frisian languages, as well as Yiddish. The other two of these three traditional branches of the Germanic languages are the North and East Germanic languages.
The Germanic languages are traditionally divided into three groups: West, East and North Germanic. Their exact relation is difficult to determine from the sparse evidence of runic inscriptions, and they remained mutually intelligible throughout the Migration Period, so that some individual varieties are difficult to classify. The Western group presumably formed as a variety of Proto-Germanic in the late Jastorf culture (ca. 1st century BC). The West Germanic group is characterized by a number of phonological and morphological innovations not found in North and East Germanic, such as:
Nevertheless, many scholars doubt whether the West Germanic languages descend from a common ancestor later than Proto-Germanic, that is, they doubt whether a "Proto-West Germanic" ever existed. Rather, some have argued that after East Germanic broke off from the group, the remaining Germanic languages, the Northwest Germanic languages, divided into four main dialects: North Germanic, and the three groups conventionally called "West Germanic", namely
Evidence for this view comes from a number of linguistic innovations found in both North Germanic and West Germanic, including:
Under this view, the properties that the West Germanic languages have in common separate from the North Germanic languages are not inherited from a "Proto-West-Germanic" language, but rather spread by language contact among the Germanic languages spoken in central Europe, not reaching those spoken in Scandinavia. Nevertheless, it has been argued that, judging by their nearly identical syntax, the West Germanic languages of the Old period were close enough to have been mutually intelligible.
The High German consonant shift distinguished the High German languages from the other West Germanic languages. By early modern times, the span had extended into considerable differences, ranging from Highest Alemannic in the South (the Walliser dialect being the southernmost surviving German dialect) to Northern Low Saxon in the North. Although both extremes are considered German, they are not mutually intelligible. The southernmost varieties have completed the second sound shift, while the northern dialects remained unaffected by the consonant shift.
Of modern German varieties, Low German is the one that most resembles modern English. The district of Angeln (or Anglia), from which the name English derives, is in the extreme northern part of Germany between the Danish border and the Baltic coast. The area of the Saxons (parts of today's Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony) lay south of Anglia. The Anglo-Saxons, two Germanic tribes, were a combination of a number of peoples from northern Germany and the Jutland Peninsula.