German Language

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German (Deutsch), a member of the western group of Germanic languages, is one of the world's major languages. It is the most spoken language in the European Union It is spoken primarily in Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, the major part of Switzerland, Luxembourg, the Südtirol (South Tyrol) region of Italy, the Opole (Oppeln) Voivodship of Poland, the East Cantons of Belgium, parts of Romania, Alsace (Elsass) and part of the Lorraine region of France. Additionally, several former colonial possessions of these countries, such as Namibia, have sizable German-speaking populations, and there are German-speaking minorities in several eastern European countries, including Russia, Hungary and Slovenia, and in North America as well as some Latin American countries, like Argentina and in Brazil, mainly in the states of Rio Grande Do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná e Espírito Santo.

   High German
     Middle German
      East Middle German
German (Deutsch)
Spoken in: Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and 38 other countries.
Region: -
Total speakers: 120 Million
Ranking: 9
Official status
Official language of: Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Denmark, Namibia, Poland and others
Regulated by: -
Language codes
ISO 639-1 de
ISO 639-2(B) ger
ISO 639-2(T) deu

The Amish and some Mennonites also speak a dialect of German. Approximately 120 million people, or a quarter of all Europeans, have German as their mother tongue. German is the third most popular foreign language taught worldwide, and the second most popular in Europe (after English), the USA and East Asia (Japan). It is an official language of the European Union.

1 History

2 Classification

3 Grammar

4 Writing system

5 Orthography

6 Examples

7 See also

8 Names of the German language in other languages

9 External links

10 Reference

Table of contents


The dialects subject to the second Germanic sound shift during medieval times are regarded as part of the modern German language.

As a consequence of the colonization patterns, the Völkerwanderung (pronounced: ['fœlk6vand@rUN]), the routes for trade and communication (chiefly the rivers), and of physical isolation (high mountains and deep forests) very different regional dialects developed. These dialects, sometimes mutually unintelligible, were used across the Holy Roman Empire.

As Germany was divided into many different states, the only force working for a unification or standardization of German was a long process of several hundred years, in which writers tried to write and in a way, that was understood in the largest area.

When Martin Luther translated the Bible (the New Testament in 1521 and the Old Testament in 1534) he based his translation mainly on this already developed language, which was the most widely understood language at this time. In the beginning, copies of the Bible had a long list for each region, which translated words unknown in the region into the regional dialect. Roman Catholics rejected Luther's translation in the beginning and tried to create their own Catholic standard (Gemaines Deutsch). It took until the middle of the 18th century to create a standard, that was widely accepted, thus ending the period of Early New High German.

German used to be the language of commerce and government in the Habsburg Empire, which encompassed a large area of Central and Eastern Europe. Until the mid-nineteenth century it was essentially the language of townspeople throughout most of the Empire. It indicated that the speaker was a merchant, an urbanite, not their nationality. Some towns, such as Prague and Budapest were gradually Germanized in the years after their incorporation into the Habsburg domain. Others, such as Bratislava (Pressburg), were originally settled during the Habsburg period and were primarily German at that time. A few towns such as Milano remained primarily non-German. However, most towns such as Prague, Budapest, Bratislava, Zagreb, and Ljubljana which later became national capitals were for the time primarily German, although they were surrounded by country that spoke other languages.

Until about 1800, Standard German was almost only a written language. In this time people in urban, northern Germany, who spoke dialects very different from Standard German learnt it almost like a foreign language and tried to pronounce it as close to the spelling as possible. Later this spoken form spread southward.

Media and written works are almost all produced in this variety of High German (usually called Standard German in English or Hochdeutsch in German), which is understood in all areas of German languages (except by pre-school children in areas which speak only dialect - but in the age of TV even they usually learn to understand Standard German before school age).

The first dictionary of the Brothers Grimm, the 16 parts of which were issued between 1852 and 1960, remains the most comprehensive guide to the words of the German language. In 1860, grammatical and orthographical rules first appeared in the Duden Handbook. In 1901, this was declared the standard definition of the German language in these matters. Official revisions of some of these rules were not issued until 1998.


German is a member of the West branch of the Germanic family of languages, which in turn is part of the Indo-European language family.

Official status

German is the only official language in Germany, Liechtenstein and Austria; it shares official status in Belgium (with French and Dutch), Italy (with Italian, French and Slovenian), Switzerland (with French, Italian and Romansh), Luxembourg (with French and Luxembourgish), and Denmark (with Danish). It is one of the 20 official languages of the European Union.

It is also a minority language in France, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Poland, Romania, Togo, Cameroon, the USA, Namibia, Brazil, Paraguay, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Ukraine, Croatia, Moldavia, Australia, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

German was once the lingua franca of central, eastern and northern Europe. Increasing influence from the English language has affected German recently. However, German remains one of the most popular foreign languages taught worldwide, and is more popular than French as a foreign language in Europe. 38% of all European citizens say they can converse in German.


The term "German" is used for several dialects of Germany and surrounding countries and in North America.

The dialects of Germany are typically divided into Low German and High German. The Low German dialects, or Low Saxon as they are sometimes known more precisely, are more closely related to Lower Franconian languages like Dutch than to the High German dialects, and from a linguist's perspective are not part of the German language proper. The High German dialects spoken by Germanic communities in the former Soviet union and Ashkenazi Jews have several unique features, and are usually considered the separate language Yiddish. There are also distinctive dialects of German which are or were primarily spoken in North America, including Pennsylvania German, Texas German, and Hutterite German.

The modern dialects of German proper are divided into Middle German and Upper German; Standard German is based on Middle German, while Austrian and Swiss German dialects are Upper German. A moderately complete listing of these dialects may be found at High German.


Main article: German grammar

Writing system

German is written using the Latin alphabet. In addition to the 26 standard letters, German has three vowels with Umlaut, namely ä, ö and ü, as well as a special symbol for "ss", which is only used in special cases: ß. Until recently, however, German was printed in Gothic black letters (Fraktur, or Schwabacher) and written in Sütterlin. These variants of the Latin alphabet are very different from the serif or sans serif typefaces used today, and are difficult for the untrained to read.


Main article: German pronunciation.


See also

Names of the German language in other languages

Because of the turbulent history of both Germany and the German language, the names that other peoples have chosen to use to refer to it varies more than for most other languages.

In general, the names for the German language can be arranged in five groups according to their origin:

2. From the name of the Germanic people:

3. From the name of the Saxonian tribe:

5. From the name of the Alemannian tribe:

External links


  • George O. Curme, A Grammar of the German Language (1904, 1922) - the most complete and authoritative work in English