The German Language

Published 14/01/2012 by Stefany Montoya de Just

Over 120 million people worldwide speak German as their native tongue. It is the official language in Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein as well as one of the official languages of Switzerland and Luxembourg; it is also spoken in parts of eastern Belgium and in Italian Tyrol region. In addition, there are significant German-speaking minorities in Denmark (northern Schleswig), France (Alsace), Poland (Silesia), the Czech Republic, and Hungary as well as in Estonia,
Lithuania, Latvia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Russia, and the Ukraine. German is also the native tongue of many people in Australia, Canada, the United States, and
some South American countries.
German belongs to the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family and is closely related to Dutch, English, the Scandinavian languages, Flemish,
Frisian, Yiddish, and Afrikaans. For various political, literary, and linguistic reasons, we speak of Germans and the German language as dating from around the
year 800. At that time, at least six major dialects with numerous variations were spoken. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, efforts were made to write
a standardized form of German; thus, the years 1170–1250 saw great literary achievements. However, this use of German as a literary language declined and Latin was preferred for writing important documents. Around the year 1500, Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into German and Johann Gutenberg’s
invention of the printing press were major impetuses toward the development ofa common, written German language. Nonetheless, Latin remained the sole language of instruction at German universities until the 1700s. Because of political fragmentation, a standard language was slow to develop in Germany. As late as the early 1900s, many people spoke only their regional dialects. The use of standard German (Hochdeutsch) in both newspapers and magazines and in radio and television broadcasts helped foster the widespread use of standard German, but regional accents and dialects are still common.
Because German and English are members of the same branch of the Indo-European language family, they share a considerable number of words. Some of
these related words, called cognates, are identical in spelling in both languages (e.g., Arm, Hand, Finger), while others are similar (e.g., Vater, Mutter, Haus). As the two languages developed, certain cognates acquired different meanings, such as Hose (in German, a pair of pants) versus “hose” (in English, nylon stockings). For those cognates that came to be spelled differently, the differences between English and German often developed systematically. Note the following patterns:

English German
t → z    ten zehn
             salt Salz
p → pf pound Pfund
             apple Apfel
t → ss water Wasser
             white weiß
p → f  ship Schiff
           help helfen
k → ch book Buch
             make machen
d → t  bed Bett
            dance tanzen
th → d bath Bad
             thank danken


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