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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

German – Deutsch – Alemán – Alemão – Tedesco

Published 12/01/2011 by Stefany Montoya de Just

Today German is spoken by more than 100 million people. There are two principal divisions of the German language: High German, or Hochdeutsch, and Low German, or Plattdeutsch. One of the most striking differences between them is the result of a consonant shift (usually referred to as the second, or High German, sound shift) that took place before the 8th cent.

German a Germanic language, is a member of the Indo-European language family. At some time during the disintegration of the Indo-European Community a group of tribes made their way to north-west Europe and there developed a Bronze Age Culture probably around 2 000 BC. Instruction in the German language is supported on all continents, with the emphasis on the EU and those nations aspiring to become members of it. As European integration continues, ever greater importance is attached to competence in foreign languages. In Germany, teaching foreign languages is accorded great importance, and it is equally in Germany’s interest that the teaching of German as a foreign language is treated in a similar vein in our EU partner nations.

German is one of the large group of Indo-Germanic languages, and within this group is one of the Germanic languages, related to Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, Dutch, as well as to English.

At the end of the Middle Ages there were a large number of regional written languages.

German Language

German is used as the official language of Germany and of Austria. Historically, German falls into three main periods: Old German (c. 750—c. 1050); Middle German (c.1050—c.1500); and Modern German (c.1500 to the present). The earliest existing records in German date back to about 750. In this first period, local dialects were used in writing, and there was no standard language.

In the middle period a relatively uniform written language developed in government after the various chancelleries of the Holy Roman Empire began, in the 14th cent., to use a combination of certain dialects of Middle High German in place of the Latin that until then had dominated official writings.

History of the German Language

The Middle Saxon language is an ancestor of the modern Low Saxon. It was spoken from about 1100 to 1500, splitting into West Low Saxon and East Low Saxon. The neighbour languages within the dialect continuum of the West Germanic languages were Middle Dutch in the West and Middle High German in the South, later substituted by Early New High German.

During the 18th cent. a number of outstanding writers gave modern standard German essentially the form it has today. It is now the language of church and state, education and literature. A corresponding norm for spoken High German, influenced by the written standard, is used in education, the theater, and broadcasting.

German dialects that differ substantially from standard German, not only in pronunciation but also in grammar, are found in regions of Germany, E France, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein; Lëtzeburgesch, an official language of Luxembourg, is a German dialect spoken by about 400,000 people there.

In 1880, grammatical and orthographic rules first appeared in the Duden Handbook. In 1901, this was declared the standard definition of the German language. Standard German orthography subsequently went essentially unrevised until 1998, when the German spelling reform of 1996 was officially promulgated by governmental representatives of Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland.

Since the reform, German spelling has been in an eight-year transitional period where the reformed spelling is taught in most schools, while traditional and reformed spelling co-exist in the media.

The German language specifically, developed as its own language sometime in the late 19th-century. The following diagram, composed by linguistic scholars in an attempt to explain the phenomenon of different dialects of different geographical areas nicely illustrates this development. Linguists continue to stress, however, that a language tree as such may create very definite splits when in fact language dialects tend to be better defined as blends.

Some other facts about German you might be interested in knowing.

In no particular order, here are some of the numbers about German:

  • German is the most widely spoken native language in the EU.
  • Germany boasts a 99% literacy rate.
  • German belongs to the three most learned languages in the world as well as the ten most widely spoken languages in the world.
  • German is among the top five most widely used languages on the Internet.
  • One fourth of the tourists in the U.S. are German speaking.
  • Germany is the second most popular European destination for American tourists.
  • German is the official language in seven countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, as well as parts of Italy and Belgium).
  • German is spoken by over 100 million people world-wide.
  • With 22 %, German-Americans represent the largest ethnic group in America today (according to the 1990 Census). Some prominent examples include Albert Einstein, Levi Strauss, Henry Kissinger, and Werner von Braun.

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