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German is a Germanic language spoken mainly in the Central European countries of Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Northern Switzerland. There are also minorities in the following countries and regions who also speak German: South Tyrol, Alsace-Lorraine, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Hungary and Russia (Volga Germans).

German is the seventh language on earth and is spoken by approximately 120 million people.

German speaking areas of the worldGerman speaking areas of the worldPhoto: Shibo77 CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Also related to German are Yiddish, Letzeburgs in Luxembourg, Pennsilvan in the United States and Schwyzerdütsch in Switzerland. German is closely related to, among others, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, Flemish and English.

High German is the language of the entire population. In Schleswig, Danish is also spoken and a small part of the country, around Cottbus and Bautzen, is bilingual; in addition to High German, West Slavic Sorbian is also spoken here.

Lower German or Flat German, which is still spoken in the northwest, has many similarities with the regional languages in the eastern Netherlands.


In the first century AD, the various West Germanic dialects did not yet form a close linguistic unity. It is believed that within the Carolingian Empire all Germanic tribes were considered linguistically related. In the south of Germany, the High German dialects gradually emerged, which showed a great uniformity due to language and sound shifts.

In the north, the Saxons continued to expand their power and a Lower German (Old Saxon) language area was established there. Both languages were strongly influenced by Christianity and the ancient Latin cultural tradition, especially in word formation and meaning.

In the period 800-1100 the German language area expanded further to the east and southeast. Between 1170 and 1250 German was strongly influenced by French and classical Middle High German, a courtly literary language, emerged.

 Development tree of the Germanic languagesDevelopment tree of the Germanic languagesPhoto: Vlaemink CC 4.0 International no changes made

From 1250, High German was increasingly used in official documents. The Lower German language area expanded from 1100 to the Oder, the Weichsel and also to the northeastern Netherlands. East of the Elbe and the Salle a so-called colonial East-Middle German language emerged with elements of different geographic origins.

Mainly through Martin Luther's translation of the Bible, the East-Middle German written language became the basis of the German “Schriftsprache”. This development was also further promoted by humanism and emerging national sentiments. The definitive establishment of contemporary grammatical and lexical norms was mainly due to the influence of grammarians in the 17th and 18th centuries. The classical literary language flourished at the end of the 18th and early 19th century. However, it remained a writing language often very different from the spoken dialects. The spelling of this written language was recorded around 1900.

In addition to this written language, there is a colloquial language that is regionally characterized by strong sound and word variants. Due to political, social and cultural developments, the regional differences between written language and colloquial language are becoming smaller and smaller.

Example of the Cologne dialectExample of the Cologne dialectPhoto: User Bordeaux on de.wikipedia CC 3.0 Unported no changes made


Ayer, E.H. / Germany
Lucent Books

Egert-Romanowska, J. / Duitsland
Van Reemst

Europese Unie : vijftien landendocumentaties
Europees Platform voor het Nederlandse Onderwijs

Mark, D.F.W. van der / De Bondsrepubliek Duitsland voor en na 1990 : geschiedenis, politiek, economie en ruimtelijke ontwikkeling

Tatsachen ├╝ber Deutschland

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated March 2024
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