Put Learning German On Your “To Do” List
If you have been putting off learning German because your stay here is only temporary we hope the information below will motivate you to think again and sign up for a course. It will make your stay here simpler, more enjoyable and also add a new skill to your CV/Resume. German (called Deutsch in German), a member of the western group of Germanic languages, is one of the world’s major languages.
German is the language with the most native speakers in the EU. It is spoken primarily in Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, the major part of Switzerland, Luxembourg, the Südtirol (South Tyrol) region of Italy, 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, and Espírito Santo.
The Amish and some Mennonites also speak a dialect of German. Approximately 120 million people, or a quarter of all Europeans, speak German. 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 EU.
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, 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 during a period of several hundred years was when writers would try to write in a way that could be understood in the largest possible 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 (Gemeines 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 cities, 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 cities such as Milano remained primarily non-German. However, most cities were primarily German during this time, such as Prague, Budapest, Bratislava, Zagreb, and Ljubljana, though they were surrounded by territory 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 this age of TV, even they now 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. Official revisions of some of these rules were not issued until 1998, when the Rechtschreibreform (spelling reform) was officially promulgated by governmental representatives of all German-speaking countries. Though the Rechtschreibreform resolves quite a few inconsistencies and complex rules in German writing, public acceptance has been limited. Although the government has officially declared the old spellings “old-fashioned” and has ordered schools and government offices to stop using them, many people and a number of major German language periodicals have rejected the new forms outright. Many German speakers (especially students) are confused by the spelling rules, and there has been some public debate as to whether the new system should be cancelled altogether.
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.
German is the only official language in Germany, Liechtenstein, and Austria; it shares official status in Belgium (with French and Dutch), Italy (with Italian and French), 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 EU.
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 (native speakers not counted).
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 U nion 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.