The German language (Deutsch, ) is a West Germanic language and one of the world's major languages. German is related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. Around the world, German is spoken by approximately 100 million native speakers and also by about 80 million non-native speakers. German is the most widely spoken mother tongue in the European Union and is generally considered as a global language. Standard German is widely taught in schools, universities, and Goethe Institutes worldwide.
Other European German-speaking communities are found in Italy (Bolzano-Bozen), in the East Cantons of Belgium, in the French area Alsace which often was traded between Germany and France in history and in some border villages of the former South Jutland County (in German, Nordschleswig, in Danish, Sønderjylland) of Denmark.
Some German-speaking communities still survive in parts of Romania, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and above all Russia and Kazakhstan, although forced expulsions after World War II and massive emigration to Germany in the 1980s and 1990s have depopulated most of these communities. It is also spoken by German-speaking foreign populations and some of their descendants in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Morocco, Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Scandinavia, Siberia in Russia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia).
A considerable proportion of the native population speak German dialects in Luxembourg and the surrounding areas. Some people also master standard German (especially in Luxembourg), although in the French regions of Alsace (German: Elsass) and Lorraine (German: Lothringen) French has replaced the local German dialects as the official language, even though it has not been fully replaced on the street.
Outside of Europe and the former Soviet Union, the largest German-speaking communities are to be found in the United States, Canada, Brazil and in Argentina where millions of Germans migrated in the last 200 years; but the vast majority of their descendants no longer speak German. Additionally, German-speaking communities can be found in the former German colony of Namibia independent from South Africa since 1990, as well as in the other countries of German emigration such as Canada, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Venezuela (where Alemán Coloniero developed), South Africa and Australia.
In Brazil the largest concentrations of German speakers are in Rio Grande do Sul (where Riograndenser Hunsrückisch was developed), Santa Catarina, Paraná, and Espírito Santo, and large German-speaking descendant communities in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. In the 20th century, over 100,000 German political refugees and invited entrepreneurs settled in Latin America, such as Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic to establish German-speaking enclaves, and there is a reportedly small German immigration to Puerto Rico.
In Canada, there are 622,650 speakers of German according to the most recent census in 2006 while people of German ancestry (German Canadians) are found throughout the country. German-speaking communities are particularly found in British Columbia (118,035) and Ontario (230,330). There is a large and vibrant community in the city of Kitchener, Ontario, which was at one point named Berlin. German immigrants were instrumental in the country's three largest urban areas: Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver and post-WWII immigrants managed to preserve a fluency in the German language in their respective neighborhoods and sections. In the first half of the 20th century, over a million German-Canadians made the language one of Canada's most spoken after French.
In Mexico there are also large populations of German ancestry, mainly in the cities of: Mexico City, Puebla, Mazatlán, Tapachula, and larger populations scattered in the states of Chihuahua, Durango, and Zacatecas. German ancestry is also said to be found in neighboring towns around Guadalajara, Jalisco and much of Northern Mexico, where German influence was immersed into the Mexican culture. Standard German is spoken by the affluent German communities in Puebla, Mexico City, Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi and Quintana Roo. German immigration in the twentieth century was small, but produced German-speaking communities in Central America (i.e. Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) and the Caribbean Islands like the Dominican Republic.
Dialects in North America:
The dialects of German which are or were primarily spoken in colonies or communities founded by German speaking people resemble the dialects of the regions the founders came from. For example, Pennsylvania German resembles dialects of the Palatinate, and Hutterite German resembles dialects of Carinthia. Texas German is a dialect spoken in the areas of Texas settled by the Adelsverein, such as New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. In the Amana Colonies in the state of Iowa Amana German is spoken. Plautdietsch is a large minority language spoken in Northern Mexico by the Mennonite communities, and is spoken by more than 200,000 people in Mexico.
Hutterite German is an Upper German dialect of the Austro-Bavarian variety of the German language, which is spoken by Hutterite communities in Canada and the United States. Hutterite is spoken in the U.S. states of Washington, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, and Minnesota; and in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Its speakers belong to some Schmiedleit, Lehrerleit, and Dariusleit Hutterite groups, but there are also speakers among the older generations of Prairieleit (the descendants of those Hutterites who chose not to settle in colonies). Hutterite children who grow up in the colonies learn and speak first Hutterite German before learning English in the public school, the standard language of the surrounding areas. Many colonies though continue with German Grammar School, separate from the public school, throughout a student's elementary education.
The state of South Australia experienced a pronounced wave of Germans arriving in the 1840s from Prussia (particularly the Silesia region). With the prolonged isolation and contact with Australian English some have suggested a unique dialect formed known as Barossa German spoken predominantly in the Barossa Valley near Adelaide. Usage sharply declined with the advent of World War I with the presiding anti-German sentiment in the population and related government action. It continued to be used as a first language late into the twentieth century but now its use is limited to a few older speakers.
There is an important German creole being studied and recovered, named Unserdeutsch, spoken in the former German colony of Papua New Guinea, across Micronesia and in northern Australia (i.e. coastal parts of Queensland and Western Australia), by few elderly people. The risk of its extinction is serious and efforts to revive interest in the language are being implemented by scholars.
According to Global Reach (2004), 6.9% of the Internet population is German. According to Netz-tipp (2002), 7.7% of webpages are written in German, making it second only to English in the European language group. They also report that 12% of Google's users use its German interface.
Older statistics: Babel (1998) found somewhat similar demographics. FUNREDES (1998) and Vilaweb (2000) both found that German is the third most popular language used by websites, after English and Japanese.
The history of the language begins with the High German consonant shift during the migration period, separating High German dialects from common West Germanic. The earliest testimonies of Old High German are from scattered Elder Futhark inscriptions, especially in Alemannic, from the 6th century, the earliest glosses (Abrogans) date to the 8th and the oldest coherent texts (the Hildebrandslied, the Muspilli and the Merseburg Incantations) to the 9th century. Old Saxon at this time belongs to the North Sea Germanic cultural sphere, and Low Saxon should fall under German rather than Anglo-Frisian influence during 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 the general preference of writers trying to write in a way that could be understood in the largest possible area.
When Martin Luther translated the Bible (the New Testament in 1522 and the Old Testament, published in parts and completed in 1534) he based his translation mainly on the bureaucratic standard language used in Saxony (sächsische Kanzleisprache) also known as Meißner-Deutsch (Meißner-German), which was the most widely understood language at this time, because the region it was spoken in was quite influential amongst the German states. This language was based on Eastern Upper and Eastern Central German dialects and preserved much of the grammatical system of Middle High German (unlike the spoken German dialects in Central and Upper Germany that already at that time began to lose the genitive case and the preterite tense). 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) — which, however, only differed from 'Protestant German' in some minor details. 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. In 1901 the 2nd Orthographical Conference ended with a complete standardization of German language in written form while the Deutsche Bühnensprache (literally: German stage-language) had already established spelling-rules for German three years earlier which were later to become obligatory for general German pronunciation.
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-19th 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 (German: Prag) and Budapest (Buda, German: Ofen), were gradually Germanized in the years after their incorporation into the Habsburg domain. Others, such as Bratislava(German: Pressburg), were originally settled during the Habsburg period and were primarily German at that time. A few cities such as Milan (German: Mailand) remained primarily non-German. However, most cities were primarily German during this time, such as Prague, Budapest, Bratislava (German: Pressburg), Zagreb (German: Agram), and Ljubljana (German: Laibach), though they were surrounded by territory that spoke other languages.
Until about 1800, standard German was almost only a written language. At this time, people in urban northern Germany, who spoke dialects very different from Standard German, learned it almost like a foreign language and tried to pronounce it as close to the spelling as possible. Prescriptive pronunciation guides used to consider northern German pronunciation to be the standard. However, the actual pronunciation of standard German varies from region to region.
Media and written works are almost all produced in standard German (often called Hochdeutsch in German) which is understood in all areas where German is spoken, except by pre-school children in areas which speak only dialect, for example Switzerland and Austria. However, in this age of television, 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 1860, remains the most comprehensive guide to the words of the German language. In 1860, grammatical and orthographic 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 German spelling reform of 1996 was officially promulgated by governmental representatives of all German-speaking countries. 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 spellings co-exist in the media. See German spelling reform of 1996 for an overview of the public debate concerning the reform with some major newspapers and magazines and several known writers refusing to adopt it.
The German spelling reform of 1996 led to public controversy indeed to considerable dispute. Some state parliaments (Bundesländer) would not accept it (North Rhine Westphalia and Bavaria). The dispute landed at one point in the highest court which made a short issue of it, claiming that the states had to decide for themselves and that only in schools could the reform be made the official rule - everybody else could continue writing as they had learned it. After 10 years, without any intervention by the federal parliament, a major yet incomplete revision was installed in 2006, just in time for the new school year of 2006. In 2007, some venerable spellings will be finally invalidated even though they caused little or no trouble. The only sure and easily recognizable symptom of a text's being in compliance with the reform is the -ss at the end of words, like in dass and muss. Classic spelling forbade this ending, instead using daß and muß. The cause of the controversy evolved around the question whether a language is part of the culture which must be preserved or a means of communicating information which has to allow for growth. (The reformers seemed to be unimpressed by the fact that a considerable part of that culture - namely the entire German literature of the 20th century - is in the old spelling.)
The increasing use of English in Germany's higher education system, as well as in business and in popular culture, has led various German academics to state, not necessarily from an entirely negative perspective, that German is a language in decline in its native country. For example, Ursula Kimpel, of the University of Tübingen, said in 2005 that “German universities are offering more courses in English because of the large number of students coming from abroad. German is unfortunately a language in decline. We need and want our professors to be able to teach effectively in English.”
Standard German differs regionally, between German-speaking countries, in vocabulary and some instances of pronunciation, and even grammar and orthography. This variation must not be confused with the variation of local dialects. Even though the regional varieties of standard German are only to a certain degree influenced by the local dialects, they are very distinct. German is thus considered a pluricentric language.
In most regions, the speakers use a continuum of mixtures from more dialectal varieties to more standard varieties according to situation.
In the German-speaking parts of Switzerland, mixtures of dialect and standard are very seldom used, and the use of standard German is largely restricted to the written language. Therefore, this situation has been called a medial diglossia. Swiss Standard German is used in the Swiss education system.
Standard German is the only official language in Liechtenstein and Austria; it shares official status in Germany (with Danish, Frisian and Sorbian as minority languages), Switzerland (with French, Italian and Romansh), Belgium (with Dutch and French) and Luxembourg (with French and Luxembourgish). It is used as a local official language in Italy (Province of Bolzano-Bozen), as well as in the cities of Sopron (Hungary), Krahule (Slovakia) and several cities in Romania. It is the official language (with Italian) of the Vatican Swiss Guard.
German has an officially recognized status as regional or auxiliary language in Denmark (South Jutland region), France (Alsace and Moselle regions), Italy (Gressoney valley), Namibia, Poland (Opole region), and Russia (Asowo and Halbstadt).
German is one of the 23 official languages of the European Union. It is the language with the largest number of native speakers in the European Union, and, just behind English and ahead of French, the second-most spoken language in Europe.
German is the third most taught foreign language in the English speaking world after French and Spanish.
German is the main language of about 90–95 million people in Europe (as of 2004), or 13.3% of all Europeans, being the second most spoken native language in Europe after Russian, above French (66.5 million speakers in 2004) and English (64.2 million speakers in 2004). It is therefore the most spoken first language in the EU. It is the second most known foreign language in the EU. It is one of the official languages of the European Union, and one of the three working languages of the European Commission, along with English and French. Thirty-two percent of citizens of the EU-15 countries say they can converse in German (either as a mother tongue or as a second or foreign language). This is assisted by the widespread availability of German TV by cable or satellite.
German is a member of the western branch of the Germanic family of languages, which in turn is part of the Indo-European language family. The German dialect continuum is traditionally divided most broadly into High German and Low German.
The variation among the German dialects is considerable, with only the neighbouring dialects being mutually intelligible. Some dialects are not intelligible to people who only know standard German. However, all German dialects belong to the dialect continuum of High German and Low Saxon languages. Until roughly the end of the Second World War, there was a dialect continuum of all the continental West Germanic languages because nearly any pair of neighbouring dialects were perfectly mutually intelligible.
Middle Low German was the lingua franca of the Hanseatic League. It was the predominant language in Northern Germany. This changed in the 16th century. In 1534 the Luther Bible by Martin Luther was printed. This translation is considered to be an important step towards the evolution of the Early New High German. It aimed to be understandable to an ample audience and was based mainly on Central and Upper German varieties. The Early New High German language gained more prestige than Low Saxon and became the language of science and literature. Other factors were that around the same time, the Hanseatic league lost its importance as new trade routes to Asia and the Americas were established, and that the most powerful German states of that period were located in Middle and Southern Germany.
The 18th and 19th centuries were marked by mass education, the language of the schools being standard German. Slowly Low Saxon was pushed back and back until it was nothing but a language spoken by the uneducated and at home. Today Low Saxon can be divided in two groups: Low Saxon varieties with a reasonable standard German influx and varieties of Standard German with a Low Saxon influence known as Missingsch.
High German is divided into Central German and Upper German. Central German dialects include Ripuarian, Moselle Franconian, Hessian, Thuringian, South Franconian, Lorraine Franconian and Upper Saxon. It is spoken in the southeastern Netherlands, eastern Belgium, Luxembourg, parts of France, and in Germany approximately between the River Main and the southern edge of the Lowlands. Modern Standard German is mostly based on Central German, but it should be noted that the common (but not linguistically correct) German term for modern Standard German is Hochdeutsch, that is, High German.
The Moselle Franconian varieties spoken in Luxembourg have been officially standardised and institutionalised and are therefore usually considered a separate language known as Luxembourgish.
Upper German dialects include Alemannic (for instance Swiss German), Swabian, East Franconian, Alsatian and Austro-Bavarian. They are spoken in parts of the Alsace, southern Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria, and in the German-speaking parts of Switzerland and Italy.
Wymysorys, Sathmarisch and Siebenbürgisch are High German dialects of Poland and Romania respectively. The High German varieties spoken by Ashkenazi Jews (mostly in the former Soviet Union) have several unique features, and are usually considered as a separate language, Yiddish. It is the only Germanic language that does not use the Latin alphabet as its standard script.
Although German is usually cited as an outstanding example of a highly inflected language, the degree of inflection is considerably less than in Old German, or in other old Indo-European languages such as Latin, Ancient Greek, or Sanskrit. The three genders have collapsed in the plural, which now behaves, grammatically, somewhat as a fourth gender. With four cases and three genders plus plural there are 16 distinct possible combinations of case and gender/number, but presently there are only six forms of the definite article used for the 16 possibilities. Inflection for case on the noun itself is required in the singular for strong masculine and neuter nouns in the genitive and sometimes in the dative. Both of these cases are losing way to substitutes in informal speech. The dative ending is considered somewhat old-fashioned in many contexts and often dropped, but it is still used in sayings and in formal speech or in written language. Weak masculine nouns share a common case ending for genitive, dative and accusative in the singular. Feminines are not declined in the singular. The plural does have an inflection for the dative. In total, seven inflectional endings (not counting plural markers) exist in German: -s, -es, -n, -ns, -en, -ens, -e.
In the German orthography, nouns and most words with the syntactical function of nouns are capitalised, which is supposed to make it easier for readers to find out what function a word has within the sentence (Am Freitag bin ich einkaufen gegangen. — "On Friday I went shopping."; Eines Tages war er endlich da. — "One day he finally showed up".) This spelling convention is almost unique to German today (shared perhaps only by the closely related Luxemburgish language and several insular dialects of the North Frisian language), although it was historically common in other languages (e.g., Danish and English), too.
Like most Germanic languages, German forms left-branching noun compounds, where the first noun modifies the category given by the second, for example: Hundehütte (eng. dog hut; specifically: doghouse). Unlike English, where newer compounds or combinations of longer nouns are often written in open form with separating spaces, German (like the other German languages) nearly always uses the closed form without spaces, for example: Baumhaus (eng. tree house). Like English, German allows arbitrarily long compounds, but these are rare. (See also English compounds.)
The longest German word verified to be actually in (albeit very limited) use is Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz. [which, literally translated, breaks up into: Rind (cattle) - Fleisch (meat) - Etikettierung(s) (labelling) - Überwachung(s) (supervision) - Aufgaben (duties) - Übertragung(s) (assignment) - Gesetz (law), so "Beef labelling supervision duty assignment law".]
(There is actually a third class, known as mixed verbs, which exhibit inflections combining features of both the strong and weak patterns.)
There are also many ways to expand, and sometimes radically change, the meaning of a base verb through a relatively small number of prefixes. Some of those prefixes have a meaning themselves (Example: zer- refers to the destruction of things, as in zerreißen = to tear apart, zerbrechen = to break apart, zerschneiden = to cut apart), others do not have more than the vaguest meaning in and of themselves (Example: ver- , as in versuchen = to try, vernehmen = to interrogate, verteilen = to distribute, verstehen = to understand). More examples: haften = to stick, verhaften = to imprison; kaufen = to buy, verkaufen = to sell; hören = to hear, aufhören = to cease; fahren = to drive, erfahren = to get to know, to hear about something.
Many German verbs have a separable prefix, often with an adverbial function. In finite verb forms this is split off and moved to the end of the clause, and is hence considered by some to be a "resultative particle". For example, mitgehen meaning "to go with" would be split giving Gehen Sie mit? (Literal: "Go you with?" ; Formal: "Are you going along"?).
Indeed, several parenthetical clauses may occur between the prefix of a finite verb and its complement; e.g.
German requires that a verbal element (main verb or auxiliary verb) appear second in the sentence, preceded by the most important topical phrase. The second most important phrase appears at the end of the sentence. For a sentence without an auxiliary, this gives several options:
The position of a noun as a subject or object in a German sentence doesn't affect the meaning of the sentence as it would in English. In a declarative sentence in English if the subject does not occur before the predicate the sentence could well be misunderstood.
For example, in the sentence "Man bites dog" it is clear who did what to whom. To exchange the place of the subject with that of the object — "Dog bites man" — changes the meaning completely. In other words the word order in a sentence conveys significant information. In German, nouns and articles are declined as in Latin thus indicating whether it is the subject or object of the verb's action. The above example in German would be Ein Mann beißt den Hund or Den Hund beißt ein Mann with both having exactly the same meaning. If the articles are omitted, which is sometimes done in headlines (Mann beißt Hund), the syntax applies as in English — the first noun is the subject and the noun following the predicate is the object.
Except for emphasis, adverbs of time have to appear in the third place in the sentence, just after the predicate. Otherwise the speaker would be recognised as non-German. For instance the German word order (in Modern English) is: We're going tomorrow to town. (Wir gehen morgen in die Stadt.)
When an auxiliary verb is present, the auxiliary appears in second position, and the main verb appears at the end. This occurs notably in the creation of the perfect tense. Many word orders are still possible, e.g.:
The word order is generally less rigid than in Modern English except for nouns (see below). There are two common word orders; one is for main clauses and another for subordinate clauses. In normal positive sentences the inflected verb always has position 2; in questions, exclamations and wishes it always has position 1. In subordinate clauses the verb is supposed to occur at the very end, but in speech this rule is often disregarded. For example in a subordinate clause introduced by "weil" ("because") the verb quite often occupies the same order as in a main clause. The correct way of saying "because I'm broke" is "…weil ich pleite bin.". In the vernacular you may hear instead "…weil ich bin pleite." This phenomenon may be caused by mixing the word-order pattern used for the word weil with the pattern used for an alternative word for "because", denn, which is used with the main clause order ("…denn ich bin pleite.").
Sentences using modal verbs place the infinitive at the end. For example, the sentence in Modern English "Should he go home?" would be rearranged in German to say "Should he (to) home go?" (Soll er nach Hause gehen?). Thus in sentences with several subordinate or relative clauses the infinitives are clustered at the end. Compare the similar clustering of prepositions in the following English sentence: "What did you bring that book that I don't like to be read to out of up for?"
The number of infinitives at the end is usually restricted to two, causing the third infinitive or auxiliary verb that would have gone at the very end to be placed instead at the beginning of the chain of verbs. For example in the sentence "Should he move into the house that he just has had renovated?" would be rearranged to "Should he into the house move, that he just renovated had?". (Soll er in das Haus einziehen, das er gerade hat renovieren lassen?). The older form would have been (Soll er in das Haus, das er gerade hat renovieren lassen, einziehen?).
If there are more than three infinitives, all except the first two are relocated to the beginning of the chain. Needless to say the rule is not rigorously applied.
The coining of new, autochthonous words gave German a vocabulary of an estimated 40,000 words as early as the ninth century. In comparison, Latin, with a written tradition of nearly 2,500 years in an empire which ruled the Mediterranean, has grown to no more than 45,000 words today.
Even today, many low-key scholarly movements try to promote the Ersatz (substitution) of virtually all foreign words with ancient, dialectal, or neologous German alternatives. It is claimed that this would also help in spreading modern or scientific notions among the less educated, and thus democratise public life, too. Jurisprudence in Germany, for example, uses perhaps the "purest" tongue in terms of "Germanness", but also the most cumbersome, to be found today..
In the modern scientific German vocabulary data base in Leipzig (as of July 2003) there are nine million words and word groups in 35 million sentences (out of a corpus of 500 million words).
Before the German spelling reform of 1996, ß replaced ss after long vowels and diphthongs and before consonants, word-, or partial-word-endings. In reformed spelling, ß replaces ss only after long vowels and diphthongs. Since there is no capital ß, it is always written as SS when capitalization is required. For example, Maßband (tape measure) is capitalized MASSBAND. An exception is the use of ß in legal documents and forms when capitalizing names. To avoid confusion with similar names, a "ß" is to be used instead of "SS". (So: "KREßLEIN" instead of "KRESSLEIN".) A capital ß has been proposed and included in Unicode, but it is not yet recognized as standard German. In Switzerland, ß is not used at all.
Umlaut vowels (ä, ö, ü) are commonly circumscribed with ae, oe, and ue if the umlauts are not available on the keyboard used. In the same manner ß can be circumscribed as ss. German readers understand those circumscriptions (although they look unusual), but they are avoided if the regular umlauts are available because they are considered a makeshift, not proper spelling. (In Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein, city and family names exist where the extra e has a vowel lengthening effect, e.g. Raesfeld [ˈraːsfɛlt], Coesfeld [ˈkoːsfɛlt] and Itzehoe [ɪtsəˈhoː], but this use of the letter e after a/o/u does not occur in the present-day spelling of words other than proper nouns.)
Unfortunately there is still no general agreement exactly where these umlauts occur in the sorting sequence. Telephone directories treat them by replacing them with the base vowel followed by an e, whereas dictionaries use just the base vowel. As an example in a telephone book Ärzte occurs after Adressenverlage but before Anlagenbauer (because Ä is replaced by Ae). In a dictionary Ärzte occurs after Arzt but before Asbest (because Ä is treated as A). In some older dictionaries or indexes, initial Sch and St are treated as separate letters and are listed as separate entries after S.
Until the early 20th century, German was mostly printed in blackletter typefaces (mostly in Fraktur, but also in Schwabacher) and written in corresponding handwriting (for example Kurrent and Sütterlin). These variants of the Latin alphabet are very different from the serif or sans serif Antiqua typefaces used today, and particularly the handwritten forms are difficult for the untrained to read. The printed forms however were claimed by some to be actually more readable when used for printing Germanic languages . The Nazis initially promoted Fraktur and Schwabacher since they were considered Aryan, although they later abolished them in 1941 by claiming that these letters were Jewish. The latter fact is not widely known anymore; today the letters are often associated with the Nazis and are no longer commonly used . The Fraktur script remains present in everyday life through road signs, pub signs, beer brands and other forms of advertisement, where it is used to convey a certain rusticality and oldness.
A proper use of the long s, (langes s), ſ, is essential to write German text in Fraktur typefaces. Many Antiqua typefaces include the long s, also. A specific set of rules applies for the use of long s in German text, but it is rarely used in Antiqua typesetting, recently. Any lower case "s" at the beginning of a syllable would be a long s, as opposed to a terminal s or short s (the more common variation of the letter s), which marks the end of a syllable; for example, in differentiating between the words Wachſtube (=guard-house) and Wachstube (=tube of floor polish). One can decide which "s" to use by appropriate hyphenation, easily ("Wach-ſtube" vs. "Wachs-tube"). The long s only appears in lower case.
The widespread ignorance of the correct use of the Fraktur scripts shows however in the many mistakes made— such as the frequent erroneous use of the round s instead of the long s at the beginning of a syllable, the failure to employ the mandatory ligatures of Fraktur, or the use of letter-forms more alike to the Antiqua for certain especially hard-to-read Fraktur letters.
German vowels (excluding diphthongs; see below) come in short and long varieties, as detailed in the following table:
In many varieties of standard German, an unstressed /ɛr/ is not pronounced as [ər], but vocalised to [ɐ].
Whether any particular vowel letter represents the long or short phoneme is not completely predictable, although the following regularities exist:
Both of these rules have exceptions (e.g. hat [hat] 'has' is short despite the first rule; Kloster [kloːstər], 'cloister'; Mond [moːnt], 'moon' are long despite the second rule). For an i that is neither in the combination ie (making it long) nor followed by a double consonant or cluster (making it short), there is no general rule. In some cases, there are regional differences: In central Germany (Hessen), the o in the proper name "Hoffmann" is pronounced long while most other Germans would pronounce it short; the same applies to the e in the geographical name "Mecklenburg" for people in that region. The word Städte 'cities', is pronounced with a short vowel [ˈʃtɛtə] by some (Jan Hofer, ARD Television) and with a long vowel [ˈʃtɛːtə] by others (Marietta Slomka, ZDF Television). Finally, a vowel followed by ch can be short (Fach [fax] 'compartment', Küche [ˈkʏçe] 'kitchen') or long (Suche [ˈzuːxǝ] 'search', Bücher [ˈbyːçər] 'books') almost at random. Thus, Lache is homographous: (Lache) [la:xe] 'puddle' and (lache) [laxe] 'manner of laughing' (coll.), 'laugh!' (Imp.).
German vowels can form the following digraphs (in writing) and diphthongs (in pronunciation); note that the pronunciation of some of them (ei, äu, eu) is very different from what one would expect when considering the component letters:
|spelling||ai, ei, ay, ey||au||äu, eu|
In most varieties of standard German, word stems that begin with a vowel are preceded by a glottal stop [ʔ].
German does not have any dental fricatives (as English th). The th sounds, which the English language has inherited from Anglo Saxon, survived on the continent up to Old High German and then disappeared in German with the consonant shifts between the 8th and the 10th century. It is sometimes possible to find parallels between German by replacing the English th with d in German: "Thank" → in German "Dank", "this" and "that" → "dies" and "das", "thou" (old 2nd person singular pronoun) → "du", "think" → "denken", "thirsty" → "durstig" and many other examples.
Likewise, the gh in Germanic English words, pronounced in several different ways in modern English (as an f, or not at all), can often be linked to German ch: "to laugh" → "lachen", "through" and "thorough" → "durch", "high" → "hoch", "naught" → "nichts", etc.
There are many thousands of German words that are cognate to English words (in fact a sizeable fraction of native German and English vocabulary, although for various reasons much of it is not immediately obvious). Most of the words in the following table have almost the same meaning as in English.
|German||Meaning of German word||English cognate|
|Abend||eve/evening||eve from Old E.æfen|
|auf||up / on||up|
|beginnen, begann, begonnen||to begin, began, begun||to begin, began, begun|
|bester, beste, bestes||best||best|
|bringen, brachte, gebracht||to bring, brought, brought||bring, brought|
|essen||to eat, food||to eat|
|fallen, fiel, gefallen||to fall, fell, fallen||to fall, fell, fallen|
|fechten, focht, gefochten||to fence||fight, fought, fought|
|Gans, Gänse||goose||goose, geese|
|haben||to have||to have|
|-heit (suffix)||-ity, -ness, -hood||-hood|
|Hilfe, helfen||help (noun), to help||help, to help|
|heißen||to be called||hight (archaic)|
|ist, war||is, was||is, was|
|kommen, kam, gekommen||to come, came, come||to come, came, come|
|Laus, Läuse||louse, lice||louse, lice|
|lachen||to laugh||to laugh|
|Mann, Männer||man||man, men|
|Maus, Mäuse||mouse, mice||mouse, mice|
|müssen||to have to||must|
|scheinen||to shine||to shine|
|schwimmen, schwamm, geschwommen||to swim||to swim, swam, swum|
|singen, sang, gesungen||to sing, sang, sung||to sing, sang, sung|
|sinken, sank, gesunken||to sink, sank, sunk||to sink, sank, sunk|
|springen, sprang, gesprungen||to jump, jumped, jumped||to spring, sprang, sprung|
|stehlen, stahl, gestohlen||to steal||to steal, stole, stolen|
|Tisch||table||dish (both eating surfaces)|
|wir, uns||we, us||we, us|
Compound word cognates
|German||Cognate word parts||Meaning|
|Fingernagel||finger + nail||fingernail|
|Hochland||high + land||highland|
|Ringfinger||ring + finger||ring finger|
|Schneemann||snow + man||snowman|
|Schwertfisch||sword + fish||swordfish|
|Vollmond||full + moon||full moon|
|Vorsicht||fore + sight||foresight (/caution)|
|Wasserfall||water + fall||waterfall|
When these cognates have slightly different consonants, this is often due to the High German consonant shift. Hence the affinity of English words with those of German dialects is more evidently:
|ein grüner Apfel||a green apple||a griener Appl|
|eine Katze||a cat||en Katt|
|mein Kamm||my comb||mei Kambl|
|meine Mutter||my mother||mei Modder|
|sie ist allein||she is alone||sie is allon|
There are cognates whose meanings in either language have changed through the centuries. It is sometimes difficult for both English and German speakers to discern the relationship. On the other hand, once the definitions are made clear, then the logical relation becomes obvious. Sometimes the generality or specificity of word pairs may be opposite in the two languages.
|German||Meaning of German word||English cognate||Comment|
|antworten||to answer||an-word||the cognate prefix Ger.'ant' is equal to Old E.'and-'〈"against"〉(→an).'wort'=word,'swer'=swear, so the suffix isn't cognate.|
|Baum||tree||beam||Both derive from West Germanic *baumoz meaning "tree". It is the English one which, in Anglo-Saxon and Old English, has radically changed its meaning several times. (The original meaning is retained in the English terms for some trees, such as hornbeam.)|
|bekommen||to get||to become|
|drehen||to turn||to throw||cf. to throw (make) a pot by turning it on a wheel|
|ernten||to harvest||to earn|
|fahren||to drive||to fare||O.E. faran "to journey, to make one's way," from P.Gmc. *faranan (cf. Goth. faran, Ger. fahren), from PIE *por- "going, passage"|
|fechten||to fence (sport)||to fight|
|Gift||poison||gift||the original meaning of Gift in German can still be seen in the German deflection Mitgift "dowry"|
|kaufen||to buy||cheap, chapman|
|nehmen||to take||numb||sensation has been taken away; cf. German benommen, 'dazed'|
|raten||to guess, to advise||to read||cf. riddle, akin to German Rätsel|
|ritzen||to scratch||to write|
|Schmerz||pain||smart||The verb smart retains this meaning|
|schlecht||bad||slight||Sense of Ger. cognate schlecht developed from "smooth, plain, simple" to "bad," and as it did it was replaced in the original senses by schlicht, a back-formation from schlichten "to smooth, to plane," a derivative of schlecht in the old sense.|
|sich rächen||to take revenge||to wreak (havoc)|
|Tisch||table||dish, desk||Latin discus|
|Vieh||cattle||fee||from O.E. 'feoh' money, property, cattle|
|Wald||forest||wold||cf. English placename "Cotswold(s)"|
|werden||to become||weird||see wyrd|
|Zeit||time||tide||the root is re-used in German Gezeiten as Tiden ('tides')|
German and English also share many borrowings from other languages, especially Latin, French and Greek. Most of these words have the same meaning, while a few have subtle differences in meaning. As many of these words have been borrowed by numerous languages, not only German and English, they are called internationalisms in German linguistics. For reference, a good number of these borrowed words are of the neuter gender.
|German||Meaning of German word||language of origin|
|Zucker||sugar||Sanskrit, via Arabic|
|German word||English cognate||Meaning of German word|
|Angst||angst||fear / angst|
|Anschluss||anschluss||connection / access|
|Automat||automat||automation / machine / automat|
|Bildungsroman||bildungsroman||novel of personal development|
|Blitz||blitz||flash / lightning|
|Delikatessen||delikatessen/delicatessen||delicate, resp. delicious food items|
|Doppelgänger||doppelgänger||spectral look-alike of somebody|
|Gesundheit!||Gesundheit! (Amer.)||health / bless you!|
|Hinterland||hinterland||interior / backwoods|
|Kindergarten||kindergarten||literally "Children's Garden" - nursery or preschool|
|Realpolitik||realpolitik||diplomacy based on practical objectives rather than ideals|
|Schadenfreude||schadenfreude||taking pleasure in someone else's misfortune|
|Waldsterben||waldsterben||floral dying environment|
|Wanderlust||wanderlust||desire, pleasure, or inclination to travel, or walk|
|Zeitgeist||zeitgeist||the spirit of the age/decade; the trend at that time|
The names that countries have for the language differ from region to region.
In Italian the sole name for German is still tedesco, from the Latin theodiscus, meaning "vernacular".
A possible explanation for the use of words meaning "mute" (e.g., nemoj in Russian, němý in Czech, nem in Serbian) to refer to German (and also to Germans) in Slavic languages is that Germans were the first people Slavic tribes encountered with whom they could not communicate.
Romanian used to use the Slavonic term "nemţeşte", but "germană" is now widely used. Hungarian "német" is also of Slavonic origin. The Arabic name for Austria, النمسا ("an-namsa"), is derived from the Slavonic term.
Note also that though the Russian term for the language is немецкий (nemetskij), the country is Германия (Germania). However, in certain other Slavic languages, such as Czech, the country name (Německo) is similar to the name of the language, německý (jazyk).
Scandinavians use derivatives of the word Tyskland/Þýskaland (from Theodisca) for the country and tysk(a)/þýska for the language.
Hebrew traditionally (nowadays this is not the case) used the Biblical term אַשְׁכֲּנָז (Ashkenaz) (Genesis 10:3) to refer to Germany, or to certain parts of it, and the Ashkenazi Jews are those who originate from Germany and Eastern Europe and formerly spoke Yiddish as their native language, derived from Middle High German. Modern Hebrew uses גֶּרְמָנִי germaní (Or גֶּרְמָנִית germanít for the language).
The French term is allemand, the Spanish term is alemán, the Catalan term is alemany, and the Portuguese term is alemão; all derive from the ancient Alamanni tribal alliance, meaning literally "All Men".
The Latvian term vācu possibly comes from the German word Volk (folk, people).
The Scottish Gaelic term for the German language, Gearmailtis, is formed in the standard way of adding -(a)is to the end of the country name.
See Names for Germany for further details on the origins of these and other terms.