German is a West Germanic language spoken mainly in Germany, Austria,
Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy. It is
recognised as a minority language in Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary,
Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Namibia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia,
Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, South Africa, Vatican City and Venezuela.
There are also significant German-speaking communities in the USA,
Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Australia, South Africa, Chile,
Paraguay, New Zealand and Peru.
Number of speakers
Standard German (Hoch Deutsch) has around
90 million native speakers, and other varieties of German have some 30
million. There are about 80 million people who speak German as a
second language, and many others study it as a foreign language.
The earliest known examples of written German date from the 8th century
AD and consist of fragments of an epic poem, the Song of Hildebrand,
magical charms and German glosses in Latin manuscripts. A short Latin-German
dictionary, the Abrogans, was written during the 760s.
German at a glance
Native name: Deutsch [ˈdɔʏtʃ]
Linguistic affliation: Indo-European, Germanic, West Germanic, High German
Number of speakers: c. 200 million
Spoken in: Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Lichtenstein
First written: AD 760s
Writing system: Latin script
Status: official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy (South Tyrol), Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Belgium and the EU; recognised minority language in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Namibia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, South Africa, Vatican City and Venezuela
German literature started to take off during the 12th and 13th centuries
in the form of poems, epics and romances. Well known examples include
the epic Nibelungenlied (the Song of the Nibelungs) and Gottfried
von Straßburg's Tristan. The language used is now
known as mittelhochdeutsche Dichtersprache (Middle High German
poetic language). During this period Latin was gradually replaced by
German as the language of official documents.
Varieties of German used in writing
High German (Hochdeutsch)
High German began to emerge as the standard literary language during the
16th century. Martin Luther's translation of the Bible, which he completed
in 1534, marks the beginning of this process. The language he used, based
partly on spoken German, became the model for written German.
A variety of German spoken by about 250,000 mainly in Pennsylvania,
Ohio and Indiana in the USA, and in Ontario in Canada. The Pennsylvania
German newspaper Hiwwe wie Driwwe publishes poetry and prose
in Pennsylvania German, and there are a number of other publications
featuring Pennsylvania German.
Regional varities of German, or Mundarten, also occasionally
appear in writing; mainly in 'folk' literature and comic books such as
Written German script styles
Fraktur was used for printed and written German from
the 16th century until 1940. The name Fraktur comes from Latin and
means "broken script". It is so called because its ornamental
twiddly bits (curlicues) break the continuous line of a word. In German
it is usually called the deutsche Schrift (German script).
Fraktur was also used for a number of other languages, including
Finnish, Czech, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian.
The second lowercase s appears at the ends of syllables, except in the
following combinations: ss, st, sp, sh and sch, while the first (ſ) appears everywhere else.
The symbol ß (scharfes S or Eszett) is a combination of the long s and z,
or a combination of the two types of s: there is some dispute about origin of this symbol.
For further details, see:
Sample text in Fraktur
Sütterlin was created by the Berlin graphic artist L. Sütterlin
(1865-1917), who modelled it on the style of handwriting used in the old German Chancery.
It was taught in German schools from 1915 to 1941 and is still used by the older generation.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)