THE GERMAN LANGUAGE
Where we speak German
Due to a such great imperial past, the German language spread in Europe mainly. First, with the Holy Roman Empire. Then, with Austro Hungarian Empire. And finally with the German Reich under the nazis. If France and England were even greater empires, it was overseas or in Europe but for a quite short time.
Also, it is an official language of Germany, of course, but also in Austria, Belgium, switzerland, as well as in the principalities of Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. Not to mention that Germany is the 1st economy in Europe and the 4th in the world. Plus, with French and English, it is a working language of the European Commission. And, for those who are fans, as a high level football team, German is also an official language used by the FIFA.
For these reasons, German became the most spoken language in Europe with more than 100 million speakers over about 750 millions.
In the world
As the empire expansion focused on the continent mainly, the number of German speakers based overseas is quite low. Thus, the main foreign region where we can find German is Namibia. Also, we can note a very low presence in some countries of South America.
If some countries suggest German at a second language at school, the latter is not popular, for the benefit of Spanish. Some reasons explain this fact :
- First, most consider it as very hard to learn. Indeed, contrary to thoses coming from Latin or English, sentence structures in German greatly differ.
- Second, most of people admit that the German language sounds quite ugly, rude and agressive. That is why German is popular for training animals. Not to mention that it evoks the nazi period.
- Third, people do not consider German as a useful language, contrary to Spanish which is a top language in the world.
German is of Indo-European origin, which is a group dated more than 4 millinia B.C., which gathers dialects with common features. Later, a couple of branches emerged from the latter: Latin, Germanic, Slavic, etc.
A couple of dialects
- First, Gothic, which spread in the East mainly, was the language of the Goths, Vandals and Burgundian people. While it was the leading Germanic language, it quickly died out from the 4th century. By the way, we consider the Bible of Ulphilas as the first known major text written at that time in a Germanic language.
- On the west and south sides, we have Anglo-Frisian, German-Dutch, Dutch, Flemish, Luxembourgish, Moselle Franconian and High German.
- Finally are Icelandic, Norwegian, Faroese, Danish and Swedish in the North.
Old German covered the period going from mid 8th to mid 11th century. Also, note that the word German appeared for the very first time in the year 786. In fact, there was no unified code for writing Old German. That is why linguists consider it as a group dialects in itself, with Old West Franconian, Old Rhenish, Old Bavarian and Old Alemannic. The written traces consist in religious texts mainly, although there are some secular texts such as magical spells or the Strasbourg Oaths.
Middle High German
We can find it from mid 11th to the end of the Middle Ages about mid 14th century. Thought as the true ancestor of the modern German language, Middle High German is also a group including Swabian and East Frankish dialects.
Low and High German
The terms Low German and High German simply refer to its cover area. However, this meaning changed slowly. On one hand, Low German became the language of the working classes, a less pure and correct idiom. On the other hand, the upper classes perfected High German which became the written language.
Under the Holy Roman Empire, Low German evolved into High German and then became a major dialect in the 17th century. German became the lingua franca in central Europe until the mid 19th century. Prague, Budapest, Presbourg, Agram and Laibach spoke German until then.
The Protestant religion introduced Standard German into schools, which helped to spread it in the North mainly. Indeed, until 1850, High German was learned as a foreign language in some parts of the country. It is worth noting that the famous Martin Luther translated the Bible into Standard German in the early 16th century. Until around 1800, Standard German was almost only a written language.
From the 19th century onwards, German became the language of commerce. Thanks to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Central Europe, German became more common in many capitals (Prague, Budapest, Bratislava, Zagreb), while rural areas still kept its dialects. Also, it continued to spread always more to then replace the local dialects in the 20th century.
From early 1900s, some changes took place. For instance, the "th" lost the letter "h". Thus "roth" (red) became "rot". Hence some names, such as Rothschild, still use the old spelling. In the 1940s, Hitler ended to kill the gothic script, called "Fraktur" in German. On the eve of the year 2000, the famous letter ß was reformed and replaced by "ss". What a pity! This letter was unique, really specific to the German language, and even rather aesthetic. Thus, "Fluß" (river) should now be written "Fluss". In short, modern German is a very recent language.
TO GO DEEPER
German is written with the 26 Latin letters. The latter include three vowels with a Umlaut accent ä, ö and ü, and a special graphic symbol "ß" which is now replaced by "ss".
Words with no end
This is very specific to German and hated by foreign people. Indeed, German names are special in that we glue them as a mark of belonging or relation from one word to another. Thus, the longest German word would mean "Law on the transfer of beef labeling surveillance obligations" (pic).