German language

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German language,

member of the West Germanic group of the Germanic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Germanic languagesGermanic languages,
subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages, spoken by about 470 million people in many parts of the world, but chiefly in Europe and the Western Hemisphere.
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). It is the official language of Germany and Austria and is one of the official languages of Switzerland. Altogether nearly 100 million people speak German as their first language, among them about 77 million in Germany; 8 million in Austria; 4.5 million in Switzerland; 2 million in the United States and Canada; about 2 million in Latin America; and several additional millions throughout Europe, including the Baltic republics, Belarus, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine, and the Balkan states. German is important as a cultural and commercial second language for millions of people in Central, Northern, and Eastern Europe and in North and South America.

High and Low German

There are two principal divisions of the German language: High German, or Hochdeutsch, and Low German, or Plattdeutsch. One of the most striking differences between them is the result of a consonant shift (usually referred to as the second, or High German, sound shift) that took place before the 8th cent. A.D. in certain West Germanic dialects. This sound shift affected the southern areas, which are more elevated and hence referred to as the High German region, whereas it left untouched the Low German prevalent in the lowland regions of the North. In a broader and purely linguistic sense, the term Low German can also be extended to cover all the West Germanic languages in which the second sound shift did not take place, such as Dutch, Frisian, and English.

Distinctive Features

Besides differences in word order, the German language is unlike English in that German makes extensive use of inflectional endings. The verb is inflected to show person, number, tense, and mood; and the subjunctive is frequently used. The declensional scheme has four cases: nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative. There are two ways of declining the adjective, and there are three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. A distinctive feature of German is its extensive use of lengthy compound words. For example, the English "history of antiquity" is translated into German as Altertumswissenschaft; the English "worthy of distinction" is translated as auszeichnungswürdig.

The Gothic or Black Letter form (in German called Fraktur) of the Roman alphabet, which first appeared in Europe around the 12th cent., is now rarely used, although knowledge of Fraktur is needed in order to read many works printed before 1945. The Roman alphabet is now exclusively used in printing. To it were added the symbol ß, representing a voiceless s (as in English mouse), now often replaced with ss; and the umlauted vowels ä, ö, and ü. German is the only language in which all nouns are capitalized, common as well as proper. There is a closer relationship between German spelling and pronunciation than there is in English.

History of German

Historically, German falls into three main periods: Old German (c.A.D. 750–c.A.D. 1050); Middle German (c.1050–c.1500); and Modern German (c.1500 to the present). The earliest existing records in German date back to about A.D. 750. In this first period, local dialects were used in writing, and there was no standard language. In the middle period a relatively uniform written language developed in government after the various chancelleries of the Holy Roman Empire began, in the 14th cent., to use a combination of certain dialects of Middle High German in place of the Latin that until then had dominated official writings.

The German of the chancellery of Saxony was adapted by Martin LutherLuther, Martin,
1483–1546, German leader of the Protestant Reformation, b. Eisleben, Saxony, of a family of small, but free, landholders. Early Life and Spiritual Crisis

Luther was educated at the cathedral school at Eisenach and at the Univ.
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 for his translation of the Bible. He chose it because at that time the language of the chancelleries alone stood out in a multitude of dialects as a norm, and Luther thought he could reach many more people through it. The modern period is usually said to begin with the German used by Luther, which became the basis of Modern High German, or modern standard German. The spread of uniformity in written German was also helped by printers, who, like Luther, wanted to attract as many readers as possible.

During the 18th cent. a number of outstanding writers gave modern standard German essentially the form it has today. It is now the language of church and state, education and literature. A corresponding norm for spoken High German, influenced by the written standard, is used in education, the theater, and broadcasting. German dialects that differ substantially from standard German, not only in pronunciation but also in grammar, are found in regions of Germany, E France, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein; Lëtzeburgesch, an official language of Luxembourg, is a German dialect spoken by about 400,000 people there. Although dialectal differences within both the High German and Low German regions remain, a trend toward uniformity in the direction of the written standard is expected partly as a result of widespread broadcasting, diminishing isolation, and increased socioeconomic mobility.


See B. A. Reichenbach, Handbook of German Grammar (1987); W. B. Lockwood German Today (1987); W. M. Rivers, Teaching German (1988); C. V. J. Russ, ed., The Dialects of Modern German (1989); A. E. Hammer, German Grammar and Usage (1989).

References in periodicals archive ?
The debate between Gill and Duits and van Zoonen is representative of the kinds of debate which regularly occur over how to understand women's engagement with the artifacts of sexualised popular culture.
lhoewel Celn verskeie tle bemeester het en meer s 700 bldsye gedigte uit onder meer Engels, Frns, Itlins, Portugees, Russies in Duits vertl het, kon hy slegs in Duits skryf.
Wanneer sy slegte ervaring van sy onderrig in Duits in ag geneem word, verbaas dit 'n mens hie dat Du Plessis eers in Grahamstad sy eerste Duitse gedig, Rilke (1875-1926) se "Herbst", getoonset bet hie.
Bernard Odendaal is senior lektor in die afdeling Afrikaans en Nederlands, Duits en Frans aan die Universiteit van die Vrystaat.
Waarskynlik as gevolg van die vervaging van die komponentbetekenis van sint- in die kompositum sintvloed en die verdwyning van die woordkorrelaat sint, is in verskillende Germaanse tale klankmatig en semanties 'n verband gele tussen sint- en die woord wat op sonde dui, byvoorbeeld zonde in Nederlands en Sunde in Duits.
In sommige biografiese beskrywings word hierdie buitelyne aangevul met verwysings na Petersen se voorliefde vir atletiek en rugby, sy beresenheid, sy belangstelling in Duits, musiek, die skilderkuns, die mistieke en antroposofie (Litnet; Toerien 1987; Van der Ross 1987).
Die leser volg die skrander, maer dogtertjie se wedervarings en grootwordproses van vier jaar deur Pole as Gretz, wat nie mag se dat sy Duits is en haar ouma Joods was nie, haar afskeid van Jakob in Kiel om gekeur te word vir die groep Duitse wesies op pad na SuidAfrika as Gretl (of Gretchen, soos hy haar noem), haar mondigwording as Grietjie Neethling, "Christendogter, Afrikanerdogter--en trots daarop" (p.
Odendaal is 'n digter en mede-professor in die Departement Afrikaans en Nederlands, Duits en Frans aan die Universiteit van die Vrystaat.
Met betrekking tot kompositumanaliseerders gebruik Schiller (2005) byvoorbeeld geweegde eindigetoestandoorvormers (weighted finite state transducers) om 'n kompositumanaliseerder vir Duits te ontwikkel.
Hy is besonder populer op die Europese vasteland en afgesien van Engels is sy boeke in Frans, Duits, Spaans, Italiaans, Nederlands, Tjeggies, Boelgaars, Roemeens, Slowaaks, Deens en Noors vertaal (www.
Die eerste groot mylpaal was die ontwikkeling van EuroWordNet vanaf 1996-1999, 'n woordnetdatabasis vir agt Europese tale: Nederlands, Frans, Duits, Engels, Tsjeggies, Spaans, Italiaans en Estnies.
com) is Orion en Feniks in Engels, Frans, Duits, Nederlands, Italiaans, Tsjeggies en Bulgaars vertaal.