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.

Bibliography

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 ?
Immigrants' spouses from other countries will still have to prove knowledge of the German language, he said in a statement.
I believe that the promotion of the German language in Macedonia is also in the interest of Macedonia and its citizens.
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She further said that the Goethe-Institut was involve in supervising quality of teaching as well as training German language teachers.
The project, "Schools: The Partners of Future," which also aims at introducing German language into school curricula in Lebanon, is being funded by the German government and carried out in cooperation with Lebanon's Education Ministry.
We are very pleased with the successful development of the "Schools: Partners for the Future" network in the region and particularly in Egypt in the last two years," said Jore, "it shows that there is an increasing interest in Germany and the German language in the Middle East," she added.
Al-Hamidi affirmed the ministry's keenness to expand teaching the German language and give it more attention, stressing the importance of providing support and equipments for those schools as well as the attractive environment that encourage students to learn this language.
Damascus, (SANA) -- The third forum for the German Language Teachers Day in Syria kicked off on Saturday at Goethe Institute (the German Cultural Center in Damascus), organized by Goethe Institute and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
SIX participants of a German language course launched by the German Embassy were awarded certificates of achievement at the Bushido Restaurant, Seef.
According to an agreement signed in May 2008, the institute is committed to qualify teachers of German language, selecting and providing instructional aids, offering consultancy during the composition of syllabus and presenting consultancy in regards to the International examinations of German Language.
Datawatch Corporation (NASDAQ-CM:DWCH), a provider of Enterprise Information Management (EIM) and Business Intelligence, announced on Wednesday (27 May) the availability of Monarch V10, German language edition.
It is aimed at Year 8 and 9 pupils and is a six-week after school programme, which has ICT-based German language sessions followed by five-a-side football sessions.