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German language

German (Deutsch) is a West Germanic language and one of the world’s major languages. German is closely related to English and Dutch. Around the world, German is spoken by approximately 95 to 100 million native speakers and another 20 million non-native speakers.

German is the second most spoken native language in Europe after Russian, above French and English. German is the third most taught foreign language worldwide, also in the United States (after Spanish and French). 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.

German is spoken primarily in Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, in two-thirds of Switzerland, in the South Tirol province of Italy, in the small East Cantons of Belgium, and in some border villages of the South Jutland County of Denmark.
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.


The history of the language begins with the High German consonant shift during the Migration period, separating South Germanic dialects from common West Germanic. 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.

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, learnt 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.

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.

Language system
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.
German is an inflected language.

German nouns inflect into:

  • one of four cases: nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative
  • one of three genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter
  • two numbers: singular and plural

Writing system
German is written using the Latin alphabet. In addition to the 26 standard letters, German has three vowels with Umlaut, namely ä, ö and ü, as well as sharp s “ß” .

The word order is generally more rigid than in English except for nouns.

Most German vocabulary is derived from the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, although there are significant minorities of words derived from Latin, French, and most recently English.

Cognates with English
There are many German words that are cognate to English words. Most of the words in the following table have almost the same meaning as in English.

  • beginnen – to begin
  • bester – best
  • Bett – bed
  • Bier – beer
  • Butter – butter
  • essen – to eat
  • fallen – to fall
  • Fisch – fish
  • Gott – God
  • haben – to have
  • Haus – house
  • ist, war – is, was
  • König – King
  • Mann – man
  • Maus – mouse
  • Milch – milk
  • Nacht – night
  • schwimmen – to swim
  • singen – to sing
  • Sommer – summer
  • Wille – will (noun)
  • Winter – winter

German and English also share many borrowings from other languages, especially Latin, French and Greek. Most of these words have the same meaning. As many of these words have been borrowed by numerous languages, not only German and English, they are called internationalisms in German linguistics.

German words in the English language
In the English language are also many words taken from German without any letter changed:

angst (fear), anschluss (connection), autobahn (motorway), automat, blitz (flash / lightning), edelweiss, Gesundheit! (to your health), kindergarten (playschool), kraut (cabbage)

Source: Wikipedia. (This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Metasyntactic variable”)