German Language Facts

German

Official Language:

Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Alsace-Lorraine (France), Northern Italy, East-Belgium, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein

Number of speakers:

100 million (approx)

Origin:

German Language - Old High German dates back to 8th Century and is similar in many respects to Anglo-Saxon

Alphabet & Scripts:

Roman - Additional Letter ß (Double SS). Traditional Gothic script. (Fraktur) was revived during the 3rd Reich (1933-45) and this can still be seen on some buildings

History of the Language:

Today German is spoken by more than 100 million people. Following the American Wars of Independence, the Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia and considered adopting a new language for the future of the United States.

When it came to the vote, English was chosen above German as the language of the new republic – by only one vote!

German a Germanic language, is a member of the Indo-European language family. At some time during the disintegration of the Indo-European Community a group of tribes made their way to north-west Europe and there developed a Bronze Age Culture probably around 2 000 BC.

In time, the Indo-European dialect of the settlers underwent a changes which made it essentially a new language now known as Germanic or Primitive Germanic. By 500 BC, these nomadic tribes had begun to expand from their scattered Scandinavian and North German communities into the heart of the European Continent until finally they were brought to a halt on the frontiers of the Roman Empire.

The stabilising force, which emerged as the Germanic world came to rest, was the Frankish Empire from the fifth century AD to the end of the reign of Charlemagne in 1814. By conquest or peaceful annexation, the Franks gradually drew together all the Germanic peoples of Continental Europe with only the Scandinavian North and Anglo-Saxon Britain remaining separate.

During the centuries that followed there was no standard language of the people but rather a variety of dialects; Low German dialects in the North and High German dialects in Middle and Southern Germany.

The language used from about AD 700-1050 by monks, clerics and the aristocracy is now known as Old High German. However, this does not denote any simple unified language but is rather the collective name for the language of the educated at that time, with its regional variations.

Old High German gradually developed into Middle High German. The common people continued to speak in their dialects and by 1350 a need was becoming felt for a type of German which would be adequate for the whole range of human activity.

The translation of the Bible into Middle German by Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a major contribution to the final victory of this dialect as a common German language. East Middle German formed the basis of the modern standard language we know today.

The German Language:

Standard German is known today simply as "Hochdeutsch" (High German), and this is used almost always for written German. Books and newspapers are printed in standard German. "Hochdeutsch" is spoken by educated speakers everywhere. However, regional variants exist in the spoken language owing largely to the influence of the old dialects, although the dialects themselves are falling out of use.

"Hochdeutsch" in its purist form can be heard on the classical stage (known as "Bühnendeutsch"). A speaker of "Hochdeutsch" would be understood everywhere and this is used in the Linguaphone courses.

Traditionally German was written in a Gothic style known as Fraktur, which dates from the fourteenth century. However, from 1945 onwards, the Roman characters used throughout the rest of Europe superseded Fraktur.

Pronunciation of the German language is pleasingly simple. For example the word 'Pflug' (plough) may first look difficult to pronounce but try sounding every letter and your pronunciation would be correct.

Finally…

You know of course what a "Hamburger" is but what would you say if you were offered a "Berliner"? The right answer would be; "Vielen Dank. Ja, bitte" (– Thank you. Yes, please) – provided you like doughnuts!

Capital - Berlin

Other main cities - Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt, Essen, Dortmund, Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, Bremen, Hanover, Duisberg,

Area (km²) - 356,733

Population - 82,012,162

Currency - Euro

History of Germany

The Franks, one of a number of tribes known to have lived in the region of modern Germany from the end of the 2nd century BC, were led to European dominance by the Emperor Charlemagne who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800AD, and for several hundred years it was common for the German ruler to possess the title. From 1438 to its decline the Hapsburg line ruled the Holy Roman Empire.

The Thirty Years War (1618-48) left the empire in disarray and by 1815 Austria and Prussia were struggling over control of Germany. Germany was finally united by Otto Von Bismarck, a Prussian Prime Minister, in three wars against Denmark, Austria and France.

Wilhelm I of Prussia was declared Emperor of Germany and the Second German Reich began. Wilhelm II's foreign policy met with defeat in the First World War and the Second German Reich fell, to be replaced by the moderate Weimar Republic.

There was much national resentment towards the Weimar government and Adolf Hitler exploited these feelings, becoming chancellor in 1933 and rearming from 1934. Between 1934 and 1938 the Rhineland was reoccupied, Austria was annexed and alliances with Italy strengthened. The invasion of Poland in 1939 is commonly seen as the beginning of World War II.

After the German surrender the nation was divided into 4 occupied zones. The Federal Republic of Germany was declared in 1949 with Bonn as the capital, while the Soviet dominated East Germany became the Democratic Republic of Germany. The erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 intensified the division of the two Germanys until 1973 when both nations were accepted for membership of the United Nations.

With the collapse of Communism and the destruction of the Berlin wall in 1989 Germany was on it's way to becoming a united country once more.

Germany's 16 federated states form one of the major industrialised nations of central Europe and a key player in the European Union.