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The German Language

Language History:

German dates back as far as the middle of the eighth century. Prior to this, Germanic languages (including English) were similar and even mutually comprehensible. Old High German originally formed from a dialect known as Western German.

With the rise of the Roman Empire, the German language stabilized (kept its form) and became more widely-spoken. The imperial government began using what became known as ‘Middle High German’ beginning in the 11th century. In 1522 Martin Luther chose to translate the bible into the standard German used by the government. This version of German became known as New High German.

Until the 19th century, what we know today as standard German was almost entirely a written language and was extremely different from the spoken varieties. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that grammar and pronunciation standards began to appear, and German as a true common language emerged.

Number of people speaking German:

Approximately 100 million speakers.


The dialects of German are unique in that many are not technically German at all, but rooted in the same parent language family as German. The dialects are broadly divided into Low German and High German, but also include Swiss-German for example.

Countries Spoken:

Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Belgium, South Tyrol region of Italy, Opole Voivodship of Poland and parts of Namibia (former colony).

Facts about German:

After the American Wars of Independence, the Continental Congress considered adopting a new language for the future of the United States. The results of the vote meant that English was chosen above German as the language of the new republic – but reputedly only by one vote!