The History of The German Language

Updated on
September 10, 2022

There are in total 4 European countries where German is the official language. Germany Austria, Switzerland and Belgium. This adds up to a staggering 100 million people speaking the language making it the most widely spoken language in Europe. German rank as the 6th most popular language in the world, so it is definitely a language it is worth learning regardless if you relocate to Germany or not. The history of the German language dates back to around 2,000 B.C.

Language experts believe the basis of the German language, referred to as Proto-Germanic, dates back to the 1st century B.C. Initial records of the language have been found when the Romans came in contact with settlements around the Rhine-Danabu area. However, the German language we know today is hardly recognizable when compared with the Proto-Germanic language that was first observed.

The Evolution Of The German Language

The history of the German language is rich and it has evolved with society and socio-political influences over time. When looking at the history, the evolution can be divided into 4 main time periods:

  1. Old High German: 700 A.D. - 11th Century
  2. Middle High German: 1050 - 1350
  3. Early New High German: 1350 - 1600
  4. New High German: 1600 - present

The German language is interesting due to the dominance of dialects. It is believed this was due to the absence of a cultural centre in the earlier years, so the population was more isolated and thus preserved the many dialects. By the end of the Middle Ages a "Standard German Language" was attempted to be adopted and was greatly influenced by the translation of Martin Luther's bible from Hebrew in 1522. This became the largely the basis of the German language we know today.

The Modern Day German

Hochdeutsch, directly translated to "High German", is the modern-day German we know today. It is primarily used as the language for administration, higher education, literature and mass media. There are three additional main variations, or dialects, of the German language. These are:

  • Low German (Plattdeutsch/Niederdeutsch): This dialect is still spoken in most homes in the lowlands of northern Germany.
  • Alemannic: This dialect differs considerably in sound system and grammar from High German and is mainly spoken in the neighbouring countries Switzerland, western Austria, Swabia, Lichtenstein and in the Alsace region of France.
  • Yiddish: This dialect is used by the ancestors of Jewish people living in Germany. It is developed from High German during the Middle Ages.

The history of the German language dates back centuries. With several countries adopting close variations of it, it is a widely spoken ancient language. With High German being the most dominant dialect adopted in modern society, the dialects remain prominent variations used to communicate among people in Germany.

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