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May 5, 2008

Wikipedia: German language

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Pronunciation: [dɔʏ̯tʃ]
Spoken in: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and in some border areas, Belgium, Italy and Russia as a minority language and Alsace in the form of a dialect.
Region: Central Europe, Western Europe
Total speakers: Native speakers: ca. 105 million [1][2]
Non-native speakers: ca. 80 million[1] [1]
Ranking: 10
Language family: Indo-European
West Germanic
Writing system: Latin alphabet (German variant)
Official status
Official language in: Austria
Province of Bolzano-Bozen, Italy
European Union (official and working language)

Further official standings in:

Krahule/Blaufuß, Slovakia (Official municipal language)[3]
Namibia (National language; official language 1984-90) [4]
Poland(Auxiliary language in several municipalities) [5]
Vatican City (Administrative and commanding language of the Swiss Guard) [6]

Recognised minority language in:

Czech Republic [7]
Denmark [8]
Hungary [9]
Romania [10]
Slovakia [1],[3]

Regulated by: no official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1: de
ISO 639-2: ger (B) deu (T)
ISO 639-3: variously:
deu – Modern German
gmh – Middle High German
goh – Old High German
gsw – Swiss German
swg – Swabian German
gct – Alemán Coloniero
wae – Walser German
bar – Austro-Bavarian
yid – Saxon-Thuringian Dialect
mhn – Yiddish
nds – Mócheno
sxu – Low German
cim – Upper Saxon
sli – Cimbrian
wep – Lower Silesian language
pfl – Palatinate German
pdt – Plautdietsch
vmf – Main-Franconian
ksh – Kölsch
pdc – Pennsylvania German language
geh – Hutterite German
ltz – Luxembourgish language
rip – Ripuarian (language)
uln – Unserdeutsch

Major German-speaking communities

The German language (Deutsch, [dɔʏ̯tʃ] ) is a West Germanic language and one of the world’s major languages. German is closely related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. Around the world, German is spoken by approximately 100 million native speakers and also about 80 million non-native speakers, and Standard German is widely taught in schools, universities, and Goethe Institutes worldwide.


Geographic distribution


Main article: German-speaking Europe
Further information: German as a minority language

German is spoken primarily in Germany (95%), Austria (89%) and Switzerland (64%) together with Liechtenstein, Luxembourg (D-A-CH-Li-Lux) constituting the countries where German is the majority language.

Other European German-speaking communities are found in Italy (Alto Adige/Südtirol), in the East Cantons of Belgium, and in some border villages of the former South Jutland County (in German, Nordschleswig, in Danish, Sønderjylland) of Denmark.

Some German-speaking communities still survive in parts of Romania, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and above all Russia and Kazakhstan, although forced expulsions after World War II and massive emigration to Germany in the 1980s and 1990s have depopulated most of these communities. It is also spoken by German-speaking foreign populations and some of their descendants in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Morocco, Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Scandinavia, Siberia in Russia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia).

In Luxembourg and the surrounding areas, big parts of the native population speak German dialects, and some people also master standard German (especially in Luxembourg), although in the French regions of Alsace (German: Elsass) and Lorraine (German: Lothringen) French has replaced the local German dialects as the official language, even though it has not been fully replaced on the street.


Main article: German diaspora
Examples of German language in Namibian everyday life.

Examples of German language in Namibian everyday life.

Outside of Europe and the former Soviet Union, the largest German-speaking communities are to be found in the United States, Canada, Brazil and in Argentina where millions of Germans migrated in the last 200 years; but the vast majority of their descendants no longer speak German. Additionally, German-speaking communities can be found in the former German colony of Namibia independent from South Africa since 1990, as well as in the other countries of German emigration such as Canada, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Venezuela (where Alemán Coloniero developed), South Africa and Australia.

South America

In Brazil the largest concentrations of German speakers are in Rio Grande do Sul (where Riograndenser Hunsrückisch was developed), Santa Catarina, Paraná, and Espírito Santo, and large German-speaking descendant communities in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. 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, and there is a reportedly small German immigration to Puerto Rico.

North America

The United States has the largest concentration of German speakers outside of Europe; an indication of this presence can be found in the names of such villages and towns as New Leipzig, Munich, Karlsruhe, and Strasburg, North Dakota, and New Braunfels, Texas. Though over the course of the 20th century many of the descendants of 18th and 19th-century immigrants ceased speaking German at home, small populations of elderly (as well as some younger) speakers can be found in Pennsylvania (Amish, Hutterites, Dunkards and some Mennonites historically spoke Pennsylvania Dutch (a West Central German variety) and Hutterite German), Kansas (Mennonites and Volga Germans), North Dakota (Hutterite Germans, Mennonites, Russian Germans, Volga Germans, and Baltic Germans), South Dakota, Montana, Texas (Texas German), Wisconsin, Indiana, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Early twentieth century immigration was often to St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Most of the post-World War II wave are in the New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago urban areas, and in Florida, Arizona and California where large communities of retired German, Swiss and Austrian expatriates live. Although the American population of German ancestry is above 60 million, only 5-6 million still speak some German[citation needed].

In Canada there are people of German ancestry throughout the country and especially in the western cities such as Kelowna. German is also spoken in Ontario and southern Nova Scotia. There is a large and vibrant community in the city of Kitchener, Ontario. German immigrants were instrumental in the country’s three largest urban areas: Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, but post-WWII immigrants managed to preserve a fluency in the German language in their respective neighborhoods and sections. In the first half of the 20th century, over a million German-Canadians made the language one of Canada’s most spoken after French.

In Mexico there are also large populations of German ancestry, mainly in the cities of: Mexico City, Puebla, Mazatlán, Tapachula, and larger populations scattered in the states of Chihuahua, Durango, and Zacatecas. German ancestry is also said to be found in neighboring towns around Guadalajara, Jalisco and much of Northern Mexico, where German influence was immersed into the Mexican culture.

Plautdietsch is a large minority language spoken in the north by the Mennonite communities, and is spoken by more than 200,000 people in Mexico, while standard German is spoken by the affluent German communities in Puebla, Mexico City, Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi and Quintana Roo.


There is an important German creole being studied and recovered, named Unserdeutsch, spoken in the former German colony of New Guinea and in North Australia, by few elderly people. The risk of its extinction is serious and efforts to revive interest in the language are being implemented by scholars.


According to Global Reach (2004), 6.9% of the Internet population is German.[11][12] According to Netz-tipp (2002), 7.7% of webpages are written in German,[13] making it second only to English. They also report that 12% of Google’s users use its German interface.[13]

Older statistics: Babel (1998) found somewhat similar demographics.[14] FUNREDES[15] (1998) and Vilaweb[16] (2000) both found that German is the third most popular language used by websites, after English and Japanese.


Main article: History of German
The German-speaking area of the Holy Roman Empire around 962.

The German-speaking area of the Holy Roman Empire around 962.

The history of the language begins with the High German consonant shift during the migration period, separating High German dialects from common West Germanic. The earliest testimonies of Old High German are from scattered Elder Futhark inscriptions, especially in Alemannic, from the 6th century, the earliest glosses (Abrogans) date to the 8th and the oldest coherent texts (the Hildebrandslied, the Muspilli and the Merseburg Incantations) to the 9th century. Old Saxon at this time belongs to the North Sea Germanic cultural sphere, and Low Saxon should fall under German rather than Anglo-Frisian influence during the Holy Roman Empire.

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.

When Martin Luther translated the Bible (the New Testament in 1522 and the Old Testament, published in parts and completed in 1534) he based his translation mainly on the bureaucratic standard language used in Saxony (sächsische Kanzleisprache) also known as Meißner-Deutsch (Meißner-German), which was the most widely understood language at this time, because the region it was spoken in was quite influential amongst the German states.[citation needed] This language was based on Eastern Upper and Eastern Central German dialects and preserved much of the grammatical system of Middle High German (unlike the spoken German dialects in Central and Upper Germany that already at that time began to lose the genitive case and the preterite tense). In the beginning, copies of the Bible had a long list for each region, which translated words unknown in the region into the regional dialect. Roman Catholics rejected Luther’s translation in the beginning and tried to create their own Catholic standard (gemeines Deutsch) — which, however, only differed from ‘Protestant German’ in some minor details. It took until the middle of the 18th century to create a standard that was widely accepted, thus ending the period of Early New High German. In 1901 the 2nd Orthographical Conference ended with a complete standardization of German language in written form while the Deutsche Bühnensprache (literally: German stage-language) had already established spelling-rules for German three years earlier which were later to become obligatory for general German pronunciation.

Animation of the changing geography of the German Sprachraum in Europe.

Animation of the changing geography of the German Sprachraum in Europe.

German used to be the language of commerce and government in the Habsburg Empire, which encompassed a large area of Central and Eastern Europe. Until the mid-19th century it was essentially the language of townspeople throughout most of the Empire. It indicated that the speaker was a merchant, an urbanite, not their nationality. Some cities, such as Prague (German: Prag) and Budapest (Buda, German: Ofen), were gradually Germanized in the years after their incorporation into the Habsburg domain. Others, such as Bratislava(German: Pressburg), were originally settled during the Habsburg period and were primarily German at that time. A few cities such as Milan (German: Mailand) remained primarily non-German. However, most cities were primarily German during this time, such as Prague, Budapest, Bratislava (German: Pressburg), Zagreb (German: Agram), and Ljubljana (German: Laibach), though they were surrounded by territory that spoke other languages.

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, learned 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, except by pre-school children in areas which speak only dialect, for example Switzerland and Austria. However, in this age of television, even they now usually learn to understand Standard German before school age.

The first dictionary of the Brothers Grimm, the 16 parts of which were issued between 1852 and 1860, remains the most comprehensive guide to the words of the German language. 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. Since the reform, German spelling has been in an eight-year transitional period where the reformed spelling is taught in most schools, while traditional and reformed spellings co-exist in the media. See German spelling reform of 1996 for an overview of the public debate concerning the reform with some major newspapers and magazines and several known writers refusing to adopt it.

The spread of the German language until around 1945 in Central Europe. Orange marks Lower German, blue Middle German and green Upper German dialects.

The spread of the German language until around 1945 in Central Europe. Orange marks Lower German, blue Middle German and green Upper German dialects.

The German spelling reform of 1996 led to public controversy indeed to considerable dispute. Some state parliaments (Bundesländer) would not accept it (North Rhine Westphalia and Bavaria). The dispute landed at one point in the highest court which made a short issue of it, claiming that the states had to decide for themselves and that only in schools could the reform be made the official rule – everybody else could continue writing as they had learned it. After 10 years, without any intervention by the federal parliament, a major yet incomplete revision was installed in 2006, just in time for the new school year of 2006. In 2007, some venerable spellings will be finally invalidated even though they caused little or no trouble. The only sure and easily recognizable symptom of a text’s being in compliance with the reform is the -ss at the end of words, like in dass and muss. Classic spelling forbade this ending, instead using daß and muß. The cause of the controversy evolved around the question whether a language is part of the culture which must be preserved or a means of communicating information which has to allow for growth. (The reformers seemed to be unimpressed by the fact that a considerable part of that culture – namely the entire German literature of the 20th century – is in the old spelling.)

The increasing use of English in Germany’s higher education system, as well as in business and in popular culture, has led various German academics to state, not necessarily from an entirely negative perspective, that German is a language in decline in its native country. For example, Ursula Kimpel, of the University of Tübingen, said in 2005 that “German universities are offering more courses in English because of the large number of students coming from abroad. German is unfortunately a language in decline. We need and want our professors to be able to teach effectively in English.”[17]

Standard German

Main article: Standard German

Standard German originated not as a traditional dialect of a specific region, but as a written language. However, there are places where the traditional regional dialects have been replaced by standard German; this is the case in vast stretches of Northern Germany, but also in major cities in other parts of the country.

Standard German differs regionally, especially between German-speaking countries, especially in vocabulary, but also in some instances of pronunciation and even grammar and orthography. This variation must not be confused with the variation of local dialects. Even though the regional varieties of standard German are only to a certain degree influenced by the local dialects, they are very distinct. German is thus considered a pluricentric language.

In most regions, the speakers use a continuum of mixtures from more dialectal varieties to more standard varieties according to situation.

In the German-speaking parts of Switzerland, mixtures of dialect and standard are very seldom used, and the use of standard German is largely restricted to the written language. Therefore, this situation has been called a medial diglossia. Standard Swiss German is used in the Swiss education system.

Official status

D-A-CH-flag, an unofficial flag comprising flags of the three dominant states in the German Sprachraum.

D-A-CH-flag, an unofficial flag comprising flags of the three dominant states in the German Sprachraum.

Standard German is the only official language in Liechtenstein and Austria; it shares official status in Germany (with Danish, Frisian and Sorbian as minority languages), Switzerland (with French, Italian and Romansch), Belgium (with Dutch and French) and Luxembourg (with French and Luxembourgish). It is used as a local official language in Italy (Province of Bolzano-Bozen), as well as in the cities of Sopron (Hungary), Krahule (Slovakia) and several cities in Romania. It is the official language (with Italian) of the Vatican Swiss Guard.

German has an officially recognized status as regional or auxiliary language in Denmark (South Jutland region), France (Alsace and Moselle regions), Italy (Gressoney valley), Namibia, Poland (Opole region), and Russia (Asowo and Halbstadt).

German is one of the 23 official languages of the European Union. It is the language with the largest number of native speakers in the European Union, and, shortly after English and long before French, the second-most spoken language in Europe.

German as a foreign language

Main article: German as a foreign language
Knowledge of German in the European Union, Switzerland, Croatia and Turkey

Knowledge of German in the European Union, Switzerland, Croatia and Turkey

German is the third most taught foreign language worldwide.[citation needed] [18]

German is the main language of about 90–95 million people in Europe (as of 2004), or 13.3% of all Europeans, being the second most spoken native language in Europe after Russian, above French (66.5 million speakers in 2004) and English (64.2 million speakers in 2004). It is therefore the most spoken first language in the EU. It is the second most known foreign language in the EU.[19] 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. 32% of citizens of the EU-15 countries say they can converse in German (either as a mother tongue or as a second or foreign language).[20] This is assisted by the widespread availability of German TV by cable or satellite.

German was once, and still remains to some extent, a lingua franca in Central, Eastern and Northern Europe.


Main article: German dialects
By the High German consonant shift, the map of German dialects is divided into Upper German (green), Central German (blue), and the Low German (yellow). The main isoglosses and the Benrath and Speyer lines are marked black.

By the High German consonant shift, the map of German dialects is divided into Upper German (green), Central German (blue), and the Low German (yellow). The main isoglosses and the Benrath and Speyer lines are marked black.

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. The German dialect continuum is traditionally divided most broadly into High German and Low German.

Distribution of the native speakers of major continental West-Germanic dialectal varieties

Distribution of the native speakers of major continental West-Germanic dialectal varieties

The variation among the German dialects is considerable, with only the neighbouring dialects being mutually intelligible. Some dialects are not intelligible to people who only know standard German. However, all German dialects belong to the dialect continuum of High German and Low Saxon languages. Until roughly the end of the Second World War, there was a dialect continuum of all the continental West Germanic languages because nearly any pair of neighbouring dialects were perfectly mutually intelligible[citation needed].

Low German

Main article: Low German

Low Saxon varieties (spoken on German territory) are considered linguistically a language separate from the German language by some, but just a dialect by others. Sometimes, Low Saxon and Low Franconian are grouped together because both are unaffected by the High German consonant shift. However, the part of the population capable to speak and resp. or to understand decreases since WWII continuously. Currently the effort to maintain a residual presence in cultural life is negligible.

Middle Low German was the lingua franca of the Hanseatic League. It was the predominant language in Northern Germany. This changed in the 16th century. In 1534, the Luther Bible, by Martin Luther was printed. This translation is considered to be an important step towards the evolution of the Early New High German. It aimed to be understandable to an ample audience and was based mainly on Central and Upper German varieties. The Early New High German language gained more prestige than Low Saxon and became the language of science and literature. Other factors were that around the same time, the Hanseatic league lost its importance as new trade routes to Asia and the Americas were established, and that the most powerful German states of that period were located in Middle and Southern Germany.

The 18th and 19th centuries were marked by mass education, the language of the schools being standard German. Slowly Low Saxon was pushed back and back until it was nothing but a language spoken by the uneducated and at home. Today, Low Saxon could be divided in two groups: Low Saxon varieties with a (reasonable/large/huge) standard German influx, and varieties of standard German with a Low Saxon influence (Missingsch).

High German

Main article: High German languages

High German is divided into Central German and Upper German. Central German dialects include Ripuarian, Moselle Franconian, Hessian, Thuringian, South Franconian, Lorraine Franconian and Upper Saxon. It is spoken in the southeastern Netherlands, eastern Belgium, Luxembourg, parts of France, and in Germany approximately between the River Main and the southern edge of the Lowlands. Modern Standard German is mostly based on Central German, but it should be noted that the common (but not linguistically correct) German term for modern Standard German is Hochdeutsch, that is, High German.

The Moselle Franconian varieties spoken in Luxembourg have been officially standardised and institutionalised and are therefore usually considered a separate language known as Luxembourgish.

Upper German dialects include Alemannic (for instance Swiss German), Swabian, East Franconian, Alsatian and Austro-Bavarian. They are spoken in parts of the Alsace, southern Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria, and in the German-speaking parts of Switzerland and Italy.

Wymysorys, Sathmarisch and Siebenbürgisch are High German dialects of Poland and Romania respectively. The High German varieties spoken by Ashkenazi Jews (mostly in the former Soviet Union) have several unique features, and are usually considered as a separate language, Yiddish. It is the only Germanic language that does not use the Latin alphabet as its standard script.

High German in the Americas

The dialects of German which are or were primarily spoken in colonies or communities founded by German speaking people resemble the dialects of the regions the founders came from. For example, Pennsylvania German resembles dialects of the Palatinate, and Hutterite German resembles dialects of Carinthia, while Venezuelan Alemán Coloniero is a Low Alemannic variant.

In Brazil the largest concentrations of German speakers (German Brazilians) are in Rio Grande do Sul, where Riograndenser Hunsrückisch was developed, especially in the areas of Santa Catarina, Paraná, and Espírito Santo.

In the United States, the teaching of the German language to older students has given rise to a pidgin variant[citation needed] which combines the German language with the grammar and spelling rules of the English language. It is often understandable by either party. The speakers of this language often refer to it as Amerikanisch or Amerikanischdeutsch, although it is known in English as American German. However, this is a pidgin, not a dialect.

In the USA, in the Amana Colonies in the state of Iowa Amana German is spoken.

Hutterite German is an Upper German dialect of the Austro-Bavarian variety of the German language, which is spoken by Hutterite communities in Canada and the United States.

Hutterite is spoken in the US states of Washington, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, and Minnesota; and in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Its speakers belong to some Schmiedleit, Lehrerleit, and Dariusleit Hutterite groups, but there are also speakers among the older generations of Prairieleit (the descendants of those Hutterites who chose not to settle in colonies). Hutterite children who grow up in the colonies learn and speak first Hutterite German before learning English in the public school, the standard language of the surrounding areas. Many colonies though continue with German Grammar School, separate from the public school, throughout a student’s elementary education.

German dialects versus varieties of standard German

In German linguistics, German dialects are distinguished from varieties of standard German.

  • The German dialects are the traditional local varieties. They are traditionally traced back to the different German tribes. Many of them are hardly understandable to someone who knows only standard German, since they often differ from standard German in lexicon, phonology and syntax. If a narrow definition of language based on mutual intelligibility is used, many German dialects are considered to be separate languages (for instance in the Ethnologue). However, such a point of view is unusual in German linguistics.
  • The varieties of standard German refer to the different local varieties of the pluricentric standard German. They only differ slightly in lexicon and phonology. In certain regions, they have replaced the traditional German dialects, especially in Northern Germany.


Main article: German grammar
German grammar
Adverbial phrases
Sentence structure
Modal Particle

German is an inflected language.

Noun inflection

German nouns inflect into:

  • one of four cases: nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative.
  • one of three genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter. Word endings sometimes reveal grammatical gender; for instance, nouns ending in …ung(-ing), …schaft(-ship), …keit or …heit(-hood) are feminine, while nouns ending in …chen or …lein (diminutive forms) are neuter and nouns ending in …ismus (-ism) are masculine. Others are controversial, sometimes depending on the region in which it is spoken. Additionally, ambiguous endings exist, such as …er (-er), e.g. Feier (feminine), engl. celebration, party, and Arbeiter (masculine), engl. labourer. Sentences can usually be reorganized to avoid a misunderstanding.
  • two numbers: singular and plural

Although German is usually cited as an outstanding example of a highly inflected language (with about 100 million native speakers German is by far the most spoken strongly inflecting Germanic language in the world), the degree of inflection is considerably less than in Old German, or in other old Indo-European languages such as Latin, Ancient Greek, or Sanskrit. The three genders have collapsed in the plural, which now behaves, grammatically, somewhat as a fourth gender. With four cases and three genders plus plural there are 16 distinct possible combinations of case and gender/number, but presently there are only six forms of the definite article used for the 16 possibilities. Inflection for case on the noun itself is required in the singular for strong masculine and neuter nouns in the genitive and sometimes in the dative. Both of these cases are losing way to substitutes in informal speech. The dative ending is considered somewhat old-fashioned in many contexts and often dropped, but it is still used in sayings and in formal speech or in written language. Weak masculine nouns share a common case ending for genitive, dative and accusative in the singular. Feminines are not declined in the singular. The plural does have an inflection for the dative. In total, seven inflectional endings (not counting plural markers) exist in German: -s, -es, -n, -ns, -en, -ens, -e.

In the German orthography, nouns and most words with the syntactical function of nouns are capitalised, which is supposed to make it easier for readers to find out what function a word has within the sentence (Am Freitag bin ich einkaufen gegangen. — “On Friday I went shopping.”; Eines Tages war er endlich da. — “One day he finally showed up”.) This spelling convention is almost unique to German today (shared perhaps only by the closely related Luxemburgish language), although it was historically common in other languages (e.g., Danish and English), too.

Like most Germanic languages, German forms left-branching noun compounds, where the first noun modifies the category given by the second, for example: Hundehütte (eng. dog hut; specifically: doghouse). Unlike English, where newer compounds or combinations of longer nouns are often written in open form with separating spaces, German (like the other German languages) nearly always uses the closed form without spaces, for example: Baumhaus (eng. tree house). Like English, German allows arbitrarily long compounds, but these are rare. (See also English compounds.)

The longest German word verified to be actually in (albeit very limited) use is Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz. [which, literally translated, breaks up into: Rind (cattle) – Fleisch (meat) – Etikettierung(s) (labelling) – Überwachung(s) (supervision) – Aufgaben (duties) – Übertragung(s) (assignment) – Gesetz (law), so “Beef labelling supervision duty assignment law”.]

Verb inflection

Standard German verbs inflect into:

  • one of two conjugation classes, weak and strong (like English).

(There is actually a third class, known as mixed verbs, which exhibit inflections combining features of both the strong and weak patterns.)

  • three persons: 1st, 2nd, 3rd.
  • two numbers: singular and plural
  • three moods: Indicative, Subjunctive, Imperative
  • two genera verbi: active and passive; the passive being composed and dividable into static and dynamic.
  • two non-composed tenses (present, preterite) and four composed tenses (perfect, pluperfect, future and future perfect)
  • distinction between grammatical aspects is rendered by combined use of subjunctive and/or preterite marking; thus: neither of both is plain indicative voice, sole subjunctive conveys second-hand information, subjunctive plus Preterite marking forms the conditional state, and sole preterite is either plain indicative (in the past), or functions as a (literal) alternative for either second-hand-information or for the conditional state of the verb, when one of them may seem indistinguishable otherwise.
  • distinction between perfect and progressive aspect is and has at every stage of development been at hand as a productive category of the older language and in nearly all documented dialects, but, strangely enough, is nowadays rigorously excluded from written usage in its present normalised form.
  • disambiguation of completed vs. uncompleted forms is widely observed and regularly generated by common prefixes (blicken – to look, erblicken – to see [unrelated form: sehen – to see]).

Verb prefixes

There are also many ways to expand, and sometimes radically change, the meaning of a base verb through a relatively small number of prefixes. Some of those prefixes have a meaning themselves (Example: zer- refers to the destruction of things, as in zerreißen = to tear apart, zerbrechen = to break apart, zerschneiden = to cut apart), others do not have more than the vaguest meaning in and of themselves (Example: ver- , as in versuchen = to try, vernehmen = to interrogate, verteilen = to distribute, verstehen = to understand). More examples: haften = to stick, verhaften = to imprison; kaufen = to buy, verkaufen = to sell; hören = to hear, aufhören = to cease; fahren = to drive, erfahren = to get to know, to hear about something.

Separable prefixes

Many German verbs have a separable prefix, often with an adverbial function. In finite verb forms this is split off and moved to the end of the clause, and is hence considered by some to be a “resultative particle”. For example, mitgehen meaning “to go with” would be split giving Gehen Sie mit? (Literal: “Go you with?” ; Formal: “Are you going along”?).

Indeed, several parenthetical clauses may occur between the prefix of a finite verb and its complement; e.g.

Er kam am Freitagabend nach einem harten Arbeitstag und dem üblichen Ärger, der ihn schon seit Jahren immer wieder an seinem Arbeitsplatz plagt, mit fraglicher Freude auf ein Mahl, das seine Frau ihm, wie er hoffte, bereits aufgetischt hatte, endlich zu Hause an .

A literal translation of this example might look like this:

He arr- on a Friday evening after a hard day at work and the usual disagreements that had been troubling him repeatedly, looking forward to a questionable meal which, as he hoped, his wife had already fixed for him, -ived at home.

Word order

German requires that a verbal element (main verb or auxilliary verb) appear second in the sentence, preceded by the most important topical phrase. The second most important phrase appears at the end of the sentence. For a sentence without an auxiliary, this gives several options:

Der alte Mann gibt mir das Buch heute. (The old man gives me the book today)
Der alte Mann gibt mir heute das Buch.
Das Buch gibt mir der alte Mann heute.
Das Buch gibt der alte Mann heute mir. (stress on mir)
Heute gibt mir der alte Mann das Buch.
Mir gibt der alte Mann das Buch heute.

The position of a noun as a subject or object in a German sentence doesn’t affect the meaning of the sentence as it would in English. In a declarative sentence in English if the subject does not occur before the predicate the sentence could well be misunderstood.

For example, in the sentence “Man bites dog” it is clear who did what to whom. To exchange the place of the subject with that of the object — “Dog bites man” — changes the meaning completely. In other words the word order in a sentence conveys significant information. In German, nouns and articles are declined as in Latin thus indicating whether it is the subject or object of the verb’s action. The above example in German would be Ein Mann beißt den Hund or Den Hund beißt ein Mann with both having exactly the same meaning. If the articles are omitted, which is sometimes done in headlines (Mann beißt Hund), the syntax applies as in English — the first noun is the subject and the noun following the predicate is the object.

Except for emphasis, adverbs of time have to appear in the third place in the sentence, just after the predicate. Otherwise the speaker would be recognised as non-German. For instance the German word order (in Modern English) is: We’re going tomorrow to town. (Wir gehen morgen in die Stadt.)

Auxilliary verbs

When an auxilliary verb is present, the auxilliary appears in second position, and the main verb appears at the end. This occurs notably in the creation of the perfect tense. Many word orders are still possible, e.g.:

Der alte Mann hat mir das Buch gestern gegeben. (The old man gave me the book yesterday.)
Das Buch hat mir der alte Mann gestern gegeben.

The word order is generally less rigid than in Modern English except for nouns (see below). There are two common word orders; one is for main clauses and another for subordinate clauses. In normal positive sentences the inflected verb always has position 2; in questions, exclamations and wishes it always has position 1. In subordinate clauses the verb is supposed to occur at the very end, but in speech this rule is often disregarded. For example in a subordinate clause introduced by “weil” (“because”) the verb quite often occupies the same order as in a main clause. The correct way of saying “because I’m broke” is …weil ich pleite bin.. In the vernacular you may hear instead …weil ich bin pleite. This phenomenon may be caused by mixing the word-order pattern used for the word weil with the pattern used for an alternative word for “because”, denn, which is used with the main clause order (…denn ich bin pleite.).

Modal verbs

Sentences using modal verbs place the infinitive at the end. For example, the sentence in Modern English “Should he go home?” would be rearranged in German to say “Should he (to) home go?” (Soll er nach Hause gehen?). Thus in sentences with several subordinate or relative clauses the infinitives are clustered at the end. Compare the similar clustering of prepositions in the following English sentence: “What did you bring that book that I don’t like to be read to out of up for?”

Multiple infinitives

The number of infinitives at the end is usually restricted to two, causing the third infinitive or auxiliary verb that would have gone at the very end to be placed instead at the beginning of the chain of verbs. For example in the sentence “Should he move into the house that he just has had renovated?” would be rearranged to “Should he into the house move, that he just renovated had?”. (Soll er in das Haus einziehen, das er gerade hat renovieren lassen?). The older form would have been (Soll er in das Haus, das er gerade hat renovieren lassen, einziehen?).

If there are more than three infinitives, all except the first two are relocated to the beginning of the chain. Needless to say the rule is not rigorously applied.


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, and Greek, and a smaller amount from French [21] and most recently English [22]. At the same time, the effectiveness of the German language in forming equivalents for foreign words from its inherited Germanic stem repertory is great. Thus, Notker Labeo was able to translate Aristotelian treatises in pure (Old High) German in the decades after the year 1000.

The coining of new, autochthonous words gave German a vocabulary of an estimated 40,000 words as early as the ninth century. In comparison, Latin, with a written tradition of nearly 2,500 years in an empire which ruled the Mediterranean, has grown to no more than 45,000 words today.

Even today, many low-key scholarly movements try to promote the Ersatz (substitution) of virtually all foreign words with ancient, dialectal, or neologous German alternatives[citation needed]. It is claimed that this would also help in spreading modern or scientific notions among the less educated, and thus democratise public life, too. Jurisprudence in Germany, for example, uses perhaps the “purest” tongue in terms of “Germanness”, but also the most cumbersome, to be found today. “Amtssprache”[citation needed].

In the modern scientific German vocabulary data base in Leipzig (as of July 2003) [1] there are nine million words and word groups in 35 million sentences (out of a corpus of 500 million words).

Writing system

Main article: German alphabet


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 the Eszett or scharfes S (sharp s) ß.

Before the German spelling reform of 1996, ß replaced ss after long vowels and diphthongs and before consonants, word-, or partial-word-endings. In reformed spelling, ß replaces ss only after long vowels and diphthongs. Since there is no capital ß, it is always written as SS when capitalization is required. For example, Maßband (tape measure) is capitalized MASSBAND. A capital ß has been proposed and included in Unicode, but it is not recognized as standard German. In Switzerland, ß is not used at all.

Umlaut vowels (ä, ö, ü) are commonly circumscribed with ae, oe, and ue if the umlauts are not available on the keyboard used. In the same manner ß can be circumscribed as ss. German readers understand those circumscriptions (although they look unusual), but they are avoided if the regular umlauts are available because they are considered a makeshift, not proper spelling. (In Westphalia, city and family names exist where the extra e has a vowel lengthening effect, e.g. Raesfeld [ˈraːsfɛlt] and Coesfeld [ˈkoːsfɛlt], but this use of the letter e after a/o/u does not occur in the present-day spelling of words other than proper nouns.)

Unfortunately there is still no general agreement exactly where these Umlauts occur in the sorting sequence. Telephone directories treat them by replacing them with the base vowel followed by an e, whereas dictionaries use just the base vowel. As an example in a telephone book Ärzte occurs after Adressenverlage but before Anlagenbauer (because Ä is replaced by Ae). In a dictionary Ärzte occurs after Arzt but before Asbest (because Ä is treated as A).


Until the early 20th century, German was mostly printed in blackletter typefaces (mostly in Fraktur, but also in Schwabacher) and written in corresponding handwriting (for example Kurrent and Sütterlin). These variants of the Latin alphabet are very different from the serif or sans serif Antiqua typefaces used today, and particularly the handwritten forms are difficult for the untrained to read. The printed forms however are claimed by some to be actually more readable when used for printing Germanic languages[citation needed]. The Nazis initially promoted Fraktur and Schwabacher since they were considered Aryan, although they later abolished them in 1941 by claiming that these letters were Jewish. The latter fact is not widely known anymore; today the letters are often associated with the Nazis[citation needed] and are no longer commonly used[citation needed]. As a typographical element, they are used to remind of old German traditions (e.g. in pub signs, in the marketing of arts and crafts or tourism), but the peculiar long s letter of the Fraktur tradition is often dropped even in these uses.


Main article: German phonology


German vowels (excluding diphthongs; see below) come in short and long varieties, as detailed in the following table:

short /a/ /ɛ/ /ɛ/, /ǝ/ /ɪ/ /ɔ/ /œ/ /ʊ/ /ʏ/
long /aː/ /ɛː/ /eː/ /iː/ /oː/ /øː/ /uː/ /yː/

Short /ɛ/ is realised as [ɛ] in stressed syllables (including secondary stress), but as [ǝ] in unstressed syllables. Note that stressed short /ɛ/ can be spelled either with e or with ä (hätte ‘would have’ and Kette ‘chain’, for instance, rhyme). In general, the short vowels are open and the long vowels are closed. The one exception is the open /ɛː/ sound of long Ä; in some varieties of standard German, /ɛː/ and /eː/ have merged into [eː], removing this anomaly. In that case, pairs like Bären/Beeren ‘bears/berries’ or Ähre/Ehre ‘spike/honour’ become homophonous).

In many varieties of standard German, an unstressed /ɛr/ is not pronounced as [ər], but vocalised to [ɐ].

Whether any particular vowel letter represents the long or short phoneme is not completely predictable, although the following regularities exist:

  • If a vowel (other than i) is at the end of a syllable or followed by a single consonant, it is usually pronounced long (e.g. Hof [hoːf]).
  • If the vowel is followed by a double consonant (e.g. ff, ss or tt), ck, tz or a consonant cluster (e.g. st or nd), it is nearly always short (e.g. hoffen [ˈhɔfǝn]). Double consonants are used only for this function of marking preciding vowels as short; the consonant itself is never pronounced lengthened or doubled.

Both of these rules have exceptions (e.g. hat [hat] ‘has’ is short despite the first rule; Kloster [kloːstər], ‘cloister’; Mond [moːnt], ‘moon’ are long despite the second rule). For an i that is neither in the combination ie (making it long) nor followed by a double consonant or cluster (making it short), there is no general rule. In some cases, there are regional differences: In central Germany (Hessen), the o in the proper name “Hoffmann” is pronounced long while most other Germans would pronounce it short; the same applies to the e in the geographical name “Mecklenburg” for people in that region. The word Städte ‘cities’, is pronounced with a short vowel [ˈʃtɛtə] by some (Jan Hofer, ARD Television) and with a long vowel [ˈʃtɛːtə] by others (Marietta Slomka, ZDF Television). Finally, a vowel followed by ch can be short (Fach [fax] ‘compartment’, Küche [ˈkʏçe] ‘kitchen’) or long (Suche [ˈzuːxǝ] ‘search’, Bücher [ˈbyːçər] ‘books’) almost at random. Thus, Lache is homographous: [la:xe] ‘puddle’ and [laxe] ‘manner of laughing’ (coll.), ‘laugh!’ (Imp.).

German vowels can form the following digraphs (in writing) and diphthongs (in pronunciation); note that the pronunciation of some of them (ei, äu, eu) is very different from what one would expect when considering the component letters:

spelling ai, ei, ay, ey au äu, eu
pronunciation /aɪ̯/ /aʊ̯/ /ɔʏ̯/

Additionally, the digraph ie generally represents the phoneme /iː/, which is not a diphthong. In many varieties, a /r/ at the end of a syllable is vocalised. However, a sequence of a vowel followed by such a vocalised /r/ is not considered a diphthong: Bär [bɛːɐ̯] ‘bear’, er [eːɐ̯] ‘he’, wir [viːɐ̯] ‘we’, Tor [toːɐ̯] ‘gate’, kurz [kʊɐ̯ts] ‘short’, Wörter [vœɐ̯tɐ] ‘words’.

In most varieties of standard German, word stems that begin with a vowel are preceded by a glottal stop [ʔ].


  • c standing by itself is not a German letter. In borrowed words, it is usually pronounced [ʦ] (before ä, äu, e, i, ö, ü, y) or [k] (before a, o, u, or before consonants). The combination ck is, as in English, used to indicate that the preceding vowel is short.
  • ch occurs most often and is pronounced either [ç] (after ä, ai, äu, e, ei, eu, i, ö, ü and after consonants) or [x] (after a, au, o, u). Ch never occurs at the beginning of an originally German word. In borrowed words with initial Ch there is no single agreement on the pronunciation. For example, the word “Chemie” (chemistry) can be pronounced [keːˈmiː], [çeːˈmiː] or [ʃeːˈmiː] depending on dialect.
  • dsch is pronounced ʤ (like j in Jungle) but appears in a few loanwords only.
  • f is pronounced [f] as in “father”.
  • h is pronounced [h] like in “home” at the beginning of a syllable. After a vowel it is silent and only lengthens the vowel (e.g. “Reh” = roe deer).
  • j is pronounced [j] in Germanic words (“Jahr” [jaːɐ]). In younger loanwords, it follows more or less the respective languages’ pronunciations.
  • l is always pronounced [l], never [ɫ] (the English “Dark L”).
  • q only exists in combination with u and appears both in Germanic and Latin words (“quer”; “Qualität”). It is pronounced [kv].
  • r is pronounced as a guttural sound (an uvular trill, [ʀ]) in front of a vowel or consonant (“Rasen” [ʀaːzən]; “Burg” like [buʀg]). In spoken German however, it is commonly vocalised after a vowel (“er” being pronounced rather like [‘ɛɐ] – “Burg” [buɐg]). In some southern non-standard varieties, the r is pronounced as a tongue-tip r (the alveolar trill).
  • s is pronounced [z] (as in “Zebra”) if it forms the syllable onset (e.g. Sohn [zoːn]), otherwise [s] (e.g. Bus [bʊs]). A ss [s] indicates that the preceding vowel is short. st and sp at the beginning of words of German origin are pronounced [ʃt] and [ʃp], respectively.
  • ß (a letter unique to German called “Esszet”) is a ligature of a double s and is always pronounced [s]. Originating in Blackletter typeface, it traditionally replaced ss at the end of a syllable (e.g. “ich muss”“ich muß”; “ich müsste”“ich müßte”); but it contrasts with ss [s] in indicating that the preceding vowel is long (compare “in Maßen” [in ‘maːsən] “with moderation” and “in Massen” [in ‘masən] “in loads”). The use of ß has recently been limited by the latest German spelling reform; Switzerland and Liechtenstein already abolished it in 1934.[23]
  • sch is pronounced [ʃ] (like “sh” in “Shine”).
  • v is pronounced [f] in words of Germanic origin (e.g. “Vater” [ˈfaːtɐ]) and [v] in other words (e.g. “Vase” [ˈvaːzǝ]).
  • w is pronounced [v] like in “vacation” (e.g. “was” [vas]).
  • y only appears in loanwords and is traditionally considered a vowel.
  • z is always pronounced [ʦ] (e.g. “zog” [ʦoːk]). A tz indicates that the preceding vowel is short.

Consonant shifts

For more details on this topic, see High German consonant shift.

German does not have any dental fricatives (as English th). The th sounds, which the English language has inherited from Anglo Saxon, survived on the continent up to Old High German and then disappeared in German with the consonant shifts between the 8th and the 10th century. It is sometimes possible to find parallels between German by replacing the English th with d in German: “Thank” → in German “Dank”, “this” and “that” → “dies” and “das”, “thou” (old 2nd person singular pronoun) → “du”, “think” → “denken”, “thirsty” → “durstig” and many other examples.

Likewise, the gh in Germanic English words, pronounced in several different ways in modern English (as an f, or not at all), can often be linked to German ch: “to laugh” → “lachen”, “through” and “thorough” → “durch”, “high” → “hoch”, “naught” → “nichts”, etc.

Cognates with English

There are many thousands of German words that are cognate to English words (in fact a sizeable fraction of native German and English vocabulary, although for various reasons much of it is not immediately obvious). Most of the words in the following table have almost the same meaning as in English.

German Meaning of German word English cognate
Abend eve/evening eve from Old E.æfen
an on/above on
auf up / on up
aus out (of) out
beginnen, begann, begonnen to begin, began, begun to begin, began, begun
bester, beste, bestes best best
Bett bed bed
Bier beer beer
Blut blood blood
bringen, brachte, gebracht to bring, brought, brought bring, brought
Bruder brother brother
Butter butter butter
Erde Earth Earth
essen to eat to eat
fallen, fiel, gefallen to fall, fell, fallen to fall, fell, fallen
Faust fist fist
fechten, focht, gefochten to fence fight, fought, fought
Finger finger finger
Fisch fish fish
Freund friend friend
Fuß foot foot
Gott God God
haben to have to have
Hand hand hand
-heit (suffix) -ity, -ness, -hood -hood
Haus house house
Hilfe, helfen help (noun), to help help, to help
heißen to be called hight (archaic)
hören to hear hear
Hund dog hound
ist, war is, was is, was
kalt cold cold
Katze cat cat
Knie knee knee
kommen, kam, gekommen to come, came, come to come, came, come
König King King
Laus, Läuse louse, lice louse, lice
lachen to laugh to laugh
Mann man man
Maus, Mäuse mouse, mice mouse, mice
Milch milk milk
Mond moon moon
müssen to have to must
Mutter mother mother
Nacht night night
Nachbar neighbor neighbor
Regen rain rain
scheinen to shine to shine
Schiff ship ship
Schuh shoe shoe
Schnee snow snow
schwimmen to swim to swim
singen, sang, gesungen to sing, sang, sung to sing, sang, sung
sinken, sank, gesunken to sink, sank, sunk to sink, sank, sunk
Schwert sword sword
Sohn son son
Sommer summer summer
springen, sprang, gesprungen to jump, jumped, jumped to spring, sprang, sprung
stehlen to steal to steal
Tag day day
Tisch table dish (both eating surfaces)
Tochter daughter daughter
Vater father father
Wasser water water
Waffe weapon weapon
warm warm warm
Weib woman wife
Wetter weather weather
Wille will (noun) will
wir, uns we, us we, us
Winter winter winter

Compound word cognates

German Cognate word parts Meaning
Fingernagel finger + nail fingernail
Hochland high + land highland
Ringfinger ring + finger ring finger
Schneemann snow + man snowman
Schwertfisch sword + fish swordfish
Vollmond full + moon full moon
Vorsicht fore + sight foresight (/caution)
Wasserfall water + fall waterfall

When these cognates have slightly different consonants, this is often due to the High German consonant shift. Hence the affinity of English words with those of German dialects is more evidently:

German English German dialects
allein alone allon, alloan
blasen blow blosa
breit broad broad, brad
dünn thin dinn
ein grüner Apfel a green apple a griener Appl
eine Katze a cat a Katz
Freund friend Freind
fühlen to feel fihla
Füllung filling Fillung
geben to give geva
gehört heard ghärt
gesehen seen gsihn
grün green grien
haben to have hava
heben to heave heva
heim home hom, hoam
küssen to kiss kissa
Läuse lice Leis
leben to live leva
Leber liver Lever
Lunge lung Lung
Mäuse mice Meis
mein Kamm my comb mei Kambl
meine Mutter my mother mei Modder
nein no no, nee
neun nine nein
nicht not net
Silber silver Silver
Regen rain Reen
Stein stone Ston, Stoan
sie ist allein she is alone sie is allon
sieben seven siva
sieben to sieve sieva
streben to strive streva
Sommer summer Summer
Tage days Täg
treiben to drive treiva
Wasser water Water

There are cognates whose meanings in either language have changed through the centuries. It is sometimes difficult for both English and German speakers to discern the relationship. On the other hand, once the definitions are made clear, then the logical relation becomes obvious. Sometimes the generality or specificity of word pairs may be opposite in the two languages.

German Meaning of German word English cognate Comment
antworten to answer an-word the cognate prefix Ger.’ant’ is equal to Old E.’and-‘〈”against”〉(→an).’wort’=word,’swer’=swear, so the suffix isn’t cognate.
Baum tree beam Both derive from West Germanic *baumoz meaning “tree”. It is the English one which, in Anglo-Saxon and Old English, has radically changed its meaning several times. (The original meaning is retained in the English terms for some trees, such as hornbeam.)
bekommen to get to become
Dogge mastiff dog
drehen to turn to throw cf. to throw (make) a pot by turning it on a wheel
ernten to harvest to earn
fahren to drive to fare O.E. faran “to journey, to make one’s way,” from P.Gmc. *faranan (cf. Goth. faran, Ger. fahren), from PIE *por- “going, passage”
fechten to fence (sport) to fight
Gift poison gift the original meaning of Gift in German can still be seen in the German deflection Mitgift “dowry”
kaufen to buy cheap, chapman
Knabe (formal) boy knave
Knecht servant knight
nehmen to take numb sensation has been taken away; cf. German benommen, ‘dazed’
raten to guess, to advise to read cf. riddle, akin to German Rätsel
ritzen to scratch to write
Schmerz pain smart The verb smart retains this meaning
schlecht bad slight Sense of Ger. cognate schlecht developed from “smooth, plain, simple” to “bad,” and as it did it was replaced in the original senses by schlicht, a back-formation from schlichten “to smooth, to plane,” a derivative of schlecht in the old sense.
sich rächen to take revenge to wreak (havoc)
Tisch table dish, desk Latin discus
Vieh cattle fee from O.E. ‘feoh’ money, property, cattle
Wald forest wold cf. English placename “Cotswold(s)”
werden to become weird see wyrd
wer who where see below
wo where who see above
Zeit time tide the root is re-used in German Gezeiten as Tiden (‘tides’)

German and English also share many borrowings from other languages, especially Latin, French and Greek. Most of these words have the same meaning, while a few have subtle differences in meaning. As many of these words have been borrowed by numerous languages, not only German and English, they are called internationalisms in German linguistics. For reference, a good number of these borrowed words are of the neuter gender.

German Meaning of German word language of origin
Armee army French
Arrangement arrangement French
Chance opportunity French
Courage courage French
Disposition disposition Latin
Feuilleton feuilleton French
Futur future tense Latin
Boje buoy Dutch
Genre genre French
Mikroskop microscope Greek
Partei political party French
Position position Latin
positiv positive Latin
Prestige prestige French
Psychologie psychology Greek
Religion religion Latin
Restaurant restaurant French
Tabu taboo Tongan
Zigarre cigar Spanish
Zucker sugar Sanskrit, via Arabic

Words borrowed by English

For a list of German loanwords in English, see Category:German loanwords

In the English language, there are also many words taken from German without any letter change, e.g.:

German word English cognate Meaning of German word
Abseilen abseiling to abseil
Angst angst fear / angst
Anschluss anschluss connection / access
Automat automat automation / machine / automat
Bildungsroman bildungsroman novel of personal development
Blitz blitz flash / lightning
Delikatessen delikatessen/delicatessen delicate, resp. delicious food items
Doppelgänger doppelgänger spectral look-alike of somebody
Edelweiß edelweiss edelweiss
Gedankenexperiment Gedankenexperiment Thought experiment
Gesundheit! Gesundheit! (Amer.) health / bless you!
Hinterland hinterland interior / backwoods
Kindergarten kindergarten playschool
Kraut kraut cabbage
Poltergeist poltergeist poltergeist
Realpolitik realpolitik diplomacy based on practical objectives rather than ideals
Rucksack rucksack backpack
Schadenfreude schadenfreude taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune
Waldsterben waldsterben floral dying environment
Wanderlust wanderlust desire, pleasure, or inclination to travel, or walk
Weltanschauung weltanschauung worldview
Zeitgeist zeitgeist the spirit of the age/decade; the trend at that time

Names for German in other languages

See also: Deutsch, Dutch, Deitsch, Dietsch, Teuton, Teutonic, Allemanic, Alleman, Theodisca

The names that countries have for the language differ from region to region.

In Italian the sole name for German is still tedesco, from the Latin theodiscus, meaning “vernacular”.

A possible explanation for the use of words meaning “mute” (e.g., nemoj in Russian, němý in Czech, nem in Serbian) to refer to German (and also to Germans) in Slavic languages is that Germans were the first people Slavic tribes encountered with whom they could not communicate.

Romanian used to use the Slavonic term “nemţeşte”, but “germană” is now widely used. Hungarian “német” is also of Slavonic origin. The Arabic name for Austria, النمسا (“an-namsa”), is derived from the Slavonic term.

Note also that though the Russian term for the language is немецкий (nemetskij), the country is Германия (Germania). However, in certain other Slavic languages, such as Czech, the country name (Německo) is similar to the name of the language, německý (jazyk).

Finns and Estonians use the term saksa, originally from the Saxon tribe.

Scandinavians use derivatives of the word Tyskland/Þýskaland (from Theodisca) for the country and tysk(a)/þýska for the language.

Hebrew traditionally (nowadays this is not the case) used the Biblical term אַשְׁכֲּנָז (Ashkenaz) (Genesis 10:3) to refer to Germany, or to certain parts of it, and the Ashkenazi Jews are those who originate from Germany and Eastern Europe and formerly spoke Yiddish as their native language, derived from Middle High German. Modern Hebrew uses גֶּרְמָנִי germaní (Or גֶּרְמָנִית germanít for the language).

The French term is allemand, the Spanish term is alemán the Catalan term is alemany, and the Portuguese term is alemão; all derive from the ancient Alamanni tribal alliance, meaning literally “All Men“.

The Latvian term vācu means “tinny” and refers disparagingly to the iron-clad Teutonic Knights that colonized the Baltic in the Middle Ages.

The Scottish Gaelic term for the German language, Gearmailtis, is formed in the standard way of adding -(a)is to the end of the country name.

See Names for Germany for further details on the origins of these and other terms.

See also

  • Yiddish, Ashkenazi Hebrew, Ashkenazi
  • Dutch influence on the German language
  • Missingsch
  • Deutsch, Dutch, Dietsch, Duits, Diets
  • Ethnic German
  • German loan words
  • German name
  • German family name etymology
  • German placename etymology
  • German exonyms
  • German as a Minority Language
  • German in the United States
  • German spelling reform of 1996
  • Germanic peoples, mysticism, mythology, naming, Theodism
  • Germanism
  • Germish, Denglish, Pseudo-Anglicism
  • Loanword
  • Loan translation
  • List of English words of German origin
  • List of English words of Yiddish origin
  • Names for Germany
  • Thou
  • Umlaut, ß
  • Various terms used for Germans
  • Category:German loanwords
  • Wiktionary:Transwiki:List of German words and phrases
  • Austro-Bavarian
  • Alemannic German
  • Swiss German
  • Luxembourgish language
  • Pennsylvania Dutch
  • Hutterite German

General references

  • Michael Clyne, The German Language in a Changing Europe (1995) ISBN 0521499704
  • George O. Curme, A Grammar of the German Language (1904, 1922) — the most complete and authoritative work in English
  • Anthony Fox, The Structure of German (2005) ISBN 0199273995
  • W.B. Lockwood, German Today: The Advanced Learner’s Guide (1987) ISBN 0198158505
  • Edmund Remys, Comprehensive Review of Modern German (2007).
  • (German) Dialect map of the German language areaPDF (36.8 KiB)
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