Which family does German belong to?
Deutsch is a West Germanic language, related to and classified as a cognate of English and Dutch.
Who speaks German?
In the Middle Ages the term thiudisk indicated the "vulgar" language spoken in Germany, as opposed to Latin, the language of culture. Today with the term German we indicate, in the strict sense, the language of Germany, in the wider sense the set of languages and dialects spoken, beside the territories of Germany, in Austria, in the Italian region of Alto Adige (Südtirol), in the Seven Municipalities area (Vicenza) and in the Thirteen Municipalities area (Verona), in German Switzerland, in Alsace and in Lorraine, in Luxembourg, in parts of Belgium and the Netherlands bordering with Germany. All these languages and dialects formed, from the earliest times, two distinct subgroups: the Low German on the one hand, which extends in the lowlands of Northern Germany including the Flemish and Dutch dialects in the West, and Low Saxon in the east; and the High German on the ohter hand, spread in the Central and Southern regions of Germany, including the Franconian (Central Germany, Lorraine, Luxembourg), the Thuringian, the High Saxon (Saxony), the Silesian, the Austro-Bavarian and the Alemannic (Switzerland, Alsace, Baden).
What are the main linguistic characteristics of German?
The most important feature that differentiates the Low German dialects from the High German dialects is the phenomenon of the so-called Second Consonant Shift, which affected High German dialects: voiceless stops p, t, k of Common German became voiceless affricates in High German (pf, z, kh: Low German ten, "ten", High German zehn) or voiceless fricatives (ff, ss, hh: Low German open, "open", High German, offen), and voiced stops b, d, g of Common German became voiceless stops (p, t, k: Low German ribbe, "rib", High German rippe), a phenomenon that becomes more pronounced as you go down to the Southern dialects.
In the history of High and Low German there are three different evolutionary stages, which are best documented for the High German: an old phase, from VIII to XII century; a middle phase, from the XII century to the early XVI century; a modern phase, from the time of Luther to present-day. In the old phase the entire German area uderwent phenomena of Umlaut, which in fact they still preserve to this day; during the medium phase the unstressed vowels tended to weaken and often disappeared, while the diphthongs ei, uo, üe tended to monophthong in ī, u, ü (e.g., bouch, "book", becomes buch), while the long vowels ī, ū, ü diphthong in ei, au, eu (e.g. hus, house, becomes haus); consonant clusters tended to assimilate.
In the medium phase, as a result of the weakening of the post-tonic and in particular final vowels, we have the simplification and reduction of nominal inflections; and then the development of the article and prepositions; periphrastic forms were adopted for the past and the future tenses of verbs.
Further, in the middle stage began a gradual trend towards the unification of the various dialects, due to several factors: the use, though still sporadic, of German in official administration and in diplomacy beside the still dominant Latin, and the rise of the chivalric-courtly poetry, creating a literary language which excluded the most typical aspects of individual dialects, in order to be easily understandable to everyone. This new written language, while on the one hand being noticeably influenced by Latin, which was still the language of high culture and of the chancellery, on the other hand borrowed words and structures from French, which was the model that everyone was looking at in the chivalric-courtly literature of the time.
Where does German come from?
German was used as the language of administration in particular at the chancellery of the Elector of Saxony; and this Saxon dialect was taken by Martin Luther, at the beginning of '500, as the language of his religious battle, for the compilation of his writings and in particular for the translation of the Bible. The diffusion of Protestantism marked the spreading of this language, first in the Protestant countries and later in other regions. So, the creation of the German national language is due to Luther; he has fixed the grammar and syntax and he has also enriched the language with new expression possibilities which were required for the translation of the biblical text from Latin.
- Enciclopedia Grolier