German Language History
The language of the first printed book
German is ranked tenth in the world’s league table of languages. It’s a West Germanic language spoken by about 121 million native speakers and is an official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Belgium and Luxembourg and also by about 80 million non-native speakers. Standard German is widely taught in schools, universities and Goethe Institutes worldwide.
The largest German-speaking communities are found in the United States, Canada, Brazil and Argentina where millions of Germans migrated over the last 200 years. German is one of the 23 official languages of the European Union.
The German language, as we know it today, has an interesting story. Having originated as a result of the consonant shift – a phonological development that made people pronounce consonants differently – the German language has immense historical significance that contributes greatly to its popularity.
Regions and areas of Germany and the surrounding countries influenced the way in which the German language was spoken by the natives to a great extent. Since the difference between dialects and the variety of tongues made it difficult to communicate, Standard German started becoming more popular in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The middle of the 20th century was a difficult time for the German language as the use of the language started being discouraged after the World Wars. Anti-German sentiment was at an all-time high, and territorial changes dissuaded people in Central and Eastern Europe from using the language. Fortunately, however, the German language fought through with immense resilience and is now the native language of over 100 million people.
Origins & Roots of the German Language
The earliest known examples of written German date from the 8th century AD and consist of fragments of an epic poem, the Song of Hildebrand, magical charms and German glosses in Latin manuscripts.
The roots of the German language as we know it today go back to the Indo-European family of languages. A shift in sounds divided Germany and the German language into two main parts. The Northern German Lowlands did not go through any sound shift, which is why the variation of German being spoken there was known as Low German. Most of central and Southern Germany, however, started pronouncing different words in the wake of the Second Germanic Sound Shift and the language being spoken there is known as High German.
Old German refers to a period in the history of the German language that dates back as early as 750 AD. As you might have expected, the language had not been standardised until that time. Local dialects were, therefore, used for writing.
Middle German refers to the history of the German language between the years 1050 and 1350. A relatively more uniform written language developed in this period, after officials in the Roman Empire began to use the language for official writings instead of Latin.
Early New German
The translation of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible into the German language was a notable event in the Early New German period that started around the 16th century. This translation also contributed immensely to the uniformity of the written version of the German language.
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