German Language History

The German language is a West Germanic language spoken by 121 million native speakers and used by around 80 million non-native speakers. Combined, this makes the German language the tenth most spoken language worldwide. Speaking German is especially popular in Europe, where the history of German all began! What started as the language of German people has now become widely spoken across many EU countries.

Indeed, the German language is an official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Belgium, and Luxembourg. It is also one of the official languages of the European Union and the 2nd most spoken language in Europe. Moreover, large German-speaking communities live in the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina. You may also hear of people speaking German in South America, where millions of German people migrated over the last 200 years.

The number of people learning the language of German is also increasing. With its prominence in Europe and the interesting history of German language and culture, many people started learning standard German in schools, universities, and Goethe Institutes worldwide. Thanks to Germany’s large economy, companies are also taking their business to Germany. It is no wonder that German is becoming one of the major languages.

This article is here to teach you more about the fascinating history of German language and culture. We go back to 750 AD when Old German was the language of German people and explain how it evolved throughout history to the modern language we used today. We also examine the alphabet and writing system and how the two World Wars impacted the language.

The Largest German-Speaking Communities

The largest German-speaking communities live in the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina. You may also hear of people speaking the German language in South America. However, that is where millions of Germans migrated over the last 200 years.

German, as we know it today, has an interesting story. Having originated because of the consonant shift, the German language has a historical significance contributing to its popularity. A consonant shift is a phonological development that makes people pronounce consonants differently. German developed only because people began speaking differently.

The German language was greatly influenced by different regions and areas within Germany. It was also heavily influenced by the countries surrounding Germany. Native German speakers would speak their own dialect depending on where they lived. This could sometimes make communication very difficult between two native German speakers. Luckily, Standard German became more popular in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The middle of the 20th century was a difficult time for German. After the World Wars, some places banned the use of the language. The anti-German sentiment was at an all-time high, and territorial changes dissuaded people in Europe from using the language. Fortunately, the German language fought through with immense resilience and is now the native language of over 100 million people.

german language Origin

The history of German as we know it today goes back to the Indo-European family of languages. Back in 750 BCE, there was a “Germanic Sound Shift” in the ancestral language that saw new ways of pronouncing words in German. This German language was used by Germanic tribes. When the Romans arrived in 55 BCE, the vocabulary expanded and was influenced heavily by Latin.

In around 600 CE, there was a second sound shift that split German from other West Germanic languages. This version of the German language is known as Old German. It became the language of German people in Southern and Central Germany, while Northern Germany continued to use old pronunciation. This is reflected in the Nordic dialects and accents.

People continued speaking German this way until the Middle Ages when Middle German emerged. Economic growth and political decentralisation between 1050 and 1350 CE saw many regional dialects develop. Pronunciation also changed and has become more like the language of German people today. In particular, vowel sounds weakened, and articles were necessary to convey the case of nouns when speaking German.

Modern “german Language”

The next period in the history of German was the Early New German period. One significant event that occurred in this period was the translation of the Bible into German by Martin Luther in 1545. These translations helped spread the written form of the German language to people already speaking German. It also added new words to the vocabulary to convey biblical stories.

More importantly, the translation acted as a centralised version of German. More books started to be printed in German rather than Latin, and technical innovations made printing texts easier. Literacy improved dramatically, and the different variations of the German language unified. The written version of the language of German we know today was established by the 18th century.

When defined German territories combined to form the German Reich in the 19th century, spelling became more united. Vocabulary also expanded to include more technical terminology and business words, often loaned from English or French, before being standardised in 1901. The German language today continues to evolve, with all media and printed work written in Standard High German and understood by all German-speaking communities.

Alphabets & Writing System

The earliest known examples of the written German language date from the 8th century AD. These writings consist of fragments of an epic poem: The Song of Hildebrand. There are also examples of magical charms and German glosses in Latin manuscripts. These first texts were written using the Latin alphabet. The Latin alphabet is still used for writing the German language today.

The language of German is almost instantly recognisable from other texts written in the Latin alphabet by the number of umlauts. German is also the only major language that capitalises all nouns, which was common in Northern European languages until the 1700s. It died out of other languages but persisted throughout the history of German, and the unique grammatical rule still stands.

Speaking German and reading written text aloud is easy once you know the spelling rules. The pronunciation of almost every word can be derived from the writing system. However, the converse is not true! Determining the spelling of a word from pronunciation alone is challenging. Spelling is also changing. The most recent example is the addition of ẞ to replace “ss” in German language spelling, which became official in 2017.

Impact of The World Wars

One of the most prominent milestones in the history of German culture was World War I. WWI critically impacted its status as a world language today. From 1917 onwards, a total ban on teaching the language of German people was imposed in 14 US states, including Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, and California. This significantly reduced the number of people speaking German in the US.

Before the First World War, the landscape looked extremely different. Germans immigrated to the United States from the 17th century onward, accounting for more than 10% of the population in 1900. Therefore, the German language was used widely and taught in schools, en route to becoming a primary world language. The prohibition on German was lifted in the 1920s, but its impact was much longer lasting.

There was also a noticeable change in the German language following World War II. After many years of militarisation, many words that conveyed ideas of German supremacy or colonialism stopped being used. The size of Germany also shrunk after WWII, and dialects from minority groups that fled to surrounding countries are going extinct.

German Translation Services

Despite the turbulent history of German culture, the German language continues to maintain its leading position in Europe, and the number of second-language German-speaking people is increasing. Therefore, German translations are in high demand. They can help your content appeal to a more diverse audience and improve global prospects.

At Renaissance Translations, we have an extensive network of expert German linguists who can provide high-quality German translations for your content in no time. Whether you have a document, a website or an app that you would like to translate, we can help you. Contact us today to discuss your specific project needs and translate your content into the language of Germany.