The German Language

Date :- 13th December 2017

The German Language or Deutsch (pronunciation: Deu = doy; tsch = ch --- Doy-ch) is a west Germanic language spoken mainly in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy. It is a minor language in Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Namibia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, South Africa, Vatican City and Venezuela. You can also find a significant German speaking population in United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Australia, Chile, Paraguay, New Zealand and Peru.
Standard German (Hosh Deutsch) has 90 million native speakers. Other varieties of German have 30 million speakers. 80 million people speak German as a second language and many others study it as a foreign language. So, in all there are 200 million German speakers.

History of German Language

German was found to be developed and written in fragments around AD 760’s; in epics like “Song of Hildebrand”, magical charms and glossary in Latin manuscripts. A Latin-German dictionary called “Abrogans” was also written around the same time.

The real flourishing period of German language was 12th and 13th century when German Literature masterpieces were created in the form of prose, poetry, epics and romances like Nibelungenlied (the Song of the Nibelungs) and Gottfried von Straßburg's Tristan. A further impetus was received with the invention of the printing press in the 14th century.

Varieties of German in writing

The German Language has undergone many changes with regards to style of writing. From usage of Latin in the beginning. German Language has had its periods of different writing styles.

The style of writing used in “The Song of the Nibelungs” and “Tristan” is now known as Mittelhochdeutsche Dichtersprache (Middle High German poetic language). 

Gradually German rapidly became the official language replacing Latin in official documents.

The other varieties of German in writing are:

  1. High German (Hochdeutsch) – This style of writing emerged as the standard of literature in the 16th century. Martin Luther is the first person to make this style popular with the translation of the Bible in 1534. This style of writing incorporated the spoken German elements.
  2. Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch or Schwyzerdütsch) – About four million people in Switzerland speak and write this variation of the German language. But it occasionally appears in literature and day to day writing.
  3. Pennsylvania Dutch/German (Deitsch / Pennsylvania Deitsch / Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch) – This variety is spoken by roughly 250,000 people in the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana in the US and in Ontario in Canada. Pennsylvania Dutch newspaper, “Hiwwe wie Driwwe” publishes poetry and prose in Pennsylvania Dutch, and there are a number of other publications featuring the language. Pennsylvania German is commonly called as Pennsylvania Dutch; although it has no connection or is not a variety of the Dutch language.
  4. Mundarten – This is a regional variety of German which occasionally appears in mainstream language. It is known to be a language of the “folk literature” and was popularized in comics such as Asterix.

8 Surprising Facts about the German Language

  1. German is the most-spoken mother tongue in Europe.

German is the 11th most spoken language in the world with 90 million native speakers. In Europe, it beats all other languages to be the number one most common mother tongue. About 16 percent of Europe’s population speaks German as first language.

  1. German words have three genders.

In classical Romance languages, nouns are dual gender; masculine and feminine; which gives headache while learning English and English speakers. German is perhaps the only language which has a third neutral gender for uncommon words which are neither masculine, nor feminine.

  1. Time is counted with respect to the next hour, rather than the previous one.

In all languages, the time is described with respect to the previous hour. In German, time is counted with respect to the next hour. For example; if a German tells you that it is halb drei (“half three”), it means that it is half an hour until three o’clock i.e. 2.30 PM.

  1. German makes extensive use of compound words.

German language is notorious for long words such as “kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung”, which means automobile liability insurance. German language makes use of extensive compounds of words which build on each other and create monster words.

  1. It’s the third most commonly taught language worldwide.

German wins the race against Mandarin, Russian and Spanish to be the third most commonly taught language in the world after English and French.

  1. The first printed book was written in German.

The invention of Printing Press created the first printed book which is now known as the “Gutenberg Bible” which was completed in 1454.

  1. The German alphabet has one more consonant than English.

German and English use Roman characters extensively; except, the German language has an extra consonant ß, and represents the double S. It is never used in the beginning of any word. Although for non-German keywords SS can be a replacement for ß. While in practice, Masse and Maße mean completely different things – mass and dimensions respectively.

  1. English and German share 60% of their vocabulary.

In comparison, English and German share 60 percent of their vocab against French which shares on 27 percent.

Uniqueness of German Language

  1. Apart from ß, the double SS character, German language is unique in its own way.
  2. It has special characters such as “Umlaute” which is the two dots over certain words.
  3. Long S (|) which was used until 1940.
  4. Sharp S (?) which represents unvoiced syllabi.
  5. Spelling of Nouns is generally capitalized for most nominalized words.
  6. Vowel length can differ and is not consistently represented. Vowel length is phonemic in German language and there are different ways to identify long vowels –
  7. A digraph | i: | is used to indicate a long vowel.
  8. A free vowel in an open syllable is long.
  9. A silent “h” indicates vowel length in some cases.
  10. Letters “a”, “e”, “o” are doubled in few words that have long vowels.
  11. A doubled consonant after a vowel indicates that the vowel is short, while a single consonant often indicates the vowel is long.
  12. “K” and “Z” are not doubled, but instead replaced by “ck” (as in English) and “tz” (except in Italian loanwords that have “zz”). However, until the spelling reform of 1996, “ck” was divided across a line break as “k-k”.
  13. For different consonants and for sounds represented by more than one letter (ch and sch) after a vowel, no clear rule can be given, because they can appear after long vowels, yet are not redoubled if belonging to the same stem. On a stem boundary, reduplication usually takes place. However, in fixed, no longer productive derivatives, this too can be lost, e.g., Geschäft /?????ft/ 'business' despite schaffen 'to get something done'.
  14. ß indicate that the preceding vowel is long. Texts written before the 1996 spelling reform also use ß at the ends of words and before consonants.

German Script Styles

After the decline of Latin as the script of writing German, there arose a number of styles of scripts to write the German language.

  1. Fraktur –

This script style was used in printing and writing the language from 16th century until 1940. Fraktur is a Latin word which means broken script or fractured script. The name is symbolic of its ornamental curlicues which break the continuity of the word.

This style of script was used for other languages such as Finnish, Czech, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian. It is still used by speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch on signs and business publicity.

  1. Kurrent –

It is a style of connected handwriting that was used between 15th to 20th centuries, especially in German speaking countries. It is based on late medieval cursive writing and is understood to be the written counterpart to blackletter typefaces.

Just like blackletter, Kurrent is characterized by its abrupt changes in directions. The letters however are always connected. Gaps and same stroke writing are avoided on paper and air. Gaps and same stroke can happen in Roman cursive; Kurrent uses strokes besides each other.

It was also a style of writing masters who embellished it with decorations like caps, ascenders and descenders. This style gave rise to a typical proportion with rather small x-height. Over a time, Kurent became an independent script within Latin. The only problem with this script is that the small x-height in comparison of zig-zag patterns and similar letter shapes; makes it decorative and less legible.

The colloquial name became “Deutsche Schrift” (German Script).

  1. Sütterlin Script –

Sütterlinschrift (Sütterlin script) is a widely used form of Kurrent that evolved alongside German Blackletter and Fraktur scripts. The name Sütterlin is nowadays often used to refer to all varieties of old German handwriting, although only this specific script was taught in all German schools from 1915 to 1941. The Nazi replaced it with Antiqua script, but was again used post war until 1970. It is no longer a primary script.

The Sütterlin contains (e), with two vertical bars close together, where the Umlaut Diacritic from a small (e) written over modified vowel can be seen. It also had the long s (?), as well as several standard ligatures such as ? (f-f), ? (?-t), ? (s-t), and of course ß (?-z or ?-s). Sütterlin is illegible.

  1. Schwabacher –

This is a typical blackletter typeface which evolved in 15th century. It used to be the most common typeface until mid-16 century until it was replace by Fraktur. The lower case “g” and upper case “H” has a distinct form and appeared more popular and vibrant.

  1. Antiqua –

It is a typeface which was used for decorative writing or calligraphy during 15th and 16th century where letters flow and strokes connect together in continuity. After Fraktur, this typeface became popular.

  1. Blackletter –

This was used in German language until 20th century. Fraktur is one of its most common style.

Extra Letters – Umlaute and Diacritic

  1. Umlaute or Umlaut –

It is a sound change in which a vowel is pronounced more like a following vowel or a semi-vowel. It is a form of assimilation where one sound is modified to sound like an adjacent sound.

The most common forms are:

  1. Vowel rising, triggered by a following high vowel (often specifically a high front vowel such as /i/).
  2. Vowel fronting, triggered by a following front vowel (often specifically a high front vowel such as /i/).
  3. Vowel lowering, triggered by a following non-high vowel (often specifically a low vowel such as /a/).
  4. Vowel rounding, triggered by a following rounded vowel (often specifically a high rounded vowel such as /u/).
  1. Diacritic or Diaeresis –

The diaeresis indicates that two adjoining letters that would normally form a digraph and be pronounced as one are instead to be read as separate vowels in two syllables. The diaeresis indicates that a vowel should be pronounced apart from the letter that precedes it.


Last words….

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