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FACTS ABOUT THE GERMAN LANGUAGE
German belongs to the West Germanic languages of the Indo-European language family. Its origins date back to shortly before the 1st century, when Germanic tribes arrived in Central Europe from the south. Later, the Germanic language split into its three regional varieties: North Germanic, East Germanic, and West Germanic. Over the centuries, West Germanic gave way to the modern-day German, Dutch, Frisian, Luxembourgish, Afrikaans, Scottish, and English languages.
The development of modern German can be divided into three stages:
- Proto-Germanic (around 750–1050)
- Middle High Germanic (1050–1500)
- Modern German (from 1500)
It is the native language of approximately 108 million people, which makes it the tenth largest language in the world. However, it is the most popular native language in the European Union.
It is the official language in several European Union countries: Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Germany. Large German-speaking communities can be found elsewhere in Europe: in the east of Belgium, south of Denmark, France (the Alsace region), and the north of Italy.
The German alphabet consists of 26 Latin letters. Letters with umlaut (Ä, Ö, and Ü) and the ligature ß are not included in the alphabet. The diacritical mark umlaut palatalises, or softens, a vowel. The ligature eszett (ß) combines two letters ‘s’ into a single symbol.
All nouns are capitalised in German. Articles are used before nouns to indicate what gender they belong to. Feminine nouns take the article die, masculine nouns take der, while neuter nouns take das.
The first book in modern German is considered to be Martin Luther’s (1483–1546) translated Bible, which was printed in 1534.
Modern German has two dialects: Low and High German.
Low German is spoken in Northern Germany. Its historical development is divided into three periods: 1) Old Saxon (8th–11th century); 2) Middle Low German (12th–16th century); and 3) New Low German (from the 16th century onward). Nine million people speak this dialect.
High German is spoken in Central and Southern Germany. It went through the following stages of development: 1) Old High German (8th–11th century); 2) Middle High German (12th–16th century); and 3) New High German (from the 16th century onward). New High German is the foundation of the modern literary German.
Language code: ISO 639-1: de
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