German (or Deutsch) is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European family. It is spoken by about 100 million people, primarily in Germany, where 95% of the population claims it as their first language, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Luxembourg. It is also the idiom of choice of communities located in South Tyrol region of Italy, the East Cantons region of Belgium, the Alsace region of France, and South Jutland County in Denmark. In addition, German-speaking ethnic pockets can also be found in Romania, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, North and Latin America, and in the former German colony of Namibia. German is also rapidly becoming a dominant language in the Internet world, with 6.9% of the Web population claiming to be German-speaking.
The origins of the German language is traced back to the Migration Period (300-700 A.D.), which marks the transition in Europe from Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages and refers to the many waves of mass movement of German and Slavic tribes into the territories of the former Western Roman Empire. Linguistically, these migrations brought the split of High German dialects from common West Germanic. Early High German writings are identified in the Elder Futhark inscriptions, produced in the 6th century. Germany’s millenarian history of geographical fragmentation prevented for a long time the development of a standardized language. Until about 1800, standard German was predominantly a written language.
The spoken language comprised a variety of dialects, which, although a continuum of High German and Low German or Saxon were, nevertheless, often unintelligible to outsiders of a particular geographical area.
Although local dialects are still used in oral communication on a regional scale, the official Standard German, also called Hochdeutsch, is used in written and media communication. It is understood by all German-speakers. Its grammatical and orthographic rules, detailed in 1901 in the Duden Book, were revised as a result of the controversial German spelling reform of 1996.
Most German vocabulary comes from the Germanic idiomatic stock. A significant list of words was borrowed from Latin and Greek, and smaller amounts from French and, more recently, English. German uses the Latin alphabet. To the standard 26 letters are also added three vowels with Umlaut (ü, ö, ä) and the Eszett (or ß). Several German words have enriched the English lexicon, including automat, blitz, delikatessen, kindergarten, realpolitik, rucksack and edelweiss.
The standards of the German language are monitored, regulated and upheld by the Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung.
German literature comprises a monumental body of work written in Germany itself, as well German-speaking Austria and Switzerland. Its production spans almost two millennia, starting with works produced in the Middle High German period of the High Middle Ages. Remarkable, among an impressive collection, are the works of the Enlightenment and the Weimar Classicism which produced masterpieces by world renowned authors like Goethe and Schiller. German literature produced twelve Nobelists in little more than a century. Among them are: Thomas Mann (1929), Heinrich Böll (1972), and Günther Grass (1999).
“Words are good, when works follow.”