German is a West Germanic language spoken by 185 million people worldwide. It is commonly taught in educational institutions as a foreign language and is the third most frequently leaned language.
The history of the German language consists of three periods: Old German (c750-c1050); Middle German (c1050–c1500) and Modern German (c1500 onwards).
During the Old German era, no standard language existed. The earliest extant records of c750 revealed local dialects were used for writing. During the 1300's, the Middle German interval, Holy Roman Empire chancelleries developed a somewhat standardized language extracted from Middle High German dialects in their official documents. Martin Luther is credited with the birth of Modern German with his translation of the Bible, based on the Saxony chancellery German, in the years 1522 through 1534. The Modern German written language has remained basically unchanged from the 18th century.
The spoken German language was not uniform until approximately 1800. It consisted of several dialects based on regions of the country. During the 7th century migration period (or Barbarian Invasions),a consonant shift, known as the High German Consonant Shift, divided Old High German dialects from those of Old Saxon, resulting in High German and Low German.
High German (Hochdeutsch) evolved from the Alemannic and Bavarian dialects spoken in the southern highlands of Germany. Middle High German saw the emergence of a standard spoken language, which was also preeminent in 13th century literature.
Low German (Plattdeutsch or Niederdeutsch) is spoken in the northern lowlands of German. It was the language of the Hanseatic League citizens. Low German lost its prominence and importance with the decline of the League and the growth in power of middle and southern German states.
Today Low German dialects are limited to being spoken in homes and by the unschooled in northern Germany. There is no written standard for Low German.
Modern Standard High German
Modern Standard High German can trace its ancestry to Middle High German. Up until 1800, dialects were still spoken and standard German primarily existed as a written language. The Brothers Grimm published a dictionary between 1852 and 1860, which remains authoritative to this day. The Duden Handbook introduced grammatical and orthographic rules in 1860, which rules were made official by The Staatliche Orthographie-Konferenz in 1901.
Revisions to the Duden Handbook rules were issued in 1998, based on the German spelling reform of 1996. The spelling reform was met with mixed reactions and lawsuits, however, the reformed spelling was taught in schools and the media used traditional and reformed spellings simultaneously. A further revision in response to criticisms of the 1996 reform was implemented in 2006.
Standard German is the official language of government and used exclusively by educators, the media and authors of written materials.
There are variations of standard German, depending on the country or region. These variations can include vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar and orthography. Thus, German is a pluricentric language. It is notable that the German language has a small percentage of loanwords, with the majority of its vocabulary derived from its West Germanic roots in the Indo-European language family.
German is also an inflective language, with the verb inflected to show person, number, tense and mood. The noun can be inflected into nominative, genitive, dative or accusative; masculine, feminine or neutral; and singular or plural. Adjectives can be inflected into weak or strong.
German commonly utilizes compound words, the longest consisting of 63 letters.