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The German language (Deutsch) is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family. The modern standard German language is descended from Old High German which evolved from around 500 CE, with the “High” referring to the Central Uplands and Alpine regions of central and southern Germany, and also including Luxembourg, Austria, Liechtenstein, and most of Switzerland. Today, German is the tenth most widely spoken language in the world, with more than 90 million native speakers, and with 10-15 million speakers of German as a second language. After English, German is the second most widely spoken language in the European Union (EU), where it is also one of the most popular foreign languages to learn.

German is an official language in Germany (de facto, but not specified in the Constitution), Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. It also maintains co-official status in the Italian Autonomous Province of South Tyrol, Belgium, and Luxembourg, and is recognized as a minority language in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. There are also significant communities of German speakers in Namibia (mainly descendants from the original German colonists), South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand.

In the United States, there are approximately 1.06 million speakers of the German language. In North and South Dakota, German is the most common language spoken at home other than English, and it is the most common language spoken at home after English and Spanish in 16 states. Before World War I, German was widely spoken by waves of new immigrants in many parts of the country. As a result of suppression during the War, however, its use soon declined. The Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities represent one of the largest groups where the use of German – a dialect referred to as “Pennsylvania Dutch” – is still widespread.

German is considered to be a pluricentric language, with several interacting codified versions of the language. “Standard” German was originally not a traditional dialect but a written language and is a standard form of Higher German that was developed in the early modern period through a combination of varieties of Central German and Upper German. Even within Standard German, there are variations in vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, and orthography. The three main varieties of Standard German include German Standard German, Austrian Standard German, and Swiss Standard German. In Northern Germany in particular, Standard German has been gradually replacing some of the traditional dialects. Many traditional German dialects are not mutually intelligible and include numerous varieties of High German, Low German/Low Saxon, and Low Franconian. Among the High German varieties are Central German, High Franconian, Upper German, Alemannic, and Bavarian.

German is an inflected (fusional) language, wherein morphemes are added to a root word to assign a grammatical property to that word. German nouns are inflected by four cases, three genders, and two numbers (singular or plural). German nouns also form compounds wherein the first noun modifies the category given by the second noun. Unlike in English where noun compounds typically include a space between the nouns, German maintains a “closed” system which often leads to long compound words.

German verb inflection includes two main conjugation classes (weak and strong), three persons, two numbers, three moods, two tenses without auxiliary verbs, four tenses constructed with auxiliary verbs, and various types of distinctions between aspects. There are also some verb prefixes that can expand or even radically change the meaning of the verb. German utilizes a V2 word order with a subject-object-verb (SOV) order restriction for main clauses.

Most German vocabulary comes from the Germanic branch of the European language family, with a significant number of loanwords from Latin, Greek, Italian, French, and English. As many Latin words entered the German language during the time of the Roman Empire and have undergone requisite phonetic changes over time, the origin many such Latin loanwords are no longer recognizable.

German orthography uses the Latin alphabet, consisting of 26 letters, along with three vowels that contain the Umlaut (ä, ö, and ü), as well as the eszett or scharfes s (sharp s): ß. German is also the only major language that capitalizes all nouns.

FUN FACTS: The first printed book, the Gutenberg Bible, was written in German. German, along with English and Japanese, are the three major “scientific” languages of the world, including the largest number of patents written. English and German, as close relatives, also share approximately 60% of their vocabulary.

At Piedmont Global Language Solutions (PGLS), we offer document translation, interpretation, localization, and other language services in German. Whether you need to translate a patent application from German into English for a patent filing with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), a Swiss German interpreter for a legal deposition, or you want to localize your website into Standard German to market your products or services in German-speaking Europe, PGLS is here to help with all of your German language needs.

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