German: its Speakers, Geography and History

German Speakers and German-speaking countries

Standard German is the official form typically taught in schools in German-speaking countries. We also teach Standard German in our German courses, which is widely understood and an official language in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. Note the term an official language as opposed to the official language: Standard German is not the only official language in Switzerland; for example, it shares its official status with French, Italian and Rhaeto-Romansh. In Luxembourg, German is an official language besides French and Luxembourgish. German is a regional language in Belgium, Italy and Denmark. All in all, there are 95 million speakers of Standard German and 110 million German speakers, which include speakers of non-standard varieties. Due to historic migration from Germany and its colonial past, other German speakers live in Poland, Czechia, Kazakhstan, Paraguay, Chile, Brasil, Namibia, and Togo.

History of the German language

Old High German existed a thousand years ago, Middle High German spoken up until 1350, Early New High German up to 1650 and New High German spoken until 1900. Going even further back, German is part go the language family known as Proto-Indo-European. Languages under that category are expressed in an area that stretches from Europe in the west to the southern part of the Indian subcontinent in the east. One of its daughters is Germanic, the earliest speakers of which lived in southern Scandinavia and on the Baltic and the North Sea. These Germanic speakers migrated to the west beyond the Rhine, further to the east across the Vistula River and south. This migration brought them into contact with speakers of other languages also descended from Indo-European.

Learning German today

The phonetics, morphology, syntax and semantics of language change over time. Proto-Indo-European also knew three grammatical genders, singular, dual, plural, and eight cases. Learners of German will be relieved to read that in Germanic, the cases were reduced to six, and in today’s Standard German, we are left with only four cases. But, Standard German has retained three grammatical genders. The dual has been abolished, with German left with only singular and plural nouns. German is, after all, much easier to learn than many make us believe.

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