History of German

German is the official language of Austria. Worldwide, 10 million native speakers speak German and it ranks as the tenth most spoken language in the world. The total number of German speakers leaps to around 130 million people if non-native speakers are included. Linguists class German as an Indo-European language. It is also the official language of Germany, Belgium, Liechtenstein, and part of Switzerland, Luxembourg, and others.

German belongs to the West Germanic branch of languages alongside English and Dutch. English however contains significant French influence too particularly in terms of vocabulary and some grammar.  

Official Language

German is the authoritative language of Austria, Germany, and Liechtenstein, as well as one of the official languages of Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg. At a regional level it is also considered to be an official administrative language in a further15 countries, including some Baltic states and Russia. Large numbers of immigrants, particularly in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and the USA also speak German. It is also the official language of several international organizations as well as one of the official languages of the European Union.


Standard German is referred to in linguistic circles as Hochdeutsch. Regional forms of standard German are classed as dialects. The Austrian variant of German contains differences in pronunciation and vocabulary but its grammar is the same. The German spoken by the immigrant communities in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and the USA are considered by linguists to be different varieties of German rather than just a dialect of the language.

Brief History

Old German is recorded in documents as far back as the 8th century. After the High German consonant shift, which represents a change in the sound of the language, German moved away from English and Dutch, which formed the different branches within the Western Germanic language family.

German experienced few changes or attempts to unify the spoken predominantly in the built-up and industrial areas stretching from western to central Europe. German identified the people in this region as coming from urban or business environments rather than as their national country identity. Martin Luther’s 16th century translation of the Bible was written in what was known as Standard German.

The Hapsburg Empire exercised the greatest impact on a unified German language. German was the spoken and written language across the Empire for many centuries. Even today, some communities in Slovakia, Hungary, France and the Czech Republic still speak German, which was passed down between generations from the days of the Empire.

In 1860, the Duden Handbook made a significant attempt at officially defining and uniting the German language. In 1901 Duden’s efforts were adopted as the authorized definition of Standard German. In 1996, German was further transformed in by a notorious reform, which sparked public outrage and legal disputes. However, the reforms were accepted and accepted as the benchmark of the official German language.

Did you know?

Around 128 million people around the world speak German making it the tenth most spoken language globally. The Guinness Book of Records listed German as having received the most written translations either into the language or from German into another language. Today it is either the official or regional language of around 20 different countries – it is even an official language in parts of Namibia.