Roots of the language: The Germanic tribes of the eastern part of the European continent were quite numerous and diverse in the ancient world, and in turn spoke many disparate (though related) languages. The Romans conquered and reconquered them several times, as they tended to do on the rest of the continent, but did not establish Latin in the same way that they did in modern-day France and Spain. Modern German therefore descends almost directly from the barbarian dialects, as opposed to the Romance languages, which descend from Latin.
The many varieties of Old German, including the Old Saxon language which was one of the major influences on modern English and Dutch, spread across Eastern and Northern Europe over several centuries. One of the dominant dialects of German became more elevated when Martin Luther used it as the platform for his revolutionary reforms to the Christian Church. By publishing the Bible in a language other than Latin (i.e. German), Luther’s aim was to make the most important religion in Europe more accessible to the masses.
Written form: Like many other European languages, German uses the 26-letter Latin alphabet (German dialects before the introduction of Latin did not have much of a literary tradition). In addition, German adds vowels with the Umlaut and a sharp form of the S consonant. Because German is technically capable of forming infinite compound words, it contains some of the longest words found in the Western world. However, because this is impractical for all but the most esoteric uses, the vast majority of words are of more or less average length.
The German language has undergone a recent change: in 1996 an official reform attempted to standardize the spelling of German to make it easier to learn. It proved controversial, with many citizens and businesses ignoring or rejecting the changes. One angered group actually brought the matter to the courts, which ruled that the resolution had full effect only in schools, with the rest of the populace able to choose which spelling rules they wanted to implement on a case-by-case basis. Currently, German-language media tends to use a mix of the newer and older spelling rules.
Last Updated : April 20, 2015