German (Deutsch) is spoken as a native language by approximately 120 million people worldwide, primarily in Germany, Austria and Switzerland but also in Luxembourg and Lichtenstein, and as a foreign language by a further 80 million. There are also significant communities of native speakers in Italy, France, Belgium and Denmark. The United States has one of the largest concentrations of German speakers outside Europe and there are numerous immigrant colonies across South America, too. It is the most widely spoken first language of the European Union, and the second most spoken language in Europe (after English).
Until the turn of the nineteenth century, standard German was practically only a written language. Pronunciation varies from region to region, though written works can be understood wherever German is spoken. The written German language was finally standardised in 1901, following the publication of dictionaries and grammatical rules over the preceding fifty years. 1996 marked the year of the German Spelling Reform, sparking widespread public debate. The controversy revolved around the issue of whether a language should be preserved, as cultural heritage, or be allowed to grow, as a means of communication.
Linguistically speaking, German dialects are different from varieties of standard German. The dialects are the traditional local varieties which can be traced back to the different medieval Germanic tribes. Many of them are barely intelligible to someone who knows only standard German, since they often differ from standard German in features such as vocabulary, pronunciation and sentence structure.
German uses the Latin alphabet but in addition to the 26 standard letters it uses three vowels with umlauts, namely ä, ö and ü, as well as the ‘Eszett’ or ‘sharp s’: ß. In written German all nouns are capitalised, intended to make it easier for readers to determine what function a word has within the sentence. This convention is almost unique to German today although it was historically common in other languages such as Danish and English. Written texts in German are easily recognisable thanks to certain distinguishing features, such as umlauts, and the frequent occurrence of long compounds (the generally accepted longest word in use in German, Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, has 63 letters!)
German has fewer Romance-language loanwords than English or even Dutch, though they do exist; one such example being ‘Kaiser’ (from the Latin word ‘Caesar’). The English language has also borrowed a number of German words, e.g. ‘doppelgänger’ and ‘kindergarten’.
The not-for-profit Goethe Institute (named after the famous German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) promotes the German language abroad and aims to enhance the knowledge of German culture and society within Europe and worldwide. The international broadcaster, ‘Deutsche Welle’ (German Wave), is the German equivalent of the BBC’s World Service, providing global radio and television broadcasts in German and several other languages.
English Translation & German Translation
Business Language Services Ltd. (BLS) specialises in German translation (both English to German translation and German to English translation). We have a broad network of highly experienced, qualified professional German translators, who only translate into their mother tongue. What’s more, all our German translations are proofread by a second, independent linguist. We can cater for all varieties of German and can also localise existing content. BLS has an extensive database of German interpreters, selected according to their expertise, specialist knowledge, friendly attitude and professional reliability. BLS also works with some of the best German language tutors, enabling us to offer you tailor-made courses to match your precise needs and suit your ongoing work commitments.