Origins of the German Language

The history of the German language begins when the German language started showing a break from the Gothic language between the third and fifth centuries A.D. The earliest evidence of a German language is from various inscriptions from the sixth century AD. The oldest coherent texts can be found about the ninth century.

Modern German


When Martin Luther translated the Bible (completed in 1534), he based his translation primarily on the Saxony dialect used in the city of Meißen. This language preserved much of the grammatical system of Middle High German (spoken between 1050 and 1350).

Copies of Luther's Bible featured a long list of vocabulary words for each region that translated words which were unknown in the region into the regional dialect. It was not until the middle of the 18th century that a widely accepted standard German language was created.

Austrian Empire and Modern Austria

German was the language of commerce and government in the Habsburg Empire. Its use indicated that the speaker was a merchant or someone from an urban area, regardless of nationality.

Some cities, such as Prague (German: Prag) and Budapest (Buda, German: Ofen), were gradually Germanized after their incorporation into the Habsburg domain. Others, such as Pozsony (now Bratislava), were originally settled during the Habsburg period, and were primarily German at that time. Prague, Budapest and Bratislava as well as cities like Zagreb (German: Agram), and Ljubljana (German: Laibach), contained significant German minorities.

In the eastern provinces of Banat and Transylvania (German: Siebenbürgen), German was the predominant language not only in the larger towns – such as Temeswar (Timișoara), Hermannstadt (Sibiu) and Kronstadt (Brașov) – but also in many smaller localities in the surrounding areas.


The most comprehensive guide to the vocabulary of the German language is found within the Deutsches Wörterbuch. This dictionary was created by the Brothers Grimm and is composed of 16 parts issued between 1852 and 1860. In 1872, grammar and spelling rules first appeared in the Duden Handbook.

In 1901, the German language was completly standardized in its written form and the Duden Handbook was declared the authorized book for the standardization. In Northern Germany, Standard German was a foreign language to most inhabitants, who spoke Low German. Most of Standard German was a written language throughout the German-speaking area until well into the 19th century.

Revisions of some of the rules from 1901 were made in the spelling reform of 1996 and made official by governments of all German-speaking countries. Today, almost all media and written works are now produced in Standard German (often called Hochdeutsch, "High German") which is understood in all areas where German is spoken.