German Language Facts

Interesting German Language Facts

If you’re thinking about learning German it’s always good to know a little about the origins and history of the language you are learning. Here, Cactus Language offers up our most interesting German language facts:

1. The Origins

German is part of the West Germanic languages, along with English and Dutch. With what is today’s Germany being divided up into numerous small states for centuries, German was standardised primarily by its literature, as writers sought to be understood by as many readers as possible. As Germany’s unification started during the 19th century, standards were adopted. The Deutsches Wörterbuch, today’s largest German dictionary in existence, was begun by the Brothers Grimm in 1838.

2. The Speakers

German is spoken by 95 million native speakers worldwide, and is the European Union’s most widely spoken native language. German Sprachraum refers to the Central Europe German-speaking area, which includes Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It is also an official language in South Tyrol (Italy), Belgium and Luxembourg, and a minority language in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Namibia.

3. The Longest Word

German is famous for its extensive use of long words. So long that the longest German word is now obsolete: Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, meaning “the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labeling of beef”, has been deemed too unpractical for bureaucrats.

4. The Uncommon

Like most languages, German has its own very unique words which can’t be translated in other languages. Useful examples include:

  • Luftschloss: this word literally means “castle in the sky” and is used to describe someone’s unrealistic dream.
  • Blaumachen: similar to the expression “Blue Monday”, this words means ditching school or work.
  • Heimat: both a positive word and a very German concept, it describes the relationship between a person and his/her homeland.

5. The Calligraphy

Until the mid-20th century, German would be written using a different script of the Latin alphabet: the Fraktur script. This form of Gothic script was introduced in the 16th century and remained in use until the Second World War.


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