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6. Who speaks German?

German is the native language of well over 100 million people worldwide - in fact some figures have it as high as 121 million. It is the main language of 90-95 million people in Europe. German is the official language of the 82.2 million inhabitants of Germany, but also of Austria (8.36 million) and Liechtenstein.

The German flag Germany 82.21 million
The Austrian flag Austria 8.36 million
The Swiss flag Switzerland 4.6 million
The Liechtenstein flag Liechtenstein 35,365

German is by far the most widely spoken language in Switzerland: 63.7% of Switzerland's 7.59 million inhabitants speak German as their first language and 17 of Switzerland's 26 cantons are monolingual in German. 20.4% of Swiss citizens speak French, and they live in the western part of the country. 6.5% of Swiss citizens speak Italian as their first language and 0.5% Rumantsch. All four of these languages are recognised as "official languages".

The Swiss flagYet the language spoken in German-speaking Switzerland is quite different from standard "High" German. The German Swiss speak Swiss German - which itself is broken up into numerous local dialects. These are different enough to make it possible to determine where a speaker comes from, but generally not so different as to be incomprehensible to other Swiss German speakers. People who have learnt only High German however find Swiss German very hard to understand. This is not merely a matter of accent: the grammar and vocabulary are also different. Fortunately standard High German is the language used in newspapers and magazines and in classrooms and universities.

The Belgian flag Belgium 130,000 speakers
The Italian flag South Tirol 200,000
The French flag Alsace-Lorraine 1.5 million
The Danish flag Denmark 35,000
The Polish flag Poland 1.1 million
The Hungarian flag Hungary 62,000
The Romanian flag Romania 200,000
The Russian flag Former Soviet Union 1.9 million
The Luxembourg flag Luxembourg  
The Czech flag Czech Republic  
The Slovakian flag Slovakia  
The Latvian flag Baltic states  

German is one of three languages spoken in South Tirol in northern Italy. In the province of Bozen/Südtirol there are some 287,500 German speakers (67.99% of the population). Elsewhere in Europe, German is an official language in Belgium and German-speaking communities exist in Denmark, France (Alsace-Lorraine), and Eastern Europe (primarily in Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Rumania). You will also find German-speaking communities in the Baltic states, particularly in Latvia.

Only one language is used by the 441,000 inhabitants of Luxembourg in oral communication - Lëtzebuergesch. Although of Germanic origin (around the 4th Century), Lëtzebuergesch has sufficiently differentiated itself from its parent language so as no longer to be readily understood by many a German. German native speakers might well recognise this or that word or construction used in Lėtzebuergesch - in the same way that a German from one region can 'understand' a dialect from another German region - but are often caught out by 'non-Germanic' words or turns of phrase.

The Luxembourg flagAlthough attempts are being made to establish Lëtzebuergesch as a written language, most newspapers in Luxembourg are printed in German, although accounts of political debates are printed in Lëtzebuergesch. Names of streets, shops, hotel registries and menus are however written in French - as are parliamentary documents, procedures in court, administrative and judicial acts. French remains the official language of the authorities in Luxembourg and also of those who see themselves as the intellectual élite.

Outside Europe
Various waves of emigration have seen the establishment of German-speaking groupings well outside Europe. Did you know for example that there are no less than 1.5 million German speakers in the USA and Canada alone? Or that in a census in 1990 one out of four Americans claim some form of German ancestry? South America (particularly Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay), Australia and Africa (South Africa and Namibia) also have well-established German communities.

 Web Links 
Who speaks German? The Ethnologue maintained by the Summer Institute of Linguistics shows you in just how many countries standard German is spoken.
German Dialects Find out more about the dialects of German with my Modern German Dialects linklist.
The languages of Switzerland Find out more about the languages spoken in Switzerland and the regions where each of them is spoken.
German in Switzerland Find out more about the linguistic situation in Switzerland and see how German and its dialects fit into the overall picture.
Liechtenstein Visit the official website of the principality of Liechtenstein.
Languages in Luxembourg A very helpful overview of the languages spoken in Luxembourg and the contexts in which they should be used.
South Tirol Found out more about South Tirol in the Italian Alps.
Belgium Visit Grenz-Echo - the newspaper of the German community in Belgium.
German in the USA Did German almost become the official language of the USA?

Weiter!Part 7: The status of German today

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