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German, often known as Deutsch, is one of the official languages of Switzerland and is the national tongue of Austria and Germany. Along with English, Frisian, and Dutch, German is a member of the Indo-European language family’s West Germanic branch (Netherlandic, Flemish).

The first encounter of the speakers of Germanic languages with the Romans, in the first century BCE, marks the beginning of their documented history. There was only one “Germanic” language at that time and for several centuries afterward, with only slight dialect variations. One may only refer to a “German” language (i.e., High German) after the 6th century CE.

German is an inflected language with three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), four cases for nouns, pronouns, and adjectives (nominative, accusative, genitive, and dative), as well as strong and weak verbs. More than 90 million people worldwide speak German as a first language, placing it among the languages with the greatest native speaker populations. One of the primary cultural languages of the West and a language that is frequently studied as a foreign language is German.

German is a very homogeneous written language; variations between Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are comparable to those between written English in the United States and the British Commonwealth. However, there are numerous dialects of spoken German, the most of which fall into the High German or Low German dialectal categories.

High German (HochDeutsch)
In the highlands of southern Germany, Old High German, a group of dialects for which there was no common literary language, was spoken until approximately 1100. In the southernmost region of the German speech area, a standard language based on the Upper German dialects (Alemannic and Bavarian) began to emerge during Middle High German times (about 1100). The early 13th-century epic Nibelungenlied is one of the many works of literature written in Middle High German.

The central and southern highlands of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are home to speakers of modern standard High German, which is descended from the Middle High German dialects. In the Low German speaking region, it is also the language of administration, higher education, literature, and the media. The Middle German dialect employed by Martin Luther in his 16th-century Bible translation provides the basis for Standard High German, however they are not the same language. The dialect groupings of Middle and Upper German, the latter of which includes Austro-Bavarian, Alemannic (Swiss German), and High Franconian, are distinguished within the present High German speech region.

Low German (Plattdeutsch, or Niederdeutsch)
The spoken language of the northern German lowlands is called low German, and it lacks a single current literary standard. It evolved from the Middle Low German and Old Saxon spoken by Hanseatic League residents. Many loanwords from the language were used in Scandinavian languages, but as the league waned, so did Low German.

There is no standardised Low German literary or administrative language, despite the fact that the many Low German dialects are still spoken in northern German families and some literature has been published in them.

Other major dialects
Alemannic dialects, which originated in the southwest of the Germanic speech area, diverge significantly from standard High German in terms of their sound system and grammar. Switzerland, western Austria, Swabia, Liechtenstein, and the French Alsace region all have native speakers of these dialects. High German also gave rise to Yiddish, the language of the Ashkenazic Jews (Jews whose ancestors lived in Germany during the European Middle Ages).