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What is High German?

Niki Acker
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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High German is the variety of German spoken in central and south Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It is also spoken in areas of other European countries, including Poland, Italy, France, and Belgium. "High" refers not to any perceived superiority, although many people assume it does, but rather to the ground elevation of the areas in Germany where it is spoken. It contrasts with the Low German or Low Saxon variety of Standard German spoken in the northern part of the country and the Netherlands.

This type of German is not a dialect, but rather a variety with many different dialects of its own. The standardized form of German used in literature and formal situations throughout Germany and Austria, called Hochdeutsch — literally "High German" — is one dialect. In English, the term is not properly used to refer to this standardized German, as it encompasses a much wider group of speaking styles.

The various dialects can be divided into two groups: Central German, spoken in central Germany as well as in Luxemburg, Belgium, and parts of France and Switzerland; and Upper German, spoken in south Germany, Austria, and areas of Italy. Standard German is derived from a Central German dialect. Other dialects include Pennsylvania Dutch in the United States and some dialects of Swiss German or Schweizerdeutsch. Yiddish, spoken by Ashkenazi Jews worldwide, developed from a High German dialect of the past.

Despite its name, even Standard German encompasses a number of grammatical and speaking styles. It is generally the same among regions as far as writing is concerned, but pronunciation and vocabulary often differ significantly, and grammatical differences between regions are not unheard of. Standard German is best thought of as a written language, as that is how it developed. Regional differences are often influenced by other High German dialects in the area.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker , Writer
"In addition to her role as a Language & Humanities editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "

Discussion Comments

By FitzMaurice — On Dec 02, 2010

Many important words in the English (especially American) vocabulary have come from High German via Yiddish. These include words like "glitch," "schmuck," "bagel," "klutz," and many more. The inherent nuance and preciseness of German enables it to have a large vocabulary which makes it complement English very well. For the highly educated, learning and using these sometimes erudite terms can be quite helpful and impressive. Caution is important, though, because precise language can be a big turn-off and perceived as a sign of arrogance in certain audiences.

By BioNerd — On Jul 27, 2010

The reason why High German had such a great influence on modern Standard German is largely because it was the language in which Martin Luther wrote his widely bruited version of the Bible. This is very much akin to the reason which King James English influenced the English of its day.

Niki Acker

Niki Acker

Writer

"In addition to her role as a Language & Humanities editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide...
Learn more
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