Standard German

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Standard High German
Standard German, High German, also often simply German
Standardhochdeutsch, Standarddeutsch, Hochdeutsch
RegionGerman-speaking Europe
Native speakers
132 million, mostly concentrated in German-speaking Europe (2020)[1]
Early forms
Standard forms
Signed German
Official status
Regulated byNo official regulation
(Orthography regulated by the Council for German Orthography)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-1de
ISO 639-2ger (B)
deu (T)
ISO 639-3deu

Standard High German (SHG),[3] less precisely Standard German or High German (not to be confused with High German) (German: Standardhochdeutsch, Standarddeutsch, Hochdeutsch or, in Switzerland, Schriftdeutsch), is the standardized variety of the German language used in formal contexts and for communication between different dialect areas. It is a pluricentric Dachsprache with three codified (or standardised) specific regional variants: German Standard German, Austrian Standard German and Swiss Standard German.

Regarding the spelling and punctuation, a recommended standard is published by the Council for German Orthography which represents the governments of all majority and minority German-speaking countries and dependencies.[4] Adherence is obligatory for government institutions, including schools. Regarding the pronunciation, although there is no official standards body, there is a long-standing de facto standard pronunciation (Bühnendeutsch), most commonly used in formal speech and teaching materials. It is similar to the formal German spoken in and around Hanover. Adherence to those standards by private individuals and companies, including the print and audio-visual media, is voluntary but widespread.


Standard German originated not as a traditional dialect of a specific region but as a written language developed over a process of several hundred years in which writers tried to write in a way that was understood in the largest area.

Martin Luther's translation of the Bible in 1522 was an important development towards an early standardization of written German. Luther based his translation largely on the already developed language of the Saxon chancery, which was more widely understood than other dialects and as a Central German dialect, was felt to be "half way" between the dialects of the north and south. Luther drew principally on Eastern Upper and East Central German dialects and preserved much of the grammatical system of Middle High German.[citation needed]

Later in 1748, a grammar manual by Johann Christoph Gottsched, Grundlegung einer deutschen Sprachkunst, was key in the development of German writing and standardization of the language. Similarly to Luther, Gottsched based his manual off the Central German variant of the Upper Saxon area.[5] Over the course of the mid-18th century and onward, a written standard then began to emerge and be widely accepted in German-speaking areas, thus ending the period of Early New High German.

Until about 1800, Standard German was almost entirely a written language. People in Northern Germany who spoke mainly Low Saxon languages very different from Standard German then learned it more or less as a foreign language. However, later the Northern pronunciation (of Standard German) was considered standard[6][7] and spread southward; in some regions (such as around Hanover), the local dialect has completely died out with the exception of small communities of Low German speakers.

It is thus the spread of Standard German as a language taught at school that defines the German Sprachraum, which was thus a political decision rather than a direct consequence of dialect geography. That allowed areas with dialects with very little mutual comprehensibility to participate in the same cultural sphere. Currently, local dialects are used mainly in informal situations or at home and also in dialect literature, but more recently, a resurgence of German dialects has appeared in mass media.[citation needed]


In German, Standard German is generally called Hochdeutsch, reflecting the fact that its phonetics are largely those of the High German spoken in the southern uplands and the Alps (including Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and parts of northern Italy as well as southern Germany). The corresponding term Low German reflects the fact that these dialects belong to the lowlands stretching towards the North Sea. The widespread but mistaken impression that Hochdeutsch is so-called because it is perceived to be "good German" has led to use of the supposedly less judgmental Standarddeutsch ("Standard German"), deutsche Standardsprache ("German standard language"). On the other hand, the "standard" written languages of Switzerland and Austria have each been codified as standards distinct from that used in Germany. For this reason, "Hochdeutsch" or "High German", originally a mere geographic designation, applies unproblematically to Swiss Standard German and Austrian German as well as to German Standard German and may be preferred for that reason.


The national and regional standard varieties of the German language after 1945 and the expulsions of the Germans.[8]
A Standard German speaker from Germany.

Standard German is pluricentric with different national varieties, namely: German Standard German, Austrian Standard German and Swiss Standard German. These varieties of standard German differ only in a few features, mostly in vocabulary and pronunciation, but in some instances of grammar and orthography. In formal writing the differences are minimal to nonexistent; in regards to the spoken language, the different varieties of Standard German are easily recognized by most speakers.[citation needed]

These three national standards (German, Austrian and Swiss) have each been adopted by other German-speaking countries and communities as their standard form of German. The German standard is applied in Luxembourg, Belgium, and Namibia while the Swiss standard has been adopted in Liechtenstein.[9]

The variation of the Standard German varieties must not be confused with the variation of the local German dialects. Even though the Standard German varieties are to a certain degree influenced by the local dialects, they are very distinct. All varieties of Standard German are based on the common tradition of the written German language, whereas the local dialects have their own historical roots that go further back than the unification of the written language, and in the case of Low German, belong to a different language entirely.

Continuum between Standard German and German dialects

In most regions, the speakers use a continuum of mixtures from more dialectical varieties to more standard varieties according to situation. However, there are two (or three) exceptions:

  • In Northern Germany, there is no continuum in the strict sense between the local indigenous languages and dialects of Low German ("Plattdeutsch") on the one hand, and Standard German on the other. Since the former have not undergone the High German consonant shift, they are too different from the standard for a continuum to emerge. High German and Low German are best seen as separate languages, but because High (Middle and Upper) and Low German form a dialect continuum and Standard German serves as dachsprache for all forms of German, they are often described as dialects of German. Under a socio-linguistic approach to the problem, even if Low German dialects are Abstandsprachen (linguistically quite different), they are perceived as dialects of German because they lack Ausbau. However, Low German did influence the standard-based vernaculars spoken today in Northern Germany by language transfer (in pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and syntax), and it continues to do so to a limited degree. High German heavily influenced by Low German has been known as Missingsch, but most contemporary Northern Germans exhibit only an intermediate Low German substratum in their speech.
  • In German-speaking Switzerland, there is no such continuum between the Swiss German varieties and Swiss Standard German, and the use of Standard German is almost entirely restricted to the written language. Therefore, this situation has been called a medial diglossia. Standard German is seldom spoken among native Swiss,[a][10] and even then the accent and vocabulary is very much Swiss, except for instance when speaking with people who do not understand the Swiss German dialects at all, and it is expected to be used in school.[citation needed]Standard German has, however, left a clear imprint on the contemporary variants of Swiss German, regional expressions and vocabulary having been replaced with material assimilated from the standard language. Of all the German-speaking countries Switzerland has however most fully retained the use of dialect in everyday situations. Dialect is used to a lesser extent for some everyday situations in southern Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Alsace, and South Tyrol. The regular use of dialect in Swiss media (radio, internet, and television) contrasts with its much rarer appearance in the media of Austria, Germany, East Belgium, South Tyrol, and Liechtenstein.
  • Luxembourgish is not a Standard German dialect but an independent language; Luxembourgers are generally trilingual, using French and Standard German in some areas of life, Luxembourgish in others. Standard German is taught in schools in Luxembourg and close to 90% of the population can speak it.[11]


While the three principal national varieties are recognized as three distinct standards, the differences are few, perhaps comparable to the difference between British and American English. Duden does codify the standard pronunciation for German Standard German, allowing for a small number of divergences: for example, the string "äh" has two authorized pronunciations, /ɛː/ and /eː/. Some regions see only the first as correct, while others use only the second; Duden now recognizes both as correct. Standardized High German pronunciation is generally used in radio and television as well as in German learning materials for non-natives, and at least aspirationally by language teachers. This accent is documented in reference works such as Deutsches Aussprachewörterbuch (German Pronunciation Dictionary) by Eva-Maria Krech et al.,[b] Duden 6 Das Aussprachewörterbuch (Duden volume 6, The Pronunciation Dictionary) by Max Mangold and the training materials at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (West German Broadcasting) and Deutschlandfunk (Radio Germany). It is an invented accent rather than radiating from any particular German-speaking city. It is often said that the people of Hannover speak German with an accent that comes closest to the standard of the Duden dictionaries, but the claim is debatable, particularly since it may apply equally well to the rest of Northern Germany.[citation needed]




Standard High German is written in the Latin alphabet. In addition to the 26 standard letters, German has three vowels with an umlaut mark, namely ä, ö and ü, as well as the Eszett or scharfes s (sharp s): ß. In Switzerland and Liechtenstein, ss is used instead of ß. Since ß can never occur at the beginning of a word, it has no traditional uppercase form.


A first step to standardisation, although non-prescriptive, of Early New High German was introduced by the Luther Bible of 1534. In consequence, the written language of the chancery of Saxony-Wittenberg rose in importance in the course of the 17th century so much so that it was used in texts such as the 1665 revision of the Zürich Bible.

The First Orthographical Conference convened in 1876 by order of the government of Prussia, but failed. Konrad Duden published the first edition of his dictionary, later simply known as the Duden, in 1880. The first spelling codification by the Second Orthographic Conference of 1901, based on Duden's work, came into effect in 1902.

In 1944 there was a failed attempt at another reform; this was delayed on the order of Hitler and not taken up again after the end of World War II.

In the following decades German spelling was essentially decided de facto by the editors of the Duden dictionaries. After the war, this tradition was followed with two different centers: Mannheim in West Germany and Leipzig in East Germany. By the early 1950s, a few other publishing houses had begun to attack the Duden monopoly in the West by publishing their own dictionaries, which did not always conform to the "official" spellings prescribed by Duden. In response, the Ministers of Culture of the federal states in West Germany officially declared the Duden spellings to be binding as of November 1955 ("Duden-Monopol" or "Dudenmonopol", "Duden-Privileg" or "Dudenprivileg").[citation needed][12]

Orthography Reform of 1996

The orthography reform of 1996 was based on an international agreement signed by the governments of the German-speaking countries Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland; but acceptance of the reform was limited and led to public controversy and considerable dispute. The states (Bundesländer) of North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria refused to accept it. At one point, the dispute reached the highest court, which quickly dismissed it, claiming that the states had to decide for themselves and that only in schools could the reform be made the official rule – everybody else could continue writing as they had learned it.

While, as of 2004, most German print media followed the reform, some newspapers, such as Die Zeit, Neue Zürcher Zeitung and Süddeutsche Zeitung, created their own in-house orthographies.

After 10 years, without any intervention by the federal parliament, a major revision of the spelling reform was installed in 2006 because there were disagreements regarding capitalization and splitting of German words. Also revised were the rules governing punctuation marks.[citation needed]

The most noticeable change was probably in the use of the letter ß, called scharfes s (Sharp S) or Eszett (pronounced ess-tsett, coming from ſz). Traditionally, this letter was used in three situations:

  1. After a long vowel or vowel combination;
  2. Before a t;
  3. At the end of a syllable.

Examples are Füße, paßt, and daß. Currently, only the first rule is in effect, making the reformed spellings Füße, passt, and dass. The word Fuß 'foot' has the letter ß because it contains a long vowel, even though that letter occurs at the end of a syllable. The logic of this change is that an 'ß' is a single letter whereas 'ss' are two letters, so the same distinction applies as (for example) between the words den and denn.

English to Standard German cognates

This is a selection of cognates in both English and Standard German. Instead of the usual infinitive ending -en, Standard German verbs are indicated by a hyphen after their stems. Words that are written with capital letters in Standard German are nouns.

English German English German English German English German English German English German English German English German
and und arm Arm bear Bär beaver Biber bee Biene beer Bier best best better besser
blink blink- bloom blüh- blue blau boat Boot book Buch brew brau- brewery Brauerei bridge Brücke
brow Braue brown braun church Kirche cold kalt cool kühl dale Tal dam Damm dance tanz-
dough Teig dream Traum dream träum- drink Getränk drink trink- ear Ohr earth Erde eat ess-
far fern feather Feder fern Farn field Feld finger Finger fish Fisch fisher Fischer flee flieh-
flight Flug flood Flut flow fließ- flow Fluss (Fluß) fly Fliege fly flieg- for für ford Furt
four vier fox Fuchs glass Glas go geh- gold Gold good gut grass Gras grasshopper Grashüpfer
green grün grey grau hag Hexe hail Hagel hand Hand hard hart hate Hass haven Hafen
hay Heu hear hör- heart Herz heat Hitze heath Heide high hoch honey Honig hornet Hornisse
hundred hundert hunger Hunger hut Hütte ice Eis king König kiss Kuss (Kuß) kiss küss- knee Knie
land Land landing Landung laugh lach- lie, lay lieg-, lag lie, lied lüg-, log light (A) leicht light Licht live leb-
liver Leber love Liebe man Mann middle Mitte midnight Mitternacht moon Mond moss Moos mouth Mund
mouth (river) Mündung night Nacht nose Nase nut Nuss (Nuß) over über plant Pflanze quack quak- rain Regen
rainbow Regenbogen red rot ring Ring sand Sand say sag- sea See (f.) seam Saum seat Sitz
see seh- sheep Schaf shimmer schimmer- shine schein- ship Schiff silver Silber sing sing- sit sitz-
snow Schnee soul Seele speak sprech- spring spring- star Stern stitch Stich stork Storch storm Sturm
stormy stürmisch strand strand- straw Stroh straw bale Strohballen stream Strom stream ström- stutter stotter- summer Sommer
sun Sonne sunny sonnig swan Schwan tell erzähl- that (C) dass (daß) the der, die, das, des, dem, den then dann thirst Durst
thistle Distel thorn Dorn thousand tausend thunder Donner twitter zwitscher- upper ober warm warm wasp Wespe
water Wasser weather Wetter weave web- well Quelle well wohl which welch white weiß wild wild
wind Wind winter Winter wolf Wolf word Wort world Welt yarn Garn year Jahr yellow gelb
English German English German English German English German English German English German English German English German

Loanwords from Standard German to English

English has taken many loanwords from German, often without any change of spelling (aside from frequently eliminating umlauts and not capitalizing nouns):

German word English loanword Definition of German word
abseilen (v.) abseil to descend by rope / to fastrope
Angst angst fear
Ansatz ansatz onset / entry / math / approach
Anschluß/Anschluss Anschluss connection / access / annexation
Automat automat automation / machine
Bildungsroman bildungsroman novel concerned with the personal development or education of the protagonist
Blitzkrieg blitzkrieg, shortend blitz lit.'lightning war': military strategy
Bratwurst bratwurst fried sausage
Delikatessen delicatessen delicious food items
Dirndl dirndl lit. "young woman": type of feminine dress
Doppelgänger doppelgänger lit. "double going / living person alive", look-alike of somebody
Dramaturg dramaturge professional position within a theatre or opera company that deals mainly with research and development of plays or operas
Edelweiß or Edelweiss (Swiss spelling) edelweiss edelweiss flower
Ersatz ersatz lit. "replacement", typically used to refer to an inferior substitute for a desired substance or item
Fest fest feast / celebration
Flugabwehrkanone flak lit. "flight defence gun": anti-aircraft gun, abbreviated as FlaK
Frankfurter frankfurt(er) demonym of Frankfurt am Main
Gedankenexperiment gedankenexperiment thought experiment
Geländesprung geländesprung ski jumping for distance on alpine equipment
Gemütlichkeit gemütlichkeit snug feeling, cosiness, good nature, geniality
Gestalt gestalt form or shape / creature / scheme; a concept of 'wholeness' (etymologically die Gestalt comes from the past participle of Old High German stellen used as a noun)[13]
Gesundheit! Gesundheit! (Amer.) health / bless you! (when someone sneezes)
Glockenspiel glockenspiel percussion instrument
Hamburger hamburger & other burgers demonym of Hamburg
Heiligenschein heiligenschein lit. "saints' light": halo (as a religious term)
Hinterland hinterland lit. "(military) area behind the front-line": interior / backwoods
kaputt kaput out of order, not working
Katzenjammer katzenjammer lit. "cats' lament": hangover, crapulence
Kindergarten kindergarten lit. "children's garden" – nursery or preschool
Kitsch kitsch fake art, something produced exclusively for sale
Kobold kobold, cobalt small supernatural being
Kraut or Sauerkraut kraut, Kraut herb, cabbage or pickled cabbage
Kulturkampf kulturkampf cultural war
Leitmotiv leitmotif guiding theme (the verb leiten means "to guide, to lead")
Nationalsozialismus or Nationalsozialist nazi national socialism or national socialist
Nixe nixie water spirit
Panzer panzer lit. "armour": tank
plündern (v.) to plunder lit. "taking goods by force" (original meaning "to take away furniture" shifted in German and both borrowed by English during the Thirty Years War)
Poltergeist poltergeist lit. "rumbling ghost"
Realpolitik realpolitik diplomacy based on practical objectives rather than ideals
Reich Reich empire or realm
Rucksack rucksack backpack (RuckRücken which means "back")
Sauerkraut sauerkraut shredded and salted cabbage fermented in its own juice
Schadenfreude schadenfreude taking pleasure in someone else's misfortune, gloating
Spiel spiel lit. "game / play": sales pitch / lengthy speech with the intent to persuade
Sprachbund sprachbund linguistic term, lit. "language alliance": area of linguistic convergence
Sprachraum sprachraum linguistic term, lit. "place/area/room of a language": area where a certain language is spoken
Strudel strudel lit. "whirlpool": kind of pastry
Unterseeboot U-boat lit. "under sea boat": submarine, abbreviated as U-Boot
über (prep.) uber over, above
Übermensch übermensch superhuman, "overhuman"
Vampir vampire dead person that feeds on the living
verklemmt (adj.) verklemmt (Amer.) lit. "jammed": inhibited, uptight
Waldsterben waldsterben lit. "forest dieback", dying floral environment
Wanderlust wanderlust desire, pleasure, or inclination to travel or walk
Wasserscheide watershed lit. "water division": drainage divide
Weltanschauung weltanschauung lit. "perception of the world": worldview
Wunderkind wunderkind lit. "wonder child": child prodigy, whiz kid
Zeitgeist zeitgeist lit. "spirit of the times": the spirit of the age; the trend at that time
Zeitnot zeitnot chess term, lit.'time trouble'
Zugzwang zugzwang chess term, lit. "compulsion to move"
Zwischenzug zwischenzug chess term, lit. "intermediate move"


Several organisations promote the use and learning of the Standard German language.

Goethe Institut

The government-backed Goethe-Institut,[14] (named after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) aims to enhance the knowledge of German culture and language within Europe and the rest of the world. This is done by holding exhibitions and conferences with German-related themes, and providing training and guidance in the learning and use of the German language. For example, the Goethe-Institut teaches the Goethe-Zertifikat German language qualification.

Deutsche Welle

Deutsche Welle logo

The German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle provides radio and television broadcasts in Standard German and 30 other languages across the globe.[15] Its Standard German language services are spoken slowly and thus tailored for learners. Deutsche Welle also provides an e-learning website for learning Standard German.[16]

See also


  1. ^ Though about 10%, or 830,000 Swiss residents speak High German a.k.a. Standard German at home.
  2. ^ On pages 1-2, Deutsches Aussprachewörterbuch discusses die Standardaussprache, die Gegenstand dieses Wörterbuches ist (the standard pronunciation which is the topic of this dictionary). It also mentions Da sich das Deutsche zu einer plurizentrischen Sprache entwickelt hat, bildeten sich jeweils eigene Standardvarietäten (und damit Standardaussprachen) (German has developed into a pluricentric language separate standard varieties (and hence standard pronunciations)) but refers to the standards as regionale und soziolektale Varianten (regional and sociolectal variants).


  1. ^ Standard German, Ethnologue, 2020
  2. ^ "Über den Rat". Institute for the German Language. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  3. ^ E.g.
    • Wolfgang Wölck (from Buffalo, USA): Language Use and Attitudes among Teenagers in Diglossic Northern Germany. In: Language Contact in Europe: Proceedings of the Working groups 12 and 13 at the XIIIth International Congress of Linguistics, August 29 – September 4, 1982, Tokyo, edited by Peter H. Nelde, P. Sture Ureland and Iain Clarkson. Volume 168 of Linguistische Arbeiten, edited by Hans Altmann, Herbert E. Brekle, Hans Jürgen Heringer, Christian Rohrer, Heinz Vater and Otmar Werner. Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen, 1986, p. 97ff., here p. 99
    • Iwar Werlen: Swiss German Dialects and Swiss Standard High German. In: Variation and Convergence: Studies in Social Dialectology, edited by Peter Auer and Aldo di Luzio. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York, 1988, p. 94
  4. ^ "Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung – Über den Rat". Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  5. ^ Dieter Kattenbusch: Zum Stand der Kodifizierung von Regional- und Minderheitensprachen. In: Bruno Staib (Hrsg.): Linguista Romanica et indiana. Gunter Narr, Tübingen, 2000, ISBN3-8233-5855-3, p.211. 
  6. ^ König 1989, p. 110.
  7. ^ von Polenz 1999, p. 259.
  8. ^ Ulrich Ammon, Hans Bickel, Jakob Ebner, et al.: Variantenwörterbuch des Deutschen. Die Standardsprache in Österreich, der Schweiz und Deutschland sowie in Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Ostbelgien und Südtirol. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2004.
  9. ^ Karina Schneider-Wiejowski, Birte Kellermeier-Rehbein, Jakob Haselhuber: Vielfalt, Variation und Stellung der deutschen Sprache. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 2013, p.46.
  10. ^ "Sprachen, Religionen – Daten, Indikatoren: Sprachen – Üblicherweise zu Hause gesprochene Sprachen" (official site) (in German, French, and Italian). Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Swiss Federal Statistical Office. 2015. Archived from the original on 2016-01-14. Retrieved 2016-01-13. Zu Hause oder mit den Angehörigen sprechen 60,1% der betrachteten Bevölkerung hauptsächlich Schweizerdeutsch, 23,4% Französisch, 8,4% Italienisch, 10,1% Hochdeutsch und 4,6% Englisch
  11. ^ Europeans and their Languages – Eurobarometer, p. 13
  12. ^ Theodor Ickler:
    • Rechtschreibreform in der Sackgasse: Neue Dokumente und Kommentare. 2004, p. 79f. (having „Dudenprivileg“)
    • Der Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung in Dokumenten und Kommentaren. Frank & Timme GmbH, Berlin, p. 78f., quoting Karin Wolff from 2004 (having „Dudenmonopol“)
  13. ^ "Gestalt". Duden / Bibliographisches Institut GmbH. 2017. Retrieved 20 September 2017. mittelhochdeutsch gestalt = Aussehen, Beschaffenheit; Person, Substantivierung von: gestalt, althochdeutsch gistalt, 2. Partizip von stellen.
  14. ^ "Learning German, Experiencing Culture – Goethe-Institut". Retrieved 24 January 2012.
  15. ^ "About DW". DW.COM. n.d. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  16. ^ "German Courses". DW.COM. n.d. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
    "Deutschkurse". DW.COM. n.d. Retrieved 29 September 2019. (in German)


  • König, Werner (1989). dtv-Atlas zur deutschen Sprache. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag. ISBN 3-423-03025-9.
  • von Polenz, Peter (1999). Deutsche Sprachgeschichte vom Spätmittelalter bis zur Gegenwart. Band III. 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-014344-7.