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German Origins


The first Germanic peoples inhabited an area from southern Scandinavia and along the North Sea and Baltic coasts down into what is now known as Poland. These Germanic people then moved southward in the early years of the Roman Empire through what is now known as Germany, Austria, and parts of Switzerland. Other tribes went north and west to the British Isles, Iceland, and the Faeroe Islands north of Scotland.

The earliest isolated German words and names have been found in Latin documents from the first century BC; however, the earliest extensive German text, the Gothic Bible, was translated by Bishop Ulfilas in approximately AD 350.

Today's German language belongs to the West Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. Although there are many spoken varieties of German, High German or High Dutch (Hochdeutsch), and Low German or Low Dutch (Plattdeutsch) are the two primary varieties. Hochdeutsch is from the central and southern high lands of Germany, whereas Plattdeutsch is from the northern lowlands. Modern and literary German has been based more on Hochdeutsch.

Today, German is the national language of the Federal Republic of Germany and Austria, and is an official language of Switzerland.


This page was last modified on 16 May 2003.

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