What is the fastest spoken Germanic language

This is how the German language developed

The 2020 Summer Olympics had to be postponed. But there was still an Olympic competition that was held this year: the German Olympics of the Goethe Institute. Since 2008, young people from all over the world have been able to compete every two years to shine with their German language skills and creative achievements. This time, the 14 to 17-year-old schoolchildren from over sixty countries met digitally due to corona. After five days on the Internet with live streams, digital concerts, breakdancing, lectures and discussions, the competition in the various skill levels of the language test was decided on August 7th. Many won, at the top Eban Ebssa from the USA (level A1), Wang Zhi-an from Taiwan (level B1) and the student Keta Kalandadze from Georgia (level B2).

The Indo-European roots

"To be there!" was this year's motto of the German Olympics. The focus of the competition is the German language, the teaching of which is one of the core tasks of the Goethe-Institut. But "German", what is it actually? Where does the language come from, how has it developed, and how is it currently developing? Have the young competitors thought about that too?

Anyone who tries to explore the beginnings of the German idiom is quickly introduced to the Indo-European language family. Linguists have been tracing the roots of this vast group of related languages ​​since the 19th century. They date back to the 4th millennium BC, when the original home of the Indo-Europeans was probably north and east of the Black Sea.

Martin Luther's first complete translation of the Bible from Latin in 1534 was long considered to be the beginning of today's standard German

The emergence of the Germanic

Many different language groups and individual languages ​​emerged from this original language, including long-extinct ones, which have never been heard today or are only known as lost language communities such as Hittite, Tocharian, Illyrian and Vandalic. Research on the history of language fills libraries. From today's perspective, what is particularly fascinating is the thought that languages ​​as different as Iranian and German have the same origin.

The Germanic language in the narrower sense emerged in the first millennium before the turn of the times as the result of a "first sound shift", as research calls this language change. After that, the development becomes more complex, because language is history: When Germanic tribes encountered Roman troops, they fought with them or also served as mercenaries in Roman armies, then they also adopted many terms with cultural influences. Greek and Roman words increasingly permeated Germanic dialects.

The way to New High German

German can only be spoken of after a second change in sound, which took place over four centuries from 600 onwards. The subsequent development from Old High German, Middle High German, Early New High German to New High German is perhaps essential for linguists. For non-linguists it is rather interesting that today's stage of development did not begin with Martin Luther (1483-1546) and his translation of the Bible, as spread by linguists in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but only a hundred years later, from 1650 onwards Contemporaries would also have had great difficulty talking to Germany's greatest linguist. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) spoke an idiom that would no longer be understandable today.

The spoken language of Goethe would be incomprehensible today

"Language only exists in the course of time", states the researcher Peter Polenz in principle in his classic on the "History of the German Language" in order to dispel the misconception that "the language of the ancestors was not yet 'corrupted' by modernity" . "The complaint about the constant decline in language is still a popular topos in culturally pessimistic language criticism," Polenz states. Language change and language difference are self-evident phenomena in human social history. A "German Language Forum" in Mannheim is to explore lively language trends from 2023 with a large audience participation.

Language change is of course part of social history

Anglicisms are finding their way into the German language more and more, and new urban sociolects are emerging. But there are also German words like Autobahn, Kindergarten or Hinterland that emigrate. So when today's students from all over the world strive to learn the German language, then they shouldn't worry about language deterioration and too many Anglicisms - instead, they should be with "fun" and commitment.