German is one of the main cultural languages of the Western world, spoken by approximately 100 million people. It is the national language of both Germany and Austria. and is one of the four official languages of Switzerland. Additionally it is spoken in eastern France, in the region formerly known as Alsace-Lorraine, in northern Italy in the region of Alto Adige, and also in eastern Belgium, Luxembourg, and the principality of Liechtenstein. There are about one and a half million speakers of German in the United States, 500,000 in Canada and sizable colonies as well in South America and such far-flung countries as Namibia and Kazakhstan.
Like the other Germanic languages, German is a member of the Indo-European family. Written German is quite uniform but spoken dialects vary considerably, sometimes to the point where communication becomes a problem. The dialects fall within two general divisions: High German (Hochdeutsch), spoken in the highlands of the south, and Low German (Plattdeutsch), spoken in the lowlands of the north. High German is the standard written language, used almost exclusively in books and newspapers, even in the regions where Low German is more commonly spoken. Low German sounds more like English and Dutch, as may be seen by such words as Door (doorHigh German: Tür), and eten (to eatHigh German: essen).
Traditionally German was written in a Gothic style known as Fraktur, which dates from the 14th century. In the period following World War II, however, Fraktur was largely superseded by the Roman characters used throughout the rest of Western Europe. The Roman script contains only one additional letter, the ß or double s, which is used only in the lower case. The letter j is pronounced y (e.g., jayes), v is pronounced f (vierfour), and w is pronounced v (weisswhite). Diphthongs include sch, pronounced sh (Schneesnow); st, pro-nounced sht (Strassestreet) sp, pronounced shp (sprechento speak). The only diacritical mark is the umlaut, which appears over the letters a, o, and u (Rückenback). German is the only language in which all nouns begin with a capital letter.
Since English is a Germanic language, it is not surprising to find a high degree of similarity in the vocabulary of the two languages. Finger, Hand, Butter, Ring, Name, warm, and blind are German words mean-mg exactly what they do in English. Other words that are very similar to their English counterparts are Vater (father), Mutter (mother), Freund (friend), Gott (God), Licht (light), Wasser (water), Feuer (fire), Silber (silver), Brot (bread), Milch (milk), Fisch (fish), Apfel (apple), Buch (book), gut (good), alt (old), kalt (cold), and blau (blue). More recent German borrowings in English are schnitzel, sauerkraut, pumpernickel, kindergarten, dachshund, poodle, yodel, lager, ersatz, edelweiss, meerschaum, wanderlust, hinterland, and blitzkrieg. The words frankfurter and hamburger come from the German cities of Frankfurt and Hamburg respectively.
The word for German in other languages takes many different forms. In German itself it is deutsch, in Spanish alemán, in Italian tedesco, in the Scandinavian languages tysk, and in Russian nemetsky.