High German languages

High German languages

Infobox Language family
name=High German
region=predominantly central and southern Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, northern and central Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Alsace and Bolzano-Bozen
fam3=West Germanic
child1=Standard German
child4=Central German dialects
child5=Upper German dialects


The High German languages (in German, "Hochdeutsch") are any of the varieties of standard German, Luxembourgish and Yiddish, as well as the local German dialects spoken in central and southern Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Luxembourg and in neighbouring portions of Belgium, France (Alsace and northern Lorraine), Italy, and Poland. The language is also spoken in diaspora in Romania ("Transylvania"), Russia, the United States, Argentina, Chile, and Namibia.

As a technical term, the "high" in High German is a geographical reference to where the dialect family that forms High German originates. It refers to the mountainous areas of central and southern Germany and the Alps. This is opposed to Low German, which is spoken along the flat sea coasts of the north. [See the definition of "high" in the Oxford English Dictionary (Concise Edition): "... situated far above ground, sealevel, etc; upper, inland, as ... High German".] High German can be subdivided into Upper German and Central German ("Oberdeutsch, Mitteldeutsch").

Please note that there is a difference between how linguists use the term "Hochdeutsch" and how German popular culture uses the term. The average German speaker will always assume that the term "Hochdeutsch" refers to standard German as opposed to dialect, and not to an entire linguistic branch of the German language. This is possibly due to a folk etymology that interprets the term "hoch" in the sense of "higher" in a cultural sense, i.e. as the "elevated" way of speaking. In English discourse, on the other hand, the term "High German" is never used to mean "Standard German."


High German as used in Southern Germany, Bavaria and Austria was an important basis for the development of standard German.

The historical forms of the language are Old High German and Middle High German.


High German are distinguished from other West Germanic varieties in that they took part in the High German consonant shift (c. AD 500).To see this, compare German "Pfanne" with English "pan" (IPA| [pf] to IPA| [p] ), German "zwei" with English "two" (IPA| [ts] to IPA| [t] ), German "machen" with English "make" (IPA| [x] to IPA| [k] ).In the High Alemannic dialects, there is a further shift; "Sack" (like English "sack") is pronounced IPA| [z̥akx] (IPA| [k] to IPA| [kx] ).

Family tree

Note that divisions between subfamilies of Germanic are rarely precisely defined; most form continuous clines, with adjacent dialects being mutually intelligible and more separated ones not. In particular, there has never been an original "Proto-High German". For this and other reasons, the idea of representing the relationships between West Germanic language forms in a tree diagram at all is controversial among linguists; what follows should be used with care in the light of this caveat.
* Central German (German: "Mitteldeutsch")
** East Central German
*** Berlin Brandenburgish (mostly in Berlin and Brandenburg)
*** Thuringian Upper Saxon (mostly in Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony)
*** German Lusatian (in Saxony and Brandenburg)
*** Lower Silesian language (mostly in Lower Silesia, in Poland)
** Transylvanian Saxon (in Transylvania)
** West Central German
*** "Middle Franconian"
**** Ripuarian
**** Moselle Franconian, including the Luxembourgish language
*** "Rhine Franconian"
**** Lorraine Franconian (France)
**** Pfälzisch language
**** Hessian dialects
** Transitional areas between "Central German" and "Upper German"
*** East Franconian German
*** South Franconian German
** Pennsylvania German (in the United States and Canada)
* Upper German (German: "Oberdeutsch")
** Alemannic
*** Swabian
*** Low Alemannic (including one Swiss German dialect: Basel German)
*** Alsatian language (but often also classified as within Low Alemannic)
*** High Alemannic (including many Swiss German dialects)
*** Highest Alemannic (including Swiss German dialects)
** Austro-Bavarian ("On the use of dialects and Standard German in Austria, see Austrian language")
***Northern Austro-Bavarian (spoken in Upper Palatinate)
***Central Austro-Bavarian (includes the dialects of Upper Bavaria, Lower Bavaria, Upper Austria, Lower Austria and Vienna — "see" Viennese language)
***Southern Austro-Bavarian (includes the dialects of Tyrol, Carinthia and Styria)
*** Cimbrian (northeastern Italy)
*** Mócheno (Trentino, in Italy)
*** Hutterite German (in Canada and the United States)
**Western Yiddish (Germany, France)
**Eastern Yiddish
***Northeastern Yiddish (Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, Russia, northeastern Poland)
***Central Yiddish (Poland, Galicia)
***Southeastern Yiddish (Ukraine, Bessarabia, Romania)


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