Speakers: 95 million. German (or Deutsch) is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.
One of the major languages of the world, German is the first language of almost 100 million people worldwide and the most widely spoken native language in the European Union. Together with French, German is the second most commonly spoken foreign language in the EU after English, making it the second biggest language in the EU in terms of overall speakers. German is also the second most widely taught foreign language in the EU after English at primary school level (but third after English and French at lower secondary level), the fourth most widely taught non-English language in the US (after Spanish, French and American Sign Language), and the second most commonly used scientific language as well as the third most widely used language on websites after English and Russian. The German-speaking countries are ranked fifth in terms of annual publication of new books, with one tenth of all books (including e-books) in the world being published in the German language.[ In the United Kingdom, German and French are the most-sought after foreign languages for businesses (with 49% and 50% of businesses identifying these two languages as the most useful, respectively).
[ Above image: HafenCity, a former docklands area, now turned into a fashionable waterfront district. ]
German is an inflected language with four cases for nouns, pronouns and adjectives (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative), three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), two numbers (singular, plural), and strong and weak verbs. German derives the majority of its vocabulary from the ancient Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. A portion of German words are derived from Latin and Greek, and fewer are borrowed from French and Modern English. With slightly different standardized variants (German, Austrian and Swiss Standard German), German is a pluricentric language. It is also notable for its broad spectrum of dialects, with many unique varieties existing in Europe and also other parts of the world. Due to the limited intelligibility between certain varieties and Standard German, as well as the lack of an undisputed, scientific difference between a "dialect" and a "language", some German varieties or dialect groups (e.g. Low German or Plautdietsch) are alternatively referred to as "languages" or "dialects".
As Europe’s largest economy and second most populous nation (after Russia), Germany is a key member of the continent’s economic, political, and defense organizations.
European power struggles immersed Germany in two devastating World Wars in the first half of the 20th century and left the country occupied by the victorious Allied powers of the US, UK, France, and the Soviet Union in 1945. With the advent of the Cold War, two German states were formed in 1949: the western Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the eastern German Democratic Republic (GDR). The democratic FRG embedded itself in key Western economic and security organizations, the EC, which became the EU, and NATO, while the communist GDR was on the front line of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. The decline of the USSR and the end of the Cold War allowed for German unification in 1990. Since then, Germany has expended considerable funds to bring Eastern productivity and wages up to Western standards. In January 1999, Germany and 10 other EU countries introduced a common European exchange currency, the euro.
The German economy—the fifth largest economy in the world in PPP terms and Europe’s largest—is a leading exporter of machinery, vehicles, chemicals, and household equipment and benefits from a highly skilled labor force. Like its Western European neighbors, Germany faces significant demographic challenges to sustained long-term growth. Low fertility rates and declining net immigration are increasing pressure on the country’s social welfare system and necessitate structural reforms. Reforms launched by the government of Chancellor Gerhard SCHROEDER (1998-2005), deemed necessary to address chronically high unemployment and low average growth, has contributed to strong growth and falling unemployment. These advances, as well as a government subsidized, reduced working hour scheme, help explain the relatively modest increase in unemployment during the 2008-09 recession—the deepest since World War II—and its decrease to 5.3% in 2013. The new German government introduced a minimum wage of $11 per hour to take effect in 2015. Stimulus and stabilization efforts initiated in 2008 and 2009 and tax cuts introduced in Chancellor Angela MERKEL’s second term increased Germany’s total budget deficit —including federal, state, and municipal—to 4.1% in 2010, but slower spending and higher tax revenues reduced the deficit to 0.8% in 2011 and in 2012 Germany reached a budget surplus of 0.1%. A constitutional amendment approved in 2009 limits the federal government to structural deficits of no more than 0.35% of GDP per annum as of 2016 though the target was already reached in 2012. Following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Chancellor Angela MERKEL announced in May 2011 that eight of the country’s 17 nuclear reactors would be shut down immediately and the remaining plants would close by 2022. Germany hopes to replace nuclear power with renewable energy. Before the shutdown of the eight reactors, Germany relied on nuclear power for 23% of its electricity generating capacity and 46% of its base-load electricity production.
GDP (purchasing power parity):
$3.227 trillion (2013 est.)
Country comparison to the world: 6
Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr): Army (Heer); Navy (Deutsche Marine, includes naval air arm); Air Force (Luftwaffe); Joint Support Services (Streitkraeftebasis, SKB); Central Medical Service (Zentraler Sanitaetsdienst, ZSanDstBw) (2013)
Military service age and obligation:
17-23 years of age for male and female voluntary military service; conscription ended 1 July 2011; service obligation 8-23 months or 12 years; women have been eligible for voluntary service in all military branches and positions since 2001 (2013)
Manpower available for military service:
Males age 16-49:
Females age 16-49:
17,888,543 (2010 est.)
Manpower fit for military service:
Males age 16-49:
Females age 16-49:
14,510,527 (2010 est.)
Ports and terminals:
Major seaport(s): Baltic Sea—Rostock; North Sea—Wilhelmshaven.
River port(s): Bremen (Weser); Bremerhaven (Geeste); Duisburg, Karlsruhe, Neuss-Dusseldorf (Rhine); Brunsbuttel, Hamburg (Elbe); Lubeck (Wakenitz).
Oil/gas terminal(s): Brunsbuttel Canal terminals.
Container port(s) in: Bremen/Bremerhaven (5,915,487), Hamburg (9,014,165).
Source of precursor chemicals for South American cocaine processors; transshipment point for and consumer of Southwest Asian heroin, Latin American cocaine, and European-produced synthetic drugs; major financial center.
(End of text/excerpt from the CIA World FactBook 2016.)
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