The German language is spoken today by 100 million native speakers and 80 million non-native speakers, making it one of the world’s most spoken languages. It is ranked 10th on at least one list of world languages by speakers. German is closely related to English and Dutch, and it is an or the official language of countries such as Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and Luxembourg.
The German language is an Indo-European language originating in remote prehistory. Old High German, the language’s direct ancestor, emerged in the 6th century AD and was fully developed by the 9th century. A number of German dialects emerged during the Middle Ages before the centralizing power of the Austrian and German Empires largely standardized the language in the 18th and 19th centuries.
As Germans spread across Europe in the Middle Ages, they brought their language with them, and today, as a result of these travels and the influence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, German speaking communities can be found across Eastern Europe and even into Russia. Between the 13th and 20th centuries, the German language spread out from its heartland to nearly double the territory where German was the primary language. German colonists brought the language to Africa and Asia, and German immigrants brought the language to the New World, where some religious groups in the United States continue to use German as their liturgical language. Argentina is home to one of the largest German communities outside Germany.
German has been the language of musicians like Mozart and Beethoven, poets like Goethe, and philosophers like Schopenhauer and Kant. The Brothers Grimm created the first German dictionary (1852-1860), and in 1901 their version of German became the standard for all German speakers. In 1998, the notoriously difficult spelling of German words was simplified by the German government. However, today many Germans fear that their language is in decline because of the global dominance of English and its increasing use in German schools.