German is a West Germanic language related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90–100 million native speakers, German is one of the world’s major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union (an estimated 400 million).
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Most German vocabulary is derived from the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. A number of words are derived from Latin and Greek, and fewer from French and English.
German is written using the Latin alphabet. In addition to the 26 standard letters, German has three vowels with umlauts (Ä/ä, Ö/ö, and Ü/ü) and the letter ß.
German is an inflected language with three grammatical genders; as such, there can be a large number of words derived from the same root.
German nouns inflect into:
four cases: nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative.
three genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter.
two numbers: singular and plural
German-speaking communities can be found in the former German colony of Namibia, independent from South Africa since 1990, as well as in other destinations of German emigration such as the USA, Canada, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Venezuela (where the dialect Alemán Coloniero developed), South Africa and Australia. In Namibia, German Namibians retain German educational institutions.
According to Global Reach (2004), 6.9% of the Internet population is German. According to Netz-tipp (2002), 7.7% of webpages are written in German, making it second only to English in the European language group. They also report that 12% of Google’s users use its German interface.
German-speaking Europe and German as a minority language
Knowledge of the German language in the European Union and associated countries.
German is primarily spoken in Germany (where it is the first language for more than 95% of the population), Austria (89%), Switzerland (65%), the majority of Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein – the latter being the only state with German as the sole official and spoken language.
German is also one of the three official languages of Belgium, alongside Flemish and French. Speakers are primarily concentrated within the German-speaking Community region in eastern Belgium, and form about 1% of the country’s population.
German-speaking communities can also be found in parts of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Russia and Kazakhstan. Forced expulsions after World War II and massive emigration to Germany in the 1980s and 1990s have depopulated most of these communities.