10 facts you didn’t know about the German language

Steven Mike Voser
Steven Mike Voser
G
German is the mother tongue of some of the world's most influential thinkers and writers. In this article, we examine 10 interesting, sometimes bizarre facts about this fascinating language.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

German is a fascinating language. Considered the language of poets and thinkers (Nietzsche, Humboldt, Marx, and Kant), German is extremely complex, both in pronunciation and grammar. Plus, its strict and unique rules make it a super interesting language to learn and study. For e-commerce businesses looking to tap into global markets, Germany offers a robust economy with a wealth of online shoppers. In this article, we look at 10 German language facts you’ve likely never heard before.

 

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1: GERMAN IS CONSIDERED AN OFFICIAL LANGUAGE IN 6 COUNTRIES

These include Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and South Tyrol (Italy), and parts of Belgium. It is estimated that roughly 1.4% of the world population speaks German.

 

2: GERMAN IS THE MOST-SPOKEN MOTHER LANGUAGE IN EUROPE

Roughly 16% of the European population speak German as a first language.

 

Roughly 16% of the European population speak German as a first language.

 

3: GERMAN, ENGLISH, AND DUTCH ARE SISTER LANGUAGES

All three are considered West Germanic languages. That’s why, if you’ve ever tried to learn German as an English speaker, you’ll notice a lot of similarities with certain words. Lamp, for example, is Lampe in German. In fact, German and English are believed to share roughly 60% of their respective vocabularies. Be careful, however; there are some German words that look the same as English words, but have completely different meanings (like “gift”, which means poison).

 

4: GERMANS UNDERSTAND ONLY TRAIN STATION

“Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof” is a German equivalent of the English idiom “It’s all Greek to me”. The only difference is that it literally translates to “I only understand train station”. Some other great German proverbs include “Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat Zwei” (everything has an end, only the sausage has two) and “dass ist nicht dein Bier” (that’s not your beer/that’s none of your business).

 

5: GERMANS HAVE VERY, VERY SPECIFIC WORDS

You know that fear/anxiety you feel as you’re getting older and you notice time slipping further and further away? That feeling of there’s so much you’d like to do, yet so little time to do it? Germans have one word to describe it, “Torschlusspanik” (which literally translates to gate-shutting-panic). What about that idea you get when you’ve had a bit too much to drink? You know, that life-changing idea for a risky stunt that turns into a visit to the nearest hospital? That’s a “Schnapsidee”.

 

6: GERMAN NOUNS CAN BE 1 OF 3 GENDERS

Gendered nouns are common in a lot of languages other than English. In most languages, like Italian and Spanish, things like tables, chairs, and cars can be either male or female. German, however, has a tri-gender noun system, in which nouns can be either male, female, or neutral. When used in plural, the grammatical gender becomes obsolete and only the female noun marker “die” is used for nouns regardless of their gender.

 

7: GERMAN ONCE HAD THE LONGEST WORD IN THE WORLD

This is no joke; “Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz” is a 63-letter German word referring to “the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and labelling of beef”. However, it was quickly made obsolete after it was considered too long, even by German standards. If you’re wondering how Germans managed to come up with something so ridiculous in the first place, it’s because it is common practice to compound nouns together in German (which leads us to our next point).

 

If you’re wondering how Germans managed to come up with something so ridiculous in the first place, it’s because it is common practice to compound nouns together in German (which leads us to our next point).

 

8: GERMANS ARE ALL ABOUT THOSE COMPOUND NOUNS

Germans love compound nouns. If you’ve tried to learn the language before, you’ve likely found yourself learning ridiculously long words consisting of multiple nouns compounded together. One very simple example is the German word for gloves (“Handschuhe”), which literally translates to “hand shoes”. Other examples include “Nacktschnecken” (“naked snails” or slug), “Fremdschämen” (“foreign shame”), which refers to the feeling of shame you feel when you see somebody embarrassing themselves, and “Treppenwitz” (“staircase joke”), which refers to a joke or comeback you think of too late. Oh, did we forget to mention “Kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung”? That means automotive liability insurance.

 

9: GERMAN IS THE THIRD MOST COMMONLY TAUGHT LANGUAGE WORLDWIDE

French and English are the two most commonly taught languages across the world. German is third, beating even Spanish and Italian.

 

10: THE FIRST PRINTED BOOK WAS WRITTEN IN GERMAN

The Gutenberg Bible, published in 1454, was the first book printed using movable type. Written and printed in German, The Gutenberg Bible marked the beginning of the printed book. The German you’ll hear around the globe today (known as New High German) dates back to the 17th century. However, its roots go back much further. Old High German, considered one of the earliest versions of the German language, dates back to 750 AD.

 

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