German language factsheet

Written on 21 January, 2021

German

Nearly 130 million people around the world speak German – not surprising since German is the official language of Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein, and one of the official languages of Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg.
It belongs to the West Germanic group of the Indo-European language family, along with English, Frisian and Dutch. 

Five interesting facts about the German language:

1. The German alphabet has some extra letters compared to English. Although German and English use the same script (Roman), German has three umlauts Ä, Ö and Ü and the ligature ß. This ligature is known as the ‘eszett’ or ‘scharfes S (sharp S)’ and represents double s (ss).

2. English and German share 60% of their vocabulary – but watch out for false friends. As the joke goes, “No matter how kind you are, German children are kinder”. Get it? Because ‘Kinder’ in German is ‘children’!

3. Germans are well-known for their time keeping, but what if the time gets lost in translation? In English we say half past the hour, but in German it’s half to the next hour. If you agree to meet at half three in English (15:30), you may be met by an angry German friend who’s been waiting for you for an hour (14:30).

4. The German language once contained a 63-letter word Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labelling of beef) – but even that was too much for German and has now been made obsolete!

5. All nouns are capitalised and can often be stuck together. If you see a really long word (like the one above), it’s likely to be loads of smaller words put together to make up a compound noun.

If you would like to work with a professional translation agency for the translation of your documents from German to English or English to German, please do get in touch with the award-winning team at Surrey Translation Bureau.

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