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High German languages

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High German
German-speaking Europe, United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Colonia Tovar
Linguistic classificationIndo-European

The High German languages (German: hochdeutsche Mundarten, i.e. High German dialects), or simply High German (Hochdeutsch) – not to be confused with Standard High German which is commonly also called "High German" – comprise the varieties of German spoken south of the Benrath and Uerdingen isoglosses in central and southern Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and eastern Belgium, as well as in neighbouring portions of France (Alsace and northern Lorraine), Italy (South Tyrol), the Czech Republic (Bohemia), and Poland (Upper Silesia). They are also spoken in diasporas in Romania, Russia, Canada, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, and Namibia.

High German is marked by the High German consonant shift, separating it from Low German (Low Saxon) and Low Franconian (including Dutch) within the continental West Germanic dialect continuum.


German dialect area, defined as all West Germanic varieties using Standard German as their literary language:[1][2][3][4]

As a technical term, the "high" in High German is a geographical reference to the group of dialects that forms "High German" (i.e. "Highland" German), out of which developed Standard German, Yiddish and Luxembourgish. It refers to the Central Uplands (Mittelgebirge) and Alpine areas of central and southern Germany; it also includes Luxembourg, Austria, Liechtenstein, and most of Switzerland. This is opposed to Low German, which is spoken in the lowlands and along the flat sea coasts of the North German Plain.[5]

High German in this broader sense can be subdivided into Upper German (Oberdeutsch) and Central or Middle German (Mitteldeutsch, this includes Luxembourgish, which itself is now a standard language).[6]

High German is distinguished from other West Germanic varieties in that it took part in the High German consonant shift (c. AD 500). To see this, compare the following:[7][page needed]

English Low German Standard High German Consonant shift
pan Pann Pfanne [p] to [p͡f]
two twee zwei [t] to [t͡s]
make maken machen [k] to [x]

In the southernmost High Alemannic dialects, there is a further shift: Sack (like English/Low German "sack/Sack") is pronounced [z̥ak͡x] ([k] to [k͡x]).


Old High German evolved from about 500 AD. Around 1200 the Swabian and East Franconian varieties of Middle High German became dominant as a court and poetry language (Minnesang) under the rule of the House of Hohenstaufen.

The term "High German" as spoken in central and southern Germany (Upper Saxony, Franconia, Swabia, Bavaria) and Austria was first documented in the 15th century.[citation needed]

Gradually driving back Low German variants since the Early modern period, the Early New High German varieties, especially the East Central German of the Luther Bible, formed an important basis for the development of Standard German.[8]


Divisions between subfamilies within Germanic are rarely precisely defined, because most form continuous clines, with adjacent dialects being mutually intelligible and more separated ones not. In particular, there has never been an original "Proto-High German". For this and other reasons, the idea of representing the relationships between West Germanic language forms in a tree diagram at all is controversial among linguists. What follows should be used with care in the light of this caveat.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ W. Heeringa: Measuring Dialect Pronunciation Differences using Levenshtein Distance. University of Groningen, 2009, pp. 232–234.
  2. ^ Peter Wiesinger: Die Einteilung der deutschen Dialekte. In: Werner Besch, Ulrich Knoop, Wolfgang Putschke, Herbert Ernst Wiegand (Hrsg.): Dialektologie. Ein Handbuch zur deutschen und allgemeinen Dialektforschung, 2. Halbband. de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1983, ISBN 3-11-009571-8, pp. 807–900.
  3. ^ Werner König: dtv-Atlas Deutsche Sprache. 19. Auflage. dtv, München 2019, ISBN 978-3-423-03025-0, pp. 230.
  4. ^ C. Giesbers: Dialecten op de grens van twee talen. Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, 2008, pp. 233.
  5. ^ Compare the definition of "high" in the Oxford English Dictionary (Concise Edition): "... situated far above ground, sealevel, etc; upper, inland, as ... High German".
  6. ^ E.g.
    • Hermann Niebaum, Jürgen Macha, Einführung in die Dialektologie des Deutschen (series: Germanistische Arbeitshefte), 2nd ed., Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen, 2006, p. 220 [1st ed. 1999, 3rd ed. 2014]
    • Gabriele Graefen, Martina Liedke-Göbel, Germanistische Sprachwissenschaft: Deutsch als Erst-, Zweit- oder Fremdsprache, 3rd ed., 2020, p. 31.
    For the Middle High German time e.g.:
    • Howard Jones & Martin H. Jones, The Oxford Guide to Middle High German, Oxford University Press, 2019, p. 7
    • M. O'C. Walshe, A Middle High German reader with grammar, notes, and glossary, Oxford University Press, 1974, p. 3
  7. ^ Robinson, Orrin. Old English and its Closest Relatives. Routledge, 1994.
  8. ^ Russ, Charles V.J. The German Language Today: A Linguistic Introduction. Routledge, 1994, p. 15f.

Further reading[edit]

  • Friedrich Maurer (1942), Nordgermanen und Alemannen: Studien zur germanischen und frühdeutschen Sprachgeschichte, Stammes- und Volkskunde, Strasbourg: Hünenburg, [designation of High German languages as Irminonic].