Hochdeutsch is a German word which literally translates to "high German".
It is commonly used with two meanings:
- Linguistically and historically, it refers to the High German languages (Hochdeutsche Sprachen), or dialects (Hochdeutsche Mundarten/Dialekte), which developed in the Southern uplands and the Alps, for example, modern central and southern Germany (Saxony, Bavaria, etc.), Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. This is opposed to Low German dialects (Plattdeutsch, Niederdeutsch), which developed on the lowlands and along the flat sea coasts of modern northern Germany (Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Hamburg, etc.).
- It is also used to refer to Standard German, a standardized form of the German language (Standarddeutsch), used as a written language, in formal contexts, and for communication between different dialect areas, which everybody in the German-speaking regions is supposed to understand, and which is taught to foreigners. This use is somewhat misleading since it collides with the linguistic term for the High German languages, but in fact Standard German is composed mostly from these High German dialects.
In the first usage, hoch refers to "high" in a strictly geographic sense, as "situated far above sealevel", thus in the mountainous regions surrounding the Alps.
In the second meaning, hoch came to mean "educated" or "cultured" in an academic or social context, as opposed to the local dialects which are used in informal situations.
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- See the definition of "high" in the Oxford English Dictionary (Concise Edition): "... situated far above ground, sealevel, etc; upper, inland, as ... High German".