We Think of Certain Countries as “German Speaking”. The Reality is More Complex.
Standard German is the official language of Germany. 95% of German residents speak Standard German or German Dialects as their first language. This percentage includes speakers of Northern Low Saxon, which is recognized as a minority or regional language which is lumped in together with Standard German in statistics. Recognized minority languages are officially acknowledged as well, usually in the regions in which they are spoken.
Minority Languages in Germany
- Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian (0.09%)
- Romani (0.08%)
- Danish (0.06%)
- North Frisian (0.01%) and Saterland Frisian
Immigrant Languages in Germany
Immigrant languages spoken by significant communities of first and second-generation immigrants
- Turkish (southern Europe and Western Asia) c. 1.8%
- Tamil (South Asia and Southeast Asia)
- Russian (eastern Europe and Northern Asia)
- Arabic (Western Asia and North Africa)
- Greek (southern Europe)
- Dutch (Western Europe)
- Igbo (Nigeria, West Africa)
- Polish (central Europe
- Serbo-Croatian (Western Balkans, southern Europe
- Italian (southern Europe
Most Germans learn English as their first foreign language in school. Sometimes it is French or Latin, but usually it is English. French and Latin are often second or third foreign languages. Some of the languages taught in German schools include Russian, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Dutch, classical Greek, and other languages varying on the school’s geographic location.
- German – German is the national official language of Austria. It serves as a bridge language and is a de facto second language. Most Austrians, with the exception of (largely rural) senior citizens, can speak it. The version of German used is Austrian German, also known as Austrian Standard German or Standard Austrian German (German: Österreichisches Standarddeutsch), Austrian High German (German: Österreichisches Hochdeutsch), or simply written German, as it is the language of media. It has the highest sociolinguistic prestige in Austria, because it is the language variation used in the media and for other formal situations. In less formal situations, Austrians tend to use forms closer to or identical with the Austro-Bavarian and Alemannic dialects, which are traditionally spoken ( but seldom written) in Austria.
- Alemannic German – a group of dialects of the Upper German branch of the Germanic language family. The name is derived from the ancient Germanic alliance of tribes known as the Alemanni (“all men”). Alemannic German is spoken in Vorarlberg, the most western federal state (Bundesland) of Austria and in the Reutte District of Tyrol, the neighboring state to the east. Alemannic dialects are spoken throughout the German speaking areas of Switzerland, which borders Vorarlberg. In fact, Vorarlberg has much more in common culturally with its (historically) Alemannic-speaking neighbors in German-speaking Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Swabia and Alsace than with southeastern Bavaria, the rest of Austria and South Tyrol.
- Austro-Bavarian – This group of dialects has its origins in the Germanic tribe which was known as the Bavarii. They established a tribal duchy, covering much of what is today Bavaria and some of Austria in the early Middle Ages, which was eventually conquered by Charlemagne. Subsequently, over time they migrated down the Danube and into the Alps to all those areas where Austro-Bavarian dialects are now spoken. Today, the great majority of people who speak Austro-Bavarian also speak German. Austro-Bavarian includes the Cimbrian Language of northeastern Italy, Hutterite German (Hutterisch), which is spoken by Hutterite communities in Canada and the United States (a Carinthian German dialect, originating from the province of Carinthia in Austria) , and the Mócheno language spoken in the Autonomous Province of Trento (Trentino) in Italy. In the German language the word for the Bavarian language is “bairisch”, while the word for “bayerisch” is the term associated with the Bavarian State, as in BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke). Today the German word for Bavaria is “Bayern”. In Austro-Bavarian the word is “Bairisch”.
- Turkish – Turkish is the largest minority language, in a situation similar to that of Germany, and is spoken by 2.3% of the population.
- Serbian – Serbian is the second largest minority language, spoken by 2.2% of Austrians.
- Burgenland Croatian – Burgenland Croatian, an official language in Burgenland, is spoken by 2.5% of Austrians. Burgenland Croats are recognized as a minority and have enjoyed special rights subsequent to the Austrian State Treaty (Staatsvertrag) of 1955.
- Hungarian – While seldom spoken today, Hungarian has traditionally been an important language in Austria (formerly joined with Hungary as Austria-Hungary). Today, Hungarian is spoken by approximately 1,000 people in Burgenland.
- Slovene – Slovene is an official language in Carinthia. As of the census in 2001 Slovene is used by 12,686 Austrians as their every day language. It is estimated that Slovene can be spoken by 0.3% of Austrians. Carinthian Slovenes are a recognized minority and have enjoyed special rights and affirmative action subsequent to the Austrian State Treaty (Staatsvertrag) of 1955.
European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
Austria ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages on June 28, 2001 for the following languages relative to specific Länder ,or States, of Austria:
- Croatian (in Burgenland)
- Slovene (in Carinthia and Styria)
- Hungarian (in Burgenland and Vienna)
- Czech (in Vienna)
- Slovak (in Vienna)
- Romani (in Burgenland)
Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. The first three are official national languages. Romansh is a national language, but only gained official status in the Swiss Confederation in 1996. The percentage of Swiss who speak Romansh declined 40% between 1950 and 2015.
In the 2015 Swiss Census, people were asked what the main language is that they speak. The results were:
- German – 63%
- French – 22.7%
- Italian – 8.4%
- Romansh – 0.6%
- Other – 5.3%
German – German is the only official language in 17 of the 26 Swiss Cantons (Federal States). German speakers are divided between the 59.5% who speak Swiss German at home, and the 10.4% who speak Standard German there. The German speaking region makes up about 65% of Switzerland’s land area. It is called in German: Deutschschweiz, in French: Suisse alémanique, in Italian: Svizzera tedesca, and in Romansh: Svizra tudestga.
French – The French speaking western part of Switzerland is called Romandy. In French, it is Romandie, la Suisse romande, in German it is called Romandie, Welschland, Welschschweiz, or in some contexts: Westschweiz, and in Italian, Svizzera romanda is the French speaking part of Switzerland. It includes the cantons of Geneva, Vaud, Neuchâtel, and Jura as well as the French-speaking parts of the cantons of Bern (which has a German-speaking majority), Valais (a French-speaking majority), and Fribourg (a French-speaking majority). Some 1.9 million people (24.4% of the Swiss population) live in Romandy.
Italian – The Italian speaking, generally southern part of Switzerland isknown in Italian as Svizzera italiana, in Romansh as Svizra taliana, in French as Suisse italienne, and in German as italienische Schweiz). It includes the canton of Ticino and the southern part of Graubünden. Italian is also spoken in the Gondo Valley (leading to the Simplon Pass, on the southern part of the watershed) in Valais.
Romansh – On the cantonal level, Romansh is an official language only in the tri-lingual canton of Graubünden, where the municipalities have the right to specify their own official languages. Communities of Romansh speakers can be found in the Surselva, the Sursés/Oberhalbstein, the lower Engadin and the Val Müstair.
Other Main Languages Spoken in Switzerland:
- English – 5.4%
- Portuguese – 3.7%
- Albanian – 2.7%
- Serbo-Croatian – 2.3%
- Spanish – 2.3%
- Turkish – 1.1%
- Arabic – 0.5%
- Russian – 0.5%
- Tamil – 0.5%
- Polish – 0.4%
- Dutch – 0.3%
- Hungarian – 0.3%
- Kurdish – 0.3%
- Thai – 0.2%
- Czech – 0.2%
- Romanian – 0.2%
- Chinese – 0.2%
- Slovak – 0.2%
- Persian – 0.2%
- Macedonian – 0.2%
- Swedish – 0.2%
- Vietnamese – 0.1%
- Tagalog – 0.1%
- Japanese – 0.1%
- Danish – 0.1%
- Tibetan – 0.1%
- Bulgarian – 0.1%
- Hindi-Urdu – 0.1%
- Slovene – 0.1%
- Somali – 0.1%
- Aramaic – < 0.1%
- Hebrew – <0.1%
- Norwegian – <0.1%
- Korean – <0.1%
Additionally, other Romance languages are spoken in Switzerland, specifically, Franco-Provençal and Lombard. Sinte, an Indic language is spoken by around 20,000 Romani. Five different sign languages are used.
Liechtenstein‘s official language is German. The principality of Liechtensteinis the smallest of the four countries in Europe where the majority of the population are German speakers. Other languages are also spoken by the approximately 14% of the country’s population which is foreign-born. They make up a large percentage of the workforce.
The local German dialect is Alemannic, a dialect (sometimes considered a language) spoken by all Swiss Germans , Alsatians (spoken in the Alsace region of France), Germans living in Baden-Württemberg and Bavarian Swabia, and Austrians living in Vorarlberg. Liechtenstein has a population which is 86% “ethnic Alemannic”, and are speakers of the language. Highest Alemannic is spoken in the south of the country, and High Alemannic in the rest of the country. It can be hard to achieve mutual intelligibility between Alemannic and Standard German, especially with the Highest Alemannic dialect.
The two most common foreign languages which are spoken in Liechtenstein are Italian and Turkish.