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A language spoken by many people distributed over a wide geographic area, German has evolved many different regional dialects. These variants are so different from one another in syntax, lexicon, and phonology that a person who only speaks Standard German would be completely lost among a group who spoke only in a different German dialect. They are so different, in fact, that they could be considered different languages entirely.
Early in its development, between 200 and 400 AD, the pronunciation of German consonants changed in what is known as the High German Consonant Shift, which produced a distinction between the High German dialect, spoken widely in the mountainous south at the time, and Low German, which was spoken primarily in the north. This transformation, which occurred before any written instances of the German language, profoundly affected modern Standard German, Luxemburgish, and Yiddish.
Blending of Langauges
For the most part, German dialects are comprehensible only in the territories neighboring the area in which they are spoken. They exist upon what is known as the dialect continuum between High German and Low Saxon. Low Saxon, which is sometimes considered an entirely separate language, was the primary language in the North. High German, which comprises a number of other dialects, such as Moselle Franconian, Rhine Franconian, Lorraine Franconian, High Prussian, and Upper Saxon, was spoken primarily in the southern areas of Germany and the surrounding countries. High German later became the basis for today’s Standard German, which is emphasized in the media and in German schools. This has exerted a significant influence over the German dialects, changing their grammars and lexicons, and making them less distinct from the Standard German.
Significance of German
With the age of the printing press, and Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible, the standardization of German became important, as authors and printers sought to capture as wide an audience as possible with their newly available books. New trends in education during the 1700’s and 1800’s marginalized Low Saxon in schools, until it was spoken mainly by the uneducated, and then only in their homes. Until the 1950’s, when the influence of mass media began to promote the standardization of German, many people in rural areas spoke in these traditional German dialects, but their use has since decreased significantly. In some areas, the traditional dialects have all but vanished. Abroad, the dialects that German speakers use typically reflect the dialects spoken in the regions where the settlers originated.