chapter  6
New High German
Pages 8

The German-speaking area has undergone many boundary changes since Charlemagne's day. But compared with the enormous expansion in the Middle Ages,! the last three or four centuries have seen much smaller territorial gains, as well as considerable losses, notably after the defeat of the National Socialist regime in 1945. In the west the Netherlands have gone their separate way since the late Middle Ages,2 while the incorporation of Alsace and Lorraine into France in the seventeenth century led to increasing use of French by educated speakers, a tendency which was only temporarily halted between the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1 and the end of the First World War in 1918 and again between 1940 and 1945, when Alsace and Lorraine were annexed to Germany. Even today, however, the local German dialects remain vigorous in country districts. In the south various north Italian communities which had once been German-speaking had virtually given up German before 1914; in South Tirol, on the other hand, the vigorous attempts made to suppress German after the province was incorporated into Italy in 1919 have been largely unsuccessful. In the north-east the 'Baltic Germans' were repatriated from Estonia and Latvia in 1940-1, while German has virtually ceased to be spoken in Lithuania since 1945. Polish and Russian have replaced German in East Prussia. In the east, Bohemia was largely lost in the fifteenth century, though Prague and the Sudeten German communities remained culturally important until 1945. As early as the twelfth and thirteenth centuries German settlements separated from the main German-speaking area had been established in Rumania (Siebenbiirgen) and Slovakia (Zips), and these were followed in the eighteenth century by extensive settlements in Hungary, South Russia, and Poland. Only a few of these settlements - the largest is still SiebenbUrgen - have survived after 1945. In the territories east of

1 See p. 36. 2 See p. 36. 45

A short history of the German language the rivers Oder and Neisse, which were annexed to Poland in 1945, German has become the language of a small minority and the dialects of that region are approaching extinction. In large areas of central and eastern Europe Yiddish (from Ger. jiidisch 'Jewish'), a language basically German but with many Hebrew elements, has been extensively used by Jewish people since the Middle Ages. Outside Europe German was widely used in Africa until the loss of Germany's African colonies in 1918. German speakers have also emigrated to North America since the seventeenth century and to South America since the nineteenth, often to escape from religious or political oppression at home. The communities they founded still flourish in some places, notably in Pennsylvania, and still use a form of German, in which newspapers and books are printed.