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High German

High German (in German, Hochdeutsch) is any of several West Germanic languages spoken in Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, and Luxembourg (as well as in neighbouring portions of Belgium, France (Alsace), Italy, Poland, and Romania (Transylvania) and in some areas of former colonial settlement, i.e. in Namibia).

Alternatively, and especially in Switzerland and Luxembourg, the term "High German" may refer to one High German dialect to the exclusion of all others, standard written German. In the first context, the "high" refers to the mountainous areas of southern Germany and the Alps; in the second context, the "high" means "official". The term also sometimes includes Yiddish.

The use of High German to refer only to the official German language is not linguistic use, and tends to lead to confusion when discussing the German language: many High German dialects are called Low German, a term properly used for a different (but related) language family. See below.

High German (and Yiddish) are distinguished from other Western Germanic dialects in that they took part in the second (High German) sound shifting of the 700s and 800s. To see this, compare English "pan" with German "Pfanne" (/p/ to /pf/), English "two" with German "zwei" (/t/ to /ts/), English "make" with German "machen" (/k/ to /x/). In the High Alemannic dialects of Swiss German, there is a further shift; "Kaffee" (like English "coffee") becomes "Kchafi" (/k/ to /kx/).

The name "High German" contrasts with "Low German", a term variously used to refer to the Low Saxon dialects originating from around the Baltic city of Lübeck; these dialects together with the Low Franconian languages (Dutch, West Flemish, and Afrikaans); or all of the Western Germanic languages other than High German (including English and Frisian).

Family tree

Note that divisions between subfamilies of Germanic are rarely precisely defined; most form continuous clines, with adjacent dialects being mutually intelligible and more separated ones not. In particular, there never has been an original "Proto-High German".

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