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Language: Spoken Languages

Over 95 percent of the population of Germany speaks the official language, Standard German, or one of its various dialects as a native language. In addition, the state recognizes several minority languages: Sorbian (in Lusatia), Romani, Danish (in southern Schleswig), and North Frisian (in North Frisia). A rise in immigration during the late 20th and early 21st centuries introduced additional languages to the country, most notably Turkish (1.8 percent), but also Russian, Arabic, Kurdish, Dutch, Polish Serbo-Croatian, Igbo, and Italian.

Schools generally teach English as the first foreign language, making elementary English widely understood, if not widely used. Beyond English, a robust variety of foreign-language instruction is available in French, Latin, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Greek, and Polish, among others.

German / Deutsch


( Hello )

History and Evolution

As a West Germanic, Indo-European language, German is related to Dutch, English, Luxembourgish, and the languages of Scandinavia. During the first millennium CE, the West Germanic dialect of Old Saxon underwent a phonological (sound) change called the High German Consonant Shift, which led to the emergence of Old High German, the predecessor to the modern variety.

Until the late 19th century, most of the German-speaking regions of Europe were not unified. This political and cultural fragmentation contributed to the evolution of a wide range of dialects particular to a region, city, or even village, many of which are still used today. The standard language used is Hochdeutsch (High German), along with Austrian Standard German and Swiss Standard German, all of which are mutually comprehensible.

Entschuldigen Sie bitte!

( Excuse me )

Geographic Distribution

German is a major world language spoken by 90 to 95 million native speakers located mostly in Central and Northern Europe. Another 85 to 110 million people speak German as a second language.

Due to the historical immigration of German-speaking peoples, there are numerous diasporan communities in North and South America, Africa, and Eastern Europe that still speak German, such as the Amish and Mennonite religious groups, the Hünsrückerisch-speaking German enclave in southern Brazil, the Amana Germans of Iowa, and the Pennsylvania “Dutch.”

Guten Morgen

( Good morning )

Prominence in Society

As one of the world’s most important centers of technology and engineering, German is the world’s second most-commonly used scientific language. Germany also has a thriving publishing culture; one in every ten new publications worldwide is in the German language, and it is the third-most commonly used language on websites. German is also an important language in international business and tourism.


( Please )

Unique Characteristics

German is an inflected language with three grammatical genders: masculine der, feminine die, and neuter das. The correct article must be used to indicate the meaning of the word. For example, the noun Band has three different meanings depending on the article used: der Band is the volume of a book, die Band is a musical group, and das Band means tape or ribbon. German also uses Sie (you) as the polite, formal form of address and du (you) in more informal settings or with friends and family.

Stylistically, the language is characterized by long sentences and compound words. As in English, subject-verb-object is the standard order in simple present-tense sentence formation: Ich spreche Deutsch (I speak German). However, with more complex constructions, including the use of conjunctions or different verbal tenses, the verb moves to the end of the sentence.

In writing, all nouns are capitalized. Quotation marks are denoted with the low double and high double quotes: „Ich bin ein Berliner.“ Beyond the five vowels found in English, the German alphabet has three additional vowels—ä, ö, ü—and a consonant ß called the scharfes S  (sharp S), for a total of 30 letters.

Wie geht es Ihnen?

( How are you? )

Loanwords in English

Given the fact that more than 15 percent of Americans claim German ancestry, it comes as no surprise that the English language has absorbed many German words for food and drink and everyday life, including:

  • Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage)
  • Schnapps (spirits)
  • Kindergarten (literally, “children garden”; preschool)
  • Kitsch (low-brow art)
  • Schadenfreude (taking pleasure in another’s pain)
  • Doppelgänger (literally, “body double”; a look-alike)
  • Wanderlust (desire to travel)
  • Rucksack (backpack)
  • Zeitgeist (spirit of the times)

Germany’s long scientific tradition is reflected in words like Diesel motor, Doppler, Fahrenheit, Geiger counter, Hertz, zinc (Zink), Nickel, and quartz (Quarz). German influence in psychology and medicine is also visible in words like angst (anxiety), gestalt (shape), masochism (masochismus), Aspirin, and Alzheimer’s disease.


( Thank you )

Say Whaaat?

The longest word in the German language is the 63-letter word Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, which is the name of a 1999 law regulating the monitoring of beef labeling.

A number of German words have no direct equivalent in English, such as Fremdscharm (being embarrassed for someone), Feierabend (“celebration evening”; free time after work), and Gemütlichkeit (the pleasant feeling one gets from being in a cozy space, perhaps surrounded by friends and family).

American author Mark Twain once famously observed that "a gifted person ought to learn English in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.“ Oscar Wilde put it more succinctly: “Life is too short to learn German.”

Auf Wiedersehen

( Good-bye )

Writer: Carly Ottenbreit

German Quick Facts


Central and Northern Europe

Native Speakers

90–95 million

Second-language Speakers

85–110 million

Official Language



 Germany (de facto)




Recognized Language


 Czech Republic










Language Family


  • Germanic
    • West Germanic
      • German

Standard Forms

German Standard German

Austrian Standard German

Swiss Standard German


Low German

Central German

Upper German



Austro-Bavarian German


Low Alemannic

High Alemannic

Highest Alemannic

Hunrückisch (Brazil)

Plattdeutsch (Plautdietsch)

Pennsylvania Dutch


Texas German





German alphabet

Regulated by

Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung

ISO Code

ISO 639-1 (de)

ISO 639-2 (ger)

ISO 639-2 (deu)

Turkish / Türkçe


( Hello )

History and Evolution

Turkish belongs to the southwestern Oghuz branch of the Turkic language family and is closely related to Turkmen and Azerbaijani.

During the 8th century CE, the nomadic, Turkic-speaking Görtürk tribes of Mongolia migrated westward, spreading their language across Central Asia and the Middle East. The first written examples of this language were inscribed on the Orkohn monuments, located in present-day Mongolia, around 735 CE.

In the 11th century CE, the medieval Turko-Persian Seljuk Empire, conquered Anatolia, bringing with it the Oghuz Turkic tongue, which became known as Old Turkic.

During the Ottoman Empire (1299–1922), Ottoman Turkish became the official language. It was highly influenced by Persian and Arabic, which together constituted nearly 90 percent of its vocabulary and supplied the written Perso-Arabic script used in writing. Old Turkic, known as kaba Türkçe, or "rough Turkish,“ contained a far greater proportion of Turkic words. It was retained by commoners and served as the basis for the modern variety.

As part of his efforts to modernize the new Turkish republic during the 1920s–1930s, Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) replaced the Perso-Arabic script with the Latinate alphabet in 1928 and founded the Turkish Language Association in 1932 to replace thousands of Persian and Arabic loanwords with Turkish equivalents. For example, the Ottoman word of Arabic origin امنيه (amniyyah, or “security”) was replaced with güvenlik, derived from the Turkish güven, meaning “trust.”

Atatürk enforced these linguistic reforms by banning foreign words in the media, government, and in education, which helped to establish modern standard Turkish as the main language spoken in all realms of life throughout the Republic of Turkey.


( Excuse me )

Geographic Distribution

Western Anatolian and Eastern Anatolian dialects are spoken on either side of the Euphrates River, while the North East Anatolian dialect is spoken along the north coast of the Black Sea. Ethnic minorities living in Turkey speak various dialects: for example, the Orthodox-Christian Karamanli people speak a dialect written with the Greek alphabet, while the Meskhetian Turks of the east speak a dialect heavily influenced by Georgian, Armenian, and Russian.

Outside of Anatolia, the Turkish language spoken throughout the Balkans deviates from standard Turkish in vocalic pronunciation. When the Ottoman Empire conquered Cyprus in 1571, Turkish became the official language of government and administration, and, because of the island’s large Greek population, Greek had a substantial impact on the vocabulary of Cypriot Turkish.

Turkish is also widely spoken in Germany, which is home to approximately 3 million Turks. The hybrid sociolect Türkendeutsch (Turkish German) is spoken by some young Turks in urban areas.


( Good morning )

Prominence in Society

Turkish has had a profound influence on neighboring languages and according to the Turkish Language Association, it has given an estimated 8,965 loan words to Serbian, 4,260 to Armenian, and 3,490 to Bulgarian. Greek, Persian, Albanian, and Romanian have also adopted more than 2,000 Turkish loan words into their languages.


( Please )

Unique Characteristics

The modern Turkish alphabet is written in the Latin script and consists of 29 letters, including seven letters to reflect Turkish pronunciation that does not exist in English: ç, ğI, İöş, and ü.

Turkish is an agglutinative language, meaning that complex words are formed by “gluing” together smaller words to create new units of meaning. For example, göz means “eye.” Adding the word lük (glasses) to the end makes a new word, gözlük (eyeglasses). This process of word formation can lead to long compound words. The one-word Çekoslovakyalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmışsınız, for example, means “You are said to be one of those that we couldn't manage to convert to a Czechoslovak.“

Turkish is an inflected language with six different cases. It does not use the definite article, but indicates the definiteness of the object with the accusative ending: adding , the accusative ending to the nominative form of köy (village) makes köyü (the village). There are 9 simple and 20 complex verbal tenses in Turkish, including distinct verbal tenses for witnessing a story in the past, expressing wishes, and relating “rumors,” or unwitnessed events in the past. Sentences typically follow the subject-object-verb form.


( How are you? )

Loanwords in English

According to the Turkish Language Association, there are a total of 470 Turkish loanwords that have entered the English language, including:

  • baklava (a flaky pastry filled with honey and nuts)
  • divan (couch)
  • horde (large group)
  • kaftan (from qaftân; robe)
  • kayak (small boat)
  • kiosk (from kösk; an open pavilion)
  • yogurt (fermented milk product)

Teşekkür ederim

( Thank you )

Say Whaaat?

Holland may be famous for tulips, but an Ottoman ambassador to Europe first introduced the flower—and its name—to the Dutch.

The 2010 edition of the Büyük Türkçe Sözlük (Great Dictionary of Turkish) includes a total of 616,767 words and phrases, making Turkish a language with a comparatively large lexicon—the official dictionary of the German language contains only 135,000 words, while Japanese words number around half a million.

Nearly 15 percent of Turkish words stem from foreign languages, with Arabic, French, Persian, Italian, and English imparting the greatest number of loanwords, respectively.

As a result of Atatürk’s linguistic reforms of the 1920s and 1930s, Turkish has a peculiar situation in which most speakers of modern standard Turkish cannot understand Ottoman Turkish or read old texts written in the Perso-Arabic script.

Linguistic scholarship has been conducted on the Turkish language for nearly a millennium. The first scholarly text on the Turkish language, Divânü Lügati't-Türk (Compendium of the Turkish Dialects), was published by Mahmud al-Kashgari in the 11th century CE.


( Good-bye )

Writer: Carly Ottenbreit

Turkish Quick Facts


Central Asia

Native Speakers

60–63 million

Second-language Speakers

13–17 million

Official Language



 Turkish Rep. of Northern Cyprus

Recognized Language

 Bosnia and Herzegovina






Language Family


  • Oghuz
    • Western Oghuz
      • Turkish

Standard Form

Standard Turkish


Anatolian dialects (West, East, and Northeast)

Balkan Gagauz Turkish

Cypriot Turkish

Karamanli Turkish

Meskhetian Turkish


Latin script


Turkish alphabet

Regulated by

Turkish Language Association (Türk Dil Kurumu (TDK))

ISO Codes

ISO 639-1 (tr)

ISO 639-2 (tur)

ISO 639-3 (tur)

Arabic / al-ʻArabiyyah / ʻarabī  /‎ العَرَبِية /عربي


( Hello )

History and Evolution

Arabic is a Central Semitic language, the only surviving language from the Ancient North Arabian dialect group. Combined, all the modern dialects of Arabic account for an estimated 420 million speakers worldwide, making Arabic the sixth most commonly native spoken language in the modern world.

Arabic is closely related to the ancient languages Aramaic, Hebrew, Phoenician, and Ugaritic. The oldest Arabic dialects, known as Safaitic and Hismaic, were written and spoken in the 1st century CE.

Arabic spread throughout North Africa, Spain, and Persia as a result of Islamic conquests in the 8th century. Among the languages influenced by Arabic during this period are Berber, Kurdish, Malay, Persian, Swahili, and Urdu.

Modern Standard Arabic, or Literary Arabic, is sometimes referred to as “MSA” (فُصْحَى , fuṣḥá). MSA is the only official form of the language, although there are many Arabic dialects. MSA is closely based on the Arabic used in the text of the Koran (القرآن).

لا مؤاخذة

( Excuse me )

Geographic Distribution

Arabic is spoken in Western Asia, the Middle East, and the North and Horn of Africa. Considered as a single language, Arabic is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world. Egyptian Arabic, the most numerically significant Arabic dialect, alone has more speakers than any other Afroasiatic language.

There are many Arabic dialects, some of which are mutually unintelligible. Groups of dialects are mainly found in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, and the Middle East. Egyptian Arabic is one of the most widely understood dialects, with 55 million speakers worldwide and a flourishing film industry to promote continued dispersal. The Levantine Arabic dialects are spoken by 21 million in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Cyprus, and Turkey. Maghrebi Arabic (الدارجةDarija), the dialect spoken by around 70 million people in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, and Malta, is not mutually intelligible with the Mesopotamian Arabic (العامية `āmmiyya) dialects spoken by 7 million people in Iraq, eastern Syria, and southwestern Iran. Sudanese Arabic is spoken by 17 million people in Sudan and southern Egypt, but is distinct from Egyptian Arabic. Yemeni Arabic, a dialect similar to Gulf Arabic, is spoken by 15 million in Yemen, Somalia, Djibouti, and southern Saudi Arabia. The Gulf Arabic dialect is spoken by 4 million in Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar.  Najdi Arabic is spoken by 10 million in Najd, central and norther Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Other Arabic dialects include Hejazi Arabic, spoken by 6 million people in western Saudi Arabia; Hassaniya Arabic, spoken by 3 million in Mauritania, Western Sahara, Mali, Morocco, and Algeria; Bahrani Arabic, spoken by 600,000 in Bahrain and Oman, and Maltese, spoken on the island of Malta.

صباح الخير

( Good morning )

Prominence in Society

Arabic is the official language of 26 countries, as well as the official language of the Islamic religion. Islamic liturgical services are conducted in Arabic, and the modern standard form of the language is closely based on the Classical Arabic used in the Koran, the holy book of Islam. Arabic is used by 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.

Widely used in media and education in the Middle East and parts of Asia and Africa, Arabic is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

Arabic numerals are used throughout the world in science, mathematics, and international banking.

لو سمحت

( Please )

Unique Characteristics

The Arabic alphabet (نسخ‎ , nasḫ/nasḵ) is an “abjad” script, and formal MSA is read from right to left. Arabic recognizes 28 consonants and three vowels (a, i, u); each vowel has short and long variations.

Arabic words are based on a system of three-letter “roots” that convey basic ideas. By inserting additional letters into these “roots,” derivations of meaning are produced. For example, the root k-t-b (ك ت ب) signifies the idea of writing; the word “book”  (كتاب , kitāb,) is derived from this root. Associated words are “writing” (كِتَابَة or كتابة, kitābat); “library” or “bookshop” (مَكتَبة or مكتبة, maktabat); and “desk” or “office” (مَكتَب or مكتب, maktab).

عامل إيه؟

( How are you? )

Loanwords in English

Many Arabic words have migrated into English, particularly in mathematics and the sciences, but also in reference to foods and people. The majority of star names used in modern astronomy are taken from Arabic.

  • Aldebaran (الدبران; a red star of the first magnitude)
  • algebra (بر )
  • coffee (قهوة)
  • cotton (قطن)
  • magazine (مخازن)
  • nadir (نظير; the worst or lowest point of something; the point on the celestial sphere that is directly opposite the zenith)
  • zenith (سمت الرأس, samt ar-ra's; “direction of the head” or “path above the head”)


( Thank you )

Say Whaaat?

Arabic uses the same punctuation marks as English, but the marks are inverted (؟ and ،) because Arabic reads from right to left.

The oldest form of Arabic literature is poetry.

Arabic was an important language of science, mathematics, philosophy, and culture in Europe during the Middle Ages. For this reason, many European languages have Arabic loanwords in these subjects. Arabic also influenced ancient languages like Latin and Greek.

In the present tense, Arabic doesn't use the verb “to be”; instead of saying “the king is good,” you would say “the king good.”

Arabic verb forms are produced by altering a root. For example, from k-s-r, you can create the word كسر (kasara), meaning “he broke,” and inkasara, meaning  “it was broken up.” Care must be taken with shades of meaning; while قَاتَلَ (qātala) means “he fought,” قَتَلَ (qâtala) means “he killed."

مع السلامة

( Good-bye )

Writer: Carina Saxon

Arabic Quick Facts


Arabian Peninsula

Native Speakers

260–280 million

Second-language Speakers

20–30 million

Official Language




















 Saudi Arabia





 United Arab Emirates


Recognized Language

 Western Sahara

Language Family


  • Semitic
    • Central Semitic
      • Arabic languages
        • Arabic

Standard Form

Modern Standard Arabic


Western (Maghrebi)

Central (Egyptian, Sudanese)

Northern (Levantine, Mesopotamian)

Peninsular (Gulf, Hejazi, Najdi, Yemeni)


Arabic script

Ashuri script

Greek script

Naskh script

Latin script


Arabic alphabet

Greek alphabet

Hebrew alphabet

Syriac alphabet

Regulated by

Academy of the Arabic Language in Cairo (Egypt)

Academy of the Arabic Language in Israel

Academy of the Arabic Language in Jamahiriya (Libya)

Academy of the Arabic Language in Khartoum (Sudan)

Academy of the Arabic Language in Mogadishu (Somalia)

Academy of the Arabic Language in Rabat (Morocco)

Academy of the Arabic Language in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia)

Arab Academy of Damascus (Syria)

Arabic Language International Council

Beit Al-Hikma Foundation (Tunisia)

Iraqi Academy of Sciences

Jordan Academy of Arabic

Supreme Council of the Arabic Language in Algeria

ISO Codes

ISO 639-1 (ar)

ISO 639-2 (ara)

ISO 639-3 (ara)