German is a West Germanic language spoken mainly in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy. It is recognised as a minority language in Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Namibia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, South Africa, Vatican City and Venezuela.
Standard German (Hoch Deutsch) has around 90 million native speakers, and other varieties of German have some 30 million. There are about 80 million people who speak German as a second language, and many others study it as a foreign language.
The earliest known examples of written German date from the 8th century AD and consist of fragments of an epic poem, the Song of Hildebrand, magical charms and German glosses in Latin manuscripts. A short Latin-German dictionary, the Abrogans, was written during the 760s.
High German began to emerge as the standard literary language during the 16th century. Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible, which he completed in 1534, marks the beginning of this process. The language he used, based partly on spoken German, became the model for written German.
A variety of German spoken by about 4 million people in Switzerland, occasionally appears in writing in novels, newspapers, personal letters and diaries.