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As Europe's largest economy and second most populous nation, Germany is a key member of the continent's economic, political, and defense organizations. European power struggles immersed Germany in two devastating World Wars in the first half of the 20th century and left the country occupied by the victorious Allied powers of the US, UK, France, and the Soviet Union in 1945. With the advent of the Cold War, two German states were formed in 1949: the western Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the eastern German Democratic Republic (GDR). The democratic FRG embedded itself in key Western economic and security organizations, the EC, which became the EU, and NATO, while the Communist GDR was on the front line of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. The decline of the USSR and the end of the Cold War allowed for German unification in 1990. Since then, Germany has expended considerable funds to bring Eastern productivity and wages up to Western standards. In January 1999, Germany and 10 other EU countries introduced a common European exchange currency, the euro.
German language, member of the West Germanic group of the Germanic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. It is the official language of Germany and Austria and is one of the official languages of Switzerland. Altogether nearly 100 million people speak German as their first language, among them about 77 million in Germany; 8 million in Austria; 4.5 million in Switzerland; 2 million in the United States and Canada; about 2 million in Latin America; and several additional millions throughout Europe, including the Baltic republics, Belarus, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine, and the Balkan states. German is important as a cultural and commercial second language for millions of people in Central, Northern, and Eastern Europe and in North and South America.
All Germanic languages are thought to be descended from a hypothetical Proto-Germanic, united by subjection to the sound shifts of Grimm's law and Verner's law. These probably took place during the Pre-Roman Iron Age of Northern Europe from ca. 500 BC, but other common innovations separating Germanic from Proto-Indo European suggest a common history of pre-Proto-Germanic speakers throughout the Nordic Bronze Age.
From the time of their earliest attestation, the Germanic varieties are divided into three groups, West, East, and North Germanic. Their exact relation is difficult to determine from the sparse evidence of runic inscriptions, and they remained mutually intelligible throughout the Migration period, so that some individual varieties are difficult to classify.

Low and Low German
There are two principal divisions of the German language: High German, or Hochdeutsch, and Low German, or Plattdeutsch. One of the most striking differences between them is the result of a consonant shift (usually referred to as the second, or High German, sound shift) that took place before the 8th cent. A.D. in certain West Germanic dialects. This sound shift affected the southern areas, which are more elevated and hence referred to as the High German region, whereas it left untouched the Low German prevalent in the lowland regions of the North. In a broader and purely linguistic sense, the term Low German can also be extended to cover all the West Germanic languages in which the second sound shift did not take place, such as Dutch, Frisian, and English.

Standard German
bob═Ô╬ž╣┘═°appIn German linguistics, only the traditional regional varieties are called dialects, not the different varieties of standard German. Standard German has originated not as a traditional dialect of a specific region, but as a written language. However, there are places where the traditional regional dialects have been replaced by standard German; this is the case in vast stretches of Northern Germany, but also in major cities in other parts of the country. Standard German differs regionally, especially between German-speaking countries, especially in vocabulary, but also in some instances of pronunciation and even grammar and orthography. This variation must not be confused with the variation of local dialects. Even though the regional varieties of standard German are only to a certain degree influenced by the local dialects, they are very distinct. German is thus considered a pluricentric language. In most regions, the speakers use a continuum of mixtures from more dialectical varieties to more standard varieties according to situation. In the German-speaking parts of Switzerland, mixtures of dialect and standard are very seldom used, and the use of standard German is largely restricted to the written language. Therefore, this situation has been called a medial diglossia. Swiss Standard German is only spoken with people who do not understand the Swiss German dialects at all. It is expected to be used in school.

Writing system
German is written using the Latin alphabet. In addition to the 26 standard letters, German has three vowels with Umlaut, namely ä, ö and ü, as well as the Eszett or scharfes S (sharp s) ß. In German spelling before the reform of 1996, ß replaced ss after long vowels and diphthongs and before consonants, word-, or partial-word-endings. In reformed spelling, ß replaces ss only after long vowels and diphthongs. Since there is no capital ß, in capitalised writing ß is always written as SS (example: Maßband (Tape measure) in normal writing, but MASSBAND in capitalised writing). In Switzerland, ß is not used at all. Umlaut vowels (ä, ö, ü) are commonly circumscribed with ae, oe, and ue if the umlauts are not available on the keyboard used. In the same manner ß can be circumscribed as ss. German readers understand those circumscriptions (although they look unusual), but they are avoided if the regular umlauts are available because they are considered a makeshift, not proper spelling. (In Westphalia, city names exist where the extra e has a vowel lengthening effect, e.g. Raesfeld [ˡraːsfɛlt] and Coesfeld [ˡkoːsfɛlt], but this use of the letter e after a/o/u does not occur in the present-day spelling of words other than proper nouns.) Unfortunately there is still no general agreement exactly where these Umlauts occur in the sorting sequence. Telephone directories treat them by replacing them with the base vowel followed by an e, whereas dictionaries use just the base vowel. As an example in a telephone book Ärzte occurs after Adressenverlage but before Anlagenbauer (because Ä is replaced by Ae). In a dictionary Ärzte occurs after Arzt but before Asbest (because Ä is treated as A).


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