Germanic languages

Worldwide, principally northern, western and central Europe, the Americas (Anglo-America, Caribbean Netherlands and Suriname), Southern Africa and Oceania
Linguistic classificationIndo-European
  • Germanic
ISO 639-2 / 5gem
Linguasphere52- (phylozone)
world map showing countries where a Germanic language is the primary or official language
World map showing countries where a Germanic language is the primary or official language
  Countries where (a) Germanic language(s) is/are the first language(s) of the majority of the population
  Countries or regions where (a) Germanic language(s) is/are (an) official but not primary language(s)
  Countries or regions where (a) Germanic language(s) is/are (an) unofficial but recognised/used in some areas of life/spoken among a local minority

The Germanic languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family spoken natively by a population of about 515 million people[nb 1] mainly in Europe, North America, Oceania and Southern Africa. The most widely spoken Germanic language, English, is the world's most widely spoken language with an estimated 2 billion speakers. All Germanic languages are derived from Proto-Germanic, spoken in Iron Age Scandinavia.

The West Germanic languages include the three most widely spoken Germanic languages: English with around 360–400 million native speakers;[3][nb 2] German, with over 100 million native speakers;[4] and Dutch, with 24 million native speakers. Other West Germanic languages include Afrikaans, an offshoot of Dutch, with over 7.1 million native speakers;[5] Low German, considered a separate collection of unstandardized dialects, with roughly 0.3 million native speakers and probably 6.7–10 million people who can understand it[6][7] (at least 5 million in Germany[6] and 1.7 million in the Netherlands);[8] Yiddish, once used by approximately 13 million Jews in pre-World War II Europe,[9] and Scots, both with 1.5 million native speakers; Limburgish varieties with roughly 1.3 million speakers along the DutchBelgianGerman border; and the Frisian languages with over 0.5 million native speakers in the Netherlands and Germany.

The largest North Germanic languages are Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, which are mutually intelligible and have a combined total of about 20 million native speakers in the Nordic countries and an additional five million second language speakers; since the middle ages these languages have however been strongly influenced by the West Germanic language Middle Low German, and Low German words account for about 30–60% of their vocabularies according to various estimates. Other North Germanic languages are Faroese and Icelandic, which are more conservative languages with no significant Low German influence, more complex grammar and limited mutual intelligibility with the others today.[10]

The East Germanic branch included Gothic, Burgundian, and Vandalic, all of which are now extinct. The last to die off was Crimean Gothic, spoken until the late 18th century in some isolated areas of Crimea.[11]

The SIL Ethnologue lists 48 different living Germanic languages, 41 of which belong to the Western branch and six to the Northern branch; it places Riograndenser Hunsrückisch German in neither of the categories, but it is often considered a German dialect by linguists.[12] The total number of Germanic languages throughout history is unknown as some of them, especially the East Germanic languages, disappeared during or after the Migration Period. Some of the West Germanic languages also did not survive past the Migration Period, including Lombardic. As a result of World War II, the German language suffered a significant loss of Sprachraum, as well as moribundness and extinction of several of its dialects. In the 21st century, its dialects are dying out anyway[nb 3] due to Standard German gaining primacy.[13]

The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic, also known as Common Germanic, which was spoken in about the middle of the 1st millennium BC in Iron Age Scandinavia. Proto-Germanic, along with all of its descendants, is characterised by a number of unique linguistic features, most famously the consonant change known as Grimm's law. Early varieties of Germanic entered history with the Germanic tribes moving south from Scandinavia in the 2nd century BC, to settle in the area of today's northern Germany and southern Denmark.

Modern status

The present-day distribution of the Germanic languages in Europe:
North Germanic languages
West Germanic languages
Dots indicate areas where multilingualism is common.

West Germanic languages

English is an official language of Belize, Canada, Nigeria, Falkland Islands, Malta, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa, Philippines, Jamaica, Dominica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, American Samoa, Palau, St. Lucia, Grenada, Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Puerto Rico, Guam, Hong Kong, Singapore, Pakistan, India, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and former British colonies in Asia, Africa and Oceania. Furthermore, it is the de facto language of the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. It is also a recognised language in Nicaragua[14] and Malaysia. American English-speakers make up the majority of all native Germanic speakers, including also making up the bulk of West Germanic speakers.

German is an official language of Austria, Belgium, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Switzerland and has regional status in Italy, Poland, Namibia and Denmark. German also continues to be spoken as a minority language by immigrant communities in North America, South America, Central America, Mexico and Australia. A German dialect, Pennsylvania German, is still present amongst Anabaptist populations in Pennsylvania in the United States.

Dutch is an official language of Aruba, Belgium, Curaçao, the Netherlands, Sint Maarten, and Suriname.[15] The Netherlands also colonised Indonesia, but Dutch was scrapped as an official language after Indonesian independence and today it is only used by older or traditionally educated people. Dutch was until 1925 an official language in South Africa but evolved in and was replaced by Afrikaans, a partially mutually intelligible[16] daughter language of Dutch.

Afrikaans is one of the 11 official languages in South Africa and is a lingua franca of Namibia. It is used in other Southern African nations, as well.

Low German is a collection of very diverse dialects spoken in the northeast of the Netherlands and northern Germany.

Scots is spoken in Lowland Scotland and parts of Ulster (where the local dialect is known as Ulster Scots).[17]

Frisian is spoken among half a million people who live on the southern fringes of the North Sea in the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark.

Luxembourgish is a Moselle Franconian dialect that is spoken mainly in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, where it is considered to be an official language.[18] Similar varieties of Moselle Franconian are spoken in small parts of Belgium, France, and Germany.

Yiddish, once a native language of some 11 to 13 million people, remains in use by some 1.5 million speakers in Jewish communities around the world, mainly in North America, Europe, Israel, and other regions with Jewish populations.[9]

Limburgish varieties are spoken in the Limburg and Rhineland regions, along the Dutch–Belgian–German border.

North Germanic languages

In addition to being the official language in Sweden, Swedish is also spoken natively by the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland, which is a large part of the population along the coast of western and southern Finland. Swedish is also one of the two official languages in Finland, along with Finnish, and the only official language in the Åland Islands. Swedish is also spoken by some people in Estonia.

Danish is an official language of Denmark and in its overseas territory of the Faroe Islands, and it is a lingua franca and language of education in its other overseas territory of Greenland, where it was one of the official languages until 2009. Danish is also spoken natively by the Danish minority in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, where it is recognised as a minority language.

Norwegian is the official language of Norway.

Icelandic is the official language of Iceland.

Faroese is the official language of the Faroe Islands, and it is also spoken by some people in Denmark.


Germanic languages by share (West Germanic in yellow-red shades and North Germanic in blue shades):[nb 4]

  English (69.9%)
  German (19.4%)
  Dutch (4.5%)
  Afrikaans (1.4%)
  Other West Germanic (1%)
  Swedish (1.8%)
  Danish (1.1%)
  Norwegian (1%)
  Other North Germanic (0.1%)
Germanic languages by number of native speakers (million)
Language Native speakers[nb 5]
English 360–400[3]
German (Deutsch) 100[19][nb 6]
Dutch (Nederlands) 24[20]
Swedish (Svenska) 11.1[21]
Afrikaans (Afrikaans) 7.1[22]
Danish (Dansk) 5.5[23]
Norwegian (Norsk) 5.3[24]
Yiddish (ייִדיש) 1.5[25]
Scots (Scots) 1.5[26]
Limburgish (Lèmburgs) 1.3[27]
Frisian (Frysk/Noordfreesk/Seeltersk) 0.5[28]
Luxembourgish (Lëtzebuergesch) 0.4[29]
Low German (Platt/Neddersassch/Leegsaksies) 0.3[30]
Icelandic (Íslenska) 0.3[31]
Faroese (Føroyskt) 0.07[32]
Other Germanic languages 0.01[nb 7]
Total est. 515[nb 8]
Other Languages
Afrikaans: Germaanse tale
العربية: لغات جرمانية
azərbaycanca: German dilləri
تۆرکجه: ژرمن دیللری
Bân-lâm-gú: German gí-cho̍k
беларуская: Германскія мовы
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Германскія мовы
български: Германски езици
brezhoneg: Yezhoù germanek
davvisámegiella: Germánalaš gielat
dolnoserbski: Germaniske rěcy
føroyskt: Germansk mál
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: German Ngî-chhu̍k
한국어: 게르만어파
hornjoserbsce: Germanske rěče
Bahasa Indonesia: Rumpun bahasa Jermanik
interlingua: Linguas germanic
kernowek: Yethow germanek
Kiswahili: Kigermanik
Кыргызча: Герман тилдери
Lëtzebuergesch: Germanesch Sproochen
lietuvių: Germanų kalbos
Limburgs: Germaanse taole
Lingua Franca Nova: Linguas germanica
македонски: Германски јазици
مازِرونی: ژرمنی
Bahasa Melayu: Rumpun bahasa Germanik
Nederlands: Germaanse talen
Nedersaksies: Germaanse taelen
Nordfriisk: Germaans spriaken
norsk nynorsk: Germanske språk
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: German tillari
Papiamentu: Lenganan german
Piemontèis: Lenghe germàniche
Tok Pisin: Ol tok Siamanik
Plattdüütsch: Germaansche Spraken
română: Limbi germanice
русиньскый: Ґерманьскы языкы
Simple English: Germanic languages
slovenčina: Germánske jazyky
slovenščina: Germanski jeziki
српски / srpski: Германски језици
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Germanski jezici
Türkçe: Cermen dilleri
українська: Германські мови
Tiếng Việt: Ngữ tộc German
West-Vlams: Germaansche toaln