High German vs Low German: 8 Differences in German Language in a Comparison Table

Are you fascinated by the diversity within the German language? If so, you’re in the right place!

In this blog post, we explore the differences between High German vs Low German. In this case, it doesn’t really matter if you’re a language enthusiast, a student, or just someone curious about German dialects, this blog post is for you!

Bay Yildirim made a short but useful video on comparing the two with real German conversations:

This is an easy-to-understand overview. On Effortless Conversations, we analyze the geographical differences to historical development. And at the end, compare them to each other with examples!

1. What is High German?

High German is a group of dialects spoken in the southern and central parts of German-speaking countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

high german vs low german illustrated with german flag on flagpole

It’s called High Herman because the areas and regions where it’s spoken are more mountainous. There are two main types within High German itself:

  1. Upper German: Spoken in the highest regions, like Bavaria and Austria.
  2. Central German: Spoken in central areas like Frankfurt and Berlin.

When people talk about “Standard High German” or “Hochdeutsch,” they usually mean the standardized version of High German. This standard form is used in writing, schools, bureaucracy and in other formal settings.

Here’s an analogy to help you understand it: Think of High German as an umbrella that covers different dialects spoken in higher, mountainous regions. Standard German is the common language everyone under that umbrella can understand and use for official purposes.

Easier to understand, right? Let’s check a few examples to see High German in action!

High GermanEnglish Translation
Wie geht es dir?How’s it going?
Was machst du?What are you doing?
Ich liebe dich.I love you.
Ich habe Hunger.I am hungry.
Kannst du mir helfen?Can you help me?
HausHouse
SchuleSchool
AutoCar
ApfelApple
WasserWater
Wo kommst du her?Where are you from?
Was ist das?What is that?
Wann ist das?When is it?

2. High German history

High German has a history of its own. We can break it down into different eras:

Early Period (before 9th century)

High German dialects started to form in the early Middle Ages. Due to the mountainous terrain, communities were somewhat isolated, leading to unique linguistic developments.

Old High German (9th to 11th century)

This period saw the first written records of High German dialects.

Monks and scholars began writing religious texts and poetry. These writings were quite different from modern German but laid the groundwork for the language.

Middle High German (12th to 14th century)

Here, the dialects started to become more standardized.

This was also a period of flourishing medieval literature, with notable works like the epic poem “Nibelungenlied.” Middle High German was more uniform, especially in literary texts, making it somewhat easier for people across regions to understand each other.

Early New High German (15th to 17th century)

The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century was a game-changer.

Printed books helped standardize the language even further. Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into High German in the 16th century also had a massive impact. Religious texts became more accessible to the general populace and they encouraged a common linguistic standard.

Modern High German (18th century to present)

By the 18th century, the German dialects evolved into what we now recognize as Modern High German.

The language continued to standardize: compulsory education and the influence of literature, science, and media became a huge, widely known thing.

Today, Standard German (Hochdeutsch) is based on these High German dialects. It is the official language of Germany, Austria and some parts of Switzerland.

3. What is Low German (Plattdeutsch)?

Low German is also known as “Plattdeutsch” or “Niederdeutsch“.

Low German is a group of dialects spoken in the northern parts of Germany and the eastern Netherlands. Yes, the Netherlands!

The term “Low” comes from the flat, lowland regions where these dialects are spoken, in contrast to the mountainous areas associated with High German.

high german vs low german symbolized with a flying flag in a german city in front of the mayor's house

So, Low German is mainly spoken in northern Germany, in cities like Hamburg, Bremen and Hannover. This German dialect is no different than other languages in the Germanic language family, so it has common ground with English, Dutch and High German.

But!

It sound quite different from Standard German. While Low German isn’t as popular as it was, it’s still used mainly by some older generations and in rural areas. And in Germany, there are still some efforts to preserve it through cultural programs and education.

Later, we’ll explore the main differences between High German vs Low German.

Think of Low German like a regional accent or dialect that has its own rules.

Here are some examples of how Low German works in a conversational context or by using Low German words:

Low GermanEnglish 
Wo geiht dat?How’s it going?
Wat maakst du?What are you doing?
Ik leev di.I love you.
Ik hebb Hunger.I am hungry.
Kannst du mi helpen?Can you help me?
HuusHouse
SchüülSchool
AutoCar
AppelApple
WaterWater
Wo kummst du her?Where are you from?
Wat is dat?What is that?
Wanneer is dat?When is it?

4. Low German history

If we explored the High German history, we also have to take a look at Low German history!

Early Origins (before 9th century)

Low German, or “Plattdeutsch,” has its roots back in the early Middle Ages. It developed in the flat, lowland regions of northern Germany and the Netherlands.

These areas were connected through trade and travel.

Old Saxon (9th to 12th century)

Old Saxon was the primary form of Low German.

It was spoken by the Saxons, a Germanic tribe. The “Heliand,” a 9th-century epic poem, is one of the most important literary works from this time. Old Saxon influenced future Low German dialects.

Middle Low German (13th to 16th century)

This phase marked the golden age of Low German.

It became the lingua franca of the Hanseatic League, a powerful trade network in northern Europe. Middle Low German was the administrative and commercial language, and was used in legal documents and trade agreements.

Decline (17th to 19th century)

The decline of the Hanseatic League and the rise of other powerful states led to a decrease in the use of Low German.

High German became more influential as it was used in administration, literature, and education. Low German started to be seen as a dialect spoken in rural areas and among the lower societal classes.

Modern Period (20th century to present)

Low German saw a further decline in everyday use, especially after World War II. Germany’s population move to urban areas, and standard education promoted High German.

5. High German vs Low German dialect differences

As we have mentioned it earlier, it’s time to compare the two mentioned German dialects and look at their key aspects.

We made a comparison table with 8 differences in High German vs Low German based on these aspects:

AspectHigh GermanLow German
Geographic RegionSouthern and central Germany, Austria, SwitzerlandNorthern Germany, eastern Netherlands
Altitude OriginHigher, mountainous regionsLower, flat lowland regions
Historical PhasesOld, Middle, Early New High GermanOld Saxon, Middle Low German
Key Historical RoleLiterary and religious textsTrade and commerce (Hanseatic League)
StandardizationHighly standardized (Standard German)Less standardized, more diverse
Consonant ShiftExperienced High German consonant shiftDid not experience consonant shift
Current UsageUsed in official and formal settingsMostly in rural areas, but they are working hard on cultural preservation
Cultural ImpactDominates literature, education, mediaRegional identity, traditions

6. Learn Hochdeutsch or any other Alemannic dialect with Conversation Based Chunking

It doesn’t matter which German dialect you want to learn, you can do that by following the German Conversation Based Chunking Guide.

All you have to do is request it now, and you’ll get to know more about the approach, about lexical chunks, and about how you can incorporate this technique into any of your language learning journeys! In this guide, you’ll find essential German chunks, my favourite resources to learn German, and even access to our Full Practice Worksheet Library!

And of course, you can reach out anytime to us, and we’ll answer you as soon as it’s possible. 😉

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