The High German languages (in German, Hochdeutsche Sprachen) or the High German dialects (Hochdeutsche Mundarten/Dialekte) are any of the varieties of standard German, Luxembourgish and Yiddish, as well as the local German dialects spoken in central and southern Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Luxembourg and in neighboring portions of Belgium and the Netherlands (Ripuarian dialects in southeast Limburg), France (Alsace and northern Lorraine), Italy, and Poland. The language is also spoken in diaspora in Romania (Transylvania), Russia, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Namibia.
As a technical term, the "high" in High German is a geographical reference to the group of dialects that forms "High German" (in the broader sense), out of which developed standard High German (in the narrower sense), Yiddish and Luxembourgish. It refers to the upland and mountainous areas of central and southern Germany, it also includes Luxembourg, Austria, Liechtenstein and most of Switzerland. This is opposed to Low German, which is spoken on the lowlands and along the flat sea coasts of the north. High German in this broader sense can be subdivided into Upper German (Oberdeutsch, this includes the Austrian and Swiss German dialects) and Central German (Mitteldeutsch).
The High German dialects as used in central and southern Germany (Saxony, Bavaria) and Austria were an important basis for the development of standard German.
The historical forms of the language are Old High German and Middle High German.
High German (in the broader sense) is distinguished from other West Germanic varieties in that it took part in the High German consonant shift (c. AD 500). To see this, compare English/Low Saxon pan/Pann with German Pfanne ([p] to [pf]), English/Low Saxon two/twee with German zwei ([t] to [ts]), English/Low Saxon make/maken with German machen ([k] to [x]). In the High Alemannic dialects, there is a further shift; Sack (like English/Low Saxon "sack/Sack") is pronounced [z̥akx] ([k] to [kx]).
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