Germans (German: Deutsche) are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe, who share a common German ancestry, culture and history, and speak the German language as their native language.
The English term Germans has historically referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages. Before the collapse of communism and the reunification of Germany in 1990, Germans constituted the largest divided nation in Europe by far. Ever since the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation within the Holy Roman Empire, German society has been characterized by a Catholic-Protestant divide.
Of approximately 100 million native speakers of German in the world, roughly 70 million consider themselves Germans. There are an additional 80 million people of German ancestry mainly in the United States, Brazil (almost all in the South Region of the country), Argentina, Canada, South Africa, the post-Soviet states (mainly in Russia and Kazakhstan), and France, each accounting for at least 1 million.Thus, the total number of Germans lies somewhere between 100 and more than 150 million, depending on the criteria applied (native speakers, single-ancestry ethnic Germans, partial German ancestry, etc.).
Today, people from countries with a German-speaking majority such as Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and other historically-tied countries like Luxembourg, have developed their own national identity (not ethnic identity), and since the end of World War II, have not referred to themselves as “Germans” in a modern context.
The German term Deutsche originates from the Old High German word diutisc (from diot “people”), referring to the Germanic “language of the people”. It is not clear how commonly, if at all, the word was used as an ethnonym in Old High German.
Used as a noun, ein diutscher in the sense of “a German” emerges in Middle High German, attested from the second half of the 12th century.
The Old French term alemans is taken from the name of the Alamanni. It was loaned into Middle English as almains in the early 14th century. The word Dutch is attested in English from the 14th century, denoting continental West Germanic (“Dutch” and “German”) dialects and their speakers.
While in most Romance languages the Germans have been named from the Alamanni (in what became Swabia) (some, like standard Italian tedeschi, retain an older borrowing of the endonym), the Old Norse, Finnish and Estonian names for the Germans were taken from that of the Saxons. In Slavic languages, the Germans were given the name of němьci (singular němьcь), originally with a meaning “foreigner, one who does not speak [Slavic]”.
The English term Germans is only attested from the mid-16th century, based on the classical Latin term Germani used by Julius Caesar and later Tacitus. It gradually replaced Dutch and Almains, the latter becoming mostly obsolete by the early 18th century. Read more