The development of German was affected by several systematic shifts of certain consonants. The so-called Germanic consonant shift distinguished the Common Germanic tongue from other Indo-European branches. Another characteristic of German, as well as of all the Germanic languages, is that the principal accent falls regularly upon the first syllable of a word; in verbal combinations, however, the root syllable, not the prefix, is stressed.
The phonological characteristics of the German language include the use of the glottal stop before every initial stressed vowel in simple words or independent parts of a word; the pronunciation of u, o, ü, and ö with full lip-rounding; the tenseness of long vowels and the laxness of short vowels; the articulation of r lingually and gutturally; the voicing of the single s before and between vowels, and the devoicing of the final b, d, g to p, t, k, respectively; the use of the affricates pf and ts; and the pronunciation of w as [v] and of v as [f]. Vowels are nasalized only in words borrowed from French.
German is an inflected language, with three genders, four cases, and a strong and weak declension of qualifying adjectives. Because of the declensional and conjugational endings, some parts of speech are more precisely identified than in languages that show less inflection. Word order is strictly regulated; for example, subject and predicate are inverted when preceded by an adverb, prepositional phrase, or dependent clause; the verb is placed in the final position in a subordinate clause introduced by a relative pronoun or conjunction. In the formation of new words, German makes extensive use of compounds of two or more independent words and of prefixes and suffixes (Oberbaumeister; Handelsluftfahrt; Geteilheit; teilbar). The poetic and philosophical vocabulary and scientific and technical terminology of German are particularly rich.
No generally accepted standard of German pronunciation exists. As the
result of the work of a commission established in 1898, composed of university
professors and representatives of the German theater, certain norms of
pronunciation were, however, accepted. These rules have been codified in
Deutsche Buhnenaussprache (German Stage Pronunciation), first published
in 1898 and again in 1957 as Deutsche Hochsprache (Standard German). The
speech even of highly educated Germans is affected by the pronunciation
peculiar to their native dialects. Various German-speaking groups, such
as the Swabians, Saxons, Austrians, and Swiss, can be distinguished readily
by their characteristic types of pronunciation.