German [Deutsch] is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European family: it is related to Dutch, English, Frisian and Yiddish. While German dialects can be classified using different criteria, a distinction is widely accepted between standard German [Hochdeutsch] (the written form), colloquial German [Umgangssprache] and dialects. German uses the Latin alphabet and is a pluricentric language characterised by an extensive geographical variation. The German dialects in the territory of Romania, which have been used in most situations (standard German being reserved for the press, broadcasting and other restricted domains such as religious services) show a considerable phonetic variation (Rein 1997).
The designation “Romanian Germans” [Rumäniendeutschen] embraces a variety of regional German-speaking groups, namely: Transylvanian Saxons [Siebenbürger Sachsen], Danube Swabians [Donauschwaben] (Banat Swabians [Banater Schwaben] and Sathmar Swabians [Sathmarer Schwaben]), Bukovina Germans, Transylvanian Landler [Siebenbürger Landler], Zipser Germans, and Regat Germans. Transylvanian Saxons represent the largest German community living in Romania. They first settled in Transylvania in the 12th century, to defend the southeastern border of the Hungarian Kingdom ― a colonization which continued until the end of the 13th century. Fortified towns included Sibiu [Hermannstadt], Cluj-Napoca [Klausenburg], Braşov [Koronstadt]. Although the colonists were not Saxons from Saxony but were in fact Franconians from the Rhinelands and Luxembourg (and generally spoke Franconian dialects), they were collectively known as Saxons and held a privileged status with the Hungarian nobles and the Szeklers of Transylvania (Jordan 1998). In spite of the constraints imposed on the Transylvanian Saxons after the Union of Transylvania with Romania (1919), this ethnic minority managed to remain relatively autonomous in fields such as economy, education and culture. In 1939 there were approximately 750,000 Germans in Transylvania who could choose to be taught in their native language, and use the services of their own banks, organizations and associations. The group known as Danube Swabians includes the Satu Mare Swabians and the Banat Swabians, mostly descendants of the Roman Catholic farmers from the overpopulated Wurttemberg province in Southwestern Germany, who were encouraged to settle in the Satu Mare and Banat regions by the Austrian government in the 18th century in order to create a frontier province against the Turkish empire. Unlike the Transylvanian Saxons, they never achieved any political representation (Jordan 1998). Bukovina Germans arrived in the north-east of Bukovina in the 18th century, while Zipser Germans came to Maramureş in the 13th century. The Landler or Transylvanian Landler descend from Lutheran Protestants who, between 1752 and 1756, were expelled from the Salzkammergut Region of Austria to Transylvania near Sibiu. Regat Germans settled in eastern and southern Romania. After World War II, despite deportations to the Soviet Union, the German minority continued to enjoy ― albeit limitedly ― opportunities to express, preserve and develop their distinct ethnocultural identity. From the 1970s onwards Romania granted the right to emigrate to the Federal Republic of Germany (on payment of export credits by the West German government and of a fee to the Romanian passport authorities by individual applicants or their relatives in West Germany); with the toppling of the communist regime in 1989 and the subsequent transition period to democracy, this led to the emigration to Germany of over half of the pre-1989 members of the German-speaking minority, whose social and community structures, however, were left largely intact (Wolff and Cordell, 2003).
The number of Germans living in Romania has continually decreased in time, mainly due to historical and political reasons. In 191o the German minority was estimated at approx. 800,000 people. The census of 1930 recorded 745,421 Germans, who sharply fell to 384,708 in 1956 (in the aftermath of World War II) and further dropped following the 1978 agreement between the Romanian and German governments (whereby 11,000 people per year could be transferred to the Federal Republic of Germany). In 1992 their number was down to 119,462 (approx. 111,000 declaring their “German” ethnicity, 6,000 “Swabian” and 2,000 “Saxon”) and 59,764 in 2002. In the same year 44,888 declared German as their mother tongue (42,014 of whom also German ethnicity), while 11,094 ethnic Germans declared Romanian and 6,413 Hungarian as their mother tongue. They mainly live in the West and North-West, with the highest numbers in the counties of Timiş (14,174), Sibiu (6,554) and Satu Mare (6,417). Both Transylvanian Saxons and Banat Swabians have traditionally lived in relatively compact, mostly rural, areas, often in entirely German villages and small towns where German has remained the everyday language of communication (Wolff and Cordell, 2003).
The use of German in local administration is regulated by Law no. 215/2001 on local public administration, the basic principle being that citizens belonging to a national minority which makes up at least 20% of the number of inhabitants of an administrative-territorial unit, shall have the right to use their mother tongue in their relations with local public administration authorities.
The Saxon school system in Transylvania was established as early as the 14th century; indeed, it was the first system of compulsory education in Europe. The first Saxon gymnasium was founded in Braşov in 1543. Most of the schools were ecclesiastical (attached to monastic communities or episcopal institutions). There are now 166 German kindergartens with approx. 5,600 children, 120 German schools and sections (14.500 pupils) and 14 university departments where German is taught (approx. 1 600 students). German-language secondary schools include the German School for General Studies (Arad); "Johannes Honterus" Secondary School, Braşov; "Brukenthal" Secondary School, Sibiu; "N. Lenau" School for General Studies, Timisoara; "H. Oberth" Secondary School, Bucharest. Secondary schools with German-language departments are the Energy Industry School Campus, Braşov; Secondary School No. 4, Reşiţa; “George Coşbuc” Secondary School, Cluj-Napoca; “Joseph Haltrich” Secondary School, Sighişoara; “Mihai Eminescu” Secondary School, Satu Mare; “A. Saguna” Teachers' Training College, Sibiu; “Axente Sever” Secondary School, Mediaş; “St. L. Roth” Secondary School, Mediaş; “C. Brediceanu” Secondary School, Lugoj.
Art. 11 of Law no. 304/2004 on judicial organization details the provisions of the Constitution on the use of mother tongue and interpreters in courts. Under the terms of this law, Romanian citizens belonging to national minorities have the right to express themselves in their mother tongue in courts. If one or more parties demand to express themselves in their mother tongues, courts must ensure the use of a certified interpreter or translator free of charge.
In the areas where German is spoken, there are no statistical data or information available as to what extent the language is used in public services (electricity, gas, telephone companies, post office, railways, health services, etc.). The Democratic Forum of the Germans of Romania [Demokratisches Forum der Deutschen in Rumänien] (DFGR) [Forumul Democrat al Germanilor din România] (FDGR) includes different cultural, religious and economic organizations and has sought possible solutions to the economic, social, political, cultural and religious problems of the German minority living in Romania. Since 2000, the DFDR has constantly won offices on both the local and regional levels. In Sibiu, DFDR's representatives have held the office of mayor since 2000, and in 2004 the party gained 60.43% of votes in the local elections for the Municipal Council. DFDR holds 16 out of the 23 seats in the Sibiu Municipal Council, which gives it an absolute majority. In the Sibiu County (around 450,000 residents), DFDR has 11 out of the total 33 seats in the County Council and also all the mayors in office since 2004 in the cities of Medias and Cisnadie, as well as in a few villages in the Satu Mare county, have been representatives of the party.
National minorities are very well catered for by mass media , though there are obviously more media products for the Hungarian and German minorities than for the other groups. Out of the 256 minority-related publications published in 1922, 71 were aimed at the German minority. In 1929 there were 67 periodicals published in German in Transylvania. At present there are three publishing houses producing books, periodicals, magazines and newspapers in German. The newspaper Allgemeine Deutsche Zeitung fur Rumanien (http://www.adz.ro) is published in Bucharest, the weekly magazine Hermannstadter Zeitung is published in Sibiu and there is also a bimonthly informative bulletin of DFDR called Curier FDGR. The National Television Company broadcasts 1-1,5 hours of programmes in German, and the National Radio Company has a daily one-hour programme in German. There are numerous regional television and radio companies in various districts of Romania (Timişoara, Tg. Mureş). There is a portal for Transylvanian Germans (http://www.siebenbuerger.de) providing a wide range of information and services.
The cultural activity of the German minority population is partially supported by the state, The German minority has a state-funded theatre in Timişoara and a German section within the Romanian drama and puppet theatres from Sibiu. Special attention is given to the preservation of the Germans’ traditions and customs through the organisation of festivals and shows.
There are no data available concerning the use of German at the workplace. As is the case with most other minorities, however, the language seems to be used only occasionally.
German is considered to be still widely spoken at home and in society. However, there are no data available on language use within the family, and the degree of intergenerational transmission of the language cannot be assessed.
A bilateral treaty between Romania and Germany was signed in 1992, followed by an agreement on cultural cooperation (1995) and school cooperation (1996). These latter two agreements have been the basis for strong and constructive relations between the two countries which have also benefited the situation of the German minority in Romania (Wolff and Cordell, 2003).
In the last century, the German minority in Romania has dramatically decreased in number, and the German-speaking communities have become scattered over the Transylvania region. However, their settlements are rather compact, and social developments have contributed to preserve the structure of the German community. The German language is still widely used, and the German minority appears to have maintained a relatively strong sense of ethnocultural identity (Wolff and Cordell, 2003).