High German is the variety of German spoken in central and south Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It is also spoken in areas of other European countries, including Poland, Italy, France, and Belgium. "High" refers not to any perceived superiority, although many people assume it does, but rather to the ground elevation of the areas in Germany where it is spoken. It contrasts with the Low German or Low Saxon variety of Standard German spoken in the northern part of the country and the Netherlands.
This type of German is not a dialect, but rather a variety with many different dialects of its own. The standardized form of German used in literature and formal situations throughout Germany and Austria, called Hochdeutsch — literally "High German" — is one dialect. In English, the term is not properly used to refer to this standardized German, as it encompasses a much wider group of speaking styles.
The various dialects can be divided into two groups: Central German, spoken in central Germany as well as in Luxemburg, Belgium, and parts of France and Switzerland; and Upper German, spoken in south Germany, Austria, and areas of Italy. Standard German is derived from a Central German dialect. Other dialects include Pennsylvania Dutch in the United States and some dialects of Swiss German or Schweizerdeutsch. Yiddish, spoken by Ashkenazi Jews worldwide, developed from a High German dialect of the past.
Despite its name, even Standard German encompasses a number of grammatical and speaking styles. It is generally the same among regions as far as writing is concerned, but pronunciation and vocabulary often differ significantly, and grammatical differences between regions are not unheard of. Standard German is best thought of as a written language, as that is how it developed. Regional differences are often influenced by other High German dialects in the area.