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 80 million consider themselves Germans. There are an additional 80 million people of German ancestry mainly in the United States, Brazil (mainly 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 German-speaking majorities (such as Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and other historically-tied countries like Luxembourg) most often subscribe to their own national identities and may or may not also self-identify as ethnically German.
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.