When you study German in an academic setting, you typically study Standard German, or Standarddeutsch – the language variety used in the media, politics, and education. But just like any other language, German has many dialects that vary by region.
In this article, we will explore the diverse German language and how to navigate its different dialects.
What is a dialect?
Essentially, a dialect is a language form that is peculiar to a specific region or social group. The lexicon and grammar of a dialect usually contain some different words and rules.
German dialects are the traditional local varieties distinguished from Standard German.
Dialects are helpful for mastering a language
Familiarity with different dialects of a language allows you to hack the language at a cultural level, which is the best way to take your language skills from beginner/intermediate to advanced.
Think of learning a dialect as taking a cultural dive into linguistic nuances, mastering new, unique vocabulary and grammar structures.
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Map of German Dialects
So, what are the larger dialect groups we believe to be important for a German learner to know about?
The Berlin Dialect (Berlinerisch)
The Berlin Dialect is the dialect spoken in and around Berlin, Germany’s capital city.
Another city dialect is Colognian, spoken by around 250,000 people in Cologne.
The Bavarian Dialect (Bairisch)
The Bavarian Dialect is widely described as a language in its own right. Bairisch is mostly spoken in parts of Bavaria and most of Austria.
Swiss German (Schwiizerdütsch)
Swiss German is spoken in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, as well as in some Alpine communities in Northern Italy bordering Switzerland. The dialects heard in Liechtenstein and Austrian Vorarlberg are also grouped with Swiss German.
Austrian German (Österreichisches Deutsch)
Austrian German is the variety of Standard German written and spoken in Austria, primarily used in the media and in formal situations. However, in less formal situations, Austrians tend to speak – but rarely write – the Bavarian and Alemannic dialects.
Upper Saxon (Sächsisch)
Upper Saxon is an East Central German dialect mostly spoken in the German state of Saxony and the adjacent areas. Interestingly, Standard German, especially its lexicon and grammar, has been heavily based on the Upper Saxon dialect. As of now, it’s mostly become extinct, having been replaced by a new regiolect known as Obersächsische Umgangssprache.
Low German (Low Saxon)
Low German or Low Saxon is a West Germanic language variety spoken mainly in northern Germany and the northeastern part of the Netherlands. To a lesser extent, it is also spoken in the German diaspora worldwide.
Pennsylvania Dutch (Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch)
Pennsylvania Dutch is a variety of West Central German spoken by the Old Order Amish, Old Order Mennonites, and other descendants of German immigrants in the US and Canada. There are over 300,000 native speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch in the above-mentioned countries.
Example Phonology Table: The Berlin Dialect
In the following section, we will look at the examples and alterations from Standard German found in the language variety spoken in and around Germany’s capital city – the Berlin Dialect.
|Dialect||Dialect Features||Examples (Dialect → Standard German)|
|Berlinerisch||pf is pronounced f at the beginning of words||Feife → Pfeife|
|Berlinerisch||g is pronounced j at the beginning of syllables and words||jeil → geil|
|Berlinerisch||r is pronounced in the back of the throat, similar to gargling|
|Berlinerisch||the diphthongs au and ei are pronounced oo and ee respectively||ooch → auch ; deener → deiner|
|Berlinerisch||g is pronounced ch at the end of words||vierzich → vierzig|
|Berlinerisch||t is omitted at the end of words||nich → nicht|
You may also want to read more about the secrets to German pronunciation.
Unique vocabulary for each dialect
Let’s now explore the different vocabulary examples from each of the language varieties discussed in this article.
|Dialect||Unique vocabulary||Equivalent in Standard German and English|
|Berlinerisch||Moin moin!||Morgen! – Morning!|
|Berlinerisch||Abendbrot||das Abendessen – dinner|
|Berlinerisch||die Stulle||das Butterbrot – bread and butter, snack|
|Berlinerisch||kieken / kucken||sehen – to see, to look|
|Berlinerisch||der Schlachter||der Fleischer – butcher|
|Kölsch||daheim||zu Hause – home|
|Kölsch||net / nit||nicht – no, not|
|Kölsch||gell?||nicht wahr? – really? isn’t it?|
|Kölsch||der Metzger||der Fleischer – butcher|
|Kölsch||das Rotkraut||der Rotkohl – red cabbage|
|Bairisch||die Semmel||das Brötchen – bread roll|
|Bairisch||alleweil||immer – always|
|Bairisch||arg||sehr – very|
|Bairisch||der Bub||der Junge – boy|
|Bairisch||der Erdapfel||die Kartoffel – potato|
|Bairisch||die Gasse||die Straße – street|
|Bairisch||schauen||sehen – to see|
|Schwiizerdütsch||Grüezi||Hallo! – Hello!|
|Schwiizerdütsch||Proscht / Pröschtli||Prost! – Cheers!|
|Schwiizerdütsch||Merci vilmal||Vielen Dank! – Thank you very much!|
|Schwiizerdütsch||Äbä||genau – right, exactly|
|Österreichisches Deutsch||Grüß Gott / Servus||Hallo! – Hello!|
|Österreichisches Deutsch||das Sackerl||die Tüte – shopping bag|
|Österreichisches Deutsch||das Jausenbrot||das Butterbrot – bread and butter, snack|
|Österreichisches Deutsch||der Topfen||Quark – curd|
|Österreichisches Deutsch||das Deka||10 Gramm – 10 g|
|Österreichisches Deutsch||heuer||dieses Jahr – this year|
|Österreichisches Deutsch||das Bussi||der Kuss – peck|
|Sächsisch||bäse||böse – angry|
|Sächsisch||die Biehne||die Bühne – stage|
|Sächsisch||Babba||Papa – daddy|
|Sächsisch||die Schwaster||die Schwester – sister|
|Sächsisch||schlacht||schlecht – bad|
|Low Saxon||Willkamen||Willkommen! – Welcome!|
|Low Saxon||Moin||Hallo! – Hello!|
|Low Saxon||Hülp!||Hilfe! – Help!|
|Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch||baremlich||furchtbar – terrible|
|Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch||boppli||das Baby – baby|
|Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch||hungerich||hungrig – hungry|
|Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch||kaes||der Käse – cheese|
|Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch||grank||krank – sick|
Unusual grammar rules in certain dialects
|Dialect||Unusual Grammar Rules||Example and English Translation|
|Berlinerisch and Low Saxon||The accusative and dative case can be used interchangeably||für mich – für mir (for me)|
|Berlinerisch and Low Saxon||Plural nouns can be formed with -s||die Mutter (Standard German) – die Mutters (mothers)|
|Kölsch||For certain verbs, different past participles can be used||gedacht (Standard German) – gedenkt (thought); gewinkt (Standard German) – gewunken (waved)|
|Bairisch||The gender of some nouns is different from what can be learned in Standard German||die Butter (Standard German) – der Butter (butter)|
|Bairisch||The past tense is typically expressed through the present perfect tense||hatte (Standard German) – hat gehabt (has had)|
|Bairisch||Some plural forms differ from Standard German||die Wagen (Standard German) – die Wägen (cars)|
As you may have noticed, German dialects can be largely divided into high and low dialects. It must be added that there are many more German dialects than we have discussed in this article, focusing on larger, widely used language varieties.
Within any dialect, there are certain changes in speech, vocabulary, and grammar. Learning about them will also help you improve your Standard German by analyzing and comparing the linguistic nuances.
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To make the most of your experience with dialects, we encourage you to grow your German vocabulary with Lingvist first.
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