Dealing with German dialects

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Doitsujin
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Re: Dealing with German dialects

Postby Doitsujin » Sat Jul 14, 2018 9:45 am

aokoye wrote:It's not all that different, to my ears, than Hochdeutsch - which is to say, the German version of Received Pronunciation. The german that is is essentially closest to the German dialect spoken in Hanover.
That's an unsustainable myth perpetuated by Hannoveranians. For a reality check, see this German newspaper article.

aokoye wrote:That said, there isn't a Austrian Hochdeutsch or a Swiss Hochdeutsch.
There most certainly are Austrian and Swiss equivalents of Hochdeutsch*. Like Germany, both countries based their official pronunciation rules on Theodor Siebs's book Deutsche Bühnenaussprache (=German stage pronunciation) as interpreted by the most prestigious theaters in their countries. For example, the Austrian pronunciation of Standarddeutsch was influenced by Burgtheaterdeutsch.

* Linguists prefer the term Standarddeutsch since they use Hochdeutsch to refer to the dialects spoken in central and southern Germany (and some other countries).

BTW, even native speakers don't fully understand all German dialects. For example, I had a hard time figuring out some of the Svabian "translations" in the following image:

Image

For example, I had to look up Haipfler, Käpsala, Lombagruschd and phäb.
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Re: Dealing with German dialects

Postby tiia » Sat Jul 14, 2018 11:03 am

First: I usually consider myself a non-dialect speaker in German. Of course this doesn't work out if per definitionem everyone speaks one, but just imagine something very close to the normal Hochdeutsch with a few local variants, although they're not necessarily from the same region. You'll get the idea.

When I moved to Saxony (Sächsisch ;) ) is was not as bad as some people had predicted me ("She'll have to learn a foreign language."), but I did live in a city with it's own mild variant of Sächsisch and as a student I knew mostly people who spoke something pretty close to Standardgerman. The most important things I had to learn was "Nu" meaning "yes" and not being an abbreviation of "nun" and understanding the other way of telling the time, which is to my knowledge only used in the east and in some region in the south.
However, there has been at least one situation, when I moved there, when I couldn't understand the other person at all, because he was really speaking some Saxon dialect.

Another issue is that many Germans are used to switch between (something closer to) Hochdeutsch and their dialect all the time. Some people have told me directly, that they switch to the dialect as soon as they're talking to family members or old friends.
When I met a friend raised in Berlin (note: lots of people in Berlin were not raised there) I don't think he had any issue talking with me. I mean we could just talk normally as I would with any other person. But when he called a friend over the phone, who was also raised in that region, he immediately switched to Berlinerisch.
This makes me think that it might be actually not too easy to hear the "real" local dialect as a foreigner. However, the variant of Standardgerman with a few local words in it might be heard. Anyways, I don't know how it is in Austria and Switzerland as their Standard way of speaking is already different.

If you're used to switch between your dialect and standard German (or your variant close to it), there most likely isn't really any additional effort involved and you will just do this automatically. But simplifying for a foreigner is another pair of shoes.
(Btw. I often even simplify my German for foreigners without thinking about it, because I'm quite used to do so. So I slow down and speak more clearly. But not everyone is used to it.)
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Re: Dealing with German dialects

Postby Josquin » Sat Jul 14, 2018 11:39 am

aokoye wrote:No, that isn't correct. What I heard was Wienerisch, Berliner Dialekt, and Hianzisch. Also I'm not sure what you're definition of a "real dialect" is, but I suspect we probably have different definitions. Either that or you just weren't believing me - or both.

There are definitions for dialects, accents, and idiolects that are used in linguistics. Those definitions are what I'm referring to when I say "dialect/dialekt" save for my refering to "sprechen im dialekt" as that is an example of people not knowing the definition of dialect and not realizing that all languages are made up of dialects. That we all speak in at least one dialect (though I suspect the norm is that one is bidialectal), that we all speak in accents, and that we all have an idiolect (though I don't think most people know that term, which is fair). There are accurate linguistic definitions for all of those in the first page of this PDF.

I do believe you what you wrote, but I don't believe you heard actual Berlin or Vienna dialect. What you call "Wienerisch" is probably a watered down version of what used to be the actual dialect. I know this definition of "dialect" doesn't conform with modern sociolinguistics, but that's not what I'm referring to anyway. In German, "der Dialekt" is traditionally something quite different than a sociolect or idiolect. Anyway, I don't want to go into this too deep but rather answer the question what I meant with "real" dialects.

As I said, the fact that you heard Wienerisch even on TV and in news broadcasts is the best proof that you didn't hear Wienerisch at all. You heard Austrian Standard German, in order to avoid the term "Hochdeutsch" here. If you'd heard actual Wiener Dialekt, you'd have had the same experience as with Hianzisch. You wouldn't have understood it.

What people call "German dialects" these days aren't the real, hardcore dialects anymore. Mostly, they consist of Standard German with a regional accent and some regional vocabulary. The "real" dialects have gone extinct for the greatest part. There are some people that still can speak Plattdeutsch, Moselfränkisch, Schwäbisch, Bairisch, Wienerisch, Tirolerisch, or Schwizerdütsch, but those are mostly elderly people. Well, in Southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, there's still more dialect than in the north, but that doesn't need to concern us right now.

Anyway, I come from a German region called Sauerland. When old people speak actual Sauerländer Platt, I can hardly understand them. They'd say things like: "Willze'n kitzken Platt met mäi kuiern?", meaning "Willst du mit mir ein bisschen Platt reden?". In my father's dialect, who comes from the isle of Rügen, that would be: "Wisse'n bädden Platt mit mi schnacken?". Looks a bit closer to Hochdeutsch, but is still quite opaque.

However, no one really talks this way any more. In the Sauerland as well as on the isle of Rügen, people speak Hochdeutsch these days with a regional accent. The same is true for Wienerisch. People may say things like: "Mogst a Flascherl Ween?" when meaning "Möchtest du ein Fläschchen Wein?", but this is still pretty mild dialect. When people speak "real" dialect, which is what Hianzisch probably was, you simply can't understand them any more.

One last anecdote, a Swiss friend of mine was once told how cute her "Schwizerdütsch" was. Her answer was: "But I'm speaking Hochdeutsch right now!" This exemplifies the difference between regional accent and actual dialect quite well. For her German friend, her Swiss-flavoured Standard German was "Schwizerdütsch", while for herself her real Zürich dialect was Schwizerdütsch. That's the difference in a nutshell.
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Re: Dealing with German dialects

Postby Chung » Sat Jul 14, 2018 1:04 pm

Josquin wrote:
aokoye wrote:No, that isn't correct. What I heard was Wienerisch, Berliner Dialekt, and Hianzisch. Also I'm not sure what you're definition of a "real dialect" is, but I suspect we probably have different definitions. Either that or you just weren't believing me - or both.

There are definitions for dialects, accents, and idiolects that are used in linguistics. Those definitions are what I'm referring to when I say "dialect/dialekt" save for my refering to "sprechen im dialekt" as that is an example of people not knowing the definition of dialect and not realizing that all languages are made up of dialects. That we all speak in at least one dialect (though I suspect the norm is that one is bidialectal), that we all speak in accents, and that we all have an idiolect (though I don't think most people know that term, which is fair). There are accurate linguistic definitions for all of those in the first page of this PDF.

I do believe you what you wrote, but I don't believe you heard actual Berlin or Vienna dialect. What you call "Wienerisch" is probably a watered down version of what used to be the actual dialect. I know this definition of "dialect" doesn't conform with modern sociolinguistics, but that's not what I'm referring to anyway. In German, "der Dialekt" is traditionally something quite different than a sociolect or idiolect. Anyway, I don't want to go into this too deep but rather answer the question what I meant with "real" dialects.

As I said, the fact that you heard Wienerisch even on TV and in news broadcasts is the best proof that you didn't hear Wienerisch at all. You heard Austrian Standard German, in order to avoid the term "Hochdeutsch" here. If you'd heard actual Wiener Dialekt, you'd have had the same experience as with Hianzisch. You wouldn't have understood it.

What people call "German dialects" these days aren't the real, hardcore dialects anymore. Mostly, they consist of Standard German with a regional accent and some regional vocabulary. The "real" dialects have gone extinct for the greatest part. There are some people that still can speak Plattdeutsch, Moselfränkisch, Schwäbisch, Bairisch, Wienerisch, Tirolerisch, or Schwizerdütsch, but those are mostly elderly people. Well, in Southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, there's still more dialect than in the north, but that doesn't need to concern us right now.

Anyway, I come from a German region called Sauerland. When old people speak actual Sauerländer Platt, I can hardly understand them. They'd say things like: "Willze'n kitzken Platt met mäi kuiern?", meaning "Willst du mit mir ein bisschen Platt reden?". In my father's dialect, who comes from the isle of Rügen, that would be: "Wisse'n bädden Platt mit mi schnacken?". Looks a bit closer to Hochdeutsch, but is still quite opaque.

However, no one really talks this way any more. In the Sauerland as well as on the isle of Rügen, people speak Hochdeutsch these days with a regional accent. The same is true for Wienerisch. People may say things like: "Mogst a Flascherl Ween?" when meaning "Möchtest du ein Fläschchen Wein?", but this is still pretty mild dialect. When people speak "real" dialect, which is what Hianzisch probably was, you simply can't understand them any more.

One last anecdote, a Swiss friend of mine was once told how cute her "Schwizerdütsch" was. Her answer was: "But I'm speaking Hochdeutsch right now!" This exemplifies the difference between regional accent and actual dialect quite well. For her German friend, her Swiss-flavoured Standard German was "Schwizerdütsch", while for herself her real Zürich dialect was Schwizerdütsch. That's the difference in a nutshell.


For sure what gets passed off (or interpreted) as Austrian/German/Swiss dialect in some contexts is in fact pretty mild and something still close to one of the respective standards of German.

I recently visited a Swabian and we got to talking about dialects - especially Swiss German. She admitted that her knowledge of Swabian was passive, and whenever she speaks German it's basically standard German with a vague Swabian influence (I noticed a few instances of final devoicing and changes to vowels compared to what I was expecting in their standard form). As someone who's moved around Germany a lot for work, she has even less reason to express herself too much in a Swabian way for fear of not being understood (or perhaps setting off a reaction in interlocutors that isn't always positive because of certain stereotypes among Germans about Swabians).

As we were talking about Swiss German, we saw this clip of Uter from "The Simpsons", and this one with Martin Horat. Uter is presented as an exchange student from Switzerland rather than Germany in the German version of Simpsons to increase the comedy for viewers who know standard German. Even though he speaks something like Swiss German, my host told me that his use of dialect is quite mild and so highly understandable to any native speaker of German. This only makes sense since the comedy would be lost for a lot of them if what Uter says became incomprehensible by being expressed in typical Schwiizertüütsch. Even I, a non-native and shaky user of German, can understand a quite a lot of what Uter says in his Swiss-accented German.

In contrast none of us could understand anything Martin Horat says without the subtitles. This was a little surprising for me since I had thought that my host's passive abilities in Swabian would have helped given that it and Swiss German are Alemannic sub-dialects. In any case, I fall on the side of the preceding three posts in that hardcore dialect is rarely encountered by outsiders unless they eavesdrop on conversations between people who come from the same region/Amt/Gemeinde/town/village (assuming that they're fluent in the relevant dialect). In a geographically extreme case, my friend who's a native Berliner speaks something like Berlinerisch-influenced standard German to her boyfriend who's a native of a town near Bodensee (i.e. near the Swiss border). The converse is that he talks to her using Alemannisch-influenced standard German. The relationship wouldn't work well if she'd speak to him in full Berlinerisch and he to her in deep-south Alemannisch (not Schwäbisch but similar). Even when I was in Munich and Hamburg, I heard just standard German with a vague Boarisch and Platt influence respectively.
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Re: Dealing with German dialects

Postby aokoye » Sat Jul 14, 2018 2:18 pm

Josquin wrote:What people call "German dialects" these days aren't the real, hardcore dialects anymore. Mostly, they consist of Standard German with a regional accent and some regional vocabulary. The "real" dialects have gone extinct for the greatest part. There are some people that still can speak Plattdeutsch, Moselfränkisch, Schwäbisch, Bairisch, Wienerisch, Tirolerisch, or Schwizerdütsch, but those are mostly elderly people. Well, in Southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, there's still more dialect than in the north, but that doesn't need to concern us right now.

So what you're essentially saying is that dialects (and thus language itself) can't change. That because dialects are potentially in the process of merging, that means that they can't still be dialects. I realize you didn't say that outright, but that's more or less what you implied. Again, a dialect doesn't have to be some radically different version of a language. The dialect of English that I speak having grown up and lived most of my life in Portland, Oregon isn't radically different to the dialect of English spoken in San Francisco. That said, they are still, linguistically, different dialects.

To the rest of the thread:
Doitsujin (and everyone else) - there's an interesting video from WDR here (given that it's not even 7am here I haven't read the article you linked). And yes, I'm well aware that there are dialects of German that native speakers can't understand (this comes up in conversation among friends on a semi regular basis).

tiia wrote:Another issue is that many Germans are used to switch between (something closer to) Hochdeutsch and their dialect all the time. Some people have told me directly, that they switch to the dialect as soon as they're talking to family members or old friends.

This, which is a type of codeswitching, actually happens all the time across the world. It's something I find very interesting. My mom does it on a regular basis when she's with my extended family.

zenmonkey wrote:It's my understanding that there is Swiss Standard German often called by the Swiss as Schriftdeutsch or Schweizer Hochdeutsch. You'll see it in a variety of references to language variants in the country research.
At least the first part of that was my understanding as well. I would be unshocked to read that there was a dialect called Schweizer Hochdeutsch.

Saim wrote:"Real dialect" - a variety of one of the traditional vernaculars of continental West Germanic (Austro-Bavarian, Alemannic, Rhine Franconian, Lower Silesian, etc.).

Not "real dialect" - a vernacularised form of literary German, often influenced by one of the aforementioned "real dialects".

This is the definition that I'm using - Any variety of a language characterized by systematic differences in pronunciation, grammar, and/or vocabulary from other varieties of the same language.

I think that's it.
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Re: Dealing with German dialects

Postby aokoye » Sat Jul 14, 2018 2:35 pm

When it comes down to it, I'm more than willing to be swayed on quite a number of things that have come from people's responses to my posts both in this thread and in general. One place that I draw that line, however, is the notion that dialects have to be seen as being significantly different from one another in terms of intelligibility in order to be called a dialect (as opposed to an accent?).
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Re: Dealing with German dialects

Postby Josquin » Sat Jul 14, 2018 3:34 pm

aokoye wrote:So what you're essentially saying is that dialects (and thus language itself) can't change. That because dialects are potentially in the process of merging, that means that they can't still be dialects. I realize you didn't say that outright, but that's more or less what you implied. Again, a dialect doesn't have to be some radically different version of a language. The dialect of English that I speak having grown up and lived most of my life in Portland, Oregon isn't radically different to the dialect of English spoken in San Francisco. That said, they are still, linguistically, different dialects.

That's absolutely not what I was saying. I was just comparing the dialects from, say, 50 years ago to those of today. Are you even aware of the linguistic situation in Germany and the state of the dialects? The original, unadultered dialects still exist as opposed to Standard German ("Hochdeutsch"), however some sort of linguistic middle ground has developed between these two, which I dared to call "regional varieties of Standard German".

The original dialects, however, are not simply changing, they are going extinct, because their speakers die. That it may still be correct to speak of dialects from a sociolinguistic point of view was exactly that kind of nit-picking which I wanted to avoid. The point is that the role of Hochdeutsch is changing from an artificial Dachsprache above the different dialects to the colloquial vernacular itself by developing regional varieties or rather by expanding them.

In any case, equalling Austrian Standard German with Wienerisch is the same as calling General American "New Yorkish" (or Chicagoish, or whatever comes next...) or Australian English "Sydneyish". It's just a variety of the standard language that has a language continuum with the local dialects.
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Re: Dealing with German dialects

Postby Doitsujin » Sat Jul 14, 2018 3:45 pm

Chung wrote:As we were talking about Swiss German, we saw this clip of Uter from "The Simpsons", and this one with Martin Horat.
I had no problems with Uter's Swiss-accented German either, but I only understood about 50% of what Martin Horat said.

BTW, Swiss-accented German is often used for comedic effect.
For example, there's a Blackadder episode featuring Hugh Laurie as Prince Ludwig the Indestructible speaking with a heavy German accent:



In the lousy dubbed German version he speaks Swiss-accented German (the dialog starts at 08:27):



aokoye wrote:there's an interesting video from WDR here
Very interesting, but ultimately pointless. The TV producers have only proven that even the best standard German speakers don't speak perfect standard German, which is hardly surprising, because the volunteers weren't professionally trained voice actors. (You'll find the same imperfections, if you compare audiobooks read by Librivox volunteers with audio books read by Audible voice actors.)
The written test, was also pointless, because whether a native speaker calls a donut a Pfannkuchen, a Berliner, a Krapfen or something else is no indicator of his/her mastery of standard German. (All it did was help the "expert" to narrow down the region.)
IMHO, using a written test was akin to cheating; the "expert" should have been able to (roughly) identify the region of the speakers without them.
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Re: Dealing with German dialects

Postby Chung » Sat Jul 14, 2018 4:03 pm

aokoye wrote:When it comes down to it, I'm more than willing to be swayed on quite a number of things that have come from people's responses to my posts both in this thread and in general. One place that I draw that line, however, is the notion that dialects have to be seen as being significantly different from one another in terms of intelligibility in order to be called a dialect (as opposed to an accent?).


This is where it gets tricky even though I'm as much a non-native of German as you are. I understand fully the idea that distinguishing dialects on the degree of mutual unintelligibility/grammaticality is questionable (never mind the argument over defining language and dialect). At the same time, we're drawing lines in different places where you're interpreting expressions of standard German influenced by a geographically-defined vernacular regardless of comprehensibility as equally dialectal. The rest of us draw a line based on comprehensibility and tacitly genetic subdivisions.

For example, standard Austrian German with a Viennese accent counts as Wienerisch to you, but not to the rest of us in this thread. When it comes to Germanic linguistics this means that you consider a standardized form of Sächsische Kanzleisprache used sometimes differently because of characteristics of Austro-Bavarian dialects to be a dialect distinct from another standardized form of Sächsische Kanzleisprache as usually used in say Hannover (i.e. the dubious RP of standard German or even more roughly standard German of Germany). This is quite weird diachronically to me since Sächsische Kanzleisprache stems from a mix of 16th century dialects concentrated in western Saxony (i.e. not Austro-Bavarian dialects but rather East Central ones), and is the direct predecessor of whatever standard of German any of us learn. No wonder that native Swiss, Austrians, Liechtensteiners, Luxembourgers and Germans have no trouble communicating with each other when they use their respective standards of German on each other, and for reasons of maintaining social relations, it wouldn't pay for these people to erect communicative barriers by using their respective dialects on each other expecting their interlocutors to play along. What's more is that the degree of similarity, overlap and mutual grammaticality within the standards outweighs the differences to the point that say an Austrian reading an email from a German couldn't always and accurately determine the origin of the sender on language use alone without seeing some dead giveaways (assuming that these turn up in a sample at all).

On the other hand, Wienerisch is a daughter dialect/language of Bavarian which began to distinguish itself from Alemannic around the 11th century within the Upper (i.e. Southern) German subgroup. This Upper German subgroup was already distinct from the Central German dialects which in turn form the basis of any standard of German via the Sächsische Kanzleisprache. This jives with observations that you wouldn't have been able to grasp much Wienerisch as it's defined this way because its linguistic basis had already diverged from the predecessor of standard German about four centuries before and about 7 centuries before intensifying standardization efforts took hold. Based on this timeline, you've unfortunately been misled into thinking that (or even worse, misclassified) Wienerisch is just standard Austrian German with inconsistent/occasional use of features from Wienerisch or some central Austro-Bavarian dialect (e.g. loss of preterite, dropping of vowels yielding more consonant clusters, liberal use of -l rather than -chen as a diminutive, different lexical items such as Palatschinke for Pfannkuchen). The degree of unintelligibiilty of this dialect relative to standard German and most dialects used in Germany is a function of how long ago Upper German diverged from Central German and further fragmented into less intelligible lects/dialects/languages. It wasn't explicitly stated earlier, but the reason a lot of us contradict your definition of Wienerisch is that we're quietly alluding to how its development differs strongly enough from standard German and most other dialects with the incidental effect that mutual intelligibility with the standards and other German dialect has faded noticeably. Hianzisch is a hell of a lot closer to Wienerisch than standard Austrian German, and unsurprisingly you couldn't understand much of it and neither would the native Germans in this thread unless they're conversant in some Austro-Bavarian dialect already.
Last edited by Chung on Sat Jul 14, 2018 4:10 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Dealing with German dialects

Postby aokoye » Sat Jul 14, 2018 4:05 pm

Josquin wrote:In any case, equalling Austrian Standard German with Wienerisch is the same as calling General American "New Yorkish" (or Chicagoish, or whatever comes next...) or Australian English "Sydneyish". It's just a variety of the standard language that has a language continuum with the local dialects.

That wasn't actually what I was saying at all (especially given that most of the German that I paid much attention to outside of the classroom involved having long discussions with people). Also if you don't think there's a specific dialect of English spoken in New York City then I don't know what to say other than to point you towards some links. It's also not the dialect of English that typically gets used in national media in the US but that's an aside.

Given that we are clearly speaking past each other/severely misunderstanding each other I'll end this train of thought here.

edit: to the OP - sorry for derailing this thread, though I suspect some good came out of it inadvertantly.
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