German dialects

German dialects are dialects often considered languages in their own right and are classified under the umbrella term of "German". Though varied by region, those of the southern half of Germany beneath the Benrath line are dominated by the geographical spread of the High German consonant shift, and the dialect continua that connect German to the neighboring varieties of Low Franconian (Dutch) and Frisian.

The varieties of German are conventionally grouped into Upper German, Central German and Low German; Upper and Central German form the High German subgroup. Standard German is a standardized form of High German, developed in the early modern period based on a combination of Central German and Upper German varieties.


In relation to varieties of Standard German

In linguistics of German, German dialects are distinguished from varieties of Standard German.

  • The German dialects are the traditional local varieties. They are traced back to the different Germanic tribes. Many of them are hardly understandable to someone who knows only Standard German, since they often differ from Standard German in lexicon, phonology and syntax. If a narrow definition of language based on mutual intelligibility is used, many German dialects are considered to be separate languages (for example, in the view of Ethnologue).
  • The varieties of Standard German refer to the different local varieties of the pluricentric language Standard German. They differ only slightly in lexicon and phonology. In certain regions, they have replaced the traditional German dialects, especially the Low German of Northern Germany.

Dialects in Germany

The variation among German dialects ranges. In regions with dialects are being in the same dialectal region, pronunciation, syntax and words particular to specific towns even only a few miles apart can create even more variation. In the Black Forest region alone, there was a newspaper request for people to report what word they used for the term "Dragonfly." Sixty words were collected as reported from responders for the term[1].

Low German, most Upper German, High Franconian dialects and even some Central German dialects when they are spoken in their purest form are unintelligible to those versed only in Standard German. However, all German dialects belong to the dialect continuum of High German and Low German. In the past (roughly until the end of World War II), there was a dialect continuum of all Continental West Germanic languages because nearly any pair of neighbouring dialects were perfectly mutually intelligible.

The German dialect continuum is typically divided into High German and Low German. The terms derive from the geographic characteristics of the terrain in which each is found rather than depicting social status.

Low German

Low German varieties (in Germany usually referred to as "Platt" or "Plattdeutsch") are considered dialects of the German language by some but a separate language by others (then often termed "Low Saxon"). Linguistically Low German (that is, Ingvaeonic) and Low Franconian (that is, Istvaeonic) dialects are grouped together because both did not participate in the High German consonant shift. Low German is further divided into Dutch Low Saxon, West Low German and East Low German.

Middle Low German was the lingua franca of the Hanseatic League. It was the predominant language in Northern Germany, and several translations of the Bible were printed in Low German. That predominance changed in the 16th century. In 1534, the Luther Bible was printed by Martin Luther, and that translation is considered to be an important step towards the evolution of the Early New High German. It aimed to be understandable to an ample audience and was based mainly on High German varieties. Early New High German gained more prestige than Low Saxon and became the language of science and literature. Other factors included the Hanseatic League losing its importance around the same time (as new trade routes to Asia and the Americas were established) and the most powerful German states then being located in Middle and Southern Germany.

The 18th and 19th centuries were marked by mass education, with the language of the schools being Standard German. Today, Low Saxon could be divided in two groups: Low Saxon varieties with a sizable Standard German influx, and varieties of Standard German with a Low Saxon influence (Missingsch).

Today, Low Saxon dialects are still widespread, especially among the elderly in the Northern parts of Germany, many of them being able to understand and speak the language, but younger people in Northern Germany are at least able to understand these dialects but not to speak them. The local media take care not to let the Low Saxon language die out, so there are several newspapers that have recurring articles in Low Saxon. The North German Broadcasting (Norddeutscher Rundfunk) also offers television programs, such as "Talk op Platt"m and radio programs in Low Saxon.

On the other hand, Northern Germany is considered to be the region that speaks the purest Standard German, and in everyday life, little influence of dialect is heard. Still, there are notable differences in pronunciation, even among North German speakers such as the lengthening of vowels and differences in accentuation. There are also some North German expressions that are in use even in Standard High German but are seldom heard in Southern Germany, such as "plietsch" for "intelligent".

High German

High German is divided into Central German, High Franconian and Upper German.

Central German dialects include Ripuarian, Moselle Franconian, Central Hessian, East Hessian, North Hessian, Thuringian, North Upper Saxon, Rhine Franconian, Lorraine Franconian, Silesian German, High Prussian, Lausitzisch-New Marchian and Upper Saxon. They are spoken in the southeastern Netherlands, eastern Belgium, Luxembourg, parts of northeastern France and in Germany approximately between the River Main and the southern edge of the Lowlands. Modern Standard German is based on Central and Upper German, but the usual German term for Modern Standard German is Hochdeutsch, that is, High German.

The Moselle Franconian varieties spoken in Luxembourg have been officially standardized and institutionalized and so are usually considered a separate language, known as Luxembourgish.

High Franconian dialects are transitional dialects in between the two greater High German groups. High Franconian dialects include East Franconian and South Franconian.

Upper German dialects include Alsatian, Swabian, Low Alemannic, Central Alemannic, High Alemannic, Highest Alemannic, Southern Austro-Bavarian, Central Austro-Bavarian and Northern Austro-Bavarian and are spoken in parts of northeastern France, southern Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria, and in the German-speaking parts of Switzerland and Italy.

Wymysorys, Sathmarisch and Siebenbürgisch are High German dialects of Poland and Romania.

The High German varieties spoken by Ashkenazi Jews (mostly in Czarist Russia, then the former Soviet Union and Poland) have several unique features and are usually considered as a separate language. Known as Yiddish, it is the only Germanic language that does not use the Latin script as its standard script. Since it developed in the Danube area, there are some similarities with the Central und Upper German dialects of that region.

Overseas dialects

The dialects of German that are or were spoken primarily in colonies or communities founded by German-speakers resemble the dialects of the regions of the founders. For example, Pennsylvania German and Volga German resemble dialects of the Baden-Württemberg, Hutterite German resembles dialects of Carinthia and Venezuelan Alemán Coloniero is a Low Alemannic variant.

Approximate distribution of native speakers of German or a German variety outside Europe
(according to Ethnologue 2016[2] unless referenced otherwise)
Numbers of speakers should not be summed up per country, as they most likely overlap considerably.
Table includes varieties with disputed statuses as separate language.
Standard German Hunsrik/Hunsrückisch Low German&Plautdietsch Pennsylvania Dutch Hutterite
Costa RicaN/AN/A2,000N/AN/A
New Zealand36,000N/AN/AN/AN/A
South Africa12,000N/AN/AN/AN/A
United States1,104,354[3]N/A12,000118,00010,800

Amana German

Amana German is a dialect of West Central German. It is spoken in the Amana Colonies in Iowa, which were founded by Inspirationalists of German origin. Amana is derived from Hessian, another West Central German dialect. Amana German is called Kolonie-Deutsch in Standard German.

Brazilian German

In Brazil, the largest concentrations of German speakers, German Brazilians, are in Rio Grande do Sul, where Riograndenser Hunsrückisch was developed, especially in the areas of Santa Catarina, Paraná, and Espírito Santo, as well as in Petrópolis (Rio de Janeiro).

Chilean German

Lagunen-Deutsch is a variety of High German spoken in Chile.

Most speakers of Lagunen-Deutsch live around Lake Llanquihue. Lagunen-Deutsch has integrated elements of the Spanish language. This includes the integration of false cognates with the Spanish language, transferring the Spanish meanings into Lagunen-Deutsch.

The geographical origin of most or all speakers of Lagunen-Deutsch is Chile, to where the ancestors of the speakers immigrated from Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. The impact of nineteenth century German immigration to southern Chile was such that Valdivia was for a while a Spanish-German bilingual city with "German signboards and placards alongside the Spanish".[4] The prestige[5] the German language made it acquire qualities of a superstratum in southern Chile.[6]

Venezuelan German

The Colonia Tovar dialect, or Alemán Coloniero, is a dialect spoken in Colonia Tovar, Venezuela, that belongs to the Low Alemannic branch of German. The dialect, like other Alemannic dialects, is not mutually intelligible with Standard German. It is spoken by descendants of Germans from the Black Forest region of southern Baden, who emigrated to Venezuela in 1843. The dialect has also acquired some Spanish loanwords.

Standard American German

Currently 1.1 million American citizens speak German, with the most being in the Dakotas.[7] German was at one time the lingua franca in many American regions, with high density in the Midwest, but St. Louis, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York City and a great many others cities had a very high German-speaking population. By 1900, over 554 Standard German-language newspapers were in circulation.

The rise in American ethnic nativist pride, especially during World War I, led to a zealous push for the Americanization of hyphenated Americans to reclaim the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant hegemonic influence once again, as the surges of immigration had forever changed the dynamic nation. All things and individuals with ties to Germany were thus subjected to public harassment, distrust, or even death, such as in the lynching of Robert Prager, a German seeking to become naturalized[8] in St. Louis.

See also


  1. "Libelle: Bachjüngferli - Hexenoodle - Hirnschiässer - Deifelsnodle - Alemannisches Wörterbuch". Retrieved 2019-04-17.
  2. Ethnologue 19th Edition (2016)
  3. U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration - Language Use in the United States: 2007
  4. Skottsberg, Carl (1911), The Wilds of Patagonia: A Narrative of the Swedish Expedition to Patagonia Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Island in 1907– 1909, London, England: Edward Arnold
  5. Germany's prestige was reflected in efforts by Chileans to bring German knowledge to Chile in the late 19th century. Institutions like the Chilean Army and Instituto Pedagógico, aimed at teacher education were heavily influenced by Germany. In the second half of the 19th century Germany displaced France as the prime role model for Chile. This however met some criticism when Eduardo de la Barra wrote disparangingly about a "German bewichment". German influence in science and culture declined after World War I, yet German remained highly prestigious and influential after the war (Sanhueza 2011).
  6. Wagner, Claudio (2000). "Las áreas de "bocha", "polca" y "murra". Contacto de lenguas en el sur de Chile". (Journal of Popular Dialectology and Traditions ) (in Spanish). LV (1): 185–196. doi:10.3989/rdtp.2000.v55.i1.432.
  7. Bureau, US Census. "New Census Bureau Interactive Map Shows Languages Spoken in America". The United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2019-04-17.
  8. Miller, Daniel (2001). Early German-American newspapers. Heritage Books. ISBN 0788417827. OCLC 47033262.

Further reading

  • Friedrich Maurer (1942), Nordgermanen und Alemannen: Studien zur germanischen und frühdeutschen Sprachgeschichte, Stammes- und Volkskunde, Bern: Francke Verlag.
  • "German Dialects, Teenagers' Argot: Purists May Disapprove, but Multi-ethnic Dialects Are Spreading", The Economist, no. 8771 (11 Feb. 2012), p. 56. N.B.: Unsigned article, concerning the German urban dialect called "Kiezdeutsh".
  • Sanhueza, Carlos (2011), "El debate sobre "el embrujamiento alemnán" y el papel de la ciencia alemana hacia fines del siglo XIX en Chile" (PDF), Ideas viajeras y sus objetos. El intercambio científico entre Alemania y América austral. Madrid–Frankfurt am Main: Iberoamericana–Vervuert (in Spanish), pp. 29–40
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