Reflecting the history of the area in which it is spoken, German is a language of great regional diversity. The area we now call Austria, Germany, and Switzerland was once a bewildering quiltwork of separate kingdoms, principalities, and duchies. So too, the German language; even today it remains a hodgepodge of dialects and linguistic variations stretching from the Danish border to northern Italy (the region of Südtirol in German or Alto Adige in Italian).
Even if the driving distance between them is only 365 miles, the German spoken by a Berliner is worlds apart from the German spoken by a Bavarian in Munich. Swiss German, Schwyzerdütsch, is Chinese to the ears of someone from Düsseldorf. The regional dialects of Austria, a country no larger than Maine, are like dozens of different languages, making it difficult for a Viennese to understand an Innsbrucker. The only way any of these various German-speakers are able to communicate is through a relatively standardized form of German known as Hochdeutsch, or High German. The hoch in Hochdeutsch refers to a topographically higher region, relative to the lower (nieder) or flat (platt) regions of northern Germany. The term “High German” does not imply any superiority to “Low German”—the only differences are geographic and linguistic. Plattdeutsch or Niederdeutsch come from the low lands.
Ironically, in recent decades there has been a conscious effort to preserve local and regional dialects in the German-speaking world. Many news publications and works of poetry and literature have sprung up in dialect form. Even some dialects that had no real written form can now be seen in print. Singers and musical groups, from rock to traditional, have also released albums and songs in various German dialects. Many Austrians, Swiss, and Germans have a renewed pride in their own unique dialect. They see Hochdeutsch as useful and necessary, but they don’t want to see their own regional cultural identity fade into a uniform, bland sameness.
BOOKS for GERMAN
Deutsch macht Spaß!: An Easy-to-Understand German Grammar Review with Hagar® and Peanuts® Cartoons in German by Brigitte S. Dubiel (paperback)
The title means “German is fun!” Living up to its title, the book makes clever and targeted use of German versions of amusing Hagar® and Peanuts® cartoons to review German grammar and vocabulary. From Amazon.com.
Perfect Phrases in German for Confident Travel: The No Faux-Pas Phrasebook for the Perfect Trip by Hyde Flippo (paperback or Kindle)
A different kind of phrasebook: Fit in with the locals and avoid embarrassment by using the right phrases. As you plan your trip to Germany, remember to pack this phrasebook! It is the only one that not only has the words and phrases you need to communicate clearly but also explains when and how to use them. From Amazon.com.
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This page is based on a chapter in the book The German Way by Hyde Flippo.
AT THE GERMAN WAY
- When a Brötchen is a Bömmel – About the Berlin dialect – from the GW Expat Blog
- German – from Berlin to Rural Hessen – More about German dialects – from the GW Expat Blog
- Just When You Thought You Knew German – About the Swiss version of German – from the GW Expat Blog
- Du and Sie – How to say “you” in German: friends and acquaintances
- The German Language – Our language start page
- The German Language – Part 2 – The Umlaut and the ß – German idiomatic expressions
- Germany – History and culture
- Germany for Tourists – Travel tips
- GW Expat Blog: German Language – Blog entries related to German
- Germany: Facts and Figures
German Immersion Online