German – from Berlin to rural Hessen

Being a Yorkshire lass at heart who, despite many years in the south of England, has never managed to say a ‘barth’ instead of ‘bath’ or ‘grarss’ instead of ‘grass’, I am sympathetic to local dialects. In London, I loved hearing true cockneys with their staccato banter in taxis and across market stalls. And now, living in Germany, my interest persists, though admittedly in a somewhat limited way: so far I’ve only really been exposed to Berlinerisch (which I hear daily) and Hessisch (which I hear when we visit my parents-in-law close to Frankfurt am Main in Hessen).

The Berlin dialect – ‘Berlinerisch’ – is a melting pot of linguistic influences, much like the history and culture of the city itself. In it, you hear traces of High Germany, Saxish, Yiddish, Dutch, Slavic languages and French. It is littered with words from all of these sources. You hear ‘Bredullje’ instead of ‘Schwierigkeiten’ for ‘troubles’ from the French ‘bredouille’, and ‘Bulette’ for a small beef burger, also from the French; ‘Kiez’ for neighbourhood has Slavic roots; and the Yiddish ‘meschugge’ instead of ‘verrückt’, meaning ‘crazy’. 

Beyond individual examples, there are a few basics which indicate the speaker may be a ‘geborenene Berliner’ ‘born in Berlin’. These include changing the hard ‘g’ sounds to an English ‘y’ or a German ‘j’ – ‘das et nämlich ja nich jibbt’ ‘that it doesn’t exist’. And, ‘ick’ instead of ‘ich’, ‘dit’ and ‘wat’ instead of ‘das’ and ‘was’. And then there is the way they say ‘au’ which in Berlin is pronounced as a long ‘o’ instead: so ‘lofen’ for ‘laufen’ which means ‘walking’ and ‘rochen’ for ‘rauchen’ which means ‘smoking’.

‘Hessisch’ is softer by contrast – and not only because people from Hessen often seem more immediately friendly than the, at times, somewhat grumpy Berliners. ‘Ich’ becomes ‘Isch’, in the word for ‘I’ and beyond – so ‘wichtig’ is said ‘wischtisch’. Hard ‘bb’ sounds become the German ‘ww’ and ‘n’s at the end of words are dropped, which makes Hessisch sound more relaxed than High German. So you have ‘hawwe’ instead of ‘haben‘; ‘Hewwel’ instead of ‘Hebel’ and ‘singe’ for ‘singen’. 

The frequent use of the affectionate diminutive – possibly the most striking aspect of Hessisch – also adds to this impression of gentle friendliness. A big house is called ‘Häusje’, lots of houses are referred to as ‘Häuserschen’, cars have ‘Rädersche’ (instead of ‘Rädern’) and men wear ‘Hütersche’ (instead of ‘Hüte’).

Coincidentally, I’ve made friends with a group of local people who all seem to be from Bavaria. I’m slowly collating my impressions of Bayerisch and will record those another time.

One thought on “German – from Berlin to rural Hessen

  1. I´ve just learned about this site and have promptly become a fan.
    Thank you so much for your most educational postings on the diversity of native cultures in Germany, written with such a pleasant touch of fine, charming good humor!

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