Dialects lend a language its unique character.
Variety is the spice of life. Differences are not always unwelcome.
Why would you visit a country or a place that looks all the same throughout? Where is the fun or spice in it? Then you would have sat back home and satisfied yourself with a movie or any other entertainment show on TV.
Dialects are the children of regional differences that make a culture beautifully unique. Germany, like most widely spoken languages, has many dialects to take pride in. Each German dialect is tellingly distinct from the other.
In order to know the German culture to the core, you have to take a tour to meet and know the German dialects. Germans are very careful and puritan of their culture and language. They have high regards for their culture and language.
You already have so many questions in mind.
What is Hochdeutsch?
How many German dialects are there?
Why wait then? Let’s explore.
How Many Dialects are There in Germany?
The most interesting fact about German dialects is that it is not restricted to the geographical boundaries of Germany. German dialects spill over the territorial bounds of Germany.
As the German diaspora kept migrating from different villages and towns of erstwhile unorganized Germany, they took with them their linguistic identity. Today in Russia, Latin America and Australia they have their own official dialects.
There are around 250 German dialects! Today we recognize only the dialects that are recognized by the official German speaking countries.
1. High German or Hochdeutsch
Of the two major categories of German language, namely High German and Low German, High German or Hochdeutsch is the most important one. It originates from the southern part of Germany where the Alps and highlands are situated.
This is the standard German. Hochdeutsch is the German used in schools, colleges and all official means of communication. If you have the chance to watch German TV or News it is likely that the presenters are speaking this dialect.
Brief Outline of Some Major German dialects
1. Swiss German (Schwiizerdütsch)
As the name goes, it is the dialect spoken in Switzerland. This dialect is distinguishably different from the others.
Swiss German, owing to its unique accents and pattern which does not match any of the German dialects, is difficult to understand. German speakers from other regions face a challenge to communicate in this dialect.
2. Austrian German (Österreichisches Deutsch)
Austrian German follows the same Grammar as most other dialects do. Its vocabulary is quite different from the rest. Just like the American and the British English. The Americans have their own version of English that is quite distinguishable from its colonial mother.
In Hochdeutsch plum is “Pflaume”, while in Austrian German plum is “Zwetschge”.
Let’s have more.
3. Bavarian German (Bayerisch)
Bavarian German, located in South eastern Germany, is very close to Standard German in written form.
You must be thinking…mm…why written form?
Yes, in written form. In writing we don’t pronounce. While speaking the accent and pronunciation pattern is understood. The pronunciation of vowels are different in Bavarian German.
In Bavaria, people do not speak what they write. They have a different set of rules when they get to articulate. It is a unique feature of Bavarian German which deviates from the rule of German language and dialects.
Standard German or Hochdeutsch is nicknamed Schriftdeutsch or “written German” in this region.
4. Upper Saxon Dialect or Sächsisch
Saxony is situated in east Germany.
There are 16 Bundesländer and Sächsisch is one of them.
Thus, Säschsisch is the primary German dialect in the east. Linguistically, it shares some traits with Standard German and other dialects as well. It follows an accent that most Germans are uncomfortable with and often regarded by many as ‘the ugliest German variety’.
This dialect still exudes the separatist tendencies that were a strong undercurrent during the era of East and West Germany.
5. The Berlin Dialect (Berlinerisch)
The namesake of this dialect doesn’t need an introduction.
The capital of Germany is like utopia to the tourists and the people of Germany alike. Being a part of the modernization plan, Berlin is a global city now. And as the theory and practice of globalization goes, its uniqueness in terms of linguistic culture slowly fades away.
The Berlin dialect suffers the same fate. Its unique accent is not heard any more.
The dialect has replaced “ch” sounds with “k,” allowing “g” to soften into “j,” and blurring differences between the accusative and dative cases. You have to check whether you can notice the differences.
6. Low German or Plattdeutsch
It hails from North Germany and the Netherlands.
Going by pronunciation it is a cousin of Standard German or Hochdeutsch. In written form these two dialects are identical twins.
This dialect is fading out as the population of Plattdeutsch speakers are dwindling considerably.
7. Pennsylvania “Dutch” or Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch
Did you know that Pennsylvania Dutch is actually a German dialect?
Pennsylvania Dutch is a dialect of the American minority. Though it is ‘Dutch’ in name, it was supposed to be ‘Deutsch’. German immigrants gave it shape and form on the east coast.
One prominent feature of this dialect is that there is a healthy habit of borrowing English words among some speakers of this dialect.
High German vs. Low German
High German and Low German are two major groups of German dialects. The name for the two categories derives from their geographical locations. Low German or Plattdeutsch belong from low-lying plains of Northern Germany and people living in the mountainous south speak High German or Hochdeutsch.
High German is further classified into Central German (Mitteldeutsch) and Upper German (Oberdeutsch). Standard German is High German. It is the most widely accepted form of German because of the wide circulation of Martin Luther’s 16th century translation of the Bible into his native Saxon dialect. The religious factor played a vital role. This is the reason why Hochdeutsch and Standarddeutsch are interchangeably used.
The Low and Central German is demarcated by the Benrath line traditionally. North of this line, people pronounce “maken” (to make) putting a hard stress on “k” in English, while people on the south to the line pronounce it as “machen” where the “ch” is a sound emitted from the back of the throat.
Why are there so many German Dialects?
Let’s share with you an interesting figure.
The German-speaking population is a lot more than the population residing in Germany. The number of speakers of this language is over 230 million worldwide. German is the official language of Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland as well.
The language is also a language of the linguistic minority in Italy, Slovakia, Poland, Russia, Kazachstan, and Denmark. So, Germany itself there are so many countries where German has its form and versions which makes the language so uniquely diverse.
Germany’s natural diversity plays a significant role in the birth of so many dialects. Naturally diverse regions have diverse regional character and cultural expressions. The cultural expression of a region is articulated best through the regional dialects.
The reunification of East Germany and West Germany 1990 integrated more dialects into the system making the language richer.
How should dialects influence Your German Learning?
A dialect is more than just a vocabulary. It is a linguistic system with its own set of rules.
The term ‘dialect’ descends from the Greek expression ‘dialektika’ meaning conversation and exchange of thoughts.
What is spoken, is not always written. German dialects follow the same traditional saying when it comes to proverbs.
When you are travelling in Germany it is quite natural you interact with people from different regions. As it goes, you get to know and hear the regional dialects of these different regions. They are so melodious in their own way.
Hochdeutsch or standard German is good to begin your German learning journey. But dialects shape your thoughts and love for the language.
A bond grows between you and the language through dialects.
Which German dialect is taught in schools?
Every school follows an education policy set by the Government machinery.
Hochdeutsch or the Standard German is the official language of Germany which is used for all official means of communication. So, going by that the Standard German is followed and taught in schools as per the Education policy of Germany.
In the domain of media, politics and education Standard German has no substitute.
What are the benefits of learning German and the Different German Dialects?
German is quite diverse. There is a plethora of German dialects that enrich the language. Some dialects are so different from the other that even speakers of one regional dialect face a task to understand the other dialects.
German is one of the most important languages spoken throughout the world. People come in large numbers in Germany in pursuit of a career, jobs, business and tourism. As we have discussed earlier, in Germany you must know German to enter the territory.
As Germany is a land of linguistic and cultural diversity, it is highly recommended that you know German in all its forms and hues to settle here with the quintessence of the language and its different branches known as dialects.
It will benefit you immensely as you come across the myriad contours of German language and each dialect.
Which German should I learn?
To be honest, that is a difficult question to answer.
To begin with, the Standard German is the one you should begin with when you are a foreign national. Because before you put your footprints on the land that is what is required to do without which you can not set your foot on the territory of Germany.
After doing this, let’s fall in love with any dialect you want. Speak German regionally and absorb the flavour.
German dialects are so beautifully diverse! Let’s swim in the ocean rather than stay in it.