German Accents and Dialects

German has countless dialects. The memorable pub scene in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 film Inglourious Basterds shows exactly so with the British spies raising suspicion when a Nazi officer with a keen ear for accents questions the origin of the officer’s accent. Accounting both Germany and Austria, the two German-speaking countries along the Danube, the variation in pronunciation becomes evident to even non-German speakers.

To explore and illustrate the different German accents from German-speaking countries along the Danube, we found speakers from different places to pronounce 3 selected words that show dialectal differences. Can you hear the difference?

  • fertig
    High German pronunciation of the ending is /ç/, whilst Bavarian-Austrian speakers tend to pronounce the ending as /k/
  • China
    Once again, High German pronunciation of beginning is /ç/, whilst Bavarian-Austrian speakers tend to pronounce the beginning as /k/
  • Gefahr
    The ‘e’ in ‘Gefahr’ can be slightly softer when pronounced in the Austrian accent

Austrian (speaker from Kärnten)

Bavarian (speaker from Munich)

Middle German (speaker from Cologne)

 

High German and Austrian German not only differ in pronunciation but in vocabulary and expressions as well. See below for a video comparing the two.

In Austria, as well as the German-speaking parts of Switzerland and southern Germany, verbs that express a state tend to use sein as the auxiliary verb in the perfect, as well as verbs of movement. Verbs which fall into this category include sitzen (to sit), liegen (to lie), and in parts of Carinthia, schlafen (to sleep). Therefore the perfect of these verbs would be ich bin gesessen, ich bin gelegen, and ich bin geschlafen respectively (Note: ich bin geschlafen is a rarely used form, more commonly ich habe geschlafen is used; however ich bin eingeschlafen [I fell asleep] is not uncommon). In the variant of German that is spoken in Germany, the words stehen (to stand) and gestehen (to confess) are identical in the present perfect: habe gestanden. The Austrian variant avoids this potential ambiguity (bin gestanden from stehen [to stand] and habe gestanden from gestehen [to confess]). In addition, the preterite (simple past) is very rarely used in Austria, especially in the spoken language with the exception of some modal verbs (i.e. ich sollte, ich wollte).

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