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Distribution of the native speakers of major continental West Germanic dialects today (dialects of the following languages: Dutch, German, and Frisian). The colours in this map do not reflect the actual relationship between the varieties.
Distribution of Continental West Germanic varieties circa 1910

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 Benrather 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 GermanEdit

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).[citation needed]
  • The varieties of standard German refer to the different local varieties of the pluricentric language standard German. They only differ slightly in lexicon and phonology. In certain regions they have replaced the traditional German dialects, especially Low German of Northern Germany.

Dialects in GermanyEdit

The variation among German dialects ranges. In regions where dialects are within 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 spoken in their purest form, are unintelligible to those only versed 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 the 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 where each is found rather than depicting social status.

Low GermanEdit

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.[citation needed] It was the predominant language in Northern Germany, and several translations of the Bible were printed in Low German. This predominance changed in the 16th century. In 1534, the Luther Bible was printed by Martin Luther; this 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. The Early New High German language gained more prestige than Low Saxon[citation needed] 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 that the most powerful German states of that period were 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.[citation needed] Today, Low Saxon could be divided in two groups: Low Saxon varieties with a sizable standard German influx,[citation needed] and varieties of standard German with a Low Saxon influence (Missingsch).[citation needed]

Today Low Saxon dialects are still widespread, especially among the elderly in the Northern parts of Germany,[citation needed] many of these being able to understand and speak the language, but younger people in Northern Germany are at least able to understand these dialects, though not to speak them.[citation needed] The local media take care not to let the Low Saxon language die out, so there are several newspapers published entirely in this language; other newspapers at least have recurring articles in Low Saxon. The North German Broadcasting (Norddeutscher Rundfunk) also offers TV programs (e.g. "Talk op Platt") and radio programs in Low Saxon.

On the other hand, Northern Germany is considered to be the region where the purest Standard German is spoken, and in everyday life little influence of dialect is heard. Still, there are notable differences in pronunciation even among North German speakers, e.g. lengthening of vowels, differences in accentuation etc. There are also some North German expressions in use even in Standard High German, which are seldom heard in Southern parts (e.g. the word "plietsch" for "intelligent").

High GermanEdit

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-neumärkisch and Upper Saxon. It is 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 are therefore 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. They 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, 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 Central und Upper German dialects in this region.

Overseas dialectsEdit

The dialects of German that are or were primarily spoken in colonies or communities founded by German speaking people resemble the dialects of the regions the founders came from. For example, Pennsylvania German and Volga German resemble dialects of the Baden-Württemberg; Hutterite German resembles dialects of Carinthia, whereas 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
Argentina 400,000 N/A 4,000 N/A N/A
Australia 79,000 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Belize N/A N/A 9,360 N/A N/A
Bolivia 160,000 N/A 60,000 N/A N/A
Brazil 1,500,000 3,000,000 8,000 N/A N/A
Canada 430,000 N/A 80,000 15,000 23,200
Chile 35,000 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Costa Rica N/A N/A 2,000 N/A N/A
Israel 200,000 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Kazakhstan 30,400 N/A 100,000 N/A N/A
Mexico N/A N/A 40,000 N/A N/A
Namibia 22,500 N/A N/A N/A N/A
New Zealand 36,000 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Paraguay 166,000 N/A 40,000 N/A N/A
Russia N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
South Africa 12,000 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Uruguay 28,000 N/A 2,000 N/A N/A
United States 1,104,354[3] N/A 12,000 118,000 10,800
Sum 4,597,392 3,000,000 357,360 133,000 34,000

Amana GermanEdit

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 GermanEdit

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 GermanEdit

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.

Standard American GermanEdit

Currently 1.1 million American citizens speak German, with the most being in the Dakotas.[4] German was at one time the lingua franca in many American regions, with high density in the Midwest, though cities such as St. Louis, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and New York City, among a great many others had a very high German-speaking population. By 1900, over 554 standard-German-language newspapers were in circulation. During a rise in British English-American ethnic nativist pride leading up to WW1 which lead to a zealous push for "Americanization" of "hyphenated Americans," power was sought to reclaim the previously Protestant and ethnic 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, and in some cases death, such as in the lynching of Robert Prager, a German seeking to become naturalized[5] in St. Louis, Missouri.

See alsoEdit


  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. ^ Bureau, US Census. "New Census Bureau Interactive Map Shows Languages Spoken in America". The United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2019-04-17.
  5. ^ Miller, Daniel (2001). Early German-American newspapers. Heritage Books. ISBN 0788417827. OCLC 47033262.

Further readingEdit

  • 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".

External linksEdit