Westphalian language

Westphalian or Westfalish/Westphalish (Standard German Westfälisch) is one of the major dialect groups of West Low German. Its most salient feature is its diphthongization (rising diphthongs). For example, speakers say ieten ([ɪɛtn̩]) instead of etten or eaten for "to eat". (There is also a difference in the use of consonants within the Westphalian dialects: North of the Wiehengebirge, people tend to speak unvoiced consonants, south of the Wiehengebirge they voiced their consonants, e.g. Foite > Foide.)

Native toGermany,[1] Netherlands
RegionWestphalia[1], southwest Lower Saxony
Language codes
ISO 639-3wep
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The Westphalian dialect region includes the north-eastern part of North Rhine-Westphalia, i.e. the former Prussian province of Westphalia, without Siegerland and Wittgenstein, but including the southern part of former government district Weser-Ems (e.g. the region around Osnabrück and the landscape of Emsland in modern Lower Saxony).

Traditionally, all Dutch Low Saxon dialects are considered Westphalian, with the notable exception of Gronings, which is grouped with the Northern Low Saxon dialects. The rising diphthongisation is still noticeable in the dialects of Rijssen, Enter and Vriezenveen.


Among the Westphalian language there are different subgroups of dialects:

  • East Westphalian in East Westphalia (including the dialect of Osnabrück)
  • Munsterlandic
  • South Westphalian
  • West Münsterland dialect

Westphalian dialects in the Netherlands:

Westphalian has many lexical similarities and other proximities to Eastphalian, extending to the East and slightly to the North of the area where Westphalian is spoken.


German Westphalian is currently spoken mostly by elderly people. The majority of the inhabitants of Westphalia proper speak (regionally coloured) standard German. This accent, however, does not stand out as much as for example Bavarian, because Westphalia is closer to the Hanover region, whose speech variety is generally considered to be standard modern German.

The Low Saxon dialects in the bordering Twente and Achterhoek regions in the east of the Netherlands are traditionally classified as Westphalian dialects, albeit with some notable traits from Standard Dutch. A 2005 study showed 62% of the population of Twente spoke the language daily, and efforts are made to insert the language into the local school curriculum.

One of the reasons for the diminishing use of Westphalian in Germany is the rigorous enforcement of German-only policies in traditionally Low German-speaking areas during the 18th century. Westphalian, and Low German in general, unlike many of the High German dialects, were too distant from standard German to be considered dialects and were therefore not tolerated and efforts were made to ban them. In an extreme case, Hannover and its hinterland were forced to adopt rather unnaturally a form of German based on the written standard.

Westphalian was spoken in Kruppwerke up to the 19th century.

Nevertheless, the Westphalian dialect of German includes some words that originate from the dying Westphalian language, which are otherwise unintelligible for other German speakers from outside Westphalia. Examples include Pölter [ˈpœltɐ], "pyjamas/pajamas", Plörre [ˈplœʁə] "dirty liquid", and Mötke [ˈmœtkə] "mud, dirt".


  1. ^ a b c Westphalian language at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Westphalic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.