High German, Low German, And The Dialects In Between
How many kinds of German do you know?
I know you may think that if you learned German in school or did some language tapes you speak the right language, but this is not always true. Formally taught German may be understood throughout Germany, but it is not the only kind of German to know!
Germany is full of many different well-developed dialects — some estimate that there may be as many as 250 dialects scattered throughout the country! This is because Germany has historically been many different kingdoms and principalities, encouraging the development of local and regional dialects.
Although for a time there was a push to standardize the German language, now there is a very strong movement to preserve all of Germany’s dialects. This is partly a response to the growing prevalence of English in German life, and partly a desire to retain all of Germany’s rich culture. The movement is publicly led by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who refuses to use any English at his press conferences in Germany. ;-)
Thus, as you travel around Germany, you will hear and see many different kinds of German being used. Here are the major types:
- High German, Hochdeutsch, is what is taught as standard German in classrooms. It was originally spoken in central and southern Germany but was adopted as the official standard form by the government after the turn of the 20th century.
- Low German, Plattdeutsch, is mainly spoken in the Northern parts of Germany. It was the main language spoken by the Hanseatic League, and you can watch programing in Low German on the North German Broadcasting Network, Norddeutscher Rundfunk.
- Bavarian – Austrian, Bayerisch-Österreichisch, is spoken in Southern Germany and parts of Austria, since for many years this area was united as one large kingdom.
- Frankish, Fränkisch, is spoken in central Germany along the Main river. Some related forms are spoken along the Moselle river, too.
There are many other dialects and variations that you can experience in your travels — such as Baden (Badisch), Swabian (Schwäbisch), Saxon (Sächsisch) — but being aware of the main forms will help you smile and adapt to all the German that you hear!
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