From Vienna to Berlin: Exploring Austrian and German Linguistic Diversity
Austria and Germany are two amazing European countries that share many similarities. One of the most exciting things they have in common is the language they speak. In fact, the German language and the Austrian language are almost the same thing. Or are they? In today’s article, we’ll explore the historical events that affected both tongues, their key similarities, and their main differences. So buckle up, and let’s dive right into it!
Brief Historical Overview: Why do Austrians Speak German
Firstly, we want to note one important thing – there is no such thing as the Austrian language. The country’s official tongue is Standard German, and most people speak it or its dialects, like Austro-Bavarian. But why did it happen? To understand which language is spoken in Austria and why, let’s talk about history.
- The territory of modern-day Austria has been inhabited by various Germanic tribes for centuries. The Bavarians, Alemanni, and Lombards were among the people who settled in the region during the Migration Period (4th to 9th centuries). These tribes brought their Germanic languages, which laid the foundation for the linguistic landscape of the area as well as some other countries like, for example, England.
- Austria was a significant part of the Holy Roman Empire, a complex political entity from the Middle Ages to the early 19th century. German, specifically the High German dialects, emerged as the empire’s administrative and cultural lingua franca. This helped standardize and spread German use throughout the Austrian territories.
- The Habsburg monarchy, which ruled over vast territories in Central Europe for centuries, including modern-day Austria, played a crucial role in shaping the linguistic identity of the region. The Habsburgs, who originated from modern-day Switzerland, were German-speaking and promoted the use of German as the language of administration, education, and culture within their realm.
- The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century and the subsequent Counter-Reformation led by the Catholic Church had linguistic implications in Austria. While the Reformation translated religious texts into local languages, the Counter-Reformation reaffirmed the importance of Latin and High German, which was already a distinct dialect and a precursor to Standard German, in spiritual and academic contexts.
- Austria-Hungary emerged as a multi-ethnic empire with diverse linguistic communities during the height of the Habsburg power. While German remained the official language of administration, the empire was characterized by a linguistic mosaic, with numerous tongues and dialects coexisting. However, German maintained its status as the primary language of government and cultural prestige.
- The development of Standard German, primarily based on the Central and Upper German dialects, gained momentum during the early modern period. Influential figures such as Martin Luther, with his translation of the Bible into German, and the writers of the Enlightenment period contributed to the codification and spread of Standard German as a unified written language.
- Following the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I, Austria emerged as a republic. German retained its status as the official language, and efforts were made to promote Austrian Standard German as the national standard. This promotion involved tensions and debates regarding national identity and linguistic diversity.
Today, German, particularly the Austrian variety of Standard German, remains the predominant language spoken in Austria. Both tongues have quite a lot in common, including grammar, pronunciation nuances, vocabulary, and more.
Austrian German Language: Primary Similarities
Despite regional differences, speakers of Austrian German and Standard German can generally understand each other with ease. The core vocabulary, grammar, and syntax are largely the same, facilitating communication between speakers from Austria and other German-speaking regions.
- Austrian German adheres to standard German’s basic grammatical rules and syntactic structures. This includes the use of cases (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive), verb conjugation, and sentence construction. However, keep in mind that Austrian German still has its own distinctive features in pronunciation, vocabulary, and some grammatical aspects.
- In written form, Austrian German largely follows the conventions of Standard German. Official documents, newspapers, books, and other written materials in Austria typically use Standard German orthography and grammar. Nevertheless, there are still some Austrian-specific words and spellings that can appear depending on context.
- Austrian schools generally teach Standard German as the primary language of instruction. Additionally, much of the media in the country, including television, radio, and literature, is produced in Standard German, further reinforcing its use and familiarity among locals. Yet, many Austrian German dialects and variations are occasionally used in the media, especially in informal circumstances.
Standard German is the official language of Austria, used in government, administration, and legal documents. However, there are still some nuances and differences between the tongues that sometimes even native speakers struggle to understand. Austrian German continues to evolve, and there’s growing awareness and appreciation for its unique characteristics within Austria.
Key Difference Between Austrian and German Languages
Some people believe that communication between Germans and Austrians is quite similar to conversations between British and American people. It is primarily easy for them to understand each other, but some unique and unfamiliar phrases, words, or pronunciation nuances might appear here and there. This list is not very extensive, but it includes:
- Past Perfect tense. While Austrians mostly follow Standard German grammar, there is a difference in Perfekt (Past Perfect tense). Austrians typically use other auxiliary verbs than Germans. For example, the phrase “I sat” will become “Ich habe gesessen” in Standard German and “Ich bin gesessen” in Austrian.
- Diminutive suffixes. In standard German, they typically use the diminutive suffixes -chen and -lein. In Austria, on the other hand, the most common ones are the suffixes -erl and -li. For example, a little girl in Standard German is das Mädchen, while its Austrian equivalent is das Mäderl.
- Pronunciation. Many people consider the Austrian language to sound more melodic and song-like. It is due to more soft pronunciation, prolonged vowels, and differently stressed syllables.
- Prepositions. There is also a huge difference when it comes to describing someone’s or something’s place in space. For example, the Standard German preposition am is a short form of an dem, meaning “on the”/”at the.” In Austrian German, it can mean either the same thing or auf de – “on the.”
- Vocabulary difference. Despite shared similarities, Standard and Austrian German have many deviations in terms of vocabulary. Basically, there are numerous things that go under different names in these tongues. We’ll discuss them in more detail below.
As you can see, there are many differences in such similar languages. Although they usually don’t affect general comprehension, it might still be a bit challenging to understand them, especially if you are not aware whether the person speaks Austrian or Standard German.
Austrian vs German Vocabulary: Compared
Despite the number of shared vocabulary, there are many unique words and phrases, mostly used in Austrian German. Sometimes, they have equivalents in Standard German, but in some cases they don’t. Below, we’ve provided a list of common words used in Austrian German.
- Grüß Gott – [ɡrʏs ɡɔt] – Hello.
This is a traditional Austrian greeting, similar to Guten Tag in Standard German. Literally, it means “God’s greeting” and is mostly used by the older generation. For example:
Grüß Gott, wie geht es Ihnen? (Hello, how are you?)
- Der Verlängerter – [deːɐ fɛɐ̯ˈlɛŋɐtɐ] – Coffee.
The thing Germans call Kaffee has a few variations in Austria. Der Verlängerter is a simple black coffee, while Wiener Melange is a cappuccino. For example:
Ich trinke gerne einen Verlängerter am Nachmittag. (I like to drink black coffee in the afternoon.)
- Die Jause – [diː ˈjaʊ̯zə] – Snack, light meal.
This Austrian term refers to a small meal or snack usually eaten between lunch and dinner, comparable to die Stulle in Standard German. For example:
Wir machen eine Jause und gehen dann spazieren. (Let’s have a snack and then go for a walk.)
- Pfiat di – [ˈpfiːɑt diː] – Goodbye.
If you don’t want to say Auf Wiedersehen, you can choose this informal farewell commonly used in Austria. For example:
Pfiat di, bis zum nächsten Mal! (Goodbye, see you next time!)
- Der Erdapfel – [deːɐ ˈeːɐ̯tˌʔapfl̩] – Potato.
It is a common term for Kartoffel in Austrian German. For example:
Wir essen heute Abend Bratkartoffeln aus Erdäpfeln. (Tonight, we’re having Abend Bratkartoffeln made from potatoes.)
- Der Paradeiser – [deːɐ ˈpaːʁaˌdai̯zɐ] – Tomato.
This is another food-related regional term used in Austria. Instead of German “tomate,” Austrians prefer to call this vegetable der Paradeiser. For example:
In Salaten verwende ich am liebsten frische Paradeiser. (I prefer to use fresh tomatoes in salads.)
- Der Haberer – [deːɐ haˈbeːʁɐ] – Buddy, lover.
This versatile colloquial term is used to describe a male friend, boyfriend, or just a man. It is mostly popular in Vienna. For example:
Er ist mein bester Haberer, wir machen alles zusammen. (He’s my best buddy, we do everything together.)
Master German and Beyond with Promova
Since Austrian German is very similar to the traditional German language, mastering it without knowing the basics of Standard German might be quite a challenge. But don’t worry! With the help of proper resources, you can nail them both. And we are happy to help you with that – all you need to do is install our convenient Promova application on your device.
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All the lessons available on the Promova app are created by language professionals, making them not only useful but also fun and engaging. You can access the application anywhere and anytime you want, whether standing in line, staying at home, or being stuck in traffic.
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All in all, Austrian and traditional German are akin languages with numerous shared similarities. However, there are still plenty of differences as well, so it is important to be cautious about them to avoid any misunderstandings. We hope that today’s article will help you understand all the distinctions, and you will be able to easily determine whether you hear Standard German or the Austrian dialect. And that’s it for now. Looking forward to discussing some other topics with you!
Should I learn Austrian German or Standard German?
It depends on your specific goals and interests. For example, learning Austrian German would be more practical if you plan to live, work, or travel extensively in Austria or other German-speaking regions where Austrian German is predominant. However, if you want broader access to German-speaking countries and communities worldwide, Standard German may be a better choice.
What is the best way to master Austrian German?
If you want to master Austrian German specifically, the best option is to immerse yourself in the language. Watch Austrian movies, TV shows, and YouTube channels to familiarize yourself with the pronunciation, vocabulary, and cultural references. Listen to Austrian radio stations, podcasts, and music to expose yourself to the rhythm and cadence of the language. Another great option is to find language exchange partners, tutors, or conversation groups. Practice speaking with them regularly to improve your fluency and confidence.
Which one is more challenging to learn, Austrian or Standard German?
Both languages present some challenges. For example, Standard German is known for its complex grammar system, with declensions, verb conjugations, and word order rules that can be challenging for learners. On the other hand, the German language in Austria has various regional dialects and accents, which may differ significantly from one another. It can also be a challenge for unprepared learners.
What are some common German dialects?
In addition to Austrian German, there are several other notable German dialects, including Bavarian (Bayrisch), spoken in Bavaria and parts of Austria, Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch), spoken in Switzerland, and Saxon (Sächsisch), spoken in Saxony.