Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In Austria, there is no unitary Austrian language, but a variety of Germanic dialects are spoken. Besides the Germanic languages discussed here, minority languages such as Slovenian, Croatian and Hungarian are spoken in parts of the country.
- Standard German, called "High German" in Austria.
- Vorarlbergerisch, spoken in Vorarlberg, is an Alemannic dialect similar to Swiss German.
- All other dialects belong to the Austro-Bavarian group, which is a common language throughout much of the country.
Ordinarily, the latter dialects are considered to belong either to the Central Austro-Bavarian or Southern Austro-Bavarian subgroups, with the latter encompassing the languages of the Tyrol, Carinthia and Styria and the former including the dialects of Vienna, Upper Austria and Lower Austria. Austrians from outside Vorarlberg normally cannot understand the dialect of that region, as it is more closely related to Swiss German than to other Austrian dialects.
Intercomprehensiblity and Regional Accents
While strong forms of the various dialects are not normally comprehensible to Northern Germans, there is virtually no communication barrier to speakers from Bavaria. The Central Austro-Bavarian dialects are more intelligible to speakers of Standard German than the Southern Austro-Bavarian dialects of Tirol. Viennese, the Austro-Bavarian dialect of Vienna, is most frequently used in Germany for impersonations of the typical inhabitant of Austria. The people of Graz, the capital of Styria, speak yet another dialect which is not very Styrian and more easily understood by people from other parts of Austria than other Styrian dialects, e.g. from western Styria.
Simple words in the various dialects are very similar, but pronunciation is distinct for each and it is very easy for an Austrian after a few spoken words to judge which kind of dialect of Austria someone speaks. However, if it goes into the dialects of the deeper valleys of Tyrol, sometimes even other Tyroleans are hopeless to understand the dialect. Speakers from the different states of Austria can usually easily be distinguished from each other by their particular accents (probably more so than Bavarians), with those of Carinthia, Styria, Vienna, Upper Austria and the Tyrol being very characteristic. Speakers from those regions, even those speaking Standard German, can usually easily be identified by their accent even by an untrained listener.
Several of the dialects have been influenced by contact with non-German linguistic groups, such as the dialect of Carinthia, where in the past many speakers were bilingual with Slovenian, and the dialect of Vienna, which has been influenced by immigration during the Austro-Hungarian period, particularly from what is today the Czech Republic.
Interestingly, the geographic borderlines between the different accents coincide strongly with the borders of the states and also with the border to Bavaria, with Bavarians having a markedly different rhythm of speech in spite of the similarities in the language as such.
Standard German in Austria
With German being a pluricentric language, Austrian dialects should not be confused with the variety of Standard German spoken by most Austrians, which is distinct from that of Germany or Switzerland. Distinctions in vocabulary persist e.g. in culinary terms, where communication with Germans is frequently difficult, and administrative and legal language, which is due to Austria's exclusion from the development of a German nation in the late 19th century and its manifold particular traditions.
Austrians speaking Standard German can almost always be recognized by their accent, much more so than speakers from most regions of Germany.
Influence of Popular Culture
Under the influence of TV, dialects are receding in Austria as they are in most areas of Europe, but it can safely be said that they are more persistent than in most of Germany. Dialects are frequently used in TV series or movies in situation where it is appropriate for the particular character and situation. A classic example of a strong form of Viennese working-class dialect, for example, would be Ein echter Wiener geht nicht unter. However, strong varieties of dialect are not used quite as much as e.g. in Switzerland. For example, educated people in Vienna usually speak a very slight form of dialect or simply Standard German, but with the characteristic Viennese accent and, where it exists, particular Austrian and Viennese vocabulary.
A good reference for the Austrian, Bavarian and other German dialects are the dialect ("Mundart") editions of Asterix and Obelix comic books which are available in Viennese (three editions with different dialects from inside Vienna) and at least one for the common Tyrolean dialect and one for a deep Styrian dialect.
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