Austrian German

Austrian German (Österreichisches Deutsch, Austrian Standard German) is the national standard variety of the German language spoken in Austria and in the province of Bolzano-Bozen (Italy). The standardized form of Austrian German is defined by the Austrian dictionary (Österreichisches Wörterbuch), published under the authority of the ministry of education, art and culture.

As German is a Pluricentric language, Austrian German is another standard variety in addition to the German spoken in Germany. Much like the relationship between American and British English, Austrian German is simply another standard form of the German language. It is codified in the "Österreichisches Wörterbuch" which states specific grammar rules and is a dictionary using Austrian spelling. In addition to this standard variety, in everyday life, most Austrians speak one of a number of High German dialects.


Intercomprehensibility and regional accents

While strong forms of the various dialects are not normally fully 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 Tyrol. 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, for example from western Styria.

Simple words in the various dialects are very similar, but pronunciation is distinct for each and, after listening to a few spoken words it may be possible for an Austrian to realise which dialect is being spoken. However, in regard to the dialects of the deeper valleys of the Tyrol, other Tyroleans are often unable to understand them. Speakers from the different states of Austria can easily be distinguished from each other by their particular accents (probably more so than Bavarians), those of Carinthia, Styria, Vienna, Upper Austria, and the Tyrol being very characteristic. Speakers from those regions, even those speaking Standard German, can usually be easily identified by their accent, even by an untrained listener.

Several of the dialects have been influenced by contact with non-Germanic 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. The dialects of Bolzano-Bozen (Alto Adige/South Tyrol) have been influenced by local Romance languages, in particular with many loan words from Italian, Ladin, etc.

Interestingly, the geographic borderlines between the different accents (isoglosses) coincide strongly with the borders of the states and also with the border with Bavaria, with Bavarians having a markedly different rhythm of speech in spite of the similarities in the language.


Perfect tense

In Austria, as in the German speaking parts of Switzerland and in southern Germany, verbs that express a state tend to use sein as the auxiliary verb in the perfect tense, as well as verbs of movement. Verbs which fall into this category include sitzen (to sit), liegen (to lie) and, in parts of Carinthia, schlafen (to sleep). Therefore the perfect tense of these verbs would be ich bin gesessen, ich bin gelegen and ich bin geschlafen respectively. For some verbs which fall into this category, the use of sein as the auxiliary in the perfect can change to haben to avoid confusion between two verbs that would otherwise look the same in this tense, as in the case of stehen (to stand) and gestehen (to confess). In the perfect these would be ich bin gestanden and ich habe gestanden respectively.


There are many official terms that differ in Austrian German from their usage in most parts of Germany. These include Jänner (January) rather than Januar, heuer (this year) rather than dieses Jahr and a whole series of foods and vegetables such as: Erdäpfel (potatoes) German Kartoffeln, Schlagobers (whipped cream) German Schlagsahne, Faschiertes (ground beef) German Hackfleisch, Fisolen (green beans) German Gartenbohne, Karfiol (cauliflower) German Blumenkohl, Karotte (carrot) German Möhre, Kohlsprossen (Brussels sprouts) German Rosenkohl, Marillen (apricots) German Aprikosen, Paradeiser (tomatoes) German Tomaten, Palatschinken (pancakes) German Pfannkuchen, Topfen (a semi-sweet cottage cheese) German Quark and Kren (horseradish) German Meerrettich.

Austrians, in particular, will say "Grüß Gott!" (God greet (subj.) [you]!) when greeting someone, rather than the "Guten Tag!" used by many Germans. Beside the official Austrian German, occasionally also Austrian dialects from various regions are seen in written form, containing a large number of contractions and abbreviations compared to standard German, which can be hard to understand for non-native speakers (although the same applies to German dialects in Germany and Switzerland).

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, for example, 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-state in the late 19th century and its manifold particular traditions. A comprehensive collection of Austrian-German legal, administrative and economic terms is offered in: Markhardt, Heidemarie: Wörterbuch der österreichischen Rechts-, Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungsterminologie (Peter Lang, 2006).

When Austria became a member of the European Union, the Austrian variety of the German language (limited to 23 agricultural terms) was “protected” in the so-called Protocol no. 10 (1) regarding the use of specific Austrian terms of the German language in the framework of the European Union, which forms part of the Austrian EU accession treaty. Austrian German is the only variety of a pluricentric language recognised under international law / EU primary law. All facts concerning “Protocol no. 10” are documented in Markhardt, Heidemarie: Das österreichische Deutsch im Rahmen der EU, Peter Lang, 2005.

Regional dialects

See also

References and further reading

  • Ammon, Ulrich: Die deutsche Sprache in Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz: Das Problem der nationalen Varietäten. de Gruyter, Berlin/New York 1995.
  • Ammon, Ulrich / Hans Bickel, Jakob Ebner u. a.: Variantenwörterbuch des Deutschen. Die Standardsprache in Österreich, der Schweiz und Deutschland sowie in Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Ostbelgien und Südtirol. Berlin/New York 2004, ISBN 3-11-016574-0.
  • Grzega, Joachim: „Deutschländisch und Österreichisches Deutsch: Mehr Unterschiede als nur in Wortschatz und Aussprache.“ In: Joachim Grzega: Sprachwissenschaft ohne Fachchinesisch. Shaker, Aachen 2001, S. 7-26. ISBN 3-8265-8826-6.
  • Grzega, Joachim: “On the Description of National Varieties: Examples from (German and Austrian) German and (English and American) English.” In: Linguistik Online] 7 (2000).
  • Grzega, Joachim: “Nonchalance als Merkmal des Österreichischen Deutsch.” In: Muttersprache 113 (2003): 242-254.
  • Muhr, Rudolf / Schrodt, Richard: Österreichisches Deutsch und andere nationale Varietäten plurizentrischer Sprachen in Europa. Wien, 1997
  • Muhr, Rudolf/Schrodt, Richard/Wiesinger, Peter (eds.): Österreichisches Deutsch: Linguistische, sozialpsychologische und sprachpolitische Aspekte einer nationalen Variante des Deutschen. Wien, 1995.
  • Pohl, Heinz Dieter: „Österreichische Identität und österreichisches Deutsch“ aus dem „Kärntner Jahrbuch für Politik 1999“
  • Wiesinger, Peter: Die deutsche Sprache in Österreich. Eine Einführung, In: Wiesinger (Hg.): Das österreichische Deutsch. Schriften zur deutschen Sprache. Band 12. (Wien, Köln, Graz, 1988, Verlag, Böhlau)

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