Updated April 11, 2014. This post will be regularly updated for some time. Warning! This essay is very long; it runs to 79 pages.
This classification splits Middle German from 15 languages into 44 languages using the criterion of >90% intelligibility = dialect and <90% intelligibility = language.
Middle German is easily the most famous German division of them all, and it is doing better than Low German or High German. That is because Standard German is a Middle German language.
There is much confusion about this because Middle German and High German are often lumped in together as “High German” with Middle German being a branch of High German. This is reflected in the term for Standard German “Hochdeutsch”, which means High German.
Thuringian (Thüringisch) is group of East Middle German lects related to Upper Saxon spoken to the west of Berlinisch and Upper Saxon. The status of Thuringian is very confused. It’s often said to be easy to understand, but some of the individual dialects are quite hard for Standard German speakers to understand.
At the moment, Thuringian is best thought of as a series of lects, some of which are not intelligible to Hochdeutsch speakers and others which may be intelligible to them.
Thuringian has a sing-song quality and is one of the easier lects for Standard German speakers to understand. The southern linguistic boundary of Thuringian with East Franconian is formed by the ridge of the Thuringian forest. Thuringian has many dialects.
Northeast Thuringian (Nordostthüringisch) is a Thuringian language spoken in Halle, Merseburg and Bernburg (Saale) in Saxony-Anhalt and in Artern in Thuringia. At least the Halle form of this language is very difficult for outsiders to understand. It is spoken very near the Upper Saxon zone, so possibly it has been influenced by Upper Saxon.
Mansfeldisch is a dialect of Northeast Thuringian spoken in Hettstedt, Mansfeld, and Eisleben in Saxony-Anhalt.
Eichsfeldisch is a Thuringian language spoken in Heilbad Heiligenstadt, Leinefelde, Worbis, and Mühlhausen in Thuringia and in Eschwege, Bad Sooden-Allendorf, and Witzenhausen in Hessen. This dialect is quite divergent and has Eastphalian and North Hessian features.
This language appears to be quite diverse internally, and there may be more than one language in it. It is not intelligible with Eastphalian, North Hessian or other types of Thuringian.
Central Thuringian (Zentralthüringisch) is a dialect of Thuringian that is spoken in a triangle in central Germany formed by Arnstadt, Erfurt, and Gotha.
Ilm Thuringian (Ilmthüringisch) is a dialect of Thuringian is spoken in Königsee, Bad Blankenburg, Rudolstad, Weimar, Jena, and Apolda in Thuringia and in Bad Bibra in Saxony-Anhalt. It has two subdialects, North Ilm Thuringian (Nord Ilmthüringisch) and South Ilm Thuringian (Süd Ilmthüringisch). The lect spoken in Weimar at least is hard for speakers of Standard German to understand.
North Thuringian (Nordthüringisch) is a dialect of Thuringian spoken in Nordhausen, Bad Frankenhausen, and Sondershausen in Thuringia, in Sangerhausen, Harzgerode, and Stolberg (Harz) in Saxony-Anhalt, and in Bad Lauterberg and Bad Sachsa in Lower Saxony.
Stiege North Thuringian is a North Thuringian dialect spoken in the town of Stiege in the Lower Harz Mountains in Saxony-Anhalt just north of the Thuringian border. This area is transitional between Low German and Middle German. The town of Hassenfelde four miles to the north was Eastphalian speaking, but Stiege is Thuringian. So Stieger is a Thuringian language with strong Eastphalian influence. A century ago, Stieger was not intelligible with the rest of North Thuringian (Liesenberg 2008).
West Thuringian (Westthüringisch) is a dialect of Thuringian spoken in Eisenach, Bad Liebenstein, Bad Salzungen, and Ruhla in Thuringia.
Southeast Thuringian (Südostthüringisch) is a dialect of Thuringian spoken in Saalfeld/Saale, Gera, Greiz, Neustadt, and Bad Lobenstein in Thuringia, in Mühltroff and Elsterberg in Saxony and in Ludwigsstadt and Teuschnitz in Bavaria.
Upper Saxon is an East Middle German language that is not mutually intelligible with Standard German. What’s odd is that Standard German was based on a specific Upper Saxon dialect as spoken in about 1700. It has since drifted into a language of its own. Intelligibility between Upper Saxon and Standard German is very poor, worse than intelligibility with Bavarian, and is probably less than 40%.
It is spoken in southeastern Germany, southwest of Berlin near Saxony, in Dresden, Leipzig and Chemnitz in Saxony and around Halle in Saxony-Anhalt. Some other Germans, especially from southern Germany, find Upper Saxon almost impossible to understand (Kirmaier 2009). Upper Saxon is considered by many Germans to be among the hardest dialects of all to understand, if speaking of dialects spoken in Germany proper.
It has extensive Slavic borrowings. Since German reunification in 1990, Upper Saxon has been giving way to Standard German. It has 2-4 million speakers. Upper Saxon has nine different dialects within it.
Standard German (Hochdeutsch) is an East Middle German language based on Upper Saxon, the pluricentric language of German, and the official and uniting language of all German speakers. Genetically, it is closest to Thuringian, Upper Saxon and Lower Silesian, but it has diverged dramatically. It was originally based on a certain Upper Saxon dialect, and there is a dialect of Upper Saxon today that still bears remarkable similarity to Standard German.
The best version of Standard German spoken today (the one that “lacks an accent”) is said to be the speech of Hanover in central Lower Saxony. This is in the Eastphalian Low Saxon area, but Standard German has pretty much cleaned out the Low Saxon in the area and has almost completely replaced it.
It is also known as Hochdeutsch. Most German dialect speakers also speak Standard German, but in a few places there are speakers of German type languages in and around Germany that cannot speak Hochdeutsch, notably in far western Austria, to some extent in Switzerland, and a few older people in Hessen.
Further, the Dutch Low Saxon speakers in the Netherlands, treated as Macro-German speakers in this analysis, may not speak Standard German, though many Dutch have at least some understanding of German. It is possible that some of the South Meuse-Rhenish transitional lects may not speak German either.
Standard German has been seriously impacting Low German since the 1700′s, but it has only effected other German languages recently. Like other pluricentric languages, Standard German serves the function of being a common language for many Macro-German speakers who would not ordinarily have one.
Unserdeutsch is a German-based creole spoken in New Guinea by only about 100 remaining speakers, some of whom are middle aged. It originated based on the Standard German spoken in German colonial times.
It was formed, oddly enough, by New Guinean children who were raised in an orphanage run by German speakers. It then came to be spoken by the White-New Guinean Catholic Vunapope community in the Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain. It is one of only two German-based creoles.
Belgranodeutsch is a German-Spanish creole spoken in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is a mixture between Spanish and Standard German and is no doubt not intelligible with Standard German. The Belgrano district is a part of Buenos Aires that has many German speakers.
Namibian Black German (Küchendeutsch) is a German pidgin spoken in Namibia based on Standard German. It is presently nearly extinct. It used to be spoken by Namibian Blacks who were servants for their German colonial masters in the German colony of Sudwest Africa. It is probably not intelligible with Standard German.
Berlinerisch is an East Middle German lect, and is one of the easiest German dialects to understand, however, some speakers of Standard German say it takes them several months to learn to understand it completely, so in that sense it may be a separate language. But those speakers were generally Americans who spoke German as a second language. It is said by Berliners that any German can understand Berlinerisch, but there are reports that Upper Saxon speakers have a hard time with Berlinerisch, so it appears to be a separate language.
Ruhrdeutsch is an East Middle German language spoken in the Ruhr far away from the other East Middle German languages. It is a strange language which spoken around Essen in North Rhine-Westphalia. It has elements of Low Franconian Bergisch lects and Westphalian Low Saxon. It is quite distinct and is probably a separate language (sample).
North Upper Saxon (Nordobersächsisch). This Upper Saxon dialect is spoken in the Elbe-Elster Region. Intelligibility data is needed between this and other forms of Upper Saxon. It is not well-known.
Anhaltisch is an Upper Saxon dialect spoken in Dessau, Köthen, Bernburg, Staßfurt and Aschersleben in central Saxony-Anhalt south of Magdeburg. It is also spoken down around Zietz and Hohenmolsen in far southern Saxony-Anhalt where it meets Thuringia and Saxony. It is very divergent. Anhaltisch is transitional between Upper Saxon and Thuringian.
Osterlandic (Osterländisch) is an Upper Saxon dialect that is spoken in Delitzsch and Torgau in far northwest Saxony, across the border into far southern Saxony-Anhalt in Wittenberg and Bitterfeld, and into far southeastern Brandenburg in Liebenwerda and Elsterwerda. Osterlandic is not intelligible with any Upper Saxon lects spoken in Saxony, nor with Erzgebirgish. This language is still doing very well.
Dialects include Northeast Osterlandic (Nordost Osterländisch), Southwest Osterlandic (Südwest Osterländisch), Southeast Osterlandic (Südost Osterländisch) and Schraden Osterlandic (Schraden Osterländisch).
Meissenish is a group of Upper Saxon lects spoken in Saxony.
North Meissenish (Nordmeißenisch) is an Upper Saxon dialect spoken around the cities of Grimma, Döbeln and Riesa in northern Saxony east of Leipzig. It is little known, but there are still many speakers. This language is incredibly hard for Standard German speakers to understand.
Northeast Meissenish (Nordostmeißenisch) is an Upper Saxon dialect spoken in a small area around Lommatzsch and Großenhain in Saxony northwest of Dresden. It is little known, but must still have many speakers. Intelligibility data is needed between this and other forms of Upper Saxon.
West Meissenish (Westmeißenisch) is an Upper Saxon dialect spoken in Saxony on both sides of the lower Zwickauer Mulde River around Rochlitz, Mittweida, and Borna north and northwest of Chemnitz which forms an intermediate position between North Meissenish and South Meissenish on one side and a Thuringian dialect called Altenburg (Altenburgish) on the other side.
It has Thuringian and Hessian characteristics. It is little known, but still has many speakers. Intelligibility data is needed between this and other forms of Upper Saxon.
South Meissenish (Südmeißenisch) is an Upper Saxon dialect spoken in an area of Saxony around the cities of Öderan, Frankenberg, Hainichen, and Freiberg northeast of Chemnitz. It is poorly known, but still has quite a few speakers. Poor intelligibility with Southeast Meissenish.
Southeast Meissenish (Südostmeißnisch) is an Upper Saxon language spoken in Saxony in a circle around Dresden around the cities of Dippoldswalde, Meißen, Radeburg, Pirna, and Bad Schandau. It was heavily influenced extensively by the old language spoken in Dresden. Many speakers remain, but it is poorly known.
Southeast Meissenish is utterly unintelligible even with other East German lects such as the Havelländisch Markish spoken in Brandenburg west of Berlin. Southeast Meissenish speakers have a hard time understanding South Meissenish.
Northern Bohemian is an Upper Saxon language formerly spoken in the part of Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia near Saxony. It was spoken in the towns of Děčín, Ústí nad Labem, and Teplice south and southeast of Dresden. It is apparently now extinct. The % of German speakers in the Czech Republic is down from 30% before WW2 to 1% today, or 18,000 speakers. No one speaks Northern Bohemian anymore; all German speakers speak Standard German instead.
East Thuringian (Ostthüringisch) is an Upper Saxon language spoken in Eisenberg and Altenburg in Thuringia and in Zeitz, Naumburg (Saale), and Hohenmölsen in Saxony-Anhalt. It is almost completely unintelligible with Standard German. Intelligibility with other Upper Saxon lects is unknown.
Fore Vogtländisch (Vorvogtländisch) is an Upper Saxon lect that is transitional to East Franconian. It is little known.
Lusatian (Lausitzisch) is an East Middle German language spoken in Eastern Germany. There is difficult intelligibility between this language and Standard German. It has some traces that go back to Dutch for some reason. There are various dialects of Lusatian. Dialects include West Lusatian, East Lusatian, New Lusatian, Upper Lusatian and Lower Lusatian. This language has very marginal intelligibility with Standard German, and intelligibility testing is indicated.
West Lusatian (Westlausitzisch) is a lect spoken in eastern Saxony, east of the upper Pulsnitz River, west of the Lausitzian speakers in the Sorbian area and northwest of Dresden in an isolated region around Pulsnitz, Bichofswerda and Kamenz. This dialect is transitional between Upper Saxon and Upper Lusatian. This lect is little known, but it still has 50,000 speakers.
New Lusatian (Neulausitzer) is spoken in Saxony in the Sorb-speaking area around Bautzen and Hoyerswerda.
Upper Lusatian (Oberlausitzer) is a lect spoken in southeastern Saxony near Zittau by the border of Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland. It is spoken in the village of Schönbach and other areas. This lect is still the primary means of communication in the region. Difficult intelligibility with Standard German (90% comprehension with slow speech). Upper Lusatian lects only 5 miles away can differ markedly. Intelligibility within these lects is not known. This dialect has a lot of Slavic in it, and also some French.
Lower Lusatian (Niederlausitzisch) is spoken around Cottbus, Finsterwalde, Senftenberg, and Spreewald in far southern Brandenburg and south across the border in Hoyerswerda, Weißwasser in far northern Saxony.
Lower Lausitzian and Lower Silesian overlap geographically with High Prussian in central East Prussia and neighboring West Prussia. This dialect is transitional between Low German and Middle German. This dialect appears to be in good shape, has many speakers at least in Cottbus and has poor intelligibility with Standard German.
Silesian* (Schlesisch) is a group of East Middle German languages. As a separate language, it is recognized by Ethnologue. It is spoken north of the Riesengebirge (Giants Mountains) around Glatz in eastern Bohemia, Czechoslovakia and in Kuhländchen in the upper Oder area. It was formerly spoken in Western Moravia. By the 1100′s, this region was covered with German settlements and was completely Germanophone. As a high-level German dialect grouping, it must be a separate language.
Silesian lects include Neiderländisch, Kräuter Silesian (Kräuterschlesisch), Mountain Silesian (Gebirgsschlesisch), Glätzisch, Brieg-Grottkau Silesian (Brieg-Grottkauer Schlesisch), Reichenberg, and Upper Silesian (Oberschlesisch). This language is often described as a sort of Creole with heavy Polish elements in it.
Hultschiner Laendle Bohemian German is a Silesian lect spoken in a pocket of the Sudetenland where Bohemia borders Silesia. This divergent lect is considered to be a separate lect from the rest of Bohemian German and is probably close to Silesian. Poorly known, but there are probably still some speakers left.
Lower Silesian (Niederschlesisch) is an East Middle German language spoken southeast of Berlin close to the Polish border near Bautzen. It was formerly spoken extensively in Poland. It is not mutually intelligible with Standard German. In some places, it is still spoken by young people. It still has quite a few speakers, possibly as many as 500,000. It overlaps with High Prussian in central East Prussia and West Prussia. Oppelner is a dialect of this language.
High Prussian (Hochpreußisch) is an East Middle German language that was formerly spoken extensively in East Prussia, now part of Poland. The language is moribund with the expulsion of Germans from Poland after WW2, and there are only a few elderly speakers left. It must surely be a separate language and must be unintelligible with other German languages or with Standard German.
The language originated from Silesian speakers who moved to the area in the 1200′s-1400′s. It was then influenced by the extinct (since 1700′s) Baltic Low Prussian language, a West Baltic language related to Lithuanian and Latvian. All West Baltic tongues have gone extinct. Baltic Low Prussian went extinct around 1710 when a series of famines and bubonic plague epidemics swept through the population, decimating the speakers.
Dialects of High Prussian include Oberländisch and Breslau (Breslausch).
Barossa German is a moribund language spoken in Australia by a few remaining elderly speakers. Speakers came from the High Prussian and Silesian regions, so the language is a Middle East German tongue.
It is very strange, barely intelligible at all to Standard German speakers and probably not intelligible with any other German lects either. German settlers arriving around 1840 settled in the Barossa Valley in South Australia. It declined with the suppression of Germans and the German language in Australia during WW1.
Vilamovian (Wilamowicean or Wymysorys) is a West Germanic language spoken in Wilamowice (Wymysoj), Poland near Bielsko-Biała, on the border between the regions of Silesia and Lesser Poland. This is in the far southwestern part of Poland near Germany and Czechoslovakia. It is derived from the Middle German circa the 1200′s spoken by settlers who came to the area from Germany, Scotland and the Netherlands.
Why they all decided to speak a German language is not known. Further, despite their disparate origins, they all decided on a Dutch identity, while speaking German nevertheless. Very confusing. Low German, Dutch, Frisian, Old English and Polish went into the mix.
The Polish Communists banned the language after WW2, but the ban was lifted in 1956. Nevertheless, the language has been replaced by Polish, and the only speakers now are 70 elderly speakers, so it is moribund.
Ripuarian Franconian is a West Central German Central Franconian language spoken in northwest Germany on the borders of Netherlands and Belgium in North Rhine-Westphalia around the town of Cologne. Ripuarian Franconian consists of 150 different, often quite divergent, lects for which dictionaries have been published. The Ripuarian lects are not intelligible at all with Standard German.
They form a dialect chain whereby one city can understand itself and the cities next to it, but once you get a couple of cities over, they can’t understand each other anymore. At the extremes of the Ripuarian dialect chain, intelligibility is as low as 20%. Therefore, Ripuarian is clearly more than one language. There are 1 million speakers of Ripuarian.
Some of the varieties include Bonn German or Bönnsch, Homburgisch, Lammersdorf, Neusser, Bad Neuenahr/Ahrweiler, and Bocholtz German, which may well be separate languages, but we will need more evidence before splitting them.
Kölsch is the specific variety of Ripuarian Franconian spoken in Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia. Kölsch is not intelligible with the rest of Ripuarian Franconian. It has about 250,000 speakers. Here is a sample of Kölsch. You can see it doesn’t look much like any of the surrounding languages.
Hommersch is a Ripuarian Franconian language at the other end of the huge Ripuarian dialect chain from Kirchröadsj, is not intelligible with Kirchröadsj, and therefore it makes sense to split it into a separate language.
Moselle Franconian (Moselfränkisch) is a West Central German Central Franconian language spoken south of Ripuarian Franconian in Germany on the borders of Belgium and France and which also shades into Belgium and France. It is not intelligible with Luxembourgish other than that the westernmost dialects of Moselle are intelligible with the easternmost dialects of Luxembourgish near the Luxembourg border. Trier is a major city in this speaking area.
There are many Moselle Franconian lects. All are spoken in Germany unless otherwise noted.
Lorraine Franconian is a simply Moselle Franconian spoken in France. It is apparently intelligible with the Moselle Franconian spoken across the border in Germany. It is not intelligible with Standard German, Luxembourgish, or the Alemannic High German language Alsatian with which it is often paired, or with the Rhenish Franconian spoken in the Lorraine. It has 78,000 speakers. Use is decreasing, and only 20% of children under age 15 are able to speak it.
It is mostly spoken in the Moselle Department of the state of Lorraine around Thionville. Hettangeois, Bitscherland, and Rodener are some of the dialects of Lorraine Franconian.
Trierisch is spoken in Trier, Germany. The Trierisch language differs even within the city of Trier. Outside the city of Trier, the dialect is clearly different from that spoken in the city, and village residents do not refer to their lects as Trierisch. Eifler speakers cannot understand Trierisch and vice versa. That data suggests that Trierisch may be a separate language.
The following Moselle Franconian dialects are spoken in Germany.
Reiler is spoken in and around Reil. There are various Moselle Franconian dialects spoken around the Schneifel Mountains and the Venn Region over near the Belgian border. Wäller is spoken in eastern Westerwald, on the border between Moselfränkisch and Hessisch. Westerwälder or West Westerwäldisch is spoken in the Westerwald. Wittlicher is spoken in Wittlich. Andernacher/Annenach/Annenache Platt is spoken in Andernach. It has more Ripuarian features than other Moselle lects due to its connection to Cologne. Unter Moselfränkisch is another Moselle dialect, but I am not sure where it is spoken.
Kröver is a Moselle Franconian language spoken in the town of Kröv on the Mosel River. Germans who lived in the area refer to it as a separate language, however precise intelligibility data is unknown.
Eifler or Eifelplatt is a Moselle Franconian dialect spoken in the Eifel Mountains in Germany. Eifler is so strange that intelligibility with Standard German is close to zero. It is not intelligible to outsiders. However, Eifler is intelligible with the Bad Honningen dialect just to the west of Eifler. Eifler has dialects of its own, including Demerather, Maifeld, Southeifel, and Uebereltz. South Eifel is similar to Luxembourgish. Eifler is also spoken in Belgium around St. Vith. This was where the Battle of the Bulge was fought.
Siegerländer or Siegerländish is a Moselle Franconian dialect spoken in the Siegerland region in Nordrhein-Westfalen.
Luxembourgish (Lëtzebuergesch or Letzeburgisch) is a Moselle Franconian language spoken in Luxembourg. It is not intelligible with Moselle Franconian other than those Moselle dialects right next the German border with Luxembourg, where the easternmost dialects of Luxembourgish are intelligible with Moselle Franconian. Luxembourgish is close to the South Eifel dialect.
There are several distinct varieties of Luxembourgish, but there is a Standard Luxembourgish emerging now in place of them. Luxembourgish is not used in the classroom, and there is a tendency of the state to use German and French in public announcements. Both languages are heavily promoted, such that Luxembourgers are typically trilingual.
Although almost everyone speaks Luxembourgish, there is frustration on the part of speakers that the language cannot accommodate many modern and technical terms, for which German and French are often used instead. There is a heavy French influence. Luxembourgish has 40% intelligibility with Standard German.
It is also spoken in Belgium and France. In France, it is spoken in the Moselle Department of Lorraine around the Thionville area where Lorraine Franconian is also spoken (Hughes 2005). In Belgium, it is spoken in Arlerland in Eastern Belgium.
East Luxembourgish is language spoken in the far east of Luxembourg around the cities of Grevenmacher and Echternach on the border with Germany. It is not intelligible with the rest of Luxembourgish, so it appears to be a separate language. However, it is intelligible with the West Moselle Franconian spoken across the border in Trier and Konz. Since this is considered to be part of Luxembourgish and not Moselle Franconian, it is best to split is off as a separate Luxembourgish language.
Transylvanian Saxon (Siebenbürger Sächsisch) itself is a macrolanguage of Germans in Romania. Originally, it was a Moselle Franconian language. It has incredible dialectal diversity, with over 250 documented dialects. Obviously, it is not intelligible with Standard German, but intelligibility data is lacking with the rest of Moselle Franconian, though considering the baffling diversity of Moselle itself, this is probably for all intents and purposes at least one separate language.
Transylvanian Saxon has 80% lexical similarity with Luxembourgeois, but that often boils down to less than 50% intelligibility in the real world. It appears that Transylvanian Saxon is a separate language. Transylvanian Saxon is completely unintelligible with Danube Swabian, Standard German and even Franconian.
Every village has its own dialect, and dialects can be quite different. Intelligibility data for the various Transylvanian Saxon dialects is lacking and urgently needed. At least in 1855, there were 7 distinct dialects of Transylvanian Saxon. In 1885, there were mutually unintelligible dialects of Transylvanian Saxon (separate languages).
In fact, prior to WW2, there were unintelligible dialects of Transylvanian Saxon between various villages, yet the Saxons had developed a Standard Transylvanian Saxon koine in order to communicate. Two separate languages may have been Hianzisch and Hittisch. They may well be extinct.
Transylvanian Saxon originally was a dialect chain, but villages that were too far apart could not understand each other. Whether this state of affairs still exists is not known. No one really knows why it is called Saxon, except that before the immigrants moved into the area, they moved through the state of Saxony.
Bistriţa Transylvanian Saxon is a separate language that was and possibly still is spoken in the villages around the city of Bistriţa in Romania and their descendants in Germany. It is a separate language and is not intelligible with any other Transylvanian Saxon.
Rhine Franconian (Rheinfränkisch) is a family of lects that are spoken in the western German regions of Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate and Hessen and in northern Bas-Rhin in the state of Alsace.
The Franconian language group is related to Hessian that is spoken in the Rhine River Valley in Germany over to the French border. It is not intelligible with Standard German. Rhine Franconian is also not intelligible with Moselle Franconian or with Luxembourgish. It is spoken to the southwest of the Hessian zone.
In the western part of this area, Pfälzisch is spoken in restaurants, stores, offices, schools, theaters. You would almost think that Standard German is the foreign language. Pfälzisch is still very popular and most kids still grow up speaking it. Every village has a different dialect.
Some of the dialects are Großrosseln, Saarbrücken, Zaisenhausen, Altrip, Bann, Gabsheim, Odenwälderisch, Rülzheim, Nordpfälzisch, Südpfälzisch, Wissembourg, Thaleischweiler-Fröschen and Pirmasens. Dialectal intelligibility is not known.
Odenwälderisch, spoken in the Odenwald, a mountain chain in southern Hesse, northern Bavaria and northern Baden-Württemberg, has been influenced by South Hessian. Rülzheim is spoken in the Germersheim area along the Rhine.
Pirmasens is spoken in the town of the same name in far southwest Palatine near the French border. Gabsheim is spoken in northern Palatine between Mainz and Alzey near the town of Wörrstadt.
Bann is spoken in the town of Bann, near Kaiserslautern. Thaleischweiler-Fröschen is spoken in the Palatine Forest 4 miles north of Pirmasens. Altrip is spoken in the city of Altrip 4 miles south of Ludwigshafen. Großrosseln and Saarbrücken, spoken in the Saarland, are partway between Rhine Franconian and Moselle Franconian. Großrosseln is almost a suburb of Saarbrücken. Wissembourg is spoken in northern Alsace, France.
Mainzerisch is spoken around the city of Mainz.
Westpalatine German or West Pfälzisch is a major level split in the Rhine Franconian lects. This is a separate language from Rhine Franconian proper because speakers refer to Rhine Franconian as one language and this as another language. For instance, Saarlandsich speakers say that Frankish (Rhine Franconian) is a different language from what they speak (Anonymous 2014).
Lects included in this grouping include Saarländisch, Saarpfälzisch, Westrichisch, Pfälzer-Bergländisch, Pfälzer-Wäldisch, Schwarzwälder-Hochwäldisch, Idarwäldisch, Hunsrückisch, Naheländisch, Rheinhessisch, Kaulbach, and Waldpfälzisch.
Saarländisch, Saarpfälzisch and Westrichisch are spoken in the Saarland. Most of the rest are spoken in the Rheinland Palatine.
Saarlännisch is a form of Westpfälzisch spoken in the Saarland. It is intelligible with the Lorraine Pfalzisch spoken right across the border in the French state of Lorraine (Hughes 2005). Saarlandisch is not intelligible with the rest of Westpfalzisch spoken in the Rhineland Palatinate (Anonymous 2014).
Here is a sample of the Saarland dialect. There are various subdialects within Saarlännisch, including Eschringen, Ensheim, Saarlouis, and Irsch.
Saarlouis is still spoken by almost everyone in the town, including teachers.
Lorraine Pfalzisch is a Rhenish Franconian Westpfälzisch tongue spoken in northeast France in eastern Moselle Department in the state of Lorraine region. In the Lorraine, it is spoken between Forbach and Biche in the Moselle Department of Lorraine Province.
The Rhenish Franconian spoken in Lorraine is not intelligible with the Luxembourgeois or with Lorraine Franconian spoken there. It is however intelligible with the Saarlännisch spoken just across the border in Germany in the state of Saarland (Hughes 2005).
Lothringian Pfalzisch is a separate language spoken in the transitional area in Lorraine between the Lorraine Franconian (Moselle Franconian) speakers and the Lorraine Pfalzisch (Rhenish Franconian) speakers. This language is transitional between these two lects. However, the hard Lothringian Pfalzisch is not intelligible with Saarlandisch spoken over the border into Germany (Anonymous 2014). Since it is not intelligible with Saarlandisch, it is no doubt also not intelligible with Lorraine Pfalzisch, which is a part of Saarlandisch. Intelligibility with Moselle Franconian is not known but is probably not full. St. Arnold is a dialect. Intelligibility with Hunsrücker, a similar lect, is not known.
Hunsrückisch, or Hunsrücker, is a Westpfälzisch dialect that is partway between the Rheinfränkisch and Moselfränkisch languages. Intelligibility with Lothringian Pfalzisch, a similar lect, is not known.
Riograndenser Hunsrückisch is a variety of Hunsrückisch that is widely spoken in southern Brazil. Although it resembles Hunsrückisch as of 100 years ago, it has also received many inputs from other German languages, including Low German languages like Pomeranian and Plautdietsch, other European languages such as Italian and Venetian and of course lots of Portuguese. Intelligibility between this and Hunsrückisch in Germany is not known.
Danube Swabian is spoken by former residents of the Danube region of Europe, especially Hungary, but also in Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria. Most were expelled from the area after WW2. They now live in Brazil and Germany. This language is not intelligible at all with Standard German and is completely unintelligible with the Transylvanian Saxon that is spoken by other Hungarian Germans.
This language is only nominally Swabian, and it sounds like a combination of the earlier forms of many German languages such as Swabian, Pfälzisch, Alemannic and Alsatian circa the 1700′s, because that is what it is. To pin it down though, it is best thought of as a Rhine Franconian lect similar to Saarlännisch. It had many dialects, and you could often tell the particular village a person came from by his speech. It has many Hungarian borrowings. It is still spoken, but less and less.
It was still widely spoken in 1989, and many people could not even speak Hungarian, but only spoke Swabian. With the return to capitalism in 1990, 90% of the 500,000 Saxon population left for Germany, leaving only 50,000 behind. Mandatory classes in Standard German have been introduced, and Danube Swabian is spoken less often.
The dialects are, incredibly enough, often regarded as largely mutually intelligible. However, other reports say that in Hungary, each village had its own dialect and adjacent villages sometimes could not understand each other (Bindorffer 2004). The latter report casts doubt on the intelligibility of the Danube Swabian lects.
In the Banat (a region encompassing parts of Romania, Serbia and Hungary) alone, there may have been as many as 24 different dialects. Danube Swabian has high intelligibility with Black Sea German, a form of German spoken in the southern Ukraine.
Kurpfälzisch is spoken in the northern part of Baden-Württemberg from Karlsruhe north to up around Heidelberg and Mannheim. This is a Palatinian lect. It is unintelligible with Standard German, but it is intelligible with Rhine Franconian in general. Even the young people of Heidelberg today no longer understand the dialect of their own city.
Other Germans find the language spoken in Mannheim to be nearly incomprehensible, on the order of Swabish and German Bavarian. It is probably about 40% intelligible with Standard German. This is a Rheinish language related to Pfälzisch and Hessian.
There are different dialects of this language, including Heidelberg, Viernheim, Sandheim, Seckenheim, and Mannheim.
The Mannheim dialect is described as “completely different” in the northern and southern parts of Mannheim, so there are two dialects, North Mannheim and South Mannheim. The Mannheim dialect is in excellent shape, and most of the town speaks it habitually. Sandhofen is one of the dialects spoken in the north of Mannheim. There seems to be a broad Mannheim dialect that is understood all across the general Mannheim region.
Pennsylvania German is a West Middle German Rhine Franconian (Rhenish Palatinate) macrolanguage that is descended from Pfälzisch. It is spoken in the USA. It is 70% intelligible with the Bavarian language Hutterite German. It is intelligible with the Mainzerisch spoken in Mainz. It seems to bear specific resemblance to the Kurpfälzisch spoken in Mannheim.
There are 2-3 million speakers of Pennsylvania German in the US, Canada and Central and South America. It has high intelligibility with Danube Swabian. Speakers are generally members of the Amish religious sect, though not all. Most speakers live in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana in the US.
It is often said that Pennsylvania German is one language with many dialects that are all mutually intelligible. However, recent data shows that this is not the case. There are differences in this language even within the same branch of Anabaptism. The differences are sometimes serious enough to cause major disruptions in communication (Bowie 1997).
In Ohio at least, there are two groups of Amish Pennsylvania German speakers. The first group is descended from Amish who moved to Indiana from Pennsylvania and Ohio starting in the 1840′s.
Swiss Pennsylvania German is the language spoken by the second group consisting of the second wave of Amish who came to the US from 1815-1860. They came mostly from Switzerland and went straight to Ohio. Swiss Pennsylvania German speakers and regular Pennsylvania German speakers in Ohio have poor mutual intelligibility hence they tend to communicate in English.
Forepalatine German or Vorderpfälzisch is a high level split in Rhenish Franconian that is probably a separate language. It is spoken in the Vorderpfälz Middle Rhine region near Mannheim in the southeast of Rhineland-Palatine.
Dialects include Alsatian Pfälzisch (Elsässisch-Pfälzisch) spoken near Weißenburg (Wissembourg) and Nordelsass in France, Haardtgebirgisch, spoken near Haardtgebirge, Germany, Speyerisch-Landauisch, spoken near Speyer and Landau, Germany, Ludwigshafenerisch, spoken near Ludwigshafen, Germany, and Wormserisch, spoken around Worms, Germany. Speyerisch-Landauisch is still very commonly used in everyday life. Dialect intelligibility is lacking.
Alsatian Pfalzisch is a dialect of Vorderpfälzisch that was spoken by many German colonists in the Black Sea area. This variety of Black Sea German derived from many immigrants that came from the Pfalzisch-speaking part of Alsace in France and settled in Russia during the 1800′s. Many then moved from the Black Sea to North Dakota in the US.
All forms – that spoken in the Black Sea, the form spoken in Alsace, and the form spoken in North Dakota – appear to be intelligible. It is not intelligible with the Low Alemannic Alsatian language widely spoken in Alsace. Intelligibility between this and the Lorraine Pfalzisch in Lorraine and Saarlännisch is not known.
Texas German is apparently a Forepalatine dialect of German spoken by German settlers who came to central Texas in the 1840′s in an attempt to establish a New Germany in the US. It is an endangered language, and there are now projects to try to save it. The youngest speaker is 47 years old. Although it is a unique dialect, mutual intelligibility with Standard German is 95%, so it is not a separate language. It is most closely related to Forepalatine dialects west of Mannheim in the Ludwigshafen area (Guion 1996).
South Hessian (Südhessisch) is a form of Rhenish Franconian. Some South Hessian dialects and languages are Biblis, Darmstadt, Dörnigheim, Haaner, Hanau, Heppenheim, Langenselbold, Seligenstadt, Mainzerisch, Orwisch, Rodgau, Ronneburg, Wetterauisch, Taunus-Hessisch, Untermainländisch, Riedhessisch, and Odenwälderisch. Haaner is spoken in Dreieichenhain, 15 miles south of Frankfurt. Darmstadt South Hessian is still spoken in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, today.
Frankfurterisch South Hessian is a South Hessian dialect spoken in the city of Frankfurt. It has poor intelligibility with Bad Homburg South Hessian 10 miles north of town. It is intelligible with the Kurpfälzisch spoken in Heidelberg.
Bad Homburg South Hessian is a South Hessian language that is spoken in and around Bad Homburg 10 miles north of Frankfurt in Southern Hessen. It is not intelligible with Frankfurterisch, but it is intelligible with lects spoken around it.
Rhenish Hessian (Rheinhessisch) is a South Hessian dialect spoken in Rhenish Hessen around Mainz, Bingen, Bad Kreuznach, and in Hessen in the Rheingau area and Wiesbaden. Others place this language within Westpfälzisch.
Rheingauer Rhinehessen is a dialect of Rhinehessen that is spoken in and around the wine-growing region of Rheingauer. It is intelligible with the rest of Rhenish Hessian.
Hessian is a West Middle German language spoken in Hessen that is closest to Pfalzisch. Hessian is only about 40% intelligible with Standard German. In many cases, Standard German speakers say they can scarcely understand a word of Hessian.
There are many Hessian lects, but intelligibility data is generally lacking between them. Some Hessian lects are surely separate languages. Hessian is spoken northeast of Pfälzisch. Hessian is not intelligible with Luxembourgish or with other Rheinish lects.
There are several main varieties of Hessian: Lower Hessian (or Niederhessisch), Upper Hessian or Central Hessian (Oberhessisch or Mittelhessisch), West Hessian (Weshessisch), South Hessian (Südhessisch) and Wittgenstein Hessian. Within Lower Hessian, there are two subvariants, North Hessian (Nordhessisch) and East Hessian (Osthessisch).
All of these have subdialects.
Lower Hessian (Niederhessisch) is a family of German dialects which contains two large dialects, North Hessian and East Hessian.
North Hessian (Nordhessisch) is a German dialect within Lower Hessian. Further, Hessian is an extremely diverse family. Schenklengsfeld and Kassel are dialects of North Hessian. North Hessian is no longer spoken in many parts of this region, especially in the cities. However, it is still quite alive in small villages, particularly around the Ohm River.
East Hessian (Osthessisch) is part of the Lower Hessian group and is a separate language. Dialects include Salzung.
Fulda East Hessian is not inherently intelligible with Schlitz East Hessian, though many Schlitz East Hessian speakers have learned to speak it (Wahl May 2009). Intelligibility with Voralberg East Hessian is unknown and needs investigation.
Schlitz East Hessian (Schlitzerplatt) is a form of East Hessian spoken in the town of Schlitz in Hessen. Speakers say (Wahl 2009) that it is not intelligible with any other German lects. Hence, it is a separate language.
Voralberg East Hessian is a form of East Hessian spoken in the Voralberg region of the state of Hessen. It has poor intelligibility even with the nearby Schlitz East Hessian, even into the 2000′s. The region is described as desolate and the residents as poor farmers. The language is said to reflect the region and its residents, harsh, cold and brutal (Wahl February 2010). The language is still widely spoken even recently. Since it has poor intelligibility even with Schlitzerplatt, it may well be a separate language.
Upper Hessian or Central Hessian (Oberhessisch or Mittelhessisch), is another high level split in the Hessian family that is definitely a separate language. Central Hessian dialects include Holzhausen, Ruttershausen, Langenbach, and Hättenberger Land (the area around Wetzlar and Gießen). Within Central Hessian, there are probably numerous languages because it is not uncommon for village dialects to not be understood even a few miles away.
Hinterlander Central Hessian (Hinterländer Platt) is a Central Hessian dialect spoken in the Hinterlander region of Hessen.
Wittgenstein Hessian is a highly divergent Hessian dialect that may or may not be a separate language. It is spoken in Wittgenstein in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Volga German is a language or series of languages spoken by Germans in the Volga Region of Russia. Beginning in 1763, Catherine the Great urged Germans to come to Russia to farm empty lands. Many deeply impoverished Germans took up the call and migrated to Russia, where they were given land in the Volga Region.
Volga German in general seems to be a West Middle German Rhenish Franconian language with deep affinities to Hessian, though there are Swabian influences too.
It is almost completely unintelligible with Standard German. This language, like Yiddish, has been deeply influenced by Russian in terms of both lexicon and syntax. Since 1990, many have left Russia for Germany. As in the case of Bohemian German, this may be another trash can category for a variety of lects spoken by different German groups in the Volga.
Although, arguing against this is evidence from the region in 1850 that a Standard Volga German koine (Kolonistendeutsch) was already developing. The language may have an archaic character. German visitors in 1924 noted that it sounded like 17th Century German.
Amana German is still spoken in the Amana Colonies of Iowa. This area was settled by a fundamentalist German Lutheran group called the Inspirationists around 1850. Amana is a mixture of many different German lects, but it is primarily a Buedingen-Geldhausen Hessian lect. There is also major Swabian influence.
Even in the US, each village continued to have its own dialect until major changes occurred in 1932, after which a Standard Amana German developed. Intelligibility with Amana German and the rest of German is not known.
Ostfränkisch (East Franconian) is a High German language group transitional between Central and High German. It is spoken in Thuringia, Bavaria, Hessen and Baden-Württemberg around Eisenach, Coburg, Würzburg, Hof, Bayreuth, Plauen and Bamberg, in the area east of Frankfurt, to southern and western Thuringia and out to the Vogtland. It has a very high number of speakers. Klein-Allmerspan, Oberschefflenz, and Kupfer River are dialects. It is not intelligible at all with any type of Bavarian, even the Bavarian spoken nearby, and it is said to be only understandable by those who live there.
Main-Franconian is one of the Ostfrankisch (East Franconian) High German languages that are transitional between Central and High German. It is spoken along the Main River which runs into the Rhine.
It is spoken in Germany in the Main-Tauber District of Baden-Württemberg, in Upper Franconia (Oberfranken) in Bavaria, and in Schmalkalden-Meiningen, Hildburghausen, Sonneberg, and the city of Suhl in southern Thuringia. It is also spoken around Schlüchtern in Eastern Hesse near the border with northwest Bavaria.
Major cities where it is spoken include Bayreuth. This language is not intelligible at all with German Bavarian (Kirmaier 2009).
There are many Main-Franconian lects.
Taubergründisch is an East Franconian lect spoken in Bavaria in Euerhausen and Sonderhofen, and in Baden-Württemberg in Weikersheim, Bad Mergentheim, and Tauberbischofsheim. This lect borders on South Franconian.
Ansbachisch is an East Franconian lect. I am not sure where it is spoken.
Lower Franconian (Unterfränkisch) is a Main-Franconian lect spoken in Würzburg and Schweinfurt in the Unterfranken or Lower Franconian region of Bavaria. There is high but not complete intelligibility between Lower Franconian and the rest of Main-Franconian (Kirmaier 2009), but it appears that Lower Franconian is not fully intelligible with Main-Franconian since Lower Franconian is not even intelligible within itself.
However, Lower Franconian has huge dialectal diversity. There are apparently over 250 dialects of Lower Franconian alone. Some of these dialects are not very different, but others are so different that intelligibility is poor. Villages spaced far apart often have poor intelligibility. There are a number of separate languages in Lower Franconian, but until we can begin to delineate them, we can’t list any. These small lects appear to be dying out lately.
Grabfeldisch is a Main-Franconian lect spoken in Bad Königshofen and Mellrichstadt in Bavaria, in Römhild and Frankenheim in Thuringia, and in Gersfeld and Hilders in Hessen. Schlüchtern may be a dialect.
Bambergerisch is a Main-Franconian lect spoken in Bamberg, Forchheim, and Erlangen in Bavaria.
Hennebergisch is a Main-Franconian language spoken in Schmalkalden, Meiningen, Zella-Mehlis, Suhl, and Schleusingen in Thuringia.
Itzgründisch is a Main-Franconian language spoken in Coburg, Neustadt and Bad Staffelstein in Bavaria and in Sonneberg, Effelder-Rauenstein, and Hildburghausen in Thuringia. Itzgründisch is not intelligible with Upper Saxon and probably with none of the other Main-Franconian lects either. Sonnebarger is a dialect spoken in Sonneberg.
Frammersbacher Welschen is spoken in the town of Frammersbach in the Spessart area. It is a secret language, so not a dialect proper.
Upper Franconian (Oberfränkisch) is a Main-Franconian lect spoken in Bavaria in Bayreuth, Kulmbach, Kronach, Hof, and Lichtenfels. It has high, but not full, intelligibility with Lower Franconian.
Hof Upper Franconian (Hofer) is the Upper Franconian language spoken in Hof. Hofer is very divergent, even within itself, and in all probability it is a separate language.
Rhöner Platt East Franconian is a complex dialect, possibly a separate language, that is hard to characterize and is spoken around the Rhön area of eastern Hessen. This is a Middle German language, but it hard to say if it is East or West Middle German because it has been influenced by both.
It has been influenced by East Franconian, Hessian and Thuringian. This language is spoken around the Fulda Gap between the former nations of East and West Germany. It is not intelligible to people even 15 miles away, so it must be a separate language.
Central Franconian (Mittelfränkischen) is spoken in the Mittelfranken or Central Franconian region. This is a language spoken in and around Nuremberg that is very different from the rest of East Franconian to the extent that it is not intelligible with it (Kirmaier 2009). Therefore, it is a separate language.
There are some dialects of this language. Hetzle is spoken in the village of the same name near Nuremberg. Fürther is spoken in the town of Fürth near Nuremberg. Nuernbergerisch is spoken in the city of Nuremberg. There are apparently some dialects of Central Franconian in the rural areas that are impossible for even native speakers of Fürther to understand. Therefore, there is more than one language in Central Franconian, but we need some details before we proceed.
Hohenlohisch is an East Franconian dialect that is spoken around Bad Mergentheim, Crailsheim, Gerabronn, Künzelsau, Öhringen, and Schwäbisch Hall in Baden-Württemberg. This is probably the same language as Schwäbisch-Fränkisch, a type of East Franconian that is spoken on the border of the Swabian speaking area.
Vogtländisch is one of the Ostfrankisch (East Franconian) High German dialects that are transitional between Central and High German. It is spoken in Vogtland in Saxony, and it is also spoken in Austria. It is intelligible with Erzgebirgisch, but not with any other German lects (Goldammer 2009).
Speakers now are mostly elderly, as children have not been raised speaking it for some time now. Still, there are quite a few speakers.
The dialects differ drastically from one another but are nevertheless intelligible with each other. Cities where it is spoken include Plauen and Klingenthal.
There are four dialects.
Middle Vogtländisch (Mittelvogtländisch) is spoken around Mühltroff, Treuen, and Oelsnitz.
Northern or Nether Vogtländisch (Nordvogtländisch) is spoken along a line going from Reichenbach – Mylau – Netzschkau – Elsterberg – Pausa.
Eastern Vogtländisch (Ostvogtländisch) is spoken around Göltzschtal from Falkenstein to Lengenfeld.
Upper Vogtländisch (Obervogtländisch) is spoken south to a line running from Bobenneukirchen – Oelsnitz – Werda – Schöneck.
Eastern Vogtländisch around Klingenthal is regarded as particularly incomprehensible by Standard German speakers.
Erzgebirgisch is an East Middle German language related to East Franconian. Although it is often said to be an Upper Saxon language, the latest thinking is that it is separate from Upper Saxon, and it has little in common linguistically with Upper Saxon. Neither is it intelligible with Upper Saxon.
A good case can be made that it is an East Franconian language. It has high intelligibility with Vogtlandisch and some of the furthermost east varieties of East Franconian.
It is spoken on on the border with the former Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia in Saxony, especially in the area of the Erzgebirge or Ore Mountains. There are other dialects spoken far away in the Harz Mountains in Lower Saxony.
It is losing ground to Upper Saxon, and many speakers are emigrating out of the area, hence the language is declining, but it still has 500,000 speakers. It is also close to Bavarian.
There has been little research on this language since 1929 and even that dealt only with Upper Harz. Historically, this language was created during the 1100′s and 1200′s as East Franconian speakers from the West moved into the Ore Mountains and either displaced or assimilated Slavic speakers.
It has at least seven dialects, Upper Erzgebirgisch, Fore Erzgebirgisch (Vorerzgebirgisch), East Erzgebirgisch, West Erzgebirgisch, Clausthal-Zellerfeld Erzgebirgisch, Upper Harz Erzgebirgisch, and North Erzgebirgisch. Fore Erzgebirgisch is transitional to East Franconian. All dialects are intelligible.
Upper Harz Erzgebirgisch is located far away from the rest of the dialects to the north in the Upper Harz Mountains (see map below) of Lower Saxony. This dialect is nearly extinct. It still has many elderly speakers, but it is probably not being passed on to children. This dialect is the most different of all, but it is still intelligible with the rest of Erzgebirgisch (Goldammer 2009).
This lect is spoken in the Upper Harz Mountains, is heavily influenced by Ostfälisch and is nearly extinct. It is spoken around the city of Clausthal-Zellerfeld in Lower Saxony. This lect is different mostly in that it is very archaic.
West Erzgebirgish (Westerzgebirgisch), is an Erzgebirgisch dialect spoken around Scheeberg, Marienberg, and Annaberg. This language is not intelligible with Standard German and is regarded as being one of the toughest dialects for Standard German speakers to understand. Intelligibility with Standard German is surely below 40%.
As of 20 years ago, this language was still the primary means of communication in the area, and it still has many speakers. This dialect is transitional to East Franconian. There is a lot of East Franconian influence in this dialect.
The differences between West Erzgebirgisch and East Erzgebirgisch are considerable, but the two are nevertheless intelligible. This lect has a lot of Upper Franconian elements, along with a lot of influence from Eastern Meissenish. West Erzgebirgisch is also similar to Vogtlandisch.
Osterzgebirgisch or East Erzgebirgisch , an Erzgebirgisch dialect, represents a transitional dialect between West Erzgebirgish and Upper Saxon. This dialect has very heavy Upper Saxon influence, and it is losing speakers. This lect is close to Meissenish.
- Anonymous. Saarlandsich speaker. Personal communication. April 2014
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- Pützer, Manfred. 1997. Zu Transkriptionskonventionen Bei Plosiven im Übergangsgebiet Zwischen Moselfränkischen und Rheinfränkischen Dialekten im Germanophonen Lothringen (Frankreich). Phonus 3:25-60.
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- Smith, Norval. March 2009. Personal communication.
- Wahl, Petra. March 2009. German and Schlitz East Hessian native speaker. Personal communication.
- Wahl, Petra. May 2009. German and Schlitz East Hessian native speaker. Personal communication.
- Wahl, Petra. February 2010. German and Schlitz East Hessian native speaker. Personal communication.
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