Mutual Intelligibility in “German”

RL: “Low Franconian is just Dutch.”

Anglo-Saxon Maverick: I would assume that low German, comes from the Northern regions of Germany close to the North Sea, where the elevation is lower?, as opposed to further South where the Alps rise? Holland is topographically lower than France, hence the name?

Yes, the Netherlands is very low in elevation, in fact, I believe it is even below sea level, hence the need for dikes to keep the sea out and polders or reclaimed land formerly flooded by the sea.

Yes, this exactly where Low German comes from of course.

And yes, Upper German comes from the region by the Alps, and Middle German is in between the two. These are actually at least three completely different languages, but Germany will not officially recognize them as such and neither will many German speakers. Even Bavarian and Swiss German are completely separate languages – those are not the same languages as German at all.

A German speaker cannot understand a Swiss German, Low German or even a Bavarian speaker at all. I heard a story about a White man who even learned Munich Bavarian who said he sat in a hot tub with two women who were speaking some Bavarian dialect to the south of Munich near the Austrian border. Over a 2-3 hour period, he said he did not understand one single word that they said, even though all three spoke Bavarian. Bavarian speakers to the south of Munich often cannot understand people even 15 miles away. In these cases, they all communicate via Hochdeutch or Standard German.

In Austria, every region or county speaks its own version of Bavarian and it is said that none of them can understand each other. At least in the 1970’s, people from 3-4 counties in the west of Austria could sit at a table and talk and none of them could really understand each other. Even pure Viennese Bavarian which is very much dying out nowadays simply cannot be understood outside of the Vienna region and nowadays a lot of Viennese themselves cannot even understand it.


Filed under Austria, Bavarian, Dutch, Europe, German, Germanic, Germany, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Linguistics, Low German, Netherlands, Regional, Switzerland

8 responses to “Mutual Intelligibility in “German”

  1. Jason Y

    When I was in South Korea, a woman from Seoul took a trip to the south coast and was laughing at the dialect there. However, a foreigner, unless highly skilled in Korean wouldn’t know the difference.

  2. Anglo-Saxon Maverick

    Robert- Please forgive that comment if it seemed to be pointing out the painstakingly obvious. I used to be fascinated with Geography (both physical and cultural/anthropological) and have recently became more interested again.

  3. Joerg Hensiek

    Until the early 18 the century the whole region of the North German plains – including modern Holland – was called the Niederlande (Netherlands), in contrast to the Oberland (mountaineous “upper lands”) of central and southern Germany. From the beginning of the 19th century this name lost its orginal meaning and was from then on exclusively confined to the political state of the Netherlands. Old Saxon and old low German (which emerged from Old Saxon) has hardly any relatedness to Hochdeutsch (High German) – apart from that all these are West Germanic languages.. High German had its origin in the 13th century/14 century in Franconia (northern Bavaria) and Thuringia. But also Bavarian (southern Bavaria and Austria) as well as Swabian contributed to it. High German started as a “solicitor slang” and became so popular that it was spoken throughout southern Germany by the 15th century – also of course not just the “common people” spoke it with heavy accents and also spoke their local dialects. The “new low German” that was spoken throughout northern Germany since the 15/16th century is not a descendant of Old Saxon or Old low German, but rather a northern variety of Hochdeutsch with a regional slang and some “relicts” of the former old languages spoken in the region. The only languages spoken in modern German, which are not closely related to Hochdeutsch are Sorbian (slavonic language in East Germany) and Frisian in the very north.

  4. Hey Robert, how old is Proto-Germanic? Proto-Slavic must be recent since there isn’t much difference between each slavic language like there is with Germanic and Latin languages.

  5. S.D.

    I’m German American. Half my family is Prussian German and the other half is from Munich in the South. I can answer this, sort of.

    English is actually from Denmark.

    These folks were never from Germany, they were from Saxony and Angles They were Scandinavians.

    Normans brought a great deal of Latin words into the English language but they themselves were Norwegians.

    Brits have no German in them. They are Scandinavian and Celtic. Their language reflects this..

  6. Trudi

    For a start, when you speak of the German language, you need to distinguish between “Hochdeutsch” (High German), which is universal to German speaking countries and the regional dialects. Whether you read a book, newspaper or listen to the news on TV, you hear High German, when you talk to your family and friends, you revert to dialect.

    I was born and raised in Austria and grew up speaking the Bavarian dialect that is spoken in most parts of Austria with the exception of Tyrol, which uses a slight variation of the dialect. To suggest that Austrians do not understand one another when they speak in dialect, is absolute nonsense.

    I have to admit that I do not understand Swiss when they speak “Schwytzerdütsch” (Swiss German), but again, there are no communications issue if everybody drops their dialect.

    At school we had to speak High German and the same applies to the business world. Except for Bavarians, Germans speak High German, though the further north you travel, the harsher the language sounds. Dutch, despite it’s German origin, is a different language altogether, I do not understand the spoken word, but can decipher some of the written language.

    • I have reports from the counties in the west from the mid 1970’s that stated that each county had its own dialect and that the different counties could not understand each other well. I continue to get reports of many regional dialects in Austria that are not understandable outside of the county or region.

      However, you can always revert to Standard Austrian Bavarian and then everyone can understand each other.

      As long as I continue to get reports that contradict what you are saying, I am not going to change my post.

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