In this blog article we shall not traverse to distant countries, rather we shall remain in Germany. As you know, our translation agency Multilingual Office is located in Essen and thus in the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia. A wide variety of dialects are spoken here, from Kölsch to the Münsterländer-Platt. All those who have learned German as a foreign language and are now working as interpreters are constantly confronted with these different dialects. So, how did the German dialects actually emerge?

The Germanic dialects

Nowadays, we encounter insurmountable language barriers when travelling to distant countries, but on the other hand less frequently in our own country. The Teutons, however, already had the same experience in much smaller circles. Once they came across a Germanic tribe that lived a little further away, there were communication problems. Language evolves through its use and this took place in relatively small, closed circles in Germanic times. Thus, different dialects developed from tribe to tribe, which finally led to the so-called first consonant shift. At this point, a split occurred between the Germanic and Indo-European languages.

Distinctions between North and South

With the second consonant shift, between 600 and 800 A.D., there was a further split in the German-speaking region. This time there was a division between North and South. In the south and in the centre, there was a consonant shift and from then on, the German dialects were spoken. However, in the north there were dialects of Low German. P, T and K were the consonants which were now pronounced differently in High German as follows: P became PF or F, T became S or Z and K became CH. In the High German dialects ‘Appel’ became ‘Apfel’, while in the North one still uses the term ‘wat’ instead of ‘was’.

High German dialects

Still, the differences do not end here. In the High German dialect further subtleties could be found. Hereby existed namely the subgroups Central German and Upper German dialects. In the latter case there was no vowel shift at the end of the Middle Ages. They still used the phrase ‘min nü hus’, whereas in the Central German dialect, this phrase became ‘mein neues Haus’.

The dialects in Germany today

At present, 16 superior dialects are spoken in Germany, which can be further subdivided. These large dialect associations include the Westphalian, Bavarian and Rhine-Franconian dialects. Nowadays in Germany, dialect is spoken less often in the city than in the countryside. On the other hand, you cannot tell a person’s level of education by whether they speak dialect or not.

Which dialect do you speak?