Article - Dialects and Language in Austria: Research and Changes
Monday, April 3, 2023 - Vienna, Austria
Among the most frequently asked questions about Austria, language-related inquiries stand out, especially those regarding the differences between Austrian German and standard literary German.
Differences in German Dialects in Austria
Austria is home to several dialects that can be classified as Bavarian and Alemannic. The Bavarian dialect is widespread in Western and Southern Austria, including Tyrol, Salzburg, and Carinthia. On the other hand, the Alemannic dialect prevails in Upper Austria, Vienna, Lower Austria, and Burgenland.
Each of these dialects has its unique characteristics, and some of them may be challenging to understand even for speakers of standard German. Some well-known Austrian dialects include the Tyrolean, Carinthian, Viennese, Graz, and Linz dialects. However, there is no exact count of dialects in Austria, as they can vary depending on the region and subregion.
Research on Austrian Dialects: Salzburg University's Global Project
Language-related questions are not only of concern to newcomers but also to the Austrian academic community. Salzburg University has embarked on a global research project focusing on Austrian dialects, exploring how they are changing and which ones continue to be spoken in Austria. This work is part of a larger linguistic project studying the use of the German language in Austria, which will be carried out until 2025. The project has been allocated a funding of 6.3 million euros.
The linguistic project involves both elderly and young local residents from different regions of Austria who are not involved in tourism or hold official government positions. They are asked to translate a set of phrases from standard German into the dialect they use in their daily lives.
As a result of this research, it has been found that dialects are actively evolving and transitioning from local to regional varieties. Philologists are convinced that soon it will be challenging to distinguish between a resident of Pongau and their neighbor from Pinzgau based on their dialect. Moreover, some dialects, like the old Salzburg dialect, once spoken by inhabitants of Salzburg, Flachgau, and Rupertiwinkel in Bavaria, are on the verge of extinction.
Dialects and Standard Language in Austria: Social Function and Changes
Dominik Walner, a philologist from Salzburg University, is confident that dialects will not completely disappear as they serve an essential social function that cannot be fulfilled by the standard literary language or Hochdeutsch. Specifically, dialects reflect the everyday life of small social groups.
Preliminary conclusions have already been drawn from the research. Urban residents tend to prefer the standard German language, which over time becomes even more prestigious. The main challenge with dialects lies in the difficulty of conveying the specific sounds and combinations of sounds used in writing. Even modern keyboards do not support such characters and symbols.
Furthermore, a clear conclusion is that a person speaking in standard German can be understood in any part of the country.