Letters from Abroad

Deutschland Dialects

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I have been living in Germany long enough that I feel reasonably comfortable talking about the different dialects in the north and the south. Though I have not yet had the opportunity to hear certain regional varieties (such as Kölsch and Bayrisch, among others), I have gotten a feel for the major distinctions between “Platt” (low) and “Hoch” (high) German.

I heard Platt German everywhere when I was living in Freiburg. It is Germany’s version of a Southern drawl, and it is equally as charming as that of the United States. True to the image of southerners, southern Germans tend to be older and more conservative. The language, too, is slower and more drawn out. For example, when saying “ja,” someone from the south will take their sweet time, making it sound like a very guttural, low-pitched “jaaa.” Another unique attribute of Platt German is the rolled ‘r.’ This sound is definitely not typical in Germany, and, in fact, some Germans find it practically impossible to make the sound at all. But while I was there, people made it very clear that I was living in “Frrreiburrrg.” The language in general is just very guttural, with a lot of emphasis on the “sh” and “ch” sounds. So, to say “I am from Freiburg,” a true southern German would say, “Isch komme ausch Frrreiburrrg.” Though such an accent could be easy to mimic or ridicule, I think it also represents the Southern German lifestyle, which was very relaxed and carefree.

In contrast, Hoch German reflects the urban, modern style of Northern Germany. Unlike the slow drawl of their southern neighbors, northern Germans speak a bit quicker and make a lot of words as short as they possibly can. To be honest, this form of German reminds me of my local slang Pittsburghese, where we drop tons of vowels in order to convey a message (a.k.a. “did you eat yet” becomes “jeetjet”). The best word to describe Hoch German is “knapp,” which translates to terse and brief. You would never catch a northern German drawling out a long “ja;” they prefer to say it as quickly as possible. Even the name of my city is shortened from Bremen to just “Brem.”

My favorite, though, is the standard Bremen greeting of “Moin.” Apparently, this word at one point was the phrase “guten Morgen.” As I see it, over time, this got shortened to “Morgen,” but even that still took too much time, which must have been when the endearing “Moin” came to be. It took me quite a while to get used to this phrase, let alone to use: I was not entirely sure how to say it, or when.
But now that I have the hang of it, it seems so natural. My favorite was when my roommate and I both said “Moin” to a German in our dorm, and he answered with “Moin moin!” Even when I say “Moin” to someone who does not acknowledge the greeting, I always feel like a part of this city’s culture when I say it. After all, as Shakespeare once said, “It is better to have said Moin and received no response, than to never have said Moin at all.”