Austrian German

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Austrian German
Standard Austrian German
Austrian High German
Österreichisches Standarddeutsch, Österreichisches Hochdeutsch
Pronunciation [ˈøːstɐʁaɪ̯çɪʃəs ˈʃtandaʁtdɔʏtʃ] (or [-ˈstan-])
[ˈøːstɐʁaɪ̯çɪʃəs ˈhoːxdɔʏtʃ]
Region Austria, Italy
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None
IETF de-AT[1]

Austrian German[2] (German: Österreichisches Deutsch), Austrian Standard German,[3][4] Standard Austrian German[5] (German: Österreichisches Standarddeutsch) or Austrian High German[2][6] (German: Österreichisches Hochdeutsch), is the variety of Standard German written and spoken in Austria. It has the highest sociolinguistic prestige locally, as it is the variation used in the media and for other formal situations.

In less formal situations, Austrians tend to use forms closer to or identical with the Bavarian and Alemannic dialects, traditionally spoken – but rarely written – in Austria.


Austrian German has its beginning in the mid-18th century, when empress Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II introduced compulsory schooling (in 1774) and several reforms of administration in their multilingual Habsburg empire. At the time, the written standard was Oberdeutsche Schreibsprache, which was highly influenced by the Bavarian and Alemannic dialects of Austria. Another option was to create a new standard based on the Southern German dialects, as proposed by the linguist Janez Žiga Popovič (Johann Siegmund Popowitsch). Instead they decided for pragmatic reasons to adopt the already standardized Chancellery language of Saxony (Sächsische Kanzleisprache or Meißner Kanzleideutsch), which was based on the administrative language of the non-Austrian area of Meißen and Dresden. Thus Standard Austrian German has the same geographic origin as the Standard German of Germany (Bundesdeutsches Hochdeutsch, also Deutschländisches Deutsch) and Swiss High German (Schweizer Hochdeutsch, not to be confused with the Alemannic Swiss German dialects).

The process of introducing the new written standard was led by Joseph von Sonnenfels. Since 1951 the standardized form of Austrian German for official texts and schools is defined by the Austrian Dictionary (Österreichisches Wörterbuch), published under the authority of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture.

General situation of German

As German is a pluricentric language, Austrian German is merely one among several varieties of Standard German. Much like the relationship between British English and American English, the German varieties differ in minor respects (e.g., spelling, word usage and grammar) but are recognizably equivalent and largely mutually intelligible.

Standard German in Austria

The official Austrian dictionary, das Österreichische Wörterbuch, prescribes grammatical and spelling rules defining the official language. The 1996 spelling reform is somewhat practiced in Austria. The "sharp s" (ß) is used in Austria, as in Germany.

A street sign in Vienna: Fußgeher ("pedestrian") is normally Fußgänger in Germany. Capital ẞ was rare in both countries, often replaced by SS when in all caps.

With German's being a pluricentric language, German dialects in Austria should not be confused with the variety of Standard German spoken by most Austrians, which is distinct from that of Germany or Switzerland. Distinctions in vocabulary persist, for example, in culinary terms, where communication with Germans is frequently difficult, and administrative and legal language, which is due to Austria's exclusion from the development of a German nation-state in the late 19th century and its manifold particular traditions. A comprehensive collection of Austrian-German legal, administrative and economic terms is offered in Markhardt, Heidemarie: Wörterbuch der österreichischen Rechts-, Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungsterminologie (Peter Lang, 2006).

Former spoken standard

The "former standard", used for about 300 years or more in speech in refined language, was the Schönbrunner Deutsch, a sociolect spoken by the imperial Habsburg family and the nobility of Austria-Hungary. It differed from other dialects in vocabulary and pronunciation; it appears to have been spoken with a slight degree of nasality. This was not a standard in a modern technical sense, as it was just the social standard of upper-class speech.[7]

Special written forms

For many years, Austria had a special form of the language for official government documents. This form is known as Österreichische Kanzleisprache, or "Austrian chancellery language". It is a very traditional form of the language, probably derived from medieval deeds and documents, and has a very complicated structure and vocabulary generally reserved for such documents. For most speakers (even native speakers), this form of the language is generally difficult to understand, as it contains many highly specialised terms for diplomatic, internal, official, and military matters. There are no regional variations, because this special written form has mainly been used by a government that has now for centuries been based in Vienna.

Österreichische Kanzleisprache is now used less and less, thanks to various administrative reforms that reduced the number of traditional civil servants (Beamter). As a result, Standard German is replacing it in government and administrative texts.

European Union

When Austria became a member of the European Union, the Austrian variety of the German language — limited to 23 agricultural terms — was "protected" in Protocol no. 10, regarding the use of Austrian-specific terms in the framework of the European Union, which forms part of the Austrian EU accession treaty.[8] Austrian German is the only variety of a pluricentric language recognized under international law or EU primary law. All facts concerning “Protocol no. 10” are documented in Markhardt's Das österreichische Deutsch im Rahmen der EU, Peter Lang, 2005.



In Austria, as in the German-speaking parts of Switzerland and in southern Germany, verbs that express a state tend to use sein as the auxiliary verb in the perfect, as well as verbs of movement. Verbs which fall into this category include sitzen (to sit), liegen (to lie) and, in parts of Carinthia, schlafen (to sleep). Therefore, the perfect of these verbs would be ich bin gesessen, ich bin gelegen and ich bin geschlafen respectively (note: ich bin geschlafen is a rarely used form, more commonly ich habe geschlafen is used).

In Germany, the words stehen (to stand) and gestehen (to confess) are identical in the present perfect: habe gestanden. The Austrian variant avoids this potential ambiguity (bin gestanden from stehen, "to stand"; and habe gestanden from gestehen, "to confess").

In addition, the preterite (simple past) is very rarely used in Austria, especially in the spoken language, with the exception of some modal verbs (i.e. ich sollte, ich wollte).


There are many official terms that differ in Austrian German from their usage in most parts of Germany. Words primarily used in Austria are Jänner (January) rather than Januar, heuer (this year) rather than dieses Jahr, Stiege (stairs) instead of Treppe, Rauchfang (chimney) instead of Schornstein, many administrative, legal and political terms – and a whole series of foods such as: Erdäpfel (potatoes) German Kartoffeln (but Dutch Aardappel), Schlagobers (whipped cream) German Schlagsahne, Faschiertes (ground beef) German Hackfleisch (but Hungarian fasírt, Slovenian informal faširano), Fisolen (green beans) German Gartenbohnen (but Czech fazole, Italian fagioli, Slovenian fižol, Hungarian folkish paszuly), Karfiol (cauliflower) German Blumenkohl (but Hungarian and Slovak karfiol, Italian cavolfiore), Kohlsprossen (Brussels sprouts) German Rosenkohl, Marillen (apricots) German Aprikosen (but Slovak marhuľa, Polish morela, Slovenian marelice, Croatian marelica), Paradeiser (tomatoes) German Tomaten (but Hungarian paradicsom, Slovak paradajka, Slovenian paradižnik, Serbian paradajz), Palatschinken (pancakes) German Pfannkuchen (but Czech palačinky, Hungarian palacsinta, Slovenian palačinke), Topfen (a semi-sweet cottage cheese) German Quark and Kren (horseradish) German Meerrettich (but Czech křen, Slovak chren, Slovenian hren, etc.).[9]

There are, however, some false friends between the two regional varieties:

  • Kasten (wardrobe) instead of Schrank, as opposed to Kiste (box) instead of Kasten. Kiste in Germany means both "box" and "chest".
  • Sessel (chair) instead of Stuhl. Sessel means "easy chair" in Germany and Stuhl means "stool (faeces)" in both varieties.
  • Vorzimmer (hall[way]) instead of Diele. Vorzimmer means "antechamber" in Germany
  • Ofen (oven) instead of Kamin. Kamin is Schornstein in Germany



Regional accents

In addition to the standard variety, in everyday life most Austrians speak one of a number of Upper German dialects.

While strong forms of the various dialects are not fully mutually intelligible to northern Germans, communication is much easier in Bavaria, especially rural areas, where the Bavarian dialect still predominates as the mother tongue. The Central Austro-Bavarian dialects are more intelligible to speakers of Standard German than the Southern Austro-Bavarian dialects of Tyrol.

Viennese, the Austro-Bavarian dialect of Vienna, is most frequently used in Germany to do an impression of the typical inhabitant of Austria. The people of Graz, the capital of Styria, speak yet another dialect which is not very Styrian and more easily understood by people from other parts of Austria than other Styrian dialects, for example from western Styria.

Simple words in the various dialects are very similar, but pronunciation is distinct for each and, after listening to a few spoken words, it may be possible for an Austrian to realise which dialect is being spoken. However, in regard to the dialects of the deeper valleys of the Tirol, other Tyroleans are often unable to understand them. Speakers from the different states of Austria can easily be distinguished from each other by their particular accents (probably more so than Bavarians), those of Carinthia, Styria, Vienna, Upper Austria, and the Tyrol being very characteristic. Speakers from those regions, even those speaking Standard German, can usually be easily identified by their accent, even by an untrained listener.

Several of the dialects have been influenced by contact with non-Germanic linguistic groups, such as the dialect of Carinthia, where in the past many speakers were bilingual with Slovene, and the dialect of Vienna, which has been influenced by immigration during the Austro-Hungarian period, particularly from what is today the Czech Republic. The German dialects of South Tyrol have been influenced by local Romance languages, particularly noticeable with the many loanwords from Italian and Ladin.

Interestingly, the geographic borderlines between the different accents (isoglosses) coincide strongly with the borders of the states and also with the border with Bavaria, with Bavarians having a markedly different rhythm of speech in spite of the linguistic similarities.

See also


  1. de-AT is an IETF language tag that conforms with the current specification BCP 47 Language Tags (where de-AT happens to be mentioned explicitly). It is often used, for instance in major operating systems (e.g. [1], [2])
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  3. Russ (1994:7, 61–65, 69, 70)
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  7. Here are some examples of Schönbrunner Deutsch:
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  9. Otto Back, Erich Benedikt, Karl Blüml, et al.: Österreichisches Wörterbuch (neue Rechtschreibung). Herausgegeben im Auftrag des Bundesministeriums für Unterricht, Kunst und Kultur. Auf der Grundlage des amtlichen Regelwerks. 41. circulation, Österreichischer Bundesverlag, Wien 2009, ISBN 978-3-209-06875-0

References and further reading