Language varieties are an integral part of nation’s linguistic identity. They don’t only testify to the linguistic richness of a country, but are evidence of the cultural richness of a nation. One of the languages with linguistic variants is German, which belongs to the Western group of Germanic languages. It’s one of the official languages in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg. It is also an official language of the European Union and is spoken by around 128 million people.

Learners of German learn what is known as standard German (Hochdeutsch) but pay little attention to the linguistic differences between German, Austrian and Swiss. The idea of the German language is sometimes limited to the statement that German has the same form in all countries of the German speaking area. Generally speaking, people in countries where German is the official language can communicate with each other without any problems, but it is worth mentioning that Germans sometimes have trouble understanding Austrians or Swiss. It is therefore worth pointing out what linguistic differences in the various German speaking countries there are.

The Austrian variety – brief characteristics

One variant of German language is the Austrian variant. It is characterised by a vocabulary that sometimes differs from standard German, which can sometimes result in communication problems between Germans and Austrians. It is also worth noting that there are some words  in both German an Austrian which have the same form but a completely different meaning. Furthermore, there are words in the Austrian variant that do not occur in the German used in Germany. An important point concerning the differences between standard German and the Austrian variant are grammatical rules specific to the two varieties. It is worth noting that some German nouns of the feminine gender have a neuter gender in the Austrian variety. Below you can see some of the differences.

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An important point concerning the grammatical rules of the German variety used in the Republic of Austria is the use of different sentence formation. For example, the German sentence in the Perfekt tense: “I know that I had to go to shop.”, will be translated into standard German as:

“Ich weiß, dass ich ins Geschäft habe gehen müssen.”

On the other hand, the conjugated auxiliary verb haben will be placed in the Austrian variant between the verbs gehen and müssen:

“Ich weiß, dass ins Geschäft gehen habe müssen”.

The same form of the verb müssen is used for the Imperfekt tense in both varieties German and Austrian:

“Ich weiß, dass ich ins Geschäft gehen musste”.

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The Swiss variety – what can surprise us?

Another important variety of German is the Swiss variety. The vocabulary characteristic to the Swiss variety (so-callled Helveticisms) is much less understandable for a present-day German that the aforementioned Austrianisms. Below you can see the differences between modern German and the Swiss variety.

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To sum up, the German language spoken in German speaking countries has several varieties depending on the country (or region) where it is spoken. It is worth mentioning that a German will have no major problems understanding an Austrian or a Swiss. Problems may arise with some words which show some similarity to the German which is spoken in the Federal Republic of Germany and which in the Austrian variety will not be understood by the average German. While asking for text translations or product localization services into the German language, it’s advisable to inform your translator or translation agency which kind of German you need.

(translation M.F.)

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