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High German or Swiss German?

Today, we've been talking about the differences between High German (standard German) and Swiss German at the office. We all agreed that despite being somewhat similar in vocabulary and grammar the two languages are very different. Yes, two LANGUAGES! Swiss German is not a dialect of German despite the misleading name. You don't believe me? Here are two reasons you should.

The existence of an obligatory non-word in Swiss German

There is a non-word called "goge" in Swiss German. This words does not have any meaning on its own but absolutely must appear in front of every infinitive verb in Swiss German. There is no counterpart to this in Standard German. Examples:
  • Ich gang gern goge poschte = I like to shop
  • Er isch goge tschutte = He went to play soccer

Obligatory definite article before first names in Swiss German

Another very unique characteristic of the Swiss German language is the definite article "de" or "die" (usually shortened to "d'") before first names. During my studies I learned that there are only very few languages in the whole world that allow a definite article in front of a first name. In Swiss German the definite article is a must, in German it is only used to point someone out! Examples:
  • De Roland isch am schlafe = [The] Roland is sleeping
  • D'Christine singt = [The] Christine is singing

Which language to learn when moving to Switzerland

Now, I was lucky enough to learn Swiss German and High German from an early age and I'm fluent in both. I was wondering, however, which language would be harder to learn if I didn't know them. The big problem with Swiss German is that there are barely any language courses for it since it is not officially a written language. But then German has a much more complicated grammar.

I would suggest learning German before moving to Switzerland or shortly after moving here and then try to pick up Swiss German as you manage daily life like shopping, friends, sports clubs and the rest.

For some examples of Swiss German phrases and words check out the Swiss German Dictionary!

And which language do you consider more useful and important for your life as an expat here in Switzerland? Let me know!

Image by Christian Ferrari


© 2012 IRENE WYRSCH "A HUMOROUS GUIDE TO SWITZERLAND" ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Comments

  1. Der Miss peaches,

    I do not really agree with your perception. Therefore I write.

    But before I start to argue, please be aware of that for the special situation in the German part of Switzerland linguists have a term for: diglossia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diglossia).
    Or in more simpler words: Swiss German (in fact: one of the many German dialects spoken in German Switzerland) and (Swiss) Standard German are just the two sides of the very same medal; though, in the case of the rather less educated Swiss, you could say that the (Swiss) Standard German is definitely the back (say: weak) part of this medal. But, and this is the point here, they are not separable.

    And yes! Any of the Swiss German dialects are German dialects (what else!?), or to be more precise: they are the descendants of so-called Alemannic dialects being spoken until about 200 years ago. And of course, all areas in the German world of today have common language roots not older than about 1500 to 200 years. And of course, also German and English have common roots, namely in the Indo-European (also: indo-german) language family (http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:IndoEuropeanTree.svg&page=1&filetimestamp=20120417123403). Though their common roots are just a "bit" older than the ones between German and the Swiss German dialects; you could simplistically name them cousins, Swiss German dialects and the German language spoken in Germany. The relationship between English and German is also obvious, but of course (because of much older common roots) not that close.

    Well, they are eventually two languages, depending on whatever definition you are referring to, but they are definitely two different sides of the same medal, and therefore very closely related.


    About "gogo":

    Yes, of course there are German equivalents for this. I speak in plural, since it depends on the context. BTW: I, myself, say "go" and not "goge", e.g. "Ech gang gärn go poschte".

    - "Ech gang gärn go poschte": Here "go/goge" is the equivalent of the "to" in English ("to shop")! The German word would be "zu", but not used anymore in that context.
    - "Är esch go tschutte": Here, "go/goge" is "just" the past perfect (German: Plusquamperfekt) of the verb "gehen": "Er ist Fussball spielen GEGANGEN". The same is true in English.


    About the article "der/die":

    This is "just" a reminiscence of common, older times in "both" languages, Swiss German (dialects) and Standard German. Though, you can still experience it in the modern German as well: "Die Christine singt!", is perfect correctly spoken German, but it just pronounces the eventually surprising fact that Christine sings.


    By the way, it would be very naive to claim that such minor differences in the usage of a language are a good reason to write two different grammar books, two dictionaries (though this is just existing in the diglossic world of Swiss German) etc., because the similarities are just to many. Finally, language is a living corpus, and constantly changes over time, geographical locations, societal backgrounds etc, just to name a few.

    And I would not even say that Standard German is more complicated in Grammar, it is just more formalised (say:standardised) and therefore errors are obviously more checkable and claimable. And there are indeed very good reasons that things are standardised (e.g. ease of use), but this is another subject. And further: E.g. in the Bernese dialect there are grammatical structures even unknown to Standard German. And finally let's not start to speak about the Walliser Deutsch!

    So let me finalise with: Let us see the world more diversified and let us stop to oversimplify.

    Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Martin

      Thank you for your informative comment. I like when people challenge what I'm writing!

      I am very well aware that Swiss German and Standard German are closely related. One can definitely argue convincingly that Swiss German is just one amongst many dialects of German and just as well that Swiss German is its own language. I believe that the answer to this question is usually not a purely linguistically motivated one. I mean the difference between Swedish and Danish is not much bigger than between Swiss German and High German - but who would call them just dialects of each other? And would Swedish be a a Danish dialect or vice versa? Where do you draw the line between languages?

      Personally, I get tired of explaining people that we Swiss don't speak Swiss or German but Swiss German. So I admit my opinion that Swiss German is its own language is probably influenced by some patriotistic notion. Can you blame me for that? Not that I don't like Germans - I just prefer to be uniquely Swiss.

      About the "goge". True, it is grammatically used to mark an infinitve. But what makes it so uniquely Swiss is the fact that you MUST add it before the infinitive. In High German it is optional. The same is true for the definite article. Like you said you can use it in German but there it is always optional. My goal was simply to point out this difference.

      Maybe I'm guilty of oversimplifying but sometimes that helps to get a better grasp of things. No?!

      Delete
    2. Dear MP,

      > I like when people challenge what I'm writing!

      Good :)

      > Personally, I get tired of explaining people that we Swiss don't speak Swiss or German but Swiss German.

      It is definitely reasonable to use abbreviations, because it makes life easier. And 'Swiss German' is a reasonable abbreviation for: "The set of all Allemannic-based dialects currently spoken in the German part of the political-geographical area called Switzerland". And as long as both, the speaker and the addressee, know what it stands for, there is no reason why not to use the abbreviation, rather the opposite e.g. ;-)

      > And would Swedish be a a Danish dialect or vice versa? Where do you draw the line between languages?

      I do not know a lot about those scandinavian languages. But as I said, it is the question of how to define it (or rather the answer to it). And this is mainly an issue by academics, namely the linguists. And it must serve mainly their purposes. Though, it is often - too often - misused by poorly politically motivated interests with rather questionable, chauvinistic purposes.

      > Maybe I'm guilty of oversimplifying but sometimes that helps to get a better grasp of things. No?!

      Well, that very much depends on the situation. If it improves the understanding, there is no reason not to do it. But, e.g. if you know, or you could assume, that the addressee is not aware of some inherently underlying circumstances, but which are unavoidably important to know and necessary in order to understand your arguments, it would be a waste of time and a pity, if you would not address the otherwise as implicitely assumed common knowledge.

      BTW: I made a mistake:

      > - "Ech gang gärn go poschte": Here "go/goge" is the equivalent of the "to" in English ("to shop")! The German word would be "zu", but not used anymore in that context.

      In "Ich gehe gerne einkaufen" the "zu" is not used, but when you say "Ich liebe es einZUkaufen" (which is even more similar to the English "I like to shop") then you still find it even in modern German ;-) So it is rather dependent on what verb you use!?

      Delete
    3. So how about "ich liebes GOGE Z'poscht"? Wouldnt that make it double? The German "zu" is the equivalent of the Swiss German "z'". Wouldnt you agree?

      Btw: how come your comments get marked as spam?!

      Delete
    4. > So how about "ich liebes GOGE Z'poscht"? Wouldnt that make it double? The German "zu" is the equivalent of the Swiss German "z'". Wouldnt you agree?

      First of all, ask a linguist, I am not one of them. Secondly, I must admit, my active grammatical knowledge of Standard German is many times better than in Swiss German, actually almost zero, since I use my dialect just intuitively (quite opposite to my Swiss Standard German's usage).

      But I would say that "ech liebs GO z'poschte" you could translate to: "Ich liebe es einkaufen zu GEHEN", so in this construction, "go/goge" equalises with the verb "gehen". And further, since Swiss German dialects are not standardised, you, as an user of it, can use it as you like as long as your environment, the ones who speak the same language, supports you to do so by using the same language construction you eventually invented. But I think, it is a mix, a combination of both, the Swiss German ("Ech gang gärn GO POSCHTE") and the Standard German ("Ich LIEBE ES einZUkaufen") variants, since "Ech liebe es" supposedly is rather a modern influence by the current Standard German than original Swiss. Not so surprising for a diglossic speaker ;-)


      See also the "PopoFüdli" invention by Urs Stephan Alder's son Max (see the comments of the article: http://www.tagesanzeiger.ch/kultur/diverses/Ich-wuerde-einfach-weiterhin-Fuedli-sagen/story/10669699):

      "Unser kleiner Sohn Max - Ergebnis einer Deutsch-Schweizer Ehe - ist da ganz pragmatisch. Er macht einfach eine 'Fusion' der Sprachstile und so heisst es eben PopoFüdli. Und siehe da alle Knirpse und Erwachsenen, D oder CH, verstehen ihn."

      > Btw: how come your comments get marked as spam?!

      I have no idea - I do not know how your blog works :-|

      Delete

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