5 striking features of the Berlin Dialect

Posted on 29. Oct, 2012 by in Current Events, Language

One of the most painful truths for foreign learners of German is that hardly any German speaks his or her mother language as textbooks propagate. To put it crudely, German is a kind of diglossia, which means that various spoken dialects coexist. These dialects can even be that different from the standard language that even Germans have, from time to time, severe difficulties to understand the dialect from a region other than their own one. For example, when I (a native Brandenburgian) have to talk on the phone with a person, who comes from, for example, Saxony or Baden-Württemberg, I have to concentrate on the conversation and listen carefully to get the intentions of my interlocutor at the other end of the phone. Of course, German is not a serious diglossia – like Arabic – but certain rudiments are observable.

The bad news is: I am not proficient in every of the German dialects. The good news is: I am well versed with the Berlin dialect. On the one hand, Berlinese influences my Brandeburgian dialect to a certain degree, which enables me to speak the Berlin dialect fluently. On the other hand, Berlinese does still differ from my actual dialect, which makes it easier for me to recognize the differences between Standard German and Berlinese.

Below you find the five most striking characteristics of the Berlin dialect. It is important to me to point out that the following compilation is not a scientific description but simply an illustration of what I find most salient about the Berlin dialect.

 

1. “ich” (I) becomes “ick”

This may please all native speakers of English. In Berlin dialect the soft ch-sound in the word “ich” (I) becomes a k-sound.

Ick hab keene Zeit. / Ich habe keine Zeit. (I don’t have time.)

 

2. The expression “wa”

The word “wa” has different meanings. It can either be a question tag at the end of a sentence or a form of “wir” (we).

“Da ham wa aba noch mal Glück jehabt, wa?” / “Da haben wir aber noch mal Glück gehabt, oder/nicht wahr?” (Lucky us, aren’t we?)

The fact that “wa” is a form of “wir” (we) does not mean that the standard form does not exist at all. “Wir” exists but rather only occurs in pre-verbal positions. That is, “wa” only occurs in post-verbal positions. – I will discuss this topic in detail in an upcoming post.

 

3. “g” becomes “j”

Saxons do not know the k-sound and Berliners do most of the time forget that there is a g-sound in the German language. Virtually, all g-sounds are usually pronounced as “j”.

Gestohlen = jestohlen (stolen)

Gehen = jehen (to go, to walk)

ganz = janz (entire; whole; completely)

gegeben = jejeben (given)

But it is possible to imagine the Berlin dialect without g-sounds. As above, the word “Glück” (luck) is pronounced with a g-sound in Berlinese. This is a result of the sound combination g-l, that is, it is simply quite difficult to articulate a “j” and “l”-sound in a row.

 

4. The diphthong “au” becomes “oo”

It is an enormous effort to pronounce German diphthongs and Berliners (as well as Saxons) are very lazy people, thus they transform the diphthong “au” into “oo”.

kaufen = koofen (to buy)

laufen = loofen (to walk)

auch = ooch (too; also)

Although this feature is fairly characteristic for the Berlin dialect, this form of substitution is again dependent on the surrounding sounds. Words with vowel clusters, so to speak, do not allow such a transformation or replacement. You cannot apply this sound-change to words like “bauen” (to build) and “schauen” (to look). There are several other exceptions but it would go beyond the scope of this post to list them all. But whenever you hear Berliners using a long “o”-sound you can be quite sure that it is the dialect-form of the diphthong “au”.

 

5. The diphthong “ei” becomes “ee”

The substitution of the standard diphthong “ei” by “ee” does exist but is rather arbitrarily used. This form occurs in words like “kein” (no) and “mein” (my). Whether “kein” turns into “keen” and “mein” into “meen” is dependent on the sentence structure. I will also discuss this in detail in a separate post.

 

To be continued…

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About Sandra

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra

11 Responses to “5 striking features of the Berlin Dialect”

  1. Dan 29 October 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    Coming from the southeastern U.S., I have encountered similar experiences while traveling or living in different regions of America. However, I don’t imagine the differences between to be as distinct as the various German dialects, based on what I just read. However, the southern (Central Alabama, in particular) dialect tends to be quite a bit slower in pace when compared to standard American English or other dialects spoken in the States. This slowness in pace can drive someone, not used to the dialect, insane. Basically, one could make a case for the Southern dialect to be “lazy talk” or whichever way you want to approach it. Similar to the Pittsburghese dialect of Western Pennsylvania (and other rural dialects), there are a lot of contractions used such as (y’all for you all, ain’t for “is not”, n’at for “and that” etc.)

  2. fotoeins | Henry 29 October 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    I heard some Kölsch in this the first five features of the Berliner dialect. :) Thanks for your post, Sandra, and I look forward to reading your next installment.

  3. Allan Mahnke 30 October 2012 at 12:51 am #

    Vielen Dank! Leider konnte ich nie meine Grosseltern (aus Mecklenburg) verstehen. Im allgemein lernte ich das Deutsch nur in der Schule. Wenn Oma und Opa hatten etwas dass ich nicht verstehen sollte, sprachen sie Plattdeutsch. Für mich konnte dieses Chinesisch sein. Jetzt und leider viel, viel zu spät (Opa in 1960 starb) möchte ich ihren Dialekt lernen. Also, geben Sie uns viel mehr!!! Ich möchte auch ein bisschen Ihren Dialekt lernen.

    Allan

  4. Jim 30 October 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    If you are able, could you make a video demonstrating the differences? This was fascinating!

  5. Andrew 1 November 2012 at 8:32 pm #

    Hallo Sandra!

    Danke erstmal fuer deinen sehr behilflichen Eintraege. Sie haben aber einer der (meiner Meinung nach) wichtigsten Einheiten des Berlin-Dialekts vergessen, naehmlich: ‘ss’ –> ‘t’ am Ende eines Wortes. Z.B. Das(s) –> Dat; Was –> wat. Das laesst Saetze wie “Wat’n dat denn?” oft hoeren!

    Danke nochmal fuer Ihre Mitmachen in der Deutsch-lernen Gesellschaft!

  6. Michael 30 June 2013 at 1:36 am #

    So when you say the “g” is pronounced like a “j” do you mean pronounced like a German “j” (“y” in English) or an English “j” as in job?

  7. jacobasfjlas 6 November 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    it’s a German “j” , similar to an English “y”. that part i’m pretty sure of. But what i want to know is about the indefinite article and how it retains gender. I’m in Berlin now and it sounds there contracted but i’m not sure how it’s done. It sounds like its similar to the (in +dem) as in “Im Haus”. I’m even struggling to just recognize the articles in the nominative case though.

  8. Gárate 19 January 2014 at 7:58 pm #

    I learned German in Berlin, I can say that Berlinerisch is the least of the worries when dealing with german dialects, I just spent 2 months in Switzerland, and that was just aweful! for example, you just explained Berlinerisch quite well in 5 simple points, but to explain the swiss dialect you would need an entire Blog! BEWARE GERMAN LEARNERS! BEWARE!

  9. christiane 10 May 2014 at 1:38 am #

    The ‘j’ in ‘jehen’ ist wie das Englische ‘y’ in ‘yellow’.

  10. christiane 10 May 2014 at 1:41 am #

    Use of ‘t’ for final ‘s’ in words such as ‘was (wat) is typical. Here’s another
    one: omission of final ‘n’ as in ‘nun’, which becomes ‘nu’: Wat nu?

  11. Werner 24 May 2014 at 1:01 am #

    @Garate I am German and have trouble following the Swiss dialect. Also have trouble with Platt. I can understand Saxons very well. My dialect is Fraenkish and many GIs told me, it is the easiest to learn, because like in english, we drop some letters at the end.


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