Bavarian way of life Jan 14, 2020

Dialects and linguistic diversity in Bavaria

Over 12 million people live in Bavaria. They all speak German and, thanks to an excellent education system, usually one or two additional languages. However, there are numerous dialects in German and many of them are native to Bavaria. We explain how to find your way around the Bavarian language landscape.

The basics

There are basically three different language areas in Bavaria:

1.    Swabian

2.    Franconian

3.    Bavarian

Bavarian is spoken throughout south-eastern Bavaria. Franconian occupies the second largest language area: it is confined in the south by Ansbach, in the east by Bayreuth, in the north by Coburg and in the west by Würzburg. Swabian is less represented compared to Bavarian and Franconian dialects.

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The subleties

But that’s not all. There is not “the Franconian language” nor “the Bavarian language”: you have to distinguish between Upper, Lower and Middle Franconian, between Upper and Middle Bavarian and many other Bavarian dialects. There are around 60 dialect landscapes in total in Bavaria alone. However, one concern can be removed in the process: the different language groups mostly understand each other, even if you are looked at quizzically or ridiculed as a Franconian in Upper Bavaria; the other way around would probably also be the case.

Why do Bavarians speak so many dialects??

This has to do with the fact that the Bavarian people feel a strong sense of unity when it comes to their homeland. Quite a few identify more as Bavarians than Germans, even though this seems like nonsense to outsiders. This sense of unity often extends to the whole of Bavaria, but it is also often specified very regionally in political and other debates: For example, Franconians feel like Franconians compared to the rest of Bavaria, and they attach importance among themselves as to whether they come from Lower Franconia, Middle Franconia or Upper Franconia. This sense of togetherness can even be reduced to the smallest possible detail: in Lower Franconia, for example, it is customary for neighbouring villages to try to steal the May poles from each other. Even in neighbouring communities, this traditional, now friendly rivalry leads to attempts to set oneself apart through certain idioms. For example, Iphofen and Schlüsselfeld are just about 35 kilometres apart, but while Schlüsselfeld says “Sommersprossen” for freckles, Iphofen talks about “Muggaschiss". The natural linguistic boundaries are often caused by environmental factors: rivers or mountains are often decisive for the language area borders. The river Lech is such a language border: West of the Lech they speak Swabian, to the east Bavarian.

How dialects are dealt with politically

There was a rethink from a political point of view: in the seventies, High German was regarded as the measure of all things and dialects were to be specifically driven out of children at school. Today, large sections of the political community see the various dialects in Bavaria as cultural assets particularly worthy of protection and promote them through various measures. In Munich, for example, there is the Förderverein Bairische Sprache und Dialekte, which has been trying to establish the use of the Bavarian language and dialects more strongly for over 30 years. The Bavarians are not only very conscious of traditions when it comes to their language: The traditional dress custom in Bavaria also clearly shows the effect one’s own history has on defining their identify for many Bavarian citizens.  

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