Musical Dialects

Photo Courtesy of aemde at

In America, dialect differences rarely blur the line between to-MAY-to, to-MAH-to.

Sure, some might say “bye y’all” while others say “see you later, you guys”. Some might ask for a pop in a restaurant, while others ask for soda or soda pop (and some just call everything Coke). Bottom line: in the U.S. you’d have to go pretty far out of your way to get to a place where you couldn’t understand what the people around you were saying.

Not so in many parts of Europe. In Germany, for example, dialect differences are so distinct, even a distance of a few kilometers can make the language difference feel like you’re in another country. To an Ostfriese, Bayerisch (dialect spoken in Bavaria) might as well be Greek.

Even though most people in Germany speak a main common language, high German (Hochdeutsch), there has been a resurgence of pride in regional dialects, partly out of efforts to preserve regional identities. People are more interested in strengthening those distinctive language differences that allow people to pinpoint a person’s place of origin. You can see this in the surge of German bands that use dialects in their lyrics.

One of my all-time favorites: Fettes Brot’s “Nordisch By Nature”.

At the beginning of the video, the conversation between the old man and the younger one at the dock is entirely in Plattdeutsch. He’s complaining about the music and all the “singen und bumsen” (which means, shall we say, “fooling around”). And one look at the lyrics and even a student of German will no doubt be clueless. (Wisst ihr, bi uns in Norden is dat schwer to verstohn!)

But like they say in the song, that’s just Fettes Brot speaking Plattdeutsch in the Disco! Plattdeutsch is the main dialect spoken in northern Germany in cities such as Hamburg. According to Deutsche Welle, traditional Platt replaces Hochdeutsch as the predominant language in the highest parts of Germany, but in general, most people speak a mixture.

(One phrase to remember if you travel North: “Moin! Moin! “ means hello.)

Other bands/artists that use regional dialects in their lyrics include:

Kä Thäma (Pfalzish)
Pomm Fritz (Schwabish)
Claudia Koreck (Bavarian)

But alas, this trend of German dialects over the airwaves is not catching on for everyone. As one blogger observes, many native German speakers waver between public and private use of dialects because of a stigma attached to them. It sounds similar to the “y’all” stereotype here: the assumption that a pronounced accent means you must be just a simple country bumpkin with a home-grown education to match.

I just call it taking pride in your roots.

Y’all come back now, ya hear?