Why Berliners and Bavarians don’t understand each other

I am a great fan of Quora, the portal that lets you answer questions from total strangers on almost any topic under the sun. My specialty, it seems, is explaining German to foreigners, and here is a typical example:

„For linguists, ‚Berlinerisch‘ isn’t a real dialect like Bavarian, namely a provincial or socially distinct variety of a language, but a so-called ‚metrolect‘- a language spoken only in a certain metropolitan area (although the Berlin jargon has had substantial influence on the language spoken in the surrounding state of Brandenburg, where it has partially displaced the original Niederdeutsch, or Low German.

Berlin lies smack on the fault line known as the ‚Benrather Linie‘ which divides Germany into two halves. North of the line, the letter ’s‘ often became ‚t‘, as in watt denn? (instead of ‚was denn?‘), and ‚ich‘ famously became ikk (as in ‚janz Berlin iss eene Wolke, und ikke mittendrin‘).

Bavarians on the other hand speak a derivative of Old Bajuvarian called ‚Baierisch‘ which is part of a group of languages known as ‚Oberdeutsch‘ (‚Upper German‘) marked by a darker pronunciation of certain vowels. Instances include laar (instead of ‚leer‘), Woser (instead of ‚Wasser‘) or hoass (instead of ‚heiss‘). Think mushy-mouthed Southerners versus brash New Englanders.

Speakers of both brands of German are fiercely proud of their jargons, even if it makes communication between them rather difficult at times.

In the case of Berlin, matters are further complicated by the fact that French was the language spoken at the Prussian court in the 17th and 18th centuries. In addition the city was occupied from 1806 until 1813 by substantial numbers of French troops as a result of the Napoleanic Wars. As a result, Berlinerisch is studded with francophone bits and pieces. I actually own a book entitled Das Französische im Berliner Jargon (‚French in the Berlin Jargon‘) which explains why, in Berlin, they eat Buletten instead of ‚Frickadellen‘ or ‚Fleischklösse‘ like other Germans, why they walk on a trottoir instead of a ‚Gehweg‘, and why they (in a pinch) will drink Muckefuck (‚mocca faux‘), a thin ersatz coffee brewed mainly from chicory roots.


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