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Understanding Austrian Mountain Slang

The German language is not the same in every German speaking country. Here are some quick tips to help you better understand the German dialect spoken in the remote corners of western Austria.

Traveling through the mountains of western Austria has made us realize how hard it must be for an English learner to understand the locals in a place like rural Kentucky ("Yuh from Ahai?") or the Scottish Highlands ("Yi lost yer waay wee fullaa?"): in other words, how near-to-impossible it is to understand local accents. When we first crossed the border from Germany into Austria, we had absolutely no idea what people were saying because they didn’t sound like Austrians from the big cities like Vienna. The version of German that people speak in the Austrian Alps has even less in common with the standard German we are used to. The further we ventured into the Alps, the harder it became because the local accents got thicker and thicker.

Thankfully, now that we’ve had a couple of weeks to wrap our heads around this particular variant of the German language, we’ve started to understand people much better. And we’ve come to realize the following…

Austrians in the rural west adapt German words in a way that makes them very hard for speakers of Hochdeutsch (standard German) to comprehend. They leave bits out, add bits in, and of course have a wide array of their own unique and poetic vocabulary.

Let’s starts with the bits they leave out

The Austrians we’ve met emphasize specific vowels sounds, pronouncing them differently to the way a German (or Viennese Austrian) would. Other than that, the general rule seems to be — don’t bother pronouncing the rest of the word. This becomes very apparent when using verbs in the past tense:

English standard German west Austrian dialect
revealed herausgekommen außekumma
gone forth fortgegangen furtganga
occurred vorgekommen vurkumma


And the bits they add…

In other instances, they like to add a vowel here and there, just to make sure pronouncing things doesn’t become too easy for foreigners:

English standard German west Austrian dialect
to do tun tuan
big beer ein Mass e Moass
yes ja joa


Austrian wordplay

You can see that we have our work cut out for us when it comes to deciphering what these enthusiastic mountain folk are on about. We have, however, been making progress and we’re happy to report that this definitely gets easier with time. If you already have some basic German, your ear will quickly begin to pick up on familiar words that have been morphed by the Austrian accent. Most Austrians also speak standard German, and, if asked, are happy to translate. Despite the initial challenge, it has been a joy to learn Austrian German because the dialect has something very playful and endearing about it. Here are a few of my favorite whimsical-sounding words that we’ve picked up en route:

Zuckergoscherl

literally: "sugar mouth"
meaning: sweetheart

Kanöforön

literally: "canal trout"
meaning: rat

an Stern reissn

literally: "to rip on a star"
meaning: to trip over

Bardwisch

literally: "beard-wipe"
meaning: small broom


More useful examples of the west Austrian dialect

English standard German west Austrian dialect
Hi Grüß Dich! Griaß di!
Skiing Ski fahren Schifoarn
Cheese Käse Kaas
Alps Alpen Oipn
Thunderstorm Gewitter Dunnawetter
biking Radfahren Radfoarn
Cows Kühe Kia
Shot (of alcohol) ein Schnaps a Stamperl
to be drunk betrunken sein an Rausch hobn
½ liter of beer ein großes Bier a Hoibe (ein halbes Bier)
1/3 liter beer ein kleines Bier a Seidl


Follow the rest of Pia and Jimmy’s adventures on the road from Berlin to Venice:
Part 1: Germany
Part 3: Italy
Part 4: Venice
And catch up on their bicycle tour across South America:
Crossing South America By Bike

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