If you’re not especially schooled in the geopolitical topography of Europe, you might draw a blank if someone asks you, “What language is spoken in Austria?” But it’s far too facile to say that people in Austria speak “Austrian,” because there’s technically no such thing. But there is Austrian German, which we’ll get into in a bit.
Generally speaking, people in Austria speak German, but it’s not quite so straightforward as that. The reason why Austria doesn’t have its “own” official language is because a large chunk of its history was tied up with Germany’s (as in, it was part of Germany for some time). It wasn’t until after the First World War that Austria began the process of becoming the nation we know it as today.
Thus, the official language of Austria is Austrian German, a relic of its long history of German influence, and yet a standalone phenomenon all unto itself.
What Language Is Spoken In Austria?
Austrian German, Not German German
Austrian German is mutually intelligible with Standard German, with some differences in terms of accent and vocabulary.
However, German-speaking visitors might get tripped up by certain regional dialects in some parts of the country, including the local Viennese dialect, which is far less recognizable to German speakers.
It gets more complicated than that, because Austrian German is a version of German that’s influenced by Austro-Bavarian, which is the unofficial native language of Austria. Technically, German is the main “second language” of Austria, but just about everyone in Austria speaks it, with the exception of some older folks living in rural areas.
Other Major Unofficial Languages
What language is spoken in Austria? An Austrian person might also well answer with “Alemannic and Austro-Bavarian,” which are the two other major unofficial national languages.
Alemannic, a group of Upper German dialects, is mostly spoken in the western state of Vorarlberg and has more German Swiss influences. It is spoken by about 300,000 people.
Meanwhile, Austro-Bavarian is also a collection of dialects native to the region, with distinct branches spoken in the northern and southern parts of the country. More than 8 million people in Austria speak Bavarian, making it sort of like the de facto main language of Austria, even though it doesn’t have an official written standard.
Other Languages Spoken In Austria
Austria is also home to a number of other regional, secondary or minority tongues, including Turkish, Slovenian and Hungarian.
According to Ethnologue, English would technically be the most populous of these languages, numbering 6.4 million speakers, as most children learn in English in school. However, it joins French and Italian in the category of “major foreign languages spoken in Austria.”
Of the languages endemic to the region, Croatian is the largest at 139,000 speakers, followed by Hungarian (40,600), Slovenian (24,900) and Czech (17,700).
Other smaller languages spoken in Austria include Austrian Sign Language, Romani, Slovak, Swabian and Walser.