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Vienna accent

Can somebody familiar with the Viennese accent help me?

Although I have visited Vienna twice - once in 1972 for part of a day (long story) and once for a day about 10 years ago - I am really a Vienna newby. I'll be there as soon as I can travel again.

I know Innsbruck and Salzburg quite well and I understand the German there (as well as I understand German anywhere which is old man's school German (took 4 years plus lived near Köln for a summer) without any problem.

But I've heard a number of folks chatting on various youtubes and the accent sounds quite different to me, of course from Bavarian or northwestern German, but also from the German in Salzburg and other parts of western Austria.

Am I right? Any hints, or particular Viennese quirks?

Then to top it off - I've been listening to youtubes of various Viennese musicians, especially now the TrioWien. They have a performance of Kaisermühlen Blues in which the Double Bass player is the lead singer. To me it sounds more like the Yiddish I used to hear as a boy in New York (back when messages were carved in stone) that the Hochdeutsche than I'm more familiar with.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YnevVmD0_ZU

Am I hearing things, or am I on to something here?

By the way - TrioWien make some nice music...

Posted by
11289 posts

You're definitely on to something. For instance, the word for "girl" is maedchen in standard German, but maidel in Yiddish - and in at least some Austrian dialects (I'm not nearly knowledgeable to say if it's all of Austria or just some regions).

What fascinates me about Austrian accents: I had always assumed Arnold Schwarzenegger's accent in English was his alone. But listening to Austrians speak German (I've never heard Arnold himself in German), it surprised me how many of them have a milder version of his intonations.

Posted by
8889 posts

There are other words that are different. The first month of the year is Jänner instead of Januar. That is not just dialect, it is official, you see it on signs and posters.

Posted by
6649 posts

Nigel, I remember being told that Austrian sounded more softer and sibilant ( Ish instead of Ick for Ich) for example. I haven't been observant enough to notice. But I also remember hearing that Ralph Fiennes playing the Nazi commandant in Schindler's List was adopting a convincing Austrian accent. I think that's different than dialect.

Posted by
4695 posts

There is a Vienna accent and then there is the Wienerisch dialect. All Viennese have the accent but not all Viennese use dialect. My teenage son understands dialect but would never use it. Oida!

Posted by
27762 posts

I have so much to learn!

Thanks all.

Posted by
4684 posts

I asked my (Bavarian) German teacher about this song, which I think is in Viennese dialect, and she could barely understand it!

Posted by
671 posts

Having lived for one year in Vienna in the early 90s, once when I was in a restaurant/bar in Hannover, Germany, I ordered "ein kreugel" and got a blank stare. Then I changed it to "ein grosses bier" and got an "okay" nod. "Seidel" is a small beer in Vienna. Not sure of the spellings, though. Also don't know if those terms are used throughout Austria. There are also many strange Viennese sayings, like one for New Year's translates to "Have a Good Slide". And a man with a pot belly would be said to have "ein backhendl friedhof" (fried chicken graveyard).

Posted by
8889 posts

On a recent visit I discovered you need to know the local words for coffees.
I wanted a large milky coffee. I am used to ordering a "Milchkaffee" or a "Schale" (Swiss dialect). In Vienna I ordered a Milchkaffee and got something smaller than I was used to. I discovered by reading the menu and trial and error, what you have to order is a Wiener Melange, a local speciality.

Posted by
12898 posts

My first time in Vienna was in 1971, the first week in Sept. I can always tell between an Austrian speaking German, whether from Salzburg, Vienna, Upper Austria, etc say from "northwestern German." I pay attention to and listen for the intonation, the sounds, speed, diction, regionalisms, etc

Of course, on the 2017 trip on the night train from Hamburg to Vienna was an Austrian woman speaking in Upper Austrian dialect, which I mistook that for the Viennese dialect. That was a blatant, besides stupid, mistake. I should have listened more carefully. She told me it was from Linz. Between the Upper Austrian and Viennese accents, they're discernible.

Posted by
351 posts

I'll add my observation. I was confronted with Erdapfel between Melk and Krems, which I correctly guessed to be potato because it reminded me of the French pomme de terre. I had learned Kartoffel in my German classes.

Posted by
12898 posts

Yes, Erdapfel is a direct translation from the French.

I've heard that too but use the word "Kartoffel" ie, the word in Hochdeutsch, my using Kartoffel they'll know for sure you are foreigner, which they would have spotted out immediately

Posted by
27762 posts

I was thinking about this just last night chatting with a friend - and now Erdapfel. Cool

Posted by
1492 posts

"Kartoffel" ie, the word in Hochdeutsch

This is not quite the case, because Erdapfel is not a dialect word. Hochdeutsch stands for grammatically and syntactically correct German, as opposed to (regionally different) dialects using words not generally accepted.

In Germany and Austria different words are used for a lot of things, not only nouns but also verbs. (This is even more true for Switzerland.)

A few examples (Germany / Austria):

Kartoffel / Erdapfel
Tomate / Paradeiser
Aprikose / Marille
Kasten / Kiste
Schrank / Kasten
Schranke / Schranken
Konfitüre / Marmelade
Brötchen / Semmel
Abitur / Matura
Schlagsahne / Schlagobers

Alas, due to the fact that there are about 20 times more German than Austrian TV channels broadcast in Austria, today's kids are more and more indoctrinated with German German. (As you might have guessed I prefer Austrian German over German German, not only because of the prosody.)

Posted by
12898 posts

If one learns Kartoffel as the Hochdeutsch word at the university, then it is the accepted word. The other terms are regionalism or slang or part of Umgangssprache. or part of Austrian-German, such as in the past pertaining to airmail stickers were "Mit Flugpost" instead of "Mit Luftpost"

Austrian German has lots of words, expressions, etc different from Hochdeutsch, , look at an Austrian-German dictionary or idiom book. Compare and contrast that vocabulary with the Hochdeutsch equivalents. "Semmel" is used in Austria instead of "Brötchen" but do these two look the same?

You notice on the trains in Germany using the expression on pushing a button, "Kopf drücken" In Austria the word "betätigen" is used as the infinitive. One word you don't see in Germany before stepping on to an escalator but common in Austria is..."Fahrtreppenbenutzungshinweisen."

Posted by
4637 posts

Interesting. Fortunately nowadays many people in Vienna speak English which was not the case in eighties or nineties. One peculiarity what I noticed. People in Vienna won't say Auf wiedersehen, but wiederschon (read weedrshon).

Posted by
1492 posts

People in Vienna won't say Auf wiedersehen, but wiederschon (read weedrshon).

"Auf Wiedersehen!" (bye-bye) [capital W for a noun] is the correct expression without any regional touch.
"Auf Wiederschauen!" is the Austrian variant, in Vienna shortened and in diaclect sloppily pronounced "Wiederschau'n!".

sehen = to see
schauen = to look

In colloquial language the different meanings of the two verbs became blurred, and they are used interchangeably very often.

Posted by
613 posts

Why worry about it? In 1952 Austria made English a required language taught in school. Every Austrian except WWII vets, and there aren't many, speaks English.

Posted by
4695 posts

We are talking about it because Fred likes to show off his German.

To kb1942, I think it is a bit of an exaggeration to say that every Austrian speaks English, excluding the elderly. Also, being able to speak English and agreeing to speak English are two different things. Every day, I encounter people who refuse to speak English with me. Bureaucrats, public school teachers, grocery store cashiers, etc. You will get a lot of “This is Austria, we speak German” attitude. That said, in tourism and hospitality, English is never a problem.

Posted by
12898 posts

The attitude of "we speak (here the local language) " I have run across in France in traveling there a few times. They're are right , which provides me with more incentive to beef up my French.

Compare the signs and written language used in signs, instructions between Germany and Austria, you'll note the difference.

Posted by
4695 posts

My workplace in Vienna is comprised entirely of foreign-born staff. Every single one of them proudly speaks German (and English and Farsi and Arabic and French and Swedish and Romanian and Hungarian and Armenian and Kurdish). I’m an immigrant as well and I always try German first, but I find that Austrians like to practice their English with me.

Posted by
1222 posts

Back to German. My father went to Austria a couple of years ago and even with learning German in school he couldn't understand most conversations-probably due to learning High German.

Posted by
1775 posts

Kartoffel / Erdapfel
Tomate / Paradeiser
Aprikose / Marille
Kasten / Kiste
Schrank / Kasten
Schranke / Schranken
Konfitüre / Marmelade
Brötchen / Semmel
Abitur / Matura
Schlagsahne / Schlagobers

With the exception of Paradeiser, Matura and Schlagobers all those words are in use in Bavaria too. Fervent collectors of "Austriacisms" like to declare them Austrian but they are simply common Bavarian ("bairisch", not "bayrisch").

Posted by
3385 posts

@Nigel, thanks for sharing the YouTube video. I really enjoyed their music. It also reminded me of Yiddish! Can hardly wait for our upcoming visit to Vienna.

@Emily, how fortunate to work in a diverse working environment! ;)

Posted by
6649 posts

A very practical one for travelers: I recall that a different word is used for the tracks at rail station- das Gleis in Germany and __?_ in Austria? Am I remembering correctly?

Posted by
12898 posts

@ stan...If I recall correctly, (and I'm not sure about this) if there is a difference in Germany and Austria, yes in Germany it's identified as "Gleis 4 or Gleis 5", whereas in Austria it could be "Bahnsteig 4 or Bahnsteig 6" etc.

Posted by
4637 posts

Gleis and Bahnsteig don't have the same meaning, not even in Viennese deutsch as correctly pointed out by wmt1.

Posted by
6649 posts

I only pointed Gleis/Bahnsteig out as being the terms a traveler would see on the signage in the rail stations, and therefore, a potential source of confusion. Interesting subtle difference.

Posted by
8889 posts

And in the UK they say "Platform" (as in platform 9¾), in the USA they use "track" numbers. German is not the only language with such differences.

Posted by
4695 posts

The U-bahn in Vienna as well as train stations label the tracks as Gleis.

Posted by
12898 posts

@ stan...As pointed out that Gleis is used in the U-Bahn stations. If you saw some other word other than Gleis in the train station In Austria, I don't recall if the word Bahnsteig was used. We know that Gleis and Bahnsteig do not mean the same thing.

I don't have pictures handy. There are times I shoot pictures inside train stations ( Paris Est, Berlin Hbf, Munich Hbf etc) and the tracks and platforms as trip reminders, don't know if I did that in Wien Hbf or Linz Hbf.

In SF the subway (BART) is identified not by track one or two but by platforms one or two. The word track is not used.

Posted by
1492 posts

In old train stations a platform (Bahnsteig) had one track (Gleis). So it made no practical difference what you refer to when numbering.

Modern train stations have platforms with one track on either side. So giving the platform a number is ambiguous for referring to a particular train. Therefore track numbers should be used to be clear and unambiguous. The Germans adopted this scheme consequently.

The Austrians, who are not known for this Prussian sense for order, use now Bahnsteig as a synonym for Gleis at train stations. You can notice this on OeBB's website, too, where Bahnsteig has been shortened to Steig in the German version. In the English version platform is used.

On the contrary, Wiener Linien (Vienna's Public Transport) - traditionally at odds with OeBB (Austrian Railway) - use Gleis on their signage in subway (U-Bahn) stations.

Posted by
613 posts

To Fred & Emily's comments: Emily correctly says, "being able to speak English and agreeing to speak English are two different things". Indeed they are, and the problem can be recast as how you, as an English speaker, can manipulate the Austrian or Frenchman or whatever into speaking English. The key is to appeal to their inbred human sense of superiority, and the way to do this is to convey the message that you know they speak English better than you speak their language without them realizing that is what you are doing. Play the game right, and they will be delighted to speak English. For a brief introduction, I'll repeat part of another post I made tonight in reply to someone worried about not being able to speak French on an upcomming visit to France: "Don't worry about perfection. The worse your accent, the more successful you will be because almost everybody you deal with will speak English better than you speak French and the whole point of your starting every conversation in fractured French is to show you don't have an attitude and then to get the French to switch to English, which they are more than happy to do, although I don't know if it is because they are being helpful or feeling superior.
As it happens, I can't carry on a conversation French, but I pronounce it nearly perfectly (that's been certified by three professional Ph.D. linguists with whom I worked at one time). This has several times caused me to get into surreal arguments with, as I recall, cops, waiters, and hotel desk clerks who insist that I do speak French when I tell them I don't. And then there was border security who questioned my having an American Passport because "Americans can't speak French, but you do." To repeat, I don't speak French. I pronounce it.
Should they not switch into English after you stumble through a French sentence or two, your options to get them to change to English are to say 1] Je nais comprende pas Francaise (I don't understand French). For the reasons described above, I prefer this to 2] Je nais parl pas Francaise (I don't speak French) or 3] Parley vous Anglaise? (do you speak English?), or 4] just start talking in English".

Put your ego aside and let their ego flourish. Look like a jerk in need of help, and help you will get.

Posted by
4684 posts

Modern train stations have platforms with one track on either side. So giving the platform a number is ambiguous for referring to a particular train.

I don't see the issue here. In Britain this has been the situation for over a century, and each platform face has a number. No ambiguity since they're still numbered continuously from one side of the station to the other.

Now where things get complicated is when long platforms can have two trains pulled up to them simultaneously, and letter suffixes are used...

Posted by
3493 posts

Well as a German girlfriend used to state, quite firmly:

"Only Germans speak German! Austrian only try, and never get it right!"

On that topic, I notice regional differences in pronunciation as well as word choice in Germany too. Nothing specific comes to mind, but comparing Munich and Berlin it sounds like a different language sometimes.

Posted by
1492 posts

"Only Germans speak German! Austrian only try, and never get it right!"

With that kind of arrogance the Germans endear themselves to the Austrians. ;-)

Posted by
52 posts

I had no idea that I would open Rick Steves this morning and find a German language lesson.

Thanks Nigel and all who contributed.

Posted by
2272 posts

All very interesting. I always thought that "Ich" was pronounce "Ish". Probably from my tantes, who were all immigrants to the USA from Austria-Hungary lands - Donau Schwaben. And the family originally came from S of Stuttgart, not Bavaria but close. So, this must be a South German dialect.

"Only Germans speak German! Austrian only try, and never get it right!"

Like USA and Great Britain, 2 countries separated by a common language.

Posted by
1492 posts

I always thought that "Ich" was pronounce "Ish".

"ch" is pronounced like in Loch Ness (kh), whereas "sch" is pronounced sh.
In certain areas of Germany a dialect is spoken, where it is pronounced the other way round.

A small difficulty: In some words "ch" is pronounced k in Austria, but mostly not in Germany, e.g. Chemie, China.