• Revision History

EN:Bavarian Dialects

From Historisches Lexikon Bayerns

Map of the dialect regions in Bavaria, with the administrative districts and distinctive landscapes. (from: Renn/König, Kleiner Bayerischer Sprachatlas, 18, map 4)
Dialect map of the phonetic form of "geschneit" (past participle meaning snowed) in the area of the Free State of Bavaria. (from: Renn/König, Kleiner Bayerischer Sprachatlas, 82, map 35)

by Anthony Rowley

Group of Upper German dialects, which were and are spoken in the areas of Altbayern, Austria and some exclaves. The vernacular, which increasingly shows a Bavarian influence during the age of Middle High German, appears in written documents since the 8th century. With the spread of the East Upper German-Austrian written language, writers deviated from the spoken language of everyday life until, from the 17th century onwards, texts were increasingly produced that were deliberately written in dialect. The Bavarian dialect is spatially divided into South Bavarian, Central Bavarian and North Bavarian. It remained the common colloquial language of large parts of the population until the second half of the 20th century.

Bavarian dialects

The German linguistic term Bairisch (Bavarian) refers to the south-eastern group of the Upper German dialects. Bavarian dialects are or were spoken in Altbayern (i. e. the region of Upper Bavaria, Lower Bavaria and the Upper Palatinate) and in Austria (except Vorarlberg), also in South Tyrol, in the Sudetenland, in a strip of western Hungary and in language islands in Italy (seven municipalities around Asiago, province of Vicenza; 13 municipalities near Giazza, province of Verona; Fersental and Luserna, province of Trento; Pladen/Sappada, province of Belluno; Tischelwang/Timau, Zahre/Sauris and the Canal Valley around Tarvis in Friuli), in the Czech Republic (i. e. Iglau, Budweis) and occasionally in Eastern Europe. In the remaining areas of Bavaria, not Bavarian, but mainly East Franconian or Swabian-Alemannic dialects are spoken.

Bavarian dialects have certain common characteristics – pronunciations and words – compared to the neighbouring dialects. Typical are "key words" identified by Eberhard Kranzmayer, for example ‘es, enk’ for "ihr, euch” (you [plural]), ‘kentn’ for "(an)zünden" (to light, set on fire), ‘Fasching’ for "Fastnacht" (Shrovetide, carnival), ‘Pfoat’ for ”Hemd" (shirt), and more. These also include several Gothic loan words such as ‘Dult’ for “Volksfest” (fair) , ‘Maut’ for “Zoll” (toll), or ‘Erchtag, Irta’ and similar for "Dienstag" (Tuesday) as well as ‘Pfinztag’ for "Donnerstag" (Thursday), which are of special interest to research (e.g. Wiesinger, Gotische Lehnwörter). From a phonetic point of view, the dulling of all Middle High German a-sounds in "Katze" (cat), "Hase" (hare), "braten" (to fry, roast) and the "bright" pronunciation of the a in words like ’Katzerl’ for “Kätzchen” (kitten), ‘laar’ for "leer" (empty) are characteristic for the dialects in Bavaria, furthermore the diphthong -oa- for Middle High German -ei in ‘hoas’ for "heiß" (hot), ‘broad’ for "breit" (wide, broad).

Historical development

The tradition in the vernacular begins in the 8th century, initially mainly of names and single words. From the beginning, the vernacular handed down from Bavaria was not called "bairisch" but ‘theodiscus – diutisc’ or similar, i.e. "deutsch" (German). Most of the Old High German tradition from Bavaria are glosses, either individual Bavarian words written down on the margins of Latin texts or larger collections of such vernacular - Latin glossaries. The first texts such as the so-called Wessobrunn Prayer date from the end of the 8th century; these are mainly texts for ecclesiastical use.

The Bavarian language of this early period is characterised by some conservative features (for example, spellings like ‘coot’ instead of ‘guot’ for ’gut’ [good]). When people began to write in the vernacular again after the Hungarian invasions in the 10th century, the alignment to the conventions of the Frankish written dialects was obvious. In the period of Middle High German, secular texts such as the Regensburg Kaiserchronik (middle of the 12th century) were also increasingly written in the Bavarian vernacular. The standardised text form of classic Middle High German used in scientific editions is misleading, as manuscript finds from Bavaria, for example of the Nibelungenlied, also have regionally influenced spellings.

The tradition of legal and literary texts in the vernacular increases around 1300. Here a relatively standardised East Upper German-Austrian writing language can be identified, which was widespread from Augsburg and Nuremberg as far as Vienna (see Reiffenstein, 2003). With the spread of German as a writing language, experienced writers in particular shifted their writing habits away from the spoken everyday language. Texts that were deliberately written in dialect, however, came about in increasing numbers from the 17th century onwards. The common colloquial language of the large majority of the population remained the dialect even in the 20th century. It was not until the second half of the 20th century that alongside it, speaking the standard language became more and more common.

External borders

In the east and south, the Bavarian dialects border onto foreign languages– Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Slovenian, Rhaeto-Romanic and Italian. However, the language border always lay beyond the Bavarian state border. In the west, the Bavarian dialects border on the East Franconian and the Swabian-Alemannic dialects. The basis for the border is, by and large, the western border of the old Bavarian stem duchy on the river Lech. To the West of Munich, a broadly diversified transition zone to East Swabian extends towards the Lech; especially in the "wind shadow" (Werner König) of the lakes Ammersee and Starnberger See as well as in the neighbouring moorlands, which were a great hindrance to traffic, some new developments from the inner-Bavarian area were not able to catch on and some peculiarities emerged – most conspicuously the plural formation of the noun by -ach: ‘Wiesach’ for "Wiesen" (meadows). North of the Danube, the Nuremberg area between Weißenburg and Pegnitz (Bayreuth district) is a Bavarian-East Franconian transition zone, where the originally Northern Bavarian dialects increasingly adopted East Franconian peculiarities over the course of the centuries because of the territorial affiliation and the location beyond the duchy's borders.

Internal structure

The Bavarian dialect area is divided into three sub-areas (Kranzmayer, Lautgeographie): Southern Bavarian, Central Bavarian and Northern Bavarian.

Most of Upper Bavaria (including the district of Aichach-Friedberg) and Lower Bavaria with the Danube, Isar and Inn valleys, as well as Upper and Lower Austria, belong to the Central Bavarian region. The "vocalisation" of l after a vowel, usually into i is characteristic: [håitn] for "halten" (to hold), ‘Stui’ for "Stuhl" (chair). It is one of a series of linguistic innovations that characterise Central Bavarian but have often not advanced to the periphery of Northern and Southern Bavarian. Most of these changes reached Bavaria from Vienna up the Danube. The corresponding vocabulary cases are discussed in detail by Wiesinger (Wortgeographie).

Northern Bavarian is spoken in the Upper Palatinate and the adjacent areas Upper and Middle Franconia; in the south it reaches as far as the Danube. The dropped diphthongs ej, ou for Middle High German ie, uo as in ‘Brejf’ (Southern and Central Bavarian ‘Briaf’) for "Brief" (letter) or ‘Bou’ (Southern and Central Bavarian ‘Bua’) for "Bub" (boy) are characteristic for this. In the area of vocabulary, Northern Bavarian is conservative; the words ‘Mädlein’ (‘Moidl’ etc.) for “Mädchen” (girl), ‘Himbeere’ (raspberry), ‘Tote’ for "Patin” (godmother) have been retained instead of the new Central Bavarian innovations ‘Dirndl’, ‘Hohlbeere’, ‘Godn’. The pronunciation also lacks any new developments such as the Central Bavarian vocalisation of -l.

The core area of the likewise conservative Southern Bavarian lies outside Bavaria, in Tyrol and Carinthia. The preservation of affricates (a plosive followed by a fricative) in ‘Kchua’ for "Kuh" (cow) and the distinction of d- and t- in the initial sound of the word in ‘do’ for "hier" (here), ‘tuat’ for "[er] tut" ([he] does) are typical here. New Central Bavarian pronunciations such as the vocalisation of l as i and r as a did not catch on. In Bavaria, dialects that are classified as clearly Southern Bavarian are only spoken in the Werdenfelser Land (Garmisch-Partenkirchen district).

There are transition zones between the main areas: on the one hand, a broad Southern Bavarian and Central Bavarian mixed zone, which encompasses the foothills of the Alps from the Rupertiwinkel to Ammersee and extends northwards along the eastern Lechrain to Friedberg; on the other hand, a Central Bavarian and Northern Bavarian transition zone in northern Lower Bavaria and the southern Upper Palatinate.

Status of the dialect in the second half of the 20th century

Out of all the German states, dialect is most alive in Bavaria. Most of the inhabitants here claim to be able to speak a dialect. In a survey conducted by the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach, on a national average 51% of those questioned stated that they could speak the region's dialect, but 72% in Bavaria – by far the highest percentage. In an Infratest survey in 1975, as many as 81% of those questioned in Altbayern said that they used dialect (14.5% still said "a little"), slightly more than in Franconia or Swabia. Only 7% stated they did not speak any dialect (Zehetner, Dialektbuch, 155f). Men seem to tend to speak more dialect than women, but the results were not broken down by age group. Dialect is not restricted to certain classes or situations in everyday life, except in the urban centres. Between dialect and written language there is a continuum of levels of spoken everyday language, which are also more or less strongly regionally influenced.

Dialect and school

In school as an institution for imparting education, teaching the standard language in written and spoken form has been the focus since the introduction of compulsory education. Today, dialect is also recognised by education policy as a widespread language of daily use. The current curricula demand that this be taken into account and that pupils be introduced to the appropriate use of the different language forms, especially in the context of teaching German. The Bavarian State Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs published a handbook with tips for teaching in 2006 (Ruch, Dialekte in Bayern). However, shortcomings have so far been noted in implementation, which is rarely practiced in teacher training (R. Hochholzer, Konfliktfeld Dialekt). However, the "benefit of internal multilingualism" (Siegfried Schneider, born 1956, 2005-2008 Bavarian State Minister for Education an Cultural Affairs) is increasingly emphasised after the good results achieved especially by countries with many dialect speakers in the PISA studies.

Literature and research

Published in 1689, Johann Ludwig Prasch's (1637-1690) Glossarium Bavaricum, was the first dialect dictionary for a German dialect region ever. The scientific study of dialects in Europe began with the grammar book "Die Mundarten Bayerns" (1821) and the dictionary "Bayerisches Wörterbuch" (first edition 1827-1837) by Johann Andreas Schmeller (1785-1852). Followers of the so-called "Neogrammarian School" in particular have written a whole series of descriptions of Bavarian dialects, which mainly focus on the phonetic developments since the period of Middle High German.

The "Kleine Bayerische Sprachatlas" offers clear cartographic representations. It is based on the volumes of the "Bayerischer Sprachatlas", a project initiated by the Chairs of German Linguistics at the Bavarian state universities and funded by the German research foundation Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and Bavarian State Ministry for Science and the Arts, whose basic material is published in the dialect database BayDat at the University of Würzburg. Schmeller's "Bayerisches Wörterbuch" is still the only complete dictionary for all of Altbayern today. TA new " Bayerisches Wörterbuch" is currently being compiled by the Kommission für Mundartforschung (Commission for Dialect Research) at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. Sound geography is discussed in detail by Eberhard Kranzmayer (Lautgeographie). Schmeller's "Mundarten Bayerns" remains the best overview of morphology and syntax; Ludwig Merkle (Bairische Grammatik) offers a newer grammar book.


  • Rupert Hochholzer, Konfliktfeld Dialekt, Regensburg 2004.
  • Eberhard Kranzmayer, Die bairischen Kennwörter und ihre Geschichte, Wien/Graz 1960.
  • Eberhard Kranzmayer, Historische Lautgeographie des gesamtbairischen Dialektraumes, Wien/Graz 1956.
  • Ludwig Merkle, Bairische Grammatik, München 1975.
  • Ingo Reiffenstein, Aspekte einer Sprachgeschichte des Bayerisch-Österreichischen bis zum Beginn der frühen Neuzeit, in: Werner Besch u. a. (Hg.), Sprachgeschichte. Ein Handbuch zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und ihrer Erforschung. 3. Band (Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft 2), Berlin u. a. 2. Auflage 2003, 2889-2942.
  • Ingo Reiffenstein, Aspekte einer bayerischen Sprachgeschichte seit der beginnenden Neuzeit, in: Werner Besch u. a. (Hg.), Sprachgeschichte. Ein Handbuch zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und ihrer Erforschung. 3. Band (Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft 2), Berlin u. a. 2. Auflage 2003, 2942-2972.
  • Manfred Renn/Werner König, Kleiner Bayerischer Sprachatlas, München 2. Auflage 2006.
  • Peter Wiesinger, Gotische Lehnwörter im Bairischen, in: Helmut Beumann/Werner Schröder (Hg.), Frühmittelalterliche Ethnogenese im Alpenraum, Sigmaringen 1985, 153-200.
  • Peter Wiesinger, Grundzüge der großräumigen bairischen Wortgeographie, in: Horst Haider Munske u. a. (Hg.): Deutscher Wortschatz. Lexikologische Studien, Berlin/New York 1988, 555-627.
  • Ludwig Zehetner, Bairisches Deutsch. Lexikon der deutschen Sprache in Altbayern, 4. überarb. u. erw. Aufl. Regensburg 2014.
  • Ludwig Zehetner, Das bairische Dialektbuch, München 1985.


  • Hans-Werner Eroms (Hg.), Der sprechende Sprachatlas Bayerischer Wald und Böhmerwald. Version 1.0. CD-ROM, Grafenau 2007.
  • Werner König (Hg.), Sprachatlas von Bayerisch-Schwaben. 13 Bände, Heidelberg 1997-2006 (Registerband 2008).
  • Hans-Werner Eroms (Hg.), Sprachatlas von Niederbayern, bisher 7 Bände, Heidelberg 2003-2008 (noch nicht abgeschlossen).
  • Robert Hinderling (Hg.), Sprachatlas von Nordostbayern, bisher 1 Band, Heidelberg 2007 (noch nicht abgeschlossen).
  • Ludwig M. Eichinger, Sprachatlas von Oberbayern, bisher 4 Bände, Heidelberg 2005-2009 (noch nicht abgeschlossen).

Further Research

External Links

Related Articles


Anthony Rowley, Bavarian dialects, published 26 April 2010, english version published 26 June 2023, in: Historisches Lexikon Bayerns, URL: <https://www.historisches-lexikon-bayerns.de/Lexikon/EN:Bavarian_Dialects> (22.04.2024)