Transcript S2E7: Language, dialect & identity
Here is the transcript of S2E7: Language, dialect & identity. You can read more about this episode on the episode web page.
This transcript has been edited for readability.
LG = Luke Green
KR = Katie Resch (in this transcript: Reschenhofer)
- In this transcript there are some phonetic symbols. You can look up the phonetics symbols for English words here and for German words here.
- Where square brackets [ ] are used, I am referring to speech sounds (exception: where I add things like [laughs], then I just mean that the person laughs, or I’m adding a comment). Where pointed brackets < > are used, I am referring to spelling.
- Where a consonant sound is transcribed on its own, it may have been pronounced with a schwa afterwards in the episode. It’s transcribed here without the schwa for simplicity and clarity.
LG: How much does a language constitute one’s identity? If we think about how we use language in our day-to-day lives, we use different words and registers in different situations, depending on whether we’re talking to family members, friends, colleagues, bosses, the doctor, the police, and so on. You could say we’re different versions of ourselves depending on the people we’re around or the situation we’re in. If you’re someone who speaks multiple dialects or multiple languages, which one is really you? Today I’m talking to someone who is bilingual, German and English, about how growing up bilingually and in different countries affects their view of their own identity. We’ll talk about identifying with different varieties of German, as well as the question as to whether you’re a different person when speaking English than you are when speaking German. So let’s crack on with the show.
This is Yellow of the Egg, the podcast where we stare at the German language and see who blinks first. I’m Luke Green and this is series 2 episode 7: Language, dialect and identity.
KR: My name is Katie Reschenhofer and I'm a PhD student of English and American Studies at the University of Vienna and I grew up mainly in Austria, but I also kind of grew up bilingually because we lived abroad in the Middle East for a while when I was in primary school, and I think I also lived in Germany for a year when I was really young. But yeah, basically, I'm just a bilingual PhD student from Vienna.
LG: Katie Reschenhofer speaks both German and English at a native level. Although she is fully bilingual, she doesn’t consider both languages to have exactly the same status for her as native languages.
KR: I would say probably, because both my parents have always spoken German to me, I am a German native speaker. But at school, with friends, outside of my family, I've always spoken English to the people close to me. So I'm bilingual, but like, kind of, tending more towards German as my native language.
LG: As we’ve heard in previous episodes, there’s not just one single German variety. So when someone says German is their native language, this could be one of a number of varieties, depending on factors such as the region where they grew up. Katie doesn’t consider her native German variety to be regionally specific, though.
KR: Oh, definitely a high standard German, I guess, like standard German. So not really any specific dialect. I know that everyone has a dialect. Everyone has an accent. I do too. But I guess in terms of the variety, it would be the standard Hochdeutsch German.
LG: Hochdeutsch translates as ‘High German’, and is a term often used colloquially to refer to standard German. Sometimes you might hear the expression nach der Schrift reden, literally ‘to talk in the style of writing’, which is often associated with Hochdeutsch. This is not to be confused with the actual technical meaning of Hochdeutsch, which refers to High German dialects, the varieties of German where the High German consonant shift took place. The High German dialects include the dialects of central and Southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and other places. This meaning of Hochdeutsch is something different – when people in everyday language say “Hochdeutsch” or “High German”, they often simply mean there is a lack of a regional dialect, so it cannot be attributed to a specific place in the German-speaking world. It’s the standard and therefore also the most widely understood variety of German, the one you’d be likely to hear read by a newsreader, for example. But even though Hochdeutsch is supposed to be free from aspects of regional dialects and accents, we do have standard German German, standard Austrian German, and so on. So what standard does Katie speak?
KR: Probably standard Austrian because I feel like I sound very- not very Austrian, but I feel like you can definitely tell. I feel like Germans would definitely tell that I'm not German. Then again, not so much now, but especially when I was younger, and especially in high school, we were the bilingual class in a public school. So the other classes weren't bilingual, and we were always kind of alienated and singled out and people always told us that none of us sounded Austrian. So I was always told that I sound very German. But yeah, I think nowadays I sound more Austrian than German.
LG: Though it’s not always clear-cut. There might be aspects that lean more towards German German and aspects that lean more towards Austrian German, producing a bit of a mix. For instance:
KR: Probably lexicon-wise, I can see how I might sometimes sound German, because I also consume a lot of Germany-German TV. But I think in terms of accent, definitely more Austrian nowadays. I think the combination of hearing standard or High German at home and consuming Germany-German media, and then growing up bilingually as well, and my friend's speaking kind of my same weird Austrian-but-not-really-Austrian German. Plus, we only spoke English with each other anyway. So I think all that contributed to me ending up sounding, I guess, Austrian, but not overly Austrian. So like, everyone's kind of suspicious. Like, what is this? It's not Austrian. It's not Germany German. Is it Swiss?
LG: There are a lot of factors that could make it so your accent or dialect is hard to pin down. Growing up somewhere with a lot of influence from other languages can affect whether or not a speaker sounds ‘Austrian’.
KR: One thing that I remember people telling me over and over, in terms of me not sounding very Austrian, is just because since I grew up in the Middle East – I unfortunately didn't learn Arabic, I would love to learn Arabic, but I didn't learn it growing up – but because people spoke Arabic around me so much, I picked up this [x] sound in my German. So when I was younger, I would frequently not say “ich”, but “ikh”. “Ikh bin dorthin gegangen”. Or “kannst du mikh anrufen”.
LG: There are some Austrian varieties with a harder [x] sound. You might hear something similar in places like Tyrol, for example.
KR: I definitely did the harsh [x] because of the influence of the Middle East. I like that I did that. I miss that.
LG: So even though Katie’s accent is more on the standard Austrian side, and she no longer has this harder [x], there must still be a reason why Katie doesn’t sound typically Austrian to other people.
KR: I think it's more the absence of the Austrianness that contributes to me sounding not Austrian. I don't think I say anything Germany German. Not that I'm aware of. But I think it's just because I don't say things like servus! or seas! [from servus], or like- Like, even now, I can't even say it with a straight face. Like whenever I say things like heast [from hörst] or voll or oida or gemma Billa, or whatever, it's always like with a certain irony because it's not me. So I know it's a performance. It's like, “oh, yeah”, like, “ha-ha, Austrian is so funny. Let's imitate Austrians”, and I'm an Austrian. [laughs] So yeah, I think it's just that I don't say these things. They're not part of my general register. Apart from when I try to be funny. So I think it’s that, it’s mainly that.
LG: Of these typically Austrian words and phrases, oida is an especially interesting one. It’s quite Viennese, and comes from a Viennese pronunciation of Alter, which literally means ‘old man’. But it can be used to mean so many different things. If you’re annoyed with something: “oida!” If you’re shocked: “oida!” If you’re seeing someone for the first time in years: “oida!” It can mean ‘wow’, ‘damn’, ‘nice’, ‘mate’, ‘hey’, ‘man’, and so much more. Recently the City of Vienna also turned oida into an acronym in the context of corona. You spell oida O-I-D-A, which now stands for Obstond hoitn, Immer d’Händ woschn, Daham bleiben, und A Masken aufsetzen, So ‘keep your distance, always wash your hands, stay at home, and put on a mask’, but in Viennese dialect. The idea behind this was clearly not to just list the rules, but to quote-unquote ‘translate’ them into dialect, using a dialect word as the acronym, since the everyday Viennese person might feel more addressed, especially since their dialect often forms part of their identity. For others though, a non-standard dialect such as this could be seen as perhaps lower class or even uneducated. The way you view yourself, and the way you want to be seen by others, can therefore affect your attitude towards, say, an Austrian dialect, as opposed to a standard German German Hochdeutsch.
KR: So, when I was in high school, I remember really making a point of not identifying with the Austrian dialect or accent or whatever. I remember because I was in this bilingual class in a public Austrian school, and everyone else was like, “oh, it's the arrogant bilingual class”, and then we were like, “yeah, it's not our fault we're the elite”. [laughs] So I was like, “yeah, I want to sound vulgar”, because to me, when I was in high school, Austrian, the Austrian dialect, was so vulgar, like with the “heast, oida, blablabla, gemma saufen”, and stuff like that. I literally thought, “do you have no self-respect? How can you speak that way?” But I know nowadays, like, I don't agree with myself, like I was a teenager. But like, yeah, I really made a point of, I don't sound like these people. I'm Austrian. But I'm not like, you know, I'm not vulgar. [laughs]
LG: Especially because dialect doesn’t seem to have a place in institutions such as school or university – there you need to stick to the so-called Bildungssprache, the language of education, where dialect isn’t really accepted. When I was at university, I was in one seminar at the German department, and one student had a relatively thick Upper Austrian dialect. She was asked by another student to stop speaking in her dialect because we were at university and it’s, quote, “not appropriate”. There seems to be a bit of a stigma around dialect and it being ‘below’ the standard. But individual attitudes do change.
KR: Nowadays, I really really prefer the vulgar Austrian, actually. I feel, when I hear people say like, “oida, gemma zu Billa, blablabla, like, Fetzerei, blablabla”, I think that's so cool, and I'm like, “those are my people, those are my people”. Like, when I hear people speak extra posh or eloquent, I'm like, “oh, that's nice”. But I don't really feel a connection to those people. But I think it's because growing up, because I did, you know, go to this public school – while I did make friends, it's not like the bilingual kids were, like, super alienated – I actually had really good friendships with people who weren't in my bilingual class. And so I, over the years, I really learned to appreciate that kind of type of Austrian German that I don't speak myself, unless I make a point of being, I don't know, ironic, or whatever. But, yeah, I really like it. I feel like yeah, those are my people. Like, yeah, those are cool. They're real. They're not fake. They're cool. [laughs]
LG: Interesting that there’s also some kind of distinction between real and fake in this context. On the one hand, suppressing your own dialect to conform to the standard or the Bildungssprache or Hochdeutsch could be seen as being inauthentic because you’re not being your true self. Others might say that it’s still part of your identity, it’s just that a different context calls for a different register, and that standard German belongs to a higher register. But the degree to which your language use is real or fake to you has a lot to do with how much you identify with a certain variety.
KR: I actually do identify with Austrianness because I'm very aware that I'm Austrian. But, in general, like not language-wise, I identify very much I guess as European or because I've lived in the Middle East, I just feel at home in so many places worldwide, but I'm very aware that I'm Austrian. But I'm the furthest thing from patriotic. So, yeah, maybe that also ties in with why I don't use all these typical Austrian words, just because I would feel like I'm faking something, it wouldn't feel authentic, because I just feel like also my personality is a bit different, depending on who I'm talking to in German, who I'm talking to an English, speaking German or English. Yeah, it's always different.
LG: I think anyone who speaks multiple languages or multiple dialects will know what this feels like. You do feel like a bit of a different person when you’re talking one language as opposed to another. I know that I feel much more relaxed speaking my first language, English, and I feel I’m more laid-back and open, whereas when I speak German, I feel a bit more proper, correct, even sometimes impatient. I think I adopt a bit of what I perceive to be this German-speaker mentality of efficiency being the number one goal, just getting the job done. A switch in language can sometimes feel a bit of a switch in personality, even more so than a switch in dialect.
KR: Oh, yeah, here it's definitely a bit more extreme. So in German, it's just, different facets of my personality, like, the more proper Katie and the more chillaxed Katie. But then in English, I feel like I’m a bit more bubbly. There are more topics that I feel like I can talk about in English, because I feel like when you speak a certain language, there are so many presuppositions that come with that, there's so much cultural shared knowledge that comes with speaking English. And I've really, this is so fascinating to me. So for example, on German reality TV, especially as of 2020, it's been so so obvious that all these young kids who, I don't know, join Germany's Next Top Model or Love Island or Temptation Island or The Bachelor or whatever, so many people now use so many anglicisms, or they use kind of like YouTube pop culture words, like for example, “slay queen”, or like “ja, und sie war voll nicht woke”, or “oh my god, sie ist voll fake, sie will nur fame werden”. And stuff like that. But yeah, I've definitely noticed that, that speaking English comes with so much shared cultural knowledge that you can express things so much more aptly than if I were to say the same thing in German. So I could never, I don't know, talk about pop culture that I'm interested in in German without using anglicisms. And so I think that in German, I just don't really talk about these topics that much. And so my personality is kind of reserved for other things. For example, I don't know, what do I talk to people about in German? I guess, uni, apartment renovations, general like when I talk to friends on the phone, sometimes friends that I speak German to, sociopolitical stuff, maybe sometimes relationship problems, I don't know. But it's always very, yeah, never so much about pop culture, and it's never so much about fun, I guess, fun, bubbly topics. And in English it's easy for me to talk about fun things because I have the fun vocabulary for it.
LG: We’ve heard a few times on this podcast how English seems to be the cool language and German perhaps more old-fashioned and mechanical in comparison, and it’s no surprise that some people might feel more bubbly in English mode than in German mode. English is connected with a lot of leisure activities and fun things, whereas German is usually the language of the more bureaucratic things. But English and German are different languages altogether, of course some people are going to feel different when wearing their English hat or their German hat. Earlier we heard that Katie doesn’t speak one clear-cut variety of German, but rather a more neutral, standard Austrian German with German German elements, and this has changed over time.
KR: I think that it definitely has changed a little bit, and I think the main factor that impacted that was my awareness of it. Because when I was really young, obviously, I didn't- I wasn't that aware and when I- there are really rare audio recordings of me speaking German as a kid. And really early recordings of myself don't have much audio because I was too young. But the very rare clips of me speaking German as a very young kid, I'm always taken aback at how Austrian I sound. Like, nowadays, if I were to call my dad “Papa”, I'd say “Papa”, but as a kid, I remember there was a recording where I'm like, “Baba”, like with the more softer “b”, like “Baba”, and I'm like, “oh my God, I can't believe I said that”.
LG: This is quite an Austrian thing to do, to soften the hard plosives. A lot of Ps become like Bs, like Papa to Baba. A lot of Ts become like Ds, like Tante to Dande. And a lot of Ks become like Gs, so Kakao to Gagao.
KR: So that's one example. And other things that have changed, like I say, when I was in high school, probably it was me overcompensating like, “oh, I don't want to sound vulgar. I don't identify with this”. I've never- like people in my family have always spoken High Standard German. This is something that's just really weird to me. Why would you make a point to sound, kind of, not polished, I guess? So, yeah, I just didn't like it at that point. But then as I got older, I learned to love it, but I still didn't kind of adopt it myself. But now I do feel like I embrace it and sometimes I even try to sound a bit more Austrian on purpose when I'm getting really emotional. Because it is kind of, it's easier to express emotion if you kind of fall into that like, “Oida was ist dadadada” [laughs], like, you can get so emotional using the super, like, standard stereotypical Austrian dialect. Like, you can express emotions and aggression very well, and that's something I appreciate. [laughs]
LG: This is fairly common, to use a more regionally specific variety or dialect in more intimate or emotional situations, where it might not be seen as appropriate otherwise. Still to this day, Germany German is seen by many as more standard and more correct, and Austrian German as a dialect. Katie moved between dialects as she was growing up, and still moves between them nowadays. Let’s hear some examples of words or phrases that are typical of the different varieties that Katie’s fallen into over the years.
KR: Yeah, for example, just simply the word voll. Maybe in Germany, that's something people say, but I think in Germany, people say like “auf jeden Fall, ja, auf jeden Fall, auf jeden, auf jeden”. And then in Austria, people are, at least in Vienna, people are like “voll, voll, voll”. And that's something I definitely picked up and that's something I use, and, oh my gosh, a short anecdote. So awkward. I once went to meet my supervisor, my PhD supervisor. And you know, it's quite formal, I guess. It's your PhD supervisor, and she kept giving me really important, helpful, constructive feedback, and the only thing I kept responding was “voll”. I was like, “Voll, voll. Voll, voll.” So, yeah, I've definitely taken on the voll.
LG: Voll is a favourite of mine, too, I definitely use it, perhaps a little too much. It literally means ‘full’ or ‘fully’, but is used to mean something like “yeah, totally, right, absolutely”.
KR: And other words that I maybe use frequently. Oh, yeah: ur. I don't use it that much, actually. But I think I do use it. So like, ur cool, ur super, ur blablabla.
LG: Ur in this sense meaning ‘really’ or ‘very’.
KR: And then in Germany, people would say end-, like, endgeil, endcool. I would never say end-, because like, I didn't grow up around people saying end-.
LG: That’s end-, usually written with a <d>, though some would spell it with a <t>.
KR: I see people spell it on Facebook with a <t>, but it sounds like “end”, like “oh, das ist endgeil, end- endfein, end- endcool”.
LG: Pairs of voiced and voiceless plosives like [d] and [t] are often confused by native speakers of German when they come at the end of a word or a syllable since they’re all pronounced as the voiceless versions anyway. So a <d> at the end of a word or a syllable would usually be pronounced as a <t>. Take the verb ‘to be’, sein, and put it in the second person plural, ihr seid. You spell seid with a <d> at the end. But if you go onto social media and find German language posts, you’ll most likely see people writing it with a <t> instead of a <d>, just like the German word seit meaning ‘since’. This is a common mistake that native speakers make because seid with a <d> and seit with a <t> are pronounced the same way. This is likely to be the reason why many people would write endgeil with a <t>. Though if you’re Austrian you probably wouldn’t write it at all, you’d probably stick to ur. People do use ur in Germany too, but the exact way it’s used does seem to differ a little bit. I spoke to someone from Germany and I said something like “Es macht ur Spaß”. He assumed I had made a mistake since German isn’t my first language, he said it should be “Es macht viel Spaß”, and that you can’t use ur before a noun like that. You can only use it before adjectives like cool, urcool, or geil, ur geil. Das macht ur Spaß is apparently ‘wrong German’.
KR: No, no, no. It's not incorrect and it's definitely Austrian. It's not incorrect, because language is fluid! And also because in Austrian German, it‘s definitely, like, everyone says, “das macht ur Spaß”, “das hat ur Spaß gemacht”, or “das hat mir ur Angst gemacht”, or something. So it's definitely correct. Like I would say, it's definitely correct.
LG: Phew. Vindicated! So apparently you can use ur before a noun to mean viel, so ‘a lot’. Sticking with ur for now, even the way you pronounce it can be indicative of either a German German or an Austrian German variety.
KR: Like, I think my “u”s go very deep. On one hand, it's because my mom also does this. So it's just, I guess, something I've acquired thanks to her. But like, yeah, for example, I wouldn't say like, “das ist ur super” [high voice], I’d be like “ur nice, ja, ur” [deeper voice]. Like, you kind of- I feel like when you pronounce the “u”s in Austrian German, your voice kind of gets deeper.
LG: One of my friends who lives in Germany has sometimes commented on the way I say the German word for ‘clock’, die Uhr. It made her laugh because I was saying it so deep. Maybe it was just me overdoing it, but I was trying to be like the Austrians. To her it just sounded like “Uhr!” [deep voice]. Another difference between Austrian and German German is the way the letter <s> is pronounced at the beginning of words. In Austria and southern Germany, it would usually be a sharp [s]. But in other parts of Germany – and, importantly, in standard German German – it’s pronounced like the English <z>, like [z]. So for the word sun, an Austrian would probably say Sonne [ˈsɔnɛ], whereas a German would probably say Sonne [ˈzɔnə]. And a lot of the time, because of this prestige that Germany German Hochdeutsch has, the [z] sound is often seen as the better or clearer pronunciation.
KR: And I think that's a big reason as to why I, in formal settings, sound more Germany German because I do kinda want to make sure that I enunciate halfways well. And so I do sound more German because, like you said, the <s> sounds more like a <z> in German. Again, I do it so naturally. It's not a show I put on, I don't perform, I don't make a conscious effort to do it. It's very natural to me. But as the words are coming out of my mouth, I'm always so worried that people who know me in informal settings will think I'm being inauthentic and faking it to achieve whatever. So I do do it and it's natural to me, it's how I speak, but I'm aware that it could come off as inauthentic because I guess I don't do that in casual situations.
LG: I’m sure this is pretty relatable, and it’s certainly not inauthentic to use a different register or to pronounce things differently in formal settings. The way I speak on this podcast is quite different to how I would speak with my family. Even if it’s still recognisably me, and I identify with all my diverse ways of speaking, my style does vary.
KR: So although I have merged all of my weird language identities, kind of, and I do, I think nowadays, I do sound quite the same no matter who I talk to. But there are differences, for example, just I think two weeks ago, I had to chair at a conference, an online conference. And I remember speaking, just, I didn't fake it. I just spoke, what came to mind, and I didn’t put on a performance of any sort. But I just remember speaking and thinking, “is this just what I sound like in German? Or why do I sound so Germany German?” But I think it's because I'm aware, okay, this is a formal setting. And I, it's not my conference, I didn't organize this. If it were my conference, I would maybe make a few more jokes, lighten the mood. I mean, I did all that, but not to the degree I maybe would have usually done it. And so I remember, I thought to myself, “I sound like I'm trying to sound German, Germany German, even though I’m not”. Because, for example, I remember saying, “Guten Tag, ja, also, herzlich willkommen zu dieser Session, blablabla”. So, saying “guten Tag” like that sounded so German to me. But then again, I know that’s just how I say it. I don’t say “guten Tag”, because my “d” is very close to a “t” plosive, I guess, in general. So I would always say “guten Tag“, yeah whatever. But in that formal setting, I do, I think I just overenunciate it and that's why I thought to myself, “oh, this sounds very Germany German”.
LG: While the switch to a more standard German German might be noticeable, it’s certainly not a bad thing.
KR: I think I started maybe not being less mindful of how I sound, but just being okay with not sounding the same all the time, because I'm very aware that sometimes I sound, I guess, really standard-y and sometimes I sound really German-y, German German-y, sometimes I sound very kind of Viennese youth speak-y. And I think I used to always try and find a middle ground for all those things all the time. But then I realized, no, I just, it's almost like code switching, but it's like dialect switching, or like tone switching, maybe. And yeah, I think it just goes along with how I adapt to situations, also in my behaviour, and then like my language, my speech, follows my behaviour.
LG: In a way, we are all different people in different company, or at least we show different sides of ourselves or present ourselves differently. But we can, and often do, strongly identify with our own language variety or varieties. It makes up a lot of who we are. It can form a significant part of a person’s identity.
KR: I feel like it plays such a big role. Because I think like I think about this every day, but in a good way, not in an obsessive, weird way. Where I'm just like, it’s so cool to speak different languages and I don't even- see, I don't view myself as like speaking a lot of languages because everyone, literally like most people speak English. And German, okay, fine, that's, to me, that's just my native language. So that's not very exciting to me. Though, I know, to others it may be. But like, especially growing up somewhat internationally, and with so many people from international backgrounds, also who have lived abroad and learned different languages, I was always kind of the outsider speaking English and German. All my friends speak at least three, four languages, like fluently, like natively. So I was always the one that only spoke two. I mean, obviously, nobody says like, “Katie, you only speak two languages”. But in my mind, I was like, “oh, man, at least, like, let me be trilingual!” But yeah. So I just love that I think in both languages, I feel comfortable with both languages. I feel like I can emotionally express myself in both languages. I just wish, it would be so cool if I had that in a third language, because I feel like it helps you understand the people, you know, who grew up speaking that language better. Because I do think that, you know, Sprache schafft Realität.
LG: Language creates reality.
KR: And yeah, I definitely feel that for myself. It would have been really cool if I could have grown up trilingually, then I could have lived in three realities, but unfortunately, I only live in two.
LG: Thank you so much to Katie Reschenhofer for joining me for this episode. You can find out more about her by going to the podcast website, yellowoftheegg.com. Remember you can find me on Instagram @yotepodcast, that’s Y-O-T-E-Podcast, and you can email me at email@example.com. I would really appreciate you recommending this podcast far and wide, and maybe also a nice five-star rating and review. That would be lovely. Thank you for your support.
So with all that being said, thank you so much for listening. Playing us out this series are Euphoniques, this time with Where Are You Now. Check them out on Spotify, links in the shownotes. Enjoy the song, and I’ll see you in the next episode. Machts es gut, servus aus Wien.
[Music: “Where Are You Now” by Euphoniques]