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For both nouns there is a similar pronunciation of "-ei-" in standard German:

Zeile: [ˈʦaɪ̯lə]
Zeiger: [ˈʦaɪ̯ɡɐ]

When people in some southern German regions try to speak non-dialect German the pronunciation of "-ei-" is different for "Zeile" ([ˈʦeɪ̯lə]] only but not for "Zeiger" which is likely to be pronounced according to standard German. I can speak mainly for Swabian dialects but some other regions may pronounciate this similarly (see "Zeile" in Wiktionary for Austria)

Many other words (e.g. Eis, Weiß (color), beißen [eɪ̯] vs. Bein, weiß (wissen), Reim [aɪ̯]) also show this phenomenon.

Is there any explanation for this?

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The vowel bifurcates in Yiddish and I can give you a list of words in each category, but it almost looks like the opposite of what you're showing here? You haven't clarified in your list of six examples which are ai and which are ei...in Yiddish it woud be ays, vays, and baisen (same as standard German) vs. beyn and veys, where the vowel shifts.. I hope my phonetic spelling is self-explanatory. –  Marty Green Dec 16 '11 at 23:52
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I have to admit that while living in the south of Germany (Rhein-Neckar Raum) I'm not aware of the phenomenon you are describing. Can you tell more precisely in which region of Germany this can be observed? –  Thomas Dec 17 '11 at 10:07
    
Which regions do you mean exactly? "some southern German regions" is quite vague. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 17 '11 at 14:03
    
That's wierd. I always assumed that the vowel shift was a residue of an obsolete German usage which somehow later merged. I don't see how it would actually flip over. Any more examples I could check against? –  Marty Green Dec 17 '11 at 16:35
    
In Yiddish we have "tsayt" and "zeyger" (rhymes with "height" and "flavor". Opposites again? (BTW a "zeyger" is a wristwatch; it's a very rare case of the German z going over to a hard-s in Yiddish.) –  Marty Green Dec 17 '11 at 18:20
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Werner Besch schreibt in seinem Buch Sprachgeschichte: ein Handbuch zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und ihrer Erforschung:

Ein Kennlautung des heutigen Wienerischen ist [a] für mhd. ei ([ha:s] 'heiß'), die sich auch in den mbair. Umgangssprachen Österreichs zunehmend durchsetzt, Kranzmayer ([1956, § 20g2) hielt dieses [a] für eine Folge der "Verschweizerung" des Wiener Hofes unter den ersten Habsburgern Rudolf und Albrecht Ende des 1. Jhs. Tatsächlich gilt (heute) in der Nordostschweiz (Thurgau, Appenzell, z. T. St. Galle) [a, ä] für mhd. ei. Aber die Habsburg liegt nicht im Thurgau, sondern im Aargau, wo [ay] für ei gilt, und es ist völlig unterwiesen, dass Rudolf sein Gefolge aus der "Ostschweiz" mitbrachte (so Kranzmayer). [...]

Viel plausibler ist m. E. die Pfalz' Erklärung, [a] stamme aus der mittelmährischen Verkehrssprache des 16. Jhs., einer Ausgleichsprache mit bair. und md. Zügen (anders Wiesinger 2001).

Vermutlich hängt die unterschiedliche Aussprache des Diphthongs davon ab, woher (aus welcher Zeit und Kultur) die entsprechenden Wörter stammen oder übernommen wurde.

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The ei diphtong are in Zeile and Zeiger derived from two different middle-high-german sounds:

For the modern high-german, the ei remained the same, whereas ī morphed into ei.

In the southern dialects (e.g. Bairisch, Schweizerdeutsch), this was different:

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Is there a list where I can see which words had which vowel in MHG? –  Marty Green Dec 19 '11 at 16:52
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Das scheint auf den ersten Blick sehr einleuchtend (ī -> [eɪ̯] und ei -> [aɪ̯]) und trifft bei obigen Beispielen auch, aber schon hier bei scheinen (schwäb. [ˈʃaɪ̯nən]) aus mhd. schīnen geht das nicht mehr auf. Die Diphthongierung wird ja vollzogen, nur mit anderer Betonung als im Hochdeutschen. –  Takkat Dec 19 '11 at 19:26
    
@Takkat könnte das vielleicht eine Kontamination durch etwas anderes sein? Im Bairischen ist der Lautwandel ja auch für Wörter im Gottesdienst-Gebraucht nicht vollzogen. –  nd01 Dec 20 '11 at 9:40
    
Guter Gedanke, es gibt da schon gewisse Variationen (z.B. Lehrer) in evangelischen und katholischen Regionen (das wäre fast eine neue Frage wert!). –  Takkat Dec 20 '11 at 9:54
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I am trying to compile words with "ei" that are pronounced "ah" vs. "ei" in Vienna:

ah: Zeiger weich Beine meinen (verb) keine eine weiß (verb)

ei: Zeit weit Weile Zeile Teil feilen fein mein (possessive) Heiterkeit weiß (color) Reim neigen Leiche

Several remarks: 1. Words that have foreign etymology are not modified to "ah". 2. If "ei" is followed by t/d/m/l, I have not found an example where it is pronounced "ah". 3. Different pronounciation is obviously used to distinguish synonyms. 4. I do think that the etymology of the vowels would explain a lot of the differences (compare the adjective "weiß" corresponding to "white" and the verb "weiß" corresponding to "wit").

I can say more when I am near my dictionaries again.

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I am REALLY not understanding your phonetics anymore. Are you saying now Zeiger rhymes with blogger and zeit rhymes with tight, or what? –  Marty Green Dec 18 '11 at 12:39
    
I am talking about Viennese dialect, as the title has some claims on Southern dialect. This will not be the same pronounciation as in, say, Yiddish, but I am very sure that the distinction between words will be the same. And I don't know how you pronounce blogger (not very useful to choose a word that cannot be looked up in dictionaries), but it will certainly not rhyme. The vowel in "Zeiger" in Vienna will be a long "ah" similar to "market". But you are wrong to think that vowels in one language exist in the other. "Tight" will give a close approximation to "Zeit", yes. –  Phira Dec 18 '11 at 13:17
    
I still don't get it. I'm looking at what Takkat wrote earlier: "Zeit is 'ei' in Swabian even though it shares the same etymology as Zeiger ('ai')". I'm undertanding from him that Zeit rhymes with plate and Zeiger rhymes with Tiger. From you I'm understanding that Zeiger rhymes very approximately with bugger and Zeit with tight...isn't this very different from what Takkat said? –  Marty Green Dec 18 '11 at 16:03
    
So you guys are talking about two different regional dialects? –  Marty Green Dec 18 '11 at 17:15
    
@MartyGreen Since Austria was mentioned, I explained how this distinction works in Austria. I know nothing about Swabian dialects and my post is supposed to be the most helpful way possible to explain that the hypotheses of the OP are not correct. –  Phira Dec 18 '11 at 17:40
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