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I was looking into different pronunciations, I saw there is a difference between regions within Germany and also with other German speaking countries, making me wonder which set of pronunciation rules (if the former doesn't apply) is more or less standard (higher status or more influence in popular culture), like the Standard American Accent in USA.

The answer would be an accent or pronunciation rules from a region that either has an official status by national laws or international agreement or is the most prevalent in German language media and communities everywhere. The answer also would be most likely considered "without accent" or a "neutral accent".

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For some reason this older Question does not show up in the "Related" sidebar so I'm adding it here. –  Eugene Seidel Jan 16 '13 at 8:09
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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Did you read the Wikipedia article yet? The newsreaders you hear on Deutsche Welle all speak standard German or at least they are supposed to. As a learner of German residing abroad, you should aim for "standard German" pronunciation. Most movies made in Germany have their actors speak standard German except when dialect is indicated by the script. Your tapes in your language lab are also in standard German.

If you can make your question more specific, please do so.

(after editing of Question:)

Well, there is a widespread notion that Sächsisch as spoken in and around Meißen was considered the most refined form of spoken German, that later some other regional variant (perhaps as spoken in Prague) took its place, and that the standard German spoken by educated speakers in and around Hannover is setting the tone today. Coupled with this is the notion that this "Hannover standard German" is not really a dialect but a form of German marked by the absence of dialectal color (a notion that I admit to sharing).

I think the real history of how and why "standard German" was constructed and how it changed over time is more complex. Yesterday I tried to look for a good historical account on the Web but found none. (Suggestions welcome!) If you listen to old newsreels from the '40s and earlier, the standard German spoken by newsreaders sounds very different from what we hear today in major news broadcasts.

Why and how did a northern/northernish German pronunciation become the touchstone for "correct" or "good" spoken German? I think a lot may have had to do with the post-war years, when Germans looked to the British occupation forces and the BBC for guidance on matters of journalism. Germany's premier television newscast is the Tagesschau and it has had only five Senior Newsreaders since 1964. Of these, three -- Köpcke, Veigel and Hofer -- grew up in areas that later happened to be in the British zone of occupation. Berghoff is a Berliner, Brauner a refugee from Lower Silesia in the east. No Senior Newsreader at Tagesschau has ever come from a "southern" state (Hessen, Rheinland-Pfalz, Saarland, Baden-Württemberg, Bayern).

The longest-serving Tagesschau newsreader was Karl-Heinz Köpcke (started in 1959, Senior Newsreader from 1964 to 1987), a native of Hamburg. A modest, reserved man, he had great influence not only on the direction in which "standard German" -- which, as you may have gathered by now, is a constructed, "synthetic" language although its chief architect was "contingency" -- moved but also on the image of German "maleness".

A point that hasn't been mentioned yet is that when people speak Hochdeutsch, i.e., standard German, they don't necessarily sound like a Tagesschau newsreader. In fact, 99.99% of the time you can still hear quite clearly where they come from! The difference is that when speaking Hochdeutsch, they (try to) use only words found in dictionaries (excluding dialect words) and grammar as taught to them in school. Bavarians have never been shy about laying on their regional accent when speaking Hochdeutsch; Swabians, on the other hand, are a bit self-conscious about it. Recently they turned their embarrassment to their advantage when they chose the slogan "Wir können alles außer Hochdeutsch" for a regional marketing campaign.

Getting back to Hannover and vicinity, I don't necessarily agree that people there speak the "best" (or clearest, or whatever positive adjective you choose) German. People like Gerhard Schröder (German chancellor from 1998 to 2005), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Foreign Minister from 2005 to 2009) or Sigmar Gabriel (chairman of Germany's Social Democratic Party) have so much macho metal in their voices, I'm surprised they don't run a steelmill on the side. I find this metallicity disagreeable to listen to.

The best German speaker I have ever heard was a co-worker of mine in a heavy-machinery moving company. This man, barely educated past tenth grade, spoke with a naturalness and clarity that I have not heard before or since. For what it's worth, he had grown up in Wuppertal, the largest city of the Bergisches Land, which is about halfway between Cologne and Dortmund.

Regarding the two other major German-speaking countries: Schweizerdeutsch (Schwyzerdüütsch) is not considered a dialect but a language in its own right. However, newsreaders on Swiss TV sound just like their counterparts on Tagesschau. In Austria, I believe that the most refined pronunciation is called "Schönbrunn-Deutsch" and to my untrained ear, some of their TV newsreaders seem to employ this very Austrian-sounding pronunciation. However, you'll have to ask a Swiss or an Austrian for reliable information on these details.


This interview with Prof. Karl-Heinz Göttert in WELT Online is absolutely fantastic. Can't resist inserting a few quotes:

Wenn in Schwaben ein entsprechender zentraler Hof entstanden wäre, wäre dasselbe passiert wie in Frankreich und England: Aus den Dialekten der Île de France und von London wurde die Nationalsprache, und so wäre vielleicht der schwäbische Dialekt zum Deutschen schlechthin geworden.

Whew (wipes sweat off brow)

Die Leute, die festgelegt haben wie das Deutsche korrekt ausgesprochen werden soll, waren alle Niederdeutsche. Es ist eine ganze Kette, wie eine Verschwörung. Bis hin zu Herrn Siebs, der mit seinem Buch "Die deutsche Bühnenaussprache" für die Lautung im 19. Jahrhundert so entscheidend geworden ist wie Konrad Duden für die Rechtschreibung. Der Siebs konnte von Haus aus überhaupt kein Deutsch. Der ist in Bremen geboren und auf einer friesischen Insel aufgewachsen. Und so ein Mensch hat die Aussprache des Hochdeutschen festgelegt. Deshalb beginnt sagen heute mit einem weichen S. Der Bayer spricht es ja mit scharfem S: "Ssag amoi..." Niederdeutsch ist auch die Aussprache ich statt ik in der letzten Silbe von Wörter wie König oder wahrhaftig.

What this second quote illustrates is the contingency and artificiality of standard German pronunciation. Indeed, who the hell was Mr. Siebs to tell everyone how German should be pronounced "correctly"? There is no "objectively" correct pronunciation and there never has been. One may presume that there is a "de facto" correct pronununciation and that the synthetic standard German spoken by Mr. Jan Hofer, the current Senior Newsreader of Tagesschau, is its embodiment. It is an arbitrary choice but, given the influence traditionally exerted by Senior Newsreaders, a sensible one. (Does Hofer conclude "König" or "wahrhaftig" with an -ich or an -ik sound? I don't know, and it doesn't matter, because both choices are widespread and therefore acceptable standard German pronunciation -- regardless of what some silly book says.)

For a learner of German residing abroad, there are few opportunities to hear people speak standard German in daily intercourse, so as mentioned previously, there are the Deutsche Welle and other news broadcasts, cultural "magazine" shows on radio, practice tapes in the language lab, pop songs, etc. etc. More than 99 percent of the time, the speakers are using standard German pronunciation, albeit with minor regional coloration and with a few idiosyncrasies. The question of "which German dialect is closest to standard German" is a bit of a red herring, as you won't know where somebody heard on the radio grew up. In any case, as I've tried to show above, the local language spoken by people in and around Hannover, while indeed generally thought to be closest to "standard German pronunciation", isn't necessarily the most pleasant-sounding.

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I thought it was a standard dialect. The article says it was a written standard and then evolved in the 20th century to contain the pronunciation as well. The pronunciation on Tell Me More doesn't use -ich sound consistently for -ig as far as I can hear, so you'd better be more specific on the tapes remark. –  michelpm Dec 23 '12 at 13:48
    
I'll accept it if you don't mind editing the first sentence, sounds kind of rude. –  michelpm Dec 23 '12 at 13:49
    
It was not my intention to be rude, sorry if you perceived it that way. And since I am innocent of bad intentions, I won't change what I wrote. No problem if you decide not to give me a green checkmark. –  Eugene Seidel Dec 23 '12 at 13:55
    
Let me add that I (and many others here) will be happy to provide more info as soon as the question becomes more specific. If I understand you correctly, you are wondering about the ig/ich sound in adjectives ending on -ig. This is a regional (and to a lesser extent, personal) thing and it does not affect whether a speaker will be assessed as using standard German. Two centuries ago, Sächsisch was considered the most refined form of spoken German. Current standard German is closer to the colorless (my subjective opinion) variant spoken in and around Hannover. Anyway feel free to ask more. –  Eugene Seidel Dec 23 '12 at 14:55
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Die Schwaben haben was anderes gemacht - sie haben den Spruch für sich abgeändert: "Mir könned älles, au Schwäbisch!" –  cgnieder Dec 24 '12 at 12:06
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In Germany it's the German spoken in Hannover and Braunschweig that is traditionally said to be closest to what written German is supposed to be pronounced. It is, however, not some 'native Hannover dialect' which makes it that way, but the absence of local dialects that were spoken there in earlier centuries.

Programme presenters of all nationwide public broadcasters (the ARD network, ZDF, Deutschlandradio, Deutsche Welle) use standard German pronunciation, which doesn't mean that they may not have some slight accent, especially in southern Germany. News presenters of the Tagesschau news program (produced in Hamburg) are a classic example of highly dialect/accent-free pronunciation.

Quite influential since the 19th century has been the book ‘Deutsche Bühnenaussprache’ by Theodor Siebs (1862–1942), a linguist born in Bremen (north-west Germany). This guideline was once created for the training of stage actors, later also for radio presenters. It was retitled ‘Deutsche Aussprache’ – an older edition is available for preview in Google Books. I believe it is still used in the training of radio and tv presenters, although other resources are used as well, e.g. the ‘Aussprachewörterbuch’ published by the Duden Verlag. The idea behind ‘Deutsche Bühnenaussprache’ was that works of ‘high culture’ (Goethe, Schiller, etc.) should be recited not only in a clear and well audible way, but also free of local dialect/accent …

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Great and succinct answer, since I don't know which to accept I will accept the one with more votes. –  michelpm Dec 24 '12 at 18:55
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(English version below)

Aus gegebenem Anlass noch einige Anmerkungen zur Frage, welche Aussprachevariante des Deutschen einen höheren Status als andere beanspruchen dürfe. In der Frage schwang die Vorstellung mit, es gebe eine Sprachregion in Deutschland, die quasi über allen anderen throne wie einst Willem zwo über seinen Untertanen (siehe Abb. 1 unten).

Nun ist es zwar in der Tat so, dass die von Prof. Göttert beklagte, über Jahrhunderte reichende niederdeutsche Verschwörung dem norddeutschen Tonfall ungerechterweise zur Dominanz unter den vielen Varianten guten deutschen Sprechens verholfen hat. Das norddeutsch geprägte öffentlich-rechtliche Fernsehen verstärkt diese ständige Demütigung noch, zuletzt vor einigen Wochen, als Frank Plasberg in "Hart aber fair" einen hochdeutsch, wenn auch mit bayerischer Akzentfärbung, parlierenden Gast aufforderte, verständliches Deutsch zu sprechen.

Der Augsburger Sprachwissenschaftler Werner König hat nun – selbstredend in der Süddeutschen Zeitung – unter Berufung auf die Gleichbehandlungsgarantie des Grundgesetzes gefordert zu verbieten, Kinder wegen ihrer Aussprache zu kritisieren. In Wirklichkeit ist der Gegenangriff aus Süddeutschland schon längst im vollen Gange. Die von Bundestags-Vizepräsident Thierse beklagte Kolonialisierung der einstmals so pittoresken Berliner Kieze durch zugereiste Schwaben ist nur die Speerspitze der Bewegung.

Bekannt ist auch das Wohlstandsgefälle in der Bundesrepublik, das genau umgekehrt zur sprachlichen Dominanzrichtung verläuft. Der Tag, an dem Zuwendungen aus dem Länderfinanzausgleich an den Nachweis korrekter Verwendung des Diminutivs (Hörnle, Spätzle) geknüpft werden, dürfte nicht mehr fern sein; eventuell wird man den Berlinern sogar das eingeborene Bellen ab- und das Sprechen in Zimmerlautstärke angewöhnen.

Da aber die Hassliebe zwischen schwäbelnden und berlinernden Menschen nur eine der erbittert geführten Auseinandersetzungen um die Definitionsmacht über "richtige" und "falsche" Zischlaute, Vokalfärbungen und Adjektivendungen ist und keine Sprachengruppe bereit ist, klein beizugeben, wird sich ein Siegfrieden nicht einstellen. Heute unter dem Druck der Ereignisse gebildete Allianzen zwischen Nachbarn werden sich über Nacht in gepflegte Erbfeindschaften zurückwandeln.

Daher ist meiner Ansicht nach der in Abb. 2 versinnbildlichte Krieg aller gegen alle eine wohl eher passende visuelle Metapher als das hierarchisch geprägte Bild aus Abb. 1.

Figure/Abbildung 1

Figure/Abbildung 2

Recent events compel me to amplify on my earlier Answer to this Question. Implicit in the Question was the notion that one variant of spoken German can be accorded pride of place over the others, like a king lording it over the peasants (see Fig. 1 above). This, of course, is an oversimplification; at the same time, every day brings painful reminders to southern and eastern Germans that the northern stranglehold over so-called standard German (as interpreted by major broadcasters) is not about to end soon.

A recent reminder came a few weeks ago when talkshow host Frank Plasberg, a native of North Rhine-Westphalia, told a Bavarian guest point-blank (DE) that while his dialect was "fetching", he should speak standard German for the benefit of viewers. In fact, the guest was already speaking standard German, albeit with Bavarian coloration, characterized by a rumbling "r" and lower-pitched vowels. This was just one example of many such humiliations, another being the result of a survey conducted in the northern-central city of Wuppertal, according to which residents firmly believe that southerners are simply incapable of speaking standard German.

However, southerners are fighting back using all means at their disposal, countering linguistic might with economic punch. As the "wealth gap" between laggardly northern regions and the economic powerhouses in the south grows wider, Swabians and Bavarians relish walking into a Bremen or Berlin realtor's office and paying cash on the nail for an apartment or single-family home. Last week's swabophobic outburst by Bundestag vice-president Wolfgang Thierse was not the only sign that gentrification due to the influx from the south is getting under locals' skin. Berliners, of course, have never been shy to set newcomers in their place. As one aborigine in the comments to the above-linked article in TheLocal.de charmingly puts it,

HERE'S A LIST OF THINGS THAT SWABIANS SHOULD NOT BRING TO BERLIN:

-- politeness. In Berlin, you get Schnauze and you like it! No Southwest German politeness.

-- cleanliness and respect for civic order. In Berlin, we let our dogs s**t on the sidewalk, and it's not our problem. We like having the dirtiest city in Germany.

A note of desperation is creeping into the characteristic swagger, however. Already spraypainted slogans calling for Swabians to be deported, or worse, are appearing on Berlin walls. And while the burghers of Hamburg, media capital of Germany, still feel relatively safe, they worry about sharing the fate of Berliners and succumbing to the southern economic juggernaut.

This love-hate relationship between Swabians and Berliners is but one of many battles on the domestic language front. The ancient enmity between Badeners and Swabians is temporarily on hold as they close ranks against the Prussian brutes but will soon erupt again. In Germany's language wars, it is region against region, town versus gown, and hamlet against hamlet. Hence in my opinion the Hobbesian vision of a piranha-eats-piranha world shown in Fig. 2 may be more fitting than the picture of a linguistic landscape featuring unquestioned dominance of one particular strain of standard German.

All images used from Wikimedia Commons. Public domain. Piranha drawing by PRONIZ.

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Ist das eine Antwort oder eine Glosse? –  cgnieder Jan 2 '13 at 10:15
    
Eine glossierte Antwort? Oder vielleicht ein obiter dictum ;) –  Eugene Seidel Jan 2 '13 at 16:53
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