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In spoken conversations the grammar used is sometimes very different from the rules that we learn in textbooks or that apply to writing. This is even more so in regional dialects when sentences like

Das ist der Erich, dem wo seine Frau davongelaufen ist.

are perfectly understood and spoken just like above.

How do we prepare to differentiate a regional grammar from official grammar rules when traveling to Germany?

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Does german.SE really want questions like this? This is essentially just a complaint about nonstandard German. These are people's systematic ways of speaking in day-to-day life that don't happen to be Hochdeutsch; these aren't speech errors. Many times, knowing at least some of the local/informal constructions is beneficial to communication. When I first was in Germany, I used the genitive (e.g. "während des...") all the time and it stuck out to people. Isn't the way to avoid all things nonstandard just to keep your nose in a German language textbook and not interact with people? – Kosmonaut May 25 '11 at 15:34
This question was in no way meant to complain on grammar used in dialects. The point I was trying to make is that the grammar of spoken German does not follow the rules for a written text (Hochdeutsch). Therefore as much as it may be fun to learn some dialect it is extremely hard if not impossible to learn German grammar from converations. Some grammar peculiarities from dialects may not even be understood in other regions. Edited question to clarify. – Takkat May 25 '11 at 16:25

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It is not "wrong". You might think that anything goes, but this kind of construction has to be very specific to pass as "locally correct". If you don't want to learn a particular dialect, you should speak with lots of different people which is a good idea in any case. But you will always pick up something local. There is no "pure" language.

So, my advice:

Speak with lots of different people.

Seek out situations that favour less use of dialect. (So maybe not in a village bar.)

Ask your native friends to take into account your need to learn regular grammar and tone down the local variants.

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Or go to the north to start learning German. One of the best not-native speakers of German I'v met was a Chinese girl who learned German at Hannover. – ladybug May 26 '11 at 7:57
Seconded! There's a reason why so many call centers of national corporations are located in northern Germany - spoken language is much closer to written German (Hochdeutsch) there than in places like Swabia, Hesse or Bavaria. – Jan May 26 '11 at 8:15

I can imagine that it's really hard to learn German grammar (and pronunciation) from native speakers. Most of the regions in German speak a very unique and strong dialect – even when travelling only a few miles.

The only thing that I can suggest, is to let people know that you're not from Germany, but want to learn German. Most of them will at least try to speak standard German.

You might also want to think of specific regions where the dialect is closer to the standard. I would suggest the North of Germany, Baden-Württemberg or Hesse. The dialects are much like the High German (although the pronunciation might not be).

PS: That answer is probably a bit biased. I am from the Saarland (a German Federal State) and its dialect is probably one of the more extreme forms. That's why I am not totally reliable when it comes to German dialects. ;)

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I know people from Baden-Württemberg and I'm from Hesse. I can assure you, there are pretty extreme dialects around these regions as well :) The south has its "schwäbisch"/"badisch" and Hesse got this pretty strong dialect which is most common in the area around Frankfurt/Main. – Jemus42 May 24 '11 at 20:35
+1 for letting people know you're not from Germany. Most Germans, even speakers of heavy dialects, can switch to something resembling High German if asked to. – Pekka 웃 May 24 '11 at 20:35
Isn't it "Hessen", with an n at the end? Anyway, when I was working in Baden-Württemberg and could not understand phrases like "dem wo seine Frau", I asked for clarification. People would only talk louder or slower and louder, but not change the phrase. – teylyn May 24 '11 at 20:48
Although many Germans think the Saarland belongs to France – no, I am German. ;) – Koraktor May 24 '11 at 20:48

I think it would help you to take a look at this question:
In welchen Regionen ist die dem-sein Form gebräuchlich?

Avoiding bad grammar is easier when you understand how the bad grammar works.

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There is a lot more oddities in the example I gave ;) – Takkat May 24 '11 at 20:36
@Takkat: Yep, and you gotta start at some point :) Understanding the oddities helps understanding the regularities. – Jemus42 May 24 '11 at 20:43
Grammar is not "bad" or "good". Regional variations follow local rules. Even if these are not reflected in the national standard, and may not even have been formally documented, they are still rules and whoever applies them in the region uses correct grammar for the region. – teylyn May 24 '11 at 20:50
@teylyn: it depends on who you speak to, the acceptance for local dialect may vary for example between different age groups. In general, I suggest to be quite careful when it comes to local dialects. – Jemus42 May 25 '11 at 15:03
Jemus, I'm not referring to the comparison with standard German and whether or not the regional grammar is correct in that context. I'm referring to the fact that a regional dialect has strict grammatical rules that are being followed by the community. It's not as if individuals just make up language as they want to. There IS a framework and it IS followed by the community. It may not be documented/written down/defined, but that does not mean that it's not "Grammar". Grammar is more than a rule book in a library. Grammar is a concept of rules that apply to a language. – teylyn May 26 '11 at 8:46

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