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I realize this question sounds a bit subjective but in the English-speaking world I feel pretty confident that most people would agree on Glasgow and Northern Ireland area accents being the most in need of subtitles in other parts of the Anglosphere.

My German is quite rudimentary but I've been able to follow the gist of the conversations pretty much everywhere I've visited in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Yet during a long evening in Oberwallis I couldn't even guess what a single word was. I felt all the endings were foreign and couldn't related it to the sound of German at all.

So is Walliserdeutsch for German speakers the equivalent of Glasgow/Belfast for English speakers?

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Schwyzerdütsch is a compleatly different language, generally German do not understand it. –  burbuja Jun 2 '11 at 14:03
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I think Geordie is the most difficult, and also this question is subjective. –  z7sg Ѫ Jun 2 '11 at 14:50
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This is very subjective, and unlikely to get one correct answer. I know Swabian dialects that will make your toes curl and your hair turn grey. Most regions have extreme dialect variations that are close to impossible to understand for foreigners and Germans alike. –  Pekka 웃 Jun 2 '11 at 17:34
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As an example of Walliserdeutsch, try to read this walser-alps.eu/mundart/mundartproben/… without cheating by reading the German text. :-) Or what about a simple example: "Gä-wer amu da umbrüf!" -- "Let's go up there"... –  Pierre Arnaud Jul 15 '11 at 17:12
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You might like to know that once I (native German) mistook guys speaking Schwyzerdütsch for Scots. So maybe it is equivalent somehow. –  Zane Jun 3 at 13:52
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6 Answers

Wallis is in Switzerland and in my opinion most of the Swiss dialects are very hard to understand for Germans. I have made similar experiences to you. When Swiss people are having a conversation in their native dialect I don't understand any word. So to answer your question: yes, I'd say that Swiss dialects are considered the most difficult to understand for Germans.

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That's interesting. I did OK with all the other Swiss dialects I came across in Bern, Basil, and St Galen. Not full comprehension but not noticably worse than in Germany, and that was overhearing two locals - not people simplifying for my sake (I did even better at those times). –  hippietrail Jun 2 '11 at 14:13
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@hippietrail: are you sure you really heard Swiss dialects and not just Swiss accent on Standarddeutsch? –  ladybug Jun 8 '11 at 11:02
    
Well they always acted surprised that I picked up on anything but peoples' reactions here are now making me more doubtful. I stayed with the family for about a week and a half so it seems odd that they would speak Standarddeutsch with each other just because I was there. But it is over ten years ago so I have to agree that I can't be certain. How easy is it to spend this much time in Switzerland and only once hear local dialect? –  hippietrail Jun 8 '11 at 23:22
    
I'd say that other dialects such as those from Uri, Bern, and the very rural and Alpine regions tend to use quite different words and expressions, just like Wallisertütsch, which are difficult to understand too for other Swiss Germans. –  Pierre Arnaud Jul 15 '11 at 17:12
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Frisian can be similar hard to understand for Germans as the Swiss dialects.

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I thought Frisian was either a separate language or a dialect of Dutch. Or are there more than one variety of speech called Frisian? –  hippietrail Jun 2 '11 at 14:25
    
I guess the question if Dutch is separate language or a German dialect is more a political than a linguistic one. I think German and Dutch are similar close as Spain and Portuguese. Officially all are considered different languages from each other. –  bernd_k Jun 2 '11 at 14:41
    
I'd rather say (hopefully not offending too many people on the way) that Dutch is kind of a cross (Mittelding) between German and English. –  Hendrik Vogt Jun 8 '11 at 11:26
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Eeek, I would say that Dutch is a different language... –  Glen Wheeler Jun 21 '11 at 9:39
    
@Hendrik Vogt: I think Dutch developed before English so I can't see how it could be the product of English and German crossing. –  hippietrail Jul 16 '11 at 7:55
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In my opinion this question cannot be answered conclusively. If a specific German dialect is understood depends on which people you're asking.

For example, somebody from Northern Germany will struggle understanding people speaking Walliserdeutsch, but they'll understand Plattdeutsch(*) for example, while people from Western Austria have a hard time when listening to Northern Germany's dialects, but understand Wallisdeutsch quite well.


(*) I know it's not a dialect, but Schwyzerdeutsch isn't either.


PS: German Wikipedia has a nice article and map about German dialects.

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The map is interesting. Now, coming from Kiel, am I speaking Schleswigisch or Holsteinisch? ;) –  OregonGhost Jun 2 '11 at 14:35
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Most German dialects have weakened over time and much is being mixed from other regions, and from Hochdeutsch. If however (mostly in rural areas) the dialect is well preserved then even native Germans from another region will be unable to understand it.

This can even be the case in regions very close. I grew up in such a region where I could hardly understand people's dialect from a village only 15 km away from my home town.

So I would answer the question with no, Walliserdeutsch is not harder to understand as other dialects.

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I am a native Zurich Swiss German speaker and I cannot understand Walliserdeutsch easily, either. It took me three days to get used to it when I visited the area.

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I think the hardest dialects are the ones that are considered to be separate languages:

  • Plattdeutsch
  • Schwyzerdütsch
  • Lëtzebuergesch

If raoulsson says, even as a Swiss he can't understand Walliserdeutsch, it is possible that this is the "hardest" one. However, there is no general agreement on that. I don't even know how Walliserdeutsch sounds, for example. ;)

Another candidate for a hard dialect is heavy Bavarian, but as the others have already pointed out, it really depends from where you start.

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