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Received Pronunciation has a special status in English as a prestige accent; in many contexts, it is often stereotypically noted and used as a marker of "elevated" social status and diction.

Just to give a quick example, in the television series The Borgias, few English speakers are surprised to see an Italian-French pope and his children speaking in the clipped tones of the Received Pronunciation dialect; that is the writers of that show's way of establishing a milieu of power and sophistication.

Scholars speculate that RP, which evolved from an East Midlands accent, achieved its prestige status as a result of its being the native dialect of London, greatest city under the English crown, and which, as we all know, would later readily extend its arms to embrace all the world under the aegis of the British Empire.

Anyway, that introduction is but necessary background, so I can ask a simple question:

Does German have an equivalent prestige accent to Received Pronunciation, whose social supremacy is readily recognized by the majority of German speakers? If so, from what area does it originate from, and how did its prestige come about?

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For what it's worth, Received Pronunciation is far from universally considered a prestige accent these days, even within England. It's even perceived negatively in some quarters, which I think unfair and unfortunate. Having a "regional" accent is de rigeur in recent decades. –  misterben Jun 3 '11 at 11:25
    
@misterben I disagree with you entirely; feigning from the appearance of classism is not the same thing as the departing of prestige from RP. But no matter; since you seem to know some about it, you might want have a go at this question, if you'd like. –  Uticensis Jun 3 '11 at 19:22
    
A near parallel might be the exaggerated enunciation common in Hochdeutsch public speaking, which I think is called Bühnendeutsch; since it's a style that became popular with local mayors and not just the theater, and since it retains some presence in modern public speaking, you could argue that there is some association with authority, though maybe not prestige. The purpose probably has more to do with clarity than prestige, but considering the practitioners tend to be public figures, it's worth considering. –  JasonTrue Jun 3 '11 at 20:18
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7 Answers 7

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The quasi-equivalent

'Hochdeutsch' (lit. "High German") in the meaning 'Standarddeutsch' can be considered the German variant of received pronunciation. It is spoken nowhere naturally, currently the people living around Hannover are considered to come closest to this language with their dialect.

'Hochdeutsch' should not be confused with 'Hochdeutsche Dialekte' which are both translated as 'High German'. Only the first is synonymous to 'Standarddeutsch', the latter is the group of dialects spoken on higher grounds (the more southern regions).

What is and what's not Hochdeutsch?

Since there is no common instance of language control like in other countries the 'Hochdeutsch' is a different one for each country where German is spoken and can be seen as a composition to balance the language. According to en.wikipedia.org it originates with the written language. The most important milestones should be the Lutherian Bible and Grimm's Fairy Tales.

German as a language originated with the people living in the Sacrum Romanum Imperium (Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation) where the royalties spoke Latin or French. With time the people's language gathered more and more power, first shown in having church services in German and then forming the German Empire where the language defined the people opposed to other countries where the process was in the other direction. This process took very long. High German was considered a purely written language at least until 1800.

How does Hochdeutsch sound?

As mentioned above, there is no the-one-and-only Hochdeutsch. In Germany it's called 'Hochdeutsch', in Austria 'höheres Deutsch' and I bet the Swiss have their own word for it. The general rule is to speak every syllable as clear as possible. Additionally, you don't use contractions ('Tut es weh?' rather than 'Tut's weh?'). Also, it has a separate set of grammatical rules (e.g. the genitive case is much more established).

Some German dialects favour the use of articles for people's names (e.g. 'Da Peter hot ...' in Bavarian) whereas in High German, articles are not used before names.

Nevertheless even in Hochdeutsch you can use past perfect instead of preterite to talk about the past. Pekka and I agree that the Frontal 21 initial speaker speaks a very clear form of Hochdeutsch.

What you hear on TV comes close to Standard German but has a lot of 'grinding' (Einschleifungen) as the mentioned shortening of 'es' after many verbs. A keen listener will get a good grasp of it after watching some of these videos (although their content is very bad quality in my opinion).

Perception of Hochdeutsch

When speaking Hochdeutsch as I do, nobody is able to tell where you come from and you are often seen as feeling superior. People cannot give examples why they think so (even after hearing only one to two sentences) which is a clear indicator to me that it's based on my Hochdeutsch. It's funny to have heard more different places I might come from than I have actually ever visited. But it's also sad how little many people know about our dialects.

A very interesting thing about the German language are the irregular verbs. Some of them evolved into new regular verbs (backen: 'backte' and 'buk'). The new regular forms come from dialects and slowly change High German. Greater usage of irregular words makes it less possible to deduce your background. People also tend to classify your phrasing as antique. This can be used for emphasizing prestige.

Elements to emphasize prestige

When introducing people in movies who belong to a higher social level, e.g. royals, this language is used. Additionally, script writers tend to use older or less known idioms to emphasize the sophistication.
To enhance the level of education even more greek and latin loanwords are used instead of anglicism or native german words, e.g. saying 'Reputation' intstead of 'Ruf'. Another tool is to add more military speach (royals usually had a military education): to shape an austrian royality you could use "Stellen Sie Ihre Adjustierung her" instead of "Ziehen Sie sich etwas ordentlich an". You only have an Adjustierung if you're properly dressed.

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Is there any reason in particular that Hannover is the seat of this prestige accent? –  Uticensis Jun 2 '11 at 22:53
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@Billare its not a seat. Its just the the most alike. before WW2 Prague was considered to be this. And those regions aren't connected anyhow together :) –  Samuel Herzog Jun 2 '11 at 23:00
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@Billare I just found out that the Plattdeutsch originally spoken in Hannover died out nearly completly and therefore the high german replaced the local dialect. This however was at middle of the last century latest. –  Samuel Herzog Jun 3 '11 at 5:06
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@Billare, Hochdeutsch has been imposed everywhere in Germany by school teaching. As its linguistic features make it belong to the family of hochdeutsche Dialekte, it was a more natural fit for people from the Southern parts of Germany than for people from Northern Germany, for whom it was more disruptive, like it would have been for the Dutch. So people in the North had to learn it more like a foreign language, in marked contrast to their native dialect, which Hochdeutsch is not compatible with. So Platt is dying out, alas. –  Lumi Jun 4 '11 at 7:51
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Just for your Swiss reference, we call it "Hochdeutsch" (or in dialect "Hochdüütsch") too :) –  Dreami Oct 6 '13 at 10:48
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The closest to RP is, as @Samuel and @florian note, Hochdeutsch, with a special emphasis on keeping it "clean" from colloquial influences like

  • Abbreviations like Ich hab'
  • Using articles in front of names (Der Peter, Die Linda)

This way of speaking is relatively rare in everyday conversation, but is still kind of the standard in many mass media. Most of what is spoken on Deutschlandradio or the TV news of the state-run stations (ARD / ZDF) is very clean Hochdeutsch.

A nice example of clean Hochdeutsch dug up by @Samuel (the anchor speaking initially): Frontal21 - Die Verarsche "Dschungelcamp"

As to the history of Hochdeutsch and the origins of its prestigious position as a "superior" dialect spoken by the educated, I'm fairly sure it has connections to the 19th century in connection with the idea of a German nation, but I don't know really. Interested to see what comes up.

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Der/Die for names is just articles for names. Yes thats highly discouraged and I don't do it either :) –  Samuel Herzog Jun 3 '11 at 0:13
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the video you asked for: Frontal 21 on Dschungelcamp or some other contribution may be the best. –  Samuel Herzog Jun 3 '11 at 0:15
    
@Samuel thanks! -- –  Pekka 웃 Jun 3 '11 at 0:17
    
@Samuel A very nice example! (even though he does swallow his 'G's) :P –  Stefano Palazzo Jun 3 '11 at 3:35
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The closest German language analogue to Received Pronunciation may be a variant of the Swabian dialect, the so called "Honoratiorenschwäbisch" where there is a mixture of Hochdeutsch with swabian dialect expressions, swabian pronunciation, and dialect grammar peculiarities.

You may hear Swabians speak Honoratiorenschwäbisch in speeches from Swabian politicians. Better situated people also use this form of dialect in everyday's use (hence the name).

References:

Sebastian Blau: Das Honoratiorenschwäbisch

Bettina Daiber: "Honoratiorenschwäbisch" - das hochdeutsch gesprochene Schwäbisch

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Mmmmmm, to me, this is usually more of a desperate attempt of Swabians trying to sound like Hochdeutsch speakers, and failing. :) It's definitely local to Baden-Württemberg –  Pekka 웃 Jun 3 '11 at 8:35
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That's only partly true: Honoratiorenschwäbisch is different to Swabians trying to speak Hochdeutsch (even though it sounds similar) as it deliberately preserves Swabian peculiarities. –  Takkat Jun 3 '11 at 8:41
    
yeah, I see now after reading the article. –  Pekka 웃 Jun 3 '11 at 8:43
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I recently had this conversation with a young German friend who studies linguistics. As an (armchair) linguist it always annoys me when people insist their dialect is inferior to an artificial standard variant and I wanted to know how inaccurate my idea was that Germany was somehow unified by non-German speaking Prussians and ended up with a Hannnover-like variant as the standard language.

Anyway my linguist friend insisted that it was Luther's translation of the Bible into German that set up what would become Standard German.

I'd also like to point out that I've read there are always misunderstandings since Hochdeutsch and High German mean something different to Germans than to linguists. For the former it's the prestige standard German and for the latter it is the one half the of the German dialects with Low German being the other half.

(Sorry I'm still hunting for references...)

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Here in Austria, there is "Schönbrunnerisch" (refering to Schönbrunn, the location of the emporers castle); it's spoken very nasally.

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Maybe you had better said 'Here in Vienna' - ein Linzer *wave* –  oleschri Jun 3 '11 at 16:17
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I agree completely with Samuel, in German the missing of a specific dialect is mentioned to be a distinction. The German language spoken as it is defined in the Duden is considered as a prestigeous German speaking.

I'd like to be careful with the translation of "Hochdeutsch" (what we Germans call the German standard language) to "High German" because the corresponding Wikipedia article refers to a more historic/linguistic meaning of it. I was not able to find a corresponding article for the German meaning of "Hochdeutsch" - sorry for that.

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Leo and dict.cc translate "Hochdeutsch" as either "standard German" or "high German" with the second prefered. We have used the second on this platform to speak about Hochdeutsch but thanks for pointing that article out nevertheless. I'll read it now :) –  Samuel Herzog Jun 2 '11 at 23:03
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Look, it was said - Hannover. But in particular, it's Süd Oldenburg dialect in Hannover, that would be the prestige dialect. Btw, articles are commonly used in Süd Oldenburg, as far as I remember, having lived there as a teen. But to be fair, German has no equivalent to the class-based dialects that exist in English. You just can't make the case. Süd Oldenburg was the radio broadcast standard, just like upstate NY was in America for a long time. But people from Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo don't sound 'posh' at all.

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