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Say a person that have learnt standard German (Hochdeutsch) as a foreign language travels to Austria as a tourist. Should one try to speak with an Austrian Accent, using Austrian dialect words, when speaking to Austrians?

I can imagine a situation where Austrians don't like it when foreigners try (not perfectly) to speak like Austrians, and might even interpret this as disrespectful.

On the other hand, I can also imagine a situation where they don't like it when people come to Austria and speak Hochdeutsch with a German accent.

So what is the appropriate way? Speaking Hochdeutsch with a standard German accent? Or trying to speak like the locals? (even if not very much successfully?)


Some optional bonus questions:

  1. What about in other regions? (Switzerland, Bavaria, etc.)
  2. What about saying servus? (assuming a du situation)
  • related: german.stackexchange.com/questions/41489/… – Takkat Feb 19 '18 at 19:59
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    Say Grüß Gott instead of Guten Tag and you are okay. – Janka Feb 19 '18 at 20:15
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    You should indeed speak Hochdeutsch, because that's what German speakers do when the talk to anyone outside of their home dialect. Which already happens within Germany. – Janka Feb 19 '18 at 20:17
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    Why should anybody find it disrespectful, if you try to speak the best Austrian German you can? In doubt, it is a hint for being respectful, even if you only succeed in one of 5 cases. I wasn't born in Berlin, and there are some expressions I wasn't used to, but of course I try to learn them (Schrippe, Klopse, dreiviertel Neun) - well, except from 'dreiviertel Neun', I stick to viertel vor 9 - or is it viertel nach 10? – user unknown Feb 19 '18 at 21:48
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    Not sure about Austria, but as a tourist in Switzerland you should avoid imitating the local dialect as Swiss people are often annoyed by that. – RHa Feb 22 '18 at 14:58
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Using regionally known words is fine. Schrippe, Brötchen, Semmel, Wecken ... if you know how to call it you will have an easyer time at the local bakery. The same for Schlagsahne or others. Yes why not.

But speak in your natural way to speak. Don't try to adapt the "slang" in all of it's details.
In Germany (I assume the same for Austria) there are so many subleties in pronouncing certain words or letter combinations and so on... Most probably people will fail to copy the neighbor dialect that's only some km away.
I am not sure if it's seen as disrespectful but it may appear strange and silly. There is no need to do it just for the sake of doing it.

So one shouldn't appear to be the only one who doesn't notice how bad he/she fails.

Edit: if you want to use a local or locally different word please be sure to know what it really means and how/when to use it. I think it's not a shame to ask residents about that.

  • Right. An example: A German comedian is in tour and visits Austria, lets say, Vienna. And because he thinks it's funny, he begins to speak in what he thinks Austrian slang might be. Without having any idea of the different grammar, and with terrible wrong pronunciation, just replacing some words by well known Austrian Versions (like Sahne -> Obers) and using longer vowels. But I can't imagine anything that sucks more than Germans who speak a really bad parody of Austrian slang. DON'T DO THIS! This is even worse than Americans in Germany who tell Nazi-Jokes all the time. – Hubert Schölnast Feb 22 '18 at 11:54
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From my own experience as a tourist in Austria I can confirm that all Austrian people I met were extremely friendly and open-minded. They will do all to make you feel welcome in their country.

This also includes that they do not expect you to talk Austrian German but they will try to understand what you say in whatever dialect or accent you may speak.

Only occasionally you may find that some terms are different from what you had learned (e.g. (Schlag-)Obers instead of (Schlag-)Sahne, Topfen instead of Quark) but still, all Austrians will understand German as spoken in Germany or Switzerland, and you will quickly learn the Austrian vocabulary.

However as in all German speaking regions (including Switzerland and most German regions) you will not understand much of the dialect people speak. This is hard even for natives when dialects are regionally different even within Austria. But you will find that everybody can talk to you without using dialect. If they keep on talking dialect they may not be interested in a conversation.

  • +1 on If they keep on talking dialect they may not be interested in a conversation. – Janka Feb 19 '18 at 20:46
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    ... just that what you already perceive as dialect may be what they consider Hochdeutsch/Standarddeutsch... What I'm trying to say is that the Hochdeutsch may be spoken with intonation and meldody as with their dialect and can then sound quite different from the Hochdeutsch/Standarddeutsch in some other region. (Again, goes for all regions) – cbeleites Feb 21 '18 at 18:10
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If you are just travelling to Austria, I doubt that you are able to adapt your language in a way that is indistinguishable from native speakers. I speak hochdeutsch (born and raised in Hannover) and lived more than a decade in Bavaria which is almost as un-close as Austrian is. I was simply not able to exchange "Guten Tag" or "Moin" for "Grüß Gott", even after several years, let alone the more subtle nuances. Some, more open mindedpeople respected that, some others responded with disbelief.

I guess, trying to adopt to something in terms of mimicking is deprecated, but using a single term may or may not be appreciated, depending on the context. I am not good at that, so I tend to refrain from it.

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Status of Austrian German

Austrian German is neither an accent nor a dialect. It is one of the three standard variations of German. The other two standard variations are German German and Swiss German. The situation is similar to British and American English. Non of those two variations of the English language is a dialect or accent of the other one. Also non of the variations of German is a dialect or accent of the other one.

The scientific term for languages with more than one standards is pluricentric language.

All three variations of German are »Hochdeutsch«. (The more exact term is »Standarddeutsch« because Hochdeutsch also can mean the dialects spoken in the south, in contrast to Niederdeutsch which are northern dialects.)

Non of the three standard variations is "more standardized" or "better" than the others. They just have different numbers of native speakers:

  • German German: about 82 million native speakers
  • Austria German: about 9 million native speakers
  • Swiss German: about 6 million native speakers

And of course they differ in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation (just orthography is the same), but the differences are very small.

What to speak in Austria?

People in Austria are used to German German. All big private TV stations broadcasting in German language are located in Germany and therefore use German German. But they are also consumed in Austria.

And the biggest group of immigrants in Austria are People from Germany. 180,000 persons (of 8.7 millions) living in Austria are Germans, and they speak a mixture of German German and Austrian German, depending how long they are in Austria and how much contact they have to Austrians.

And of course there are German tourists in Austria. In 2017 5.8 Million Germans spent their holidays in Austria. And all of them speak German German.

So we in Austria can understand German German very well. All of us. (The opposite is not true: When I travel to Germany and use Austrian grammar or vocabulary, people often don't understand what I mean.)

So my advice is: Speak what you have learnt. People in Austria will understand you. And if your native language is English, most of us are even able to talk with you in English. (Later is true for Germany and Switzerland too.)

  • on a pedantic note: Swiss German is not a variety of Standard German, but Swiss Standard German is – ye-ti-800 Feb 19 '18 at 23:57
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    @ye-ti-800: Auf Deutsch sind die Bezeichnungen klarer: Deutsches Deutsch, österreichisches Deutsch und schweizerisches Deutsch sind standardisierte Hochsprachen. Schweizerdeutsch ist der Sammelbegriff für die in der Schweiz gesprochenen alemannischen (westoberdeutschen) Dialekte, wobei vor allem durch Radio & Fernsehen und auch durch das Internet (wo in vielen Foren Schweizerdeutsch nicht nur gesprochen, sondern auch geschrieben wird) bereits eine separate Dachsprache entsteht, die weder mit Hochdeutsch noch mit irgend einem lokalen Dialekt identisch ist. – Hubert Schölnast Feb 20 '18 at 10:49
  • "just orthography is the same" So? Wie ist das mit dem scharfen S in der Schweiz? – idmean Feb 20 '18 at 19:09

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