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Yesterday I stumbled upon this infographic showing the 100 most spoken languages in the world.

It says that Bavarian has 14,359,000 (total) speakers, which makes it the 80th most spoken language in the world.

For me Bavarian was always some kind of dialect spoken in Bavaria. Why is it seen as a language? Are the numbers correct?

Also see this Wikipedia article, where Bavarian is at the 72nd place: [List of languages by number of native speakers].(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_number_of_native_speakers)

EDIT:

Thx to @DavidVoigt & @HubertSchölnast for pointing out that Bavarian includes a cluster of dialects spoken in Bavaria, Austria, and South Tyrol.

These infographic's data are from Ethnologue, an annual publication that provides statistics and other information on the living languages of the world published by SIL International. Funny enough English Wikipedia cites it with 14,000,000 speakers (2016), while German Wikipedia cites it with ~12,000,000 speakers (2017).

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    Interestingly, they claim that Bavarian has more natives speakers (14,359,000) than people living in Bavaria (13.076.721) and people that learned it later on, which I find highly disputable. The source 'en.wikipedia.org' is obviously garbage, ethnologue at least claims to get their data from various publications but I can't seem to access it without paying a huge fee. I would use caution with this info-sheet. (Also, there are less native Standard German speakers than inhabitans of Germany, which makes me doubt this as well). At least, there seems to be some arbitrariness considering dialects. – infinitezero Feb 8 at 12:33
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    I think this might be a misconception between Bayrisch and Bairisch. – infinitezero Feb 8 at 12:54
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    To your question about language <--> dialect: There is no qualitative characteristic to distiguish between these two. If two idioms are quite similar, they are considered different dialects, if the differences are bigger, they are seen as different languages – Volker Landgraf Feb 8 at 16:50
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    @VolkerLandgraf To make this kind of list that places Bavarian in the 72th, 80th, or whatever specific place, one needs to have a way to tell when two versions of Mandarin Chinese/German/Tagalog/... are a different language or not. Although there might not be a universally accepted exact definition, The Ethnologue should explain somewhere how they made the decisions to come up with this particular list. – JiK Feb 9 at 19:54
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    @0xC0000022L Sure. In some other thread about this topic someone quoted something like a language is a dialect that has an army and a fleet – Volker Landgraf Feb 11 at 12:39
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I don't want to discuss the difference between languages and dialects. German is a pluricentric language, which means, that there is not "a" single German. Through all the centuries from proto German up to now there never was only one German language or dialect. The situation is similar to the many branches of Arabic language, or Portuguese or also English.

The majority of linguists see Bavarian as one big group of German dialects, but maybe some other have reason to define it as a Germanic language. This situation is opposite for Lower German (spoken in the north of Germany), which is classified as a unique language by most linguists, while some say its a group of German dialects.

Look at former Yugoslavia: In the 1990ies most of the people there spoke one language which was called Serbo-Croatian. Today, we count 4 languages that was classified as variations of Serbo-Croatian 25 years ago, although they didn't change very much in those few years: Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin. The linguistic situation didn't change much, but the political situation did, and so within a few years one language became four distinct languages.

I don't know if the difference between Bavarian and other German dialect groups is bigger or smaller than the difference between the languages spoken in former Yugoslavia, but you can see, that it often can be complicated to say what is a dialect and what is a distinct language.


How different is Bavarian from Standard German?

Standard German has four grammatical cases, Bavarian has only three, some say it even has only two cases. This of course is oversimplified, but genitive case is used so rarely in Bavarian, that it is not really wrong to say that Bavarian has no genitive case. My first language was a Bavarian dialect, and I had to learn standard German in school, because nobody in the area where I lived spoke standard German in daily life. And so the concept of Genitive case seemed very strange to me.

Example:

  • Bavarian:

    Des do drüm is n Fodan sei Haus.

  • Standard German vocabulary with Bavarian grammar:

    Das da drüben ist dem Vater sein Haus.

  • Correct Standard German:

    Das da drüben ist des Vaters Haus. (outdated word order)
    Das da drüben ist das Haus des Vaters. (modern word order)

In Bavarian also dative and accusative case are very often merged together to one case. This is the reason why many native Bavarian speaker still have difficulties to use the correct case when trying to speak standard German.

  • Bavarian:

    Des kheat mein Buam.
    I siach mein Buam.

  • Standard German:

    Das gehört meinem Sohn. (literally: ... meinem Buben/Jungen).
    Ich sehe meinen Sohn. (... meinen Buben/Jungen).

And, as you can see from the examples above, not only the grammar is different, but also the vocabulary. But still Bavarian and Standard German are very closely related.


Who is speaking Bavarian?

Bavarian is a class of dialects (or maybe even a language?) that is spoken in most parts of Bavaria and in most parts of Austria and in South Tyrol which is part of Italy.

Bavaria is one of the 16 states of Germany. 13 million people are living in Bavaria. But many of the people living in this state are Frankonian who don't speak Bavarian.

Austria is a country that consists of 9 states. In 8 of them people are mainly speaking some bavarian dialect. Austria has 8.9 million citizens, and the one non-Bavarian state is Vorarlberg where 0.4 million people are living. Most of the people living in the 8 other states do speak bavarian dialects, but there are also many people living in Austria who speak other languages or dialects. (0.2 million People from Germany live in Austria, but also many people from Serbia, Turkey and many other countries.)

South Tyrol has 0.5 million people, but since it became part of Italy about 100 years ago, at the end of WW I, there are many people in South Tyrol speaking Italien now.

So, all together the number of 14.4 million people speaking Bavarian seems very plausible to me.


Addendum

Boarisch (Bavarian) is also one of the languages in which Wikipedia is available. For example there is an article about Bavarian language/Dialects avaiable in:

English Wikipedia contains 6M articles, German Wikipedia 2.4M, while Bavarian has 30K articles.

But Wikipedia is available in 15 different variations/dialects of German, they are listed here: Wikipedia:Sprachen Meist kleinere Wikipedias aus Mitteleuropa (Sorry, the article about language versions of Wikipedia is available in more than 50 languages, but English is not one of them.)

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    @πάνταῥεῖ: I am talking about here about my first language, i.e. the language that I learned as a baby from my parents. I am a native speaker of a Bavarian dialect. Bavarian is subdivided in Upper Palatine or North Bavarian (Oberpfälzisch oder Nordbairisch), Danube Bavarian or Middle Bavarian (Donaubayrisch oder Mittelbairisch) and Alpine Bavarian or South Bavarian (Alpenbayrisch oder Südbairisch). The largest Subgroup is Danube/Middle Bavarian which spreads over the souther parts of Bavaria and northern and eastern parts of Austria, but Danube Bavarian still is not one Dialect. ... – Hubert Schölnast Feb 8 at 19:26
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    ... It is a group of an continuous spectrum of dialects. I live in the eastern part of Austria, and here n is a full word. Maybe it is not in other areas where Bavarian dialects are spoken. – Hubert Schölnast Feb 8 at 19:27
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    Prima, jetzt brauchen wir noch eine präzise Betrachtung der 79 Sprachen, die von mehr Leuten gesprochen werden und der Sprachen, die von weniger Leuten gesprochen werden bis zu dem Punkt, dass weniger als 14,4 Mio. übrig bleiben. ;) – user unknown Feb 9 at 14:54
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    Super interesting response Hubert. Bavarian is also my mother tongue. I would say it "Des da driam is an Fatta sei Haus." – Christian Feb 9 at 20:41
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    @Christian as a pure additional data point that's also what I would be saying. But then I spent a large part of my youth where you could tell which town or village someone was from by the choice of certain dialect words, so there would be minor variations. During my school years dialect wasn't yet discouraged (it breaks my heart how many of the kids of my old friends sound like they're from Hannover and couldn't speak Bavarian with a gun to their heads), so we ended up with a Bavarian hybrid specific to our area. :) – user21173 Feb 10 at 8:57

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