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I'd like to know if, by reading a Swiss newspaper like the NZZ, I'll come across language usage that, in spite of being perfectly correct in Swiss standard German, would be frowned upon if I used them in most German proficiency exams. In other words, as someone who's interested in learning standard German, should I stick to German newspapers in order to avoid incorporating usage that would sound strange outside of Switzerland or is it immaterial whether I read a German or a Swiss newspaper in this respect? I hope that doesn't sound (too) ignorant.

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    Why read a Swiss instead of a German newspaper in the first place? – xehpuk May 8 at 23:09
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    @xehpuk I just really like some authors who write Gastkommentare in their Feuilleton. – Beneficium May 9 at 2:39
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    @xehpuk. The NZZ is arguably the best German-language paper in the world. – fdb May 10 at 17:10
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    @fdb I would doubt that. It also depends on the political orientation of a newspaper that influences this personal opinion. For me, the Sueddeutsche is one of the best. Before NZZ. – Emanuel Graf May 11 at 9:01
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    @fdb alright, let's argue about that ... 😁 – 0xC0000022L May 11 at 10:00
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Yes, you will. Not only in the Swiss dialects, but also in written Swiss standard German (as used in the press), word and expression usage can differ so significantly that even a native German speaker can have problems at least to capture details in a regular Swiss text.

Some examples are:

  • Words which are slightly different, but still likely understood, like e.g. 'parkieren' (Swiss) vs. 'parken' (German) in the meaning of 'to park (e.g. a car)'.
  • Swiss Standard German uses many French loan words like Trottoir, Glace or Billette. Unless a German native speaker has learned French and knows these words, he will not likely understand what is meant.
  • Swiss Standard German uses many words of Germanic origin, which are not or only rarely used in Germany. Just to mention a few examples from an arbitrary article in SRF: Bussenzettel, Verzeigung and abschlägig.
  • Swiss Standard German, just as 'German German' often uses product names when talking about services, concepts and things. A native German speaker is not likely to understand what a Halbtax-Karte or Natel is.

  • And then there are a few uncommon typographic conventions in Switzerland, like the usage of «...» instead of „...“ as quotation marks and that the German letter ß is not used, but written ss instead (Swiss German: gross, standard German: groß).

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    Trottoir, Glace, and Billette belong to the passive vocabulary of educated Germans, too. Velo also. – Janka May 8 at 18:58
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    I think your last point that the ß isn't used would be the biggest problem if you want to learn the Standard German spelling of words – amadeusamadeus May 8 at 21:34
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    @jarnbjo Your observations are right, but I disagree with the conclusion that this poses big difficulties. Almost all of these differences are trivial -- "unless a native speaker knows these words, they will not likely understand what is meant": no na ned. Any literate German speaker will be able to read a Swiss newspaper fluently and interpolate the missing pieces easily (even if they never heard es hat for es gibt, they'll figure it out). It's like saying, "don't read British newspapers, otherwise the Americans won't understand if you say pavement instead of sidewalk". – phipsgabler May 9 at 7:42
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    Regarding typography: the use of inwards curved (!) guillemets is incredibly common in print German (that is, print German uses “text »quote« text” instead of “text «quote» text”). Until fairly recently, guillements were in fact vastly more common than elevated quotation marks (“text „quote“ text”) in German print typography. — I’m not sure when that changed. – Konrad Rudolph May 9 at 10:28
  • Extended discussions have been moved to chat. I only left the main points. Please use comments only to suggest improvements to the answer. – Wrzlprmft May 12 at 6:08
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You will encounter vocabulary that isn't widely understood in Germany or Austria. But it's the same the other way.

German speakers have to live with that. The worst thing which could happen is that you are mistaken for a Swiss.

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    If OP is mistaken for a Swiss, they have learned (Swiss) German very well indeed! – gerrit May 9 at 9:29
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    @gerrit Nah this goes fast. As soon as my Dutch got any good, instead of thinking I was from Germany, the Dutch started thinking I was Flemish, and the Flemish thought I was Dutch. – Joooeey May 9 at 11:01
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    @Joooeey You did that very well, and so did my Russian teacher, but I believe only a minority of adults can learn a language so well they no longer sound like a non-native speaker (although interestingly, when I spoke Swedish in Norway, people often asked if I was Finnish; nobody in Sweden ever asked me this) – gerrit May 9 at 11:27
  • @Joooeey: I know a bit of Dutch and apparently I can hide enough of my German accent such that they usually suggest to shift to English instead of German. To be taken as Dutch would take much more practice. – Martin Ueding May 11 at 9:56
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    @gerrit: I think this also depends on who is tries to place the origin. I'd guess someone from Hamburg may think "maybe Swiss?" long before someone from Switzerland will consider this. (My "nice lovely German accent" is usally spotted immediately in Canada - but native English speakers from other regions sometimes ask whether I'm from Canada) – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 11 at 12:55
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Reading a Swiss or Austrian newspaper will increase the likelihood of encountering constructions that may be rejected by Germans as not conforming to the standard.

For instance, note the position of the finite verb in the following sentence:

Man könnte bemängeln, dass die Lenkung einen Tick direkter ausfallen hätte dürfen. NZZ
(instead of hätte ausfallen dürfen)

Native speakers of German from different regions find this order acceptable, but others will judge it ungrammatical even when coming from a native speaker, let alone a language learner.

However, this is no reason to abstain from reading Swiss or Austrian newspapers. Firstly, the positive impact will always outweigh the negative; second, contentious constructions occur infrequently enough that it does not seem likely that you will incorporate them into your own speech; and third, they also occur in German newspapers, although maybe not as many and not as frequently.

PS: For those interested in the "Grammar of variants of Standard German", feel free to follow @VariantenGra on Twitter for interesting tidbits.

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  • I feel like constantly encountering constructions which should be rejected by any speaker of German who has any sense of grammar and style in all newspapers, and I'm only ever looking at ones that generally have a high reputation, like NZZ, FAZ, taz and Die Zeit. "High reputation" in journalism means they avoid basic spelling errors. – Torsten Schoeneberg May 9 at 4:18
  • ... of which the sample text in this answer is a perfect example: needed to re-read it at least twice to figure out what it actually says behind all that conditional filler, Auto gut, nur Lenkung sch..... – dlatikay May 9 at 21:31
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I really like to read Newspapers in German and English. My general experience is that the differences between Austrian Standard German, Federal German Standard German, and Swiss Standard German are very much comparable to the differences between American, Australian, British, Canadian, and Indian English. However, there are barely any spelling differences between the different varieties of Standard German. The only major difference is that the Swiss replace ß with ss because their multi-language keyboard lacks that letter (and for other reasons). Then on the other hand, pronunciation of Swiss Standard German differs greatly from the other varieties to the point where Swiss radio and TV is difficult to understand for the rest of us.

What makes the situation a little tricky is that in the case of the German language, some people consider only the variety used in Germany correct. This notion is about as ridiculous as the idea that British English is the only true English. How certain testing centers will handle this depends on the individual testing center. You could ask them.

The general advice for writing in English and German is to stick to one variety in each text. One way is to only expose yourself to one variety like how when I went to school in Austria we always only read and heard British English. The harder but more realistic way is to expose yourself to all the varieties and note the differences. This is not as hard as it sounds because if you have to look up a new word your dictionary will tell you which variety it belongs to. The different varieties of Standard German mostly differ in vocabulary anyways.

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  • +1 for pronunciation. – Jessica May 11 at 11:24
  • Official Swiss orthography bans the use of ß, which has been the case for more than 80 years now. So if related to keyboards at all, we would be talking about typewriters... (and whether that was really the reason is not entirely clear) – idmean May 11 at 19:32
  • bans? Do you have a source for that? And yes this issue definitely traces back to the typewriter. Which is where the current Swiss, German and US keyboard layouts originated. – Joooeey May 11 at 20:09
  • Offizieller Rechtschreibleitfaden: bk.admin.ch/dam/bk/de/dokumente/sprachdienste/sprachdienst_de/… Bzgl Tastatur: ds.uzh.ch/_files/uploads/presse/26.pdf – idmean May 12 at 6:00
  • Thanks for the links! They tell the story quite well. It looks like the keyboard layout is the major difference to Germany which even introduced the uppercase eszett three years ago. And 'ban' is a really strong word for a country that doesn't appear to have an authority on grammar and orthography -- the NZZ printed the ß until 1974. – Joooeey May 12 at 17:20
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I would like to add that Swiss Standard German (as used by swiss newspapers) no longer uses the letter ß. Instead every ß is rewritten as ss, which would be a mistake in Standard German.

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The Swiss newspapers (as an example NZZ) are grammatically correct and do not show any disadvantage to learning the german language. As in Germany, there are various dialects (language regions) in Switzerland, but this does not affect in a newspaper, dialects are not used there (however, I can only confirm this from Swiss newspapers). So if you want to learn German, you can read Swiss newspapers, but also German or Austrian newspapers.

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    "are grammatically correct" is funny. Are there any newspapers anywhere in the world that do not try to be grammatically correct? – idmean May 8 at 16:15
  • Yes of course that is correct. But the question was, whether there are disadvantages to learning German when reading Swiss newspapers. And then I have to say: "definitely not, the Swiss newspaper have the same rule (grammatically) of the german language as in German!" – SwissCodeMen May 8 at 16:23
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    @idmean: If they try I do not know (and that alone tells something), but I can tell that many newspapers do not use correct grammar all the time. – Torsten Schoeneberg May 9 at 4:20
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    It's correct but still different from German German. Especially many of the words. – Joooeey May 9 at 10:55
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With the small exception of words commonly used in a specific region, all "German" newspapers are written in "Hochdeutsch" - which is the common German tongue. If, at a later time, you want to listen to German being spoken, you should make sure that its "Hochdeutsch", best spoken in the region around Hannover

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