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The Uerdingen line is supposed to separate regions where people say "ik" instead of "ich".

Does this apply only when people are speaking their local dialect, or do people north of the Uerdingen line say "ik" even when speaking Standard German?

2 Answers 2

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That does not reflect current spoken standard German (anymore). Most people speak Standard German and will pronounce 'ich' as [ɪç] also North of the line (at least in my experience, and I grew up North of it and live again North of it). Some people will use the dialect form, though, especially in the Berlin region 'ik' is quite common.

There is a much newer survey which shows the pronouncation of 'ich' within German speaking regions in the "Atlas der Deutschen Alltagssprache"; [ɪç] is predominant in most parts and the other versions found much less, however especially in the South 'i' [​ɪ] or [​​i] is the most-used pronouncation.

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  • "i" -- It's strange that the Southern pronunciation is closer to English in this regard.
    – MWB
    Jul 21 at 21:33
  • the German pronouncation of 'i' (English 'e'). I added the phonetic description Jul 21 at 21:34
  • The written form of English reflects historical pronunciation."I" was in fact pronounced as German "i": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Vowel_Shift So it's strange that it's similar to the Southern dialects of German in this regard. The Dutch apparently say "ik". Not sure about Frisian (The closest relative of English on the continent)
    – MWB
    Jul 21 at 21:57
  • Interesting, thanks for the link, I wasn't aware of that for English Jul 21 at 22:32
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    In Brandenburg, the region surrounding Berlin, you will hear "ik" slightly more often than "ich", and in Berlin itself it depends mostly on the social setting and how long the speaker has lived there (I've been living here for thirty years, and I tend to use "ik" mostly when informally chating with my neighbors.)
    – ccprog
    Jul 21 at 22:32
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What is a standard language?

A standard language is a standardized form of a language. Standardization means, that there are well defined rules for grammar, pronunciation and all other aspects of a language. These rules are taught in schools, and these rules are applied when official documents (like laws and other legal documents) are written.

So, be definition a standard language is something that belongs to a political entity, usually a country. And from this definition also follows, that a standard language is uniform in the whole region where it is used.

So, Standard German is an attempt to overcome all isoglosses and create a uniform language without regional differences. And this makes Standard German an artificial language that everywhere is different from the local dialect, and (almost) everywhere different form the regional and social colloquial speech.

This means, that in theory by definition isoglosses like Uerdinger line, the very similar Benrath line or the Speyer line can't exist in any standard language.

Influence of isoglosses

As just said, Standard German is an artificial language that by some individuals has been created and defined over a period of many centuries to create a common language that is legible by anyone who speaks a German language like Bavarian, Franconian, Allemannic, Saxonian, Frisian and many others.

So, when people try to speak Standard German in different regions, their speech is sometimes closer to Standard German and sometimes farther away from it. And this is the reason, why you can hear the influence of dialects and colloquial speech also in situations when people use Standard German.

There are three different Standard German languages

Another important fact to know is, that there is not one Standard German. I said before »... a standard language is something that belongs to a political entity, usually a country.« And this is true for German too.

There are three major countries where German is the main language. These are:

  • Germany
    official language: German Standard German
    83.2 million residents
    about 73 million speaking German as first language
  • Austria
    official language: Austrian Standard German
    9.0 million residents
    about 7.9 million speaking German as first language
  • Switzerland
    official language: Swizz Standard German
    8.6 million residents
    about 5.8 million speaking German as first language

Besides them there are some other countries where German is an official language, but the number of German speakers in these countries is to small to define extra standards for them, so they use one of the three standard mentioned above:

  • German Standard German
    Standard German in Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, France (Alsace and Lorraine) and Denmark (North Schleswig)
    Official texts of the European Union that are written in German are written in German Standard German
  • Austrian Standard German
    Standard German in Austria and Italy (South Tyrol)
    Austrian Standard German also has a special status in the European Union, but because the differences between German and Austrian Standard German are so small, all documents of the EU are written in just one German language, and this is German Standard German
  • Swiss Standard German
    Standard German in Switzerland and Liechtenstein
    Note, that Swiss Standard German is taught in Swiss schools, and that Swiss laws are written in this language. Also German Newspapers published in Switzerland use Swiss Standard German. But still almost nobody in Switzerland speaks this language. German native speakers in Switzerland use it for writing only. For oral speech they use Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch) which is very different from Swiss Standard German (Schweizerisches Deutsch) and almost unlegible if you have learned one of the three German standard languages. Swiss German is a cluster of Allemannic dialects.

The differences are enough to fill many thick books, but what they have in common is much much more. Differences are:

  • vocabulary (only a few hundred words are different)
  • grammar (Austrian tenses of the past are different from the German tenses, they also have other names)
  • genders of some nouns (Example: German: »der Yoghurt«, Austrian: »das Yoghurt«)
  • pronunciation of many words (Example: in the word »Kaffee« the last syllable is unstressed and short in Germany, but long and stressed in Austria)

Orthography is unified across all three German variations. Different spellings are very rare and have their cause in different pronunciations only. (Example: German »Geschoss« is Austrian »Geschoß«)

All books printed in German language are printed in German Standard German (with very few exceptions). Even books published in Austria and Switzerland are printed in German Standard German because people in Germany are not used to other standards than their own, but they are 85% of the potential buyers of books.

People in countries where Austrian or Swiss Standard German is the standard are fluent in their own standard and in German Standard German (at least passively, so they can understand anything that is written or spoken in German Standard German). But most people in Germany are completely unaware, that there are other standards than their own. Most of them think that people in Austria and Switzerland speak some dialect all the time.

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    An answer without any relation to the question.
    – ccprog
    Jul 23 at 12:41

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