When reading standard German by Austrian authors, is the language identifiably Austrian? Aside from content, what linguistic features should I look out for in authors such as Musil or Schnitzler, or non-fiction authors such as Freud, which would give them away as Austrian?

2 Answers 2


When reading standard German by Austrian authors, is the language identifiably Austrian?

The problem with this question is that it assumes one could make a statement for all Austrian authors. This is not the case - and so on a very fundamental level. The only thing Austrian authors have in common is their "Austrianness" and their "authorness". In every other respect they are as diverse as any other arbitrarily selected group.

It was mentioned in comments that many authors are either "corrected" to German german by the lectorate or forced to do that themselves. This might be for lesser known authors with less standing against their publishers. Without knowing for sure, i am convinced when Elfriede Jelinek (Nobel Prize 2004) were to write "Marillenmarmelade" instead of "Aprikosenkonfitüre" it would remain as it is, without any discussion.

Modern Austria Authors do not write in Austrian German. They write in German German.

Yes, sure: I presume H. C. Artmann is either not Austrian, not modern or no author, then? What about Gerhard Rühm? I suppose "hosn rosn baa" is "German German"? Then, there is Ernst Jandl, and Konrad Bayer, also Friederike Mayröcker, not to forget Karl Kraus. And how about Peter Altenberg? They all write/wrote texts loaded with Austriazisms.

A contemporary author of crime stories like Wolf Haas even starts all his "Brenner"-novels with the sentence:

Jetzt ist schon wieder was passiert.

which is arguably Austrian: in german German the Verb passieren would be rather replaced by geschehen, which is much more common. See also: "Intertextualität in den Brenner-Kriminalromanen von Wolf Haas", Claudia Braito-Indra, ISBN 978-3828828445 (i am not aware of any english translations, sorry).

What constitutes austrian German?

Far be it from me to even try a comprehensive definition here, but a few pointers as to what we are talking about might help. There are sources dealing at length with the topic and, if interested, i suggest you get some of these. There is a Wikipedia page in English but i suggest you consult its [german counterpart][10], it seems to be more on the point.

First off, austrian German is NOT a dialect. There are (lots of) austrian dialects, but what we talk about is analogous to i.e. british and american English. These are both standard varieties of English, while i.e. Cockney Rhyming Slang is a dialect. Austrian German is the standard language in Austria as much as british English is the standard language in the United Kingdom.

Austrian German does differ from german German in the use of certain words (a notable amount of them dealing with eating and kitchen-related topics), here are a few:

Meerrettich - Kren
Kloß - Knödel
Sahne - Obers

but also:

Schnürsenkel - Schuhriemen or Schuhband
Bürgersteig - Trottoir

Even if the same words are used they can be pronounced differently: "Mathematik" has the stress on the third syllable in Austria, on the last in Germany. Also "China" is pronounced "Kina" in Austria, but "Chile" is "Tschile" - in Germany they are pronounced similar, with a starting "ch"-sound.

Finally, there are words which became unusual or even extinct in Germany but are still used in Austria (and probably southern Bavaria, perhaps also in Southern Tyrol). The word "heuer" (in this year, like "today", but for years rather than days) is from the old high german demonstrative pronoun "hiu". "hiu dag" => "heute", "hiu jâr" -> "heuer". Also "Semmel" (roll), which comes from the latin "simila" (a sort of wheat flour), but was replaced in Germany by "Brötchen" in the 18th and 19th century.

There are also proverbial phrases which are used in Austria but not so in Germany (and vice versa): "Guten Tag" is not unommon in Austria, but "Grüß Gott" is much more often used, whereas this is very uncommon in Germany. The same for "Servus", which Germans often try to use to accomodate Austrians, not understanding that it is only used if one is on a first-name basis with the addressee (see "Duzen-Siezen", "Servus, Herr Müller" is wrong, only "Servus, Alexander" is correct).

Women are commonly addressed as "Gnädige Frau" if one doesn't know their name, i.e. in a shop. This is rather unheard of (and perhaps thought of as overly formal) in Germany while being rather normal in Austria.

Finally, there are differences stemming from different cultural environments. For the last ~1000 years Germany and Austria were different countries and it shows. Just for instance titles are used in addressing people in Austria, which is uncommon in Germany - "Frau Müller" in Germany would be addressed as "Frau Dr. Müller" in Austria. I overheard a conversation once, which went like:

A: "Herr Mayer ..."
B: "Entschuldigen Sie, Herr Ingenieur Mayer, Frau Müller."
A: "Für Sie: Frau Magister Doktor Müller."

This conversation would be rather unthinkable in Germany.

These are just pointers what to look out for.

  • Thanks for the answer, and the heads up on some writers I was not aware of. Of course I am not thinking of writers using "eye dialect", which is a special case. I will have to look out for Austrianisms in Kraus and Altenberg, who were as far as I know not attempting to sell into a German market.
    – user10347
    Nov 30, 2022 at 19:04
  • I upvoted, though it does not show as I am new. Part of the reason for the question is so that I can learn what is, and what is not, German German. I am familiar with the usual suspects like "gucken" and "guten Tag", words which are taboo in Austria. But there may be subtelties I am missing.
    – user10347
    Nov 30, 2022 at 19:11
  • "gucken" is indeed rarely used ("schauen" is used instead"), buten "Guten Tag" is absolutely common and neither of these is taboo. Austrians understand german German quite well, but many (most?) are rather proud of their language. That doesn't extend to words being "taboo".
    – bakunin
    Dec 1, 2022 at 8:16
  • I have never heard "Guten Tag" in Tirol. Which is no proof they do not use it, because I am not much in company. There again, neither do they say "Ba ba" except to a child, and that is clearly Austrian. "Morgen!" sagt ma scho.
    – user10347
    Dec 1, 2022 at 8:48
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    One greets with "Ba Ba" (["bye bye"], which i would consider dialect) only when in an affective relationship with the addressee - children, friends, close relatives and the like.
    – bakunin
    Dec 1, 2022 at 9:46

Modern Austria Authors do not write in Austrian German. They write in German German.

German is a pluricentric language that has evolved from many different Germanic dialects that have tried to come together over the last 15 centuries. This process of unifying the German language is still ongoing. The current status at the beginning of the 21st century is as follows:

German has three standard variations, this means that there are three different standards of German language. These standards are the official languages of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. "Official" means that a language is taught in schools and used to write laws and other similar documents with official character.

  • Germany has about 83.2 million residents, about 73 million of them speak German as their first language. The official language in Germany, but also in Luxembourg, Belgium and parts of France is Bundesdeutsches Hochdeutsch (federal German standard German) or short: Deutsches Deutsch (German German). There is also an English Wikipedia article, but it's just a stub (November 2022).
  • Austria has 9.0 million residents and 7.9 million German native speakers. Official language in Austria and parts of Italy is Österreichisches Deutsch (Austrian German) (English article).
  • Switzerland has 8.6 million residents, about 5.8 million speaking German as first language. There and in Liechtenstein they write laws and other official documents in Schweizer Hochdeutsch (Swiss standard German) which must not be mixed up with Schweizerdeutsch (Swiss German). Swiss German is not standardized. It is a group of similar but still different dialects spoken in Switzerland.

And besides these three standards there are also a lot of different dialects, having their roots in about a dozen of old Westgermanic languages/dialects. Most people speak a German dialect but write a German standard language.

When you're an author and write a book, then you want to publish it to earn some money from it. So you give the manuscript to a publishing company, and they read it and then they decide if they will sell it as a printed book (or as an e-book). About 85% of all native speakers of German speak German German. So, the company urgently wants to sell the books to these 85%. And this is why all German books are printed in German German. Even when an Austrian Author writes a novel, a travel report, a guidebook or whatever, and even when they give it to an Austrian publishing company, then the company will publish the book only when its written in German German. A manuscript in Austrian German will not be published. (Same for Swiss German.)

Of course there are exceptions. These are some crime novels. Some Authors write their novels explicitly for the Austrian market (for example the books written by Thomas Stipsits: Kopftuchmafia, Uhudler-Verschwörung, Eierkratz-Komplott). But even then you don't find many words and phrases that are really typical for Austrian German, because the publishing company wants to sell even some of these books in Germany. (»Hey, 6 of 7 German native speakers are from Germany. Why shouldn't we try to sell this book to some of them?«) And when they think that a typical German resident might not understand a phrase or word, then it will be replaced by something that will be understood and hopefully doesn't sound too much like German German.

What has been said so far is true of contemporary authors. But Robert Musil (1880-1942; »Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften«: 1930), Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931; »Reigen«: 1896) and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939; »Die Traumdeutung«: 1899) were born in an era when Austria was a monarchy. The German they used is between 90 and 130 years old. German language has changed a lot during this time. The differences between this old German and modern German are bigger than that between modern German German and Austrian German. You will find in these old books a lot of words and phrases that nobody uses today, neither in Austria nor elsewhere.

It's hard to answer what linguistic feature in books that old identifies the authors as Austrian, because of those three authors I've only read Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften by Musil, but I read that in the 1990s, so I can't remember specific phrases, and I don't want to read books by those authors now just to answer your question. But I have posted some links to Wikipedia articles here in this reply, and I hope you will find there what you are looking for.

  • Current authors may still write in Austrian German, perhaps unaware; but their lectorate will then "fix" that. Or so I have heard. Nov 30, 2022 at 10:03
  • @phipsgabler: Yes, either the lectorate fixes it, or they ask the Author to fix it. The result is the same: You will find almost no Austriazisms in German books. Nov 30, 2022 at 10:05
  • I gather that written German is more standardized than English. British English and American English are (usually) mutually intelligible, but British authors tend to use British terms that Americans are sometimes not familiar with. For example "snog" occurs often in the Harry Potter series, but that didn't keep it from selling in the US where "snog" isn't a familiar word. Of course publishers do sometimes remove more obscure Britishisms in order to cater to American readers, but that's generally limited to rarely used words that most Americans will never have seen before.
    – RDBury
    Nov 30, 2022 at 14:04
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    @user10347: Robert Musil probably did not speak any dialect, at least certainly not Viennese. Robert Musil did not move to Vienna until 1910, at the age of 30. Before that, he had spent only 3 months in Vienna (1897, at the age of 17 at the k.u.k. technical military academy). Before 1897 he lived in Klagenfurt, Komotau, Steyr, Brno, Eisenstadt and Weißkirchen, and from 1898 to 1910 again in Brno, Stuttgart and Berlin. He lived in Vienna for only 4 years. From 1914 he was stationed as a soldier in ... Dec 1, 2022 at 8:04
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    ... the First World War near Trento, from 1916 he lived in Bolzano, from 1917 again in Brno. After the end of the war he moved back to Vienna in 1919 and then changed his residence within Vienna several times. From 1919 to 1938 Musil lived alternately in Vienna and Berlin. He also did not speak Schönbrunn German. Schönbrunn German was spoken by the nobility of the Habsburg monarchy and the Viennese Grand Burgher classes from about 1780. It was a dialect of the rich and powerful. Musil was neither rich nor powerful, and he was not Viennese. Dec 1, 2022 at 8:09

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