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This is more of a history question. But it's about the German language, so I hope this is on-topic here.

Typically, the rulers of independent states try to declare their local speech a separate language, if they can. The famous saying goes: "A language is a dialect with an army and a navy". This probably makes sense politically, as this urges people to unify around the rulers and against the foreigners, emphasizing their otherness.

How come this didn't happen with Austro-Bavarian (which is called a language in English, and a dialect group in German)?

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  • Linguists would likely object that the definition of a language is a political decision. With a slightly different line of argumentation (be a part of something bigger that you can claim and rule - and there have been, in fact, strong arguments for [see Holy Roman Empire]) you could just as well opt for the opposite.
    – tofro
    Jul 7, 2023 at 10:53

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It makes no sense for Bavaria because Austro-Bavarian dialects are only spoken in the southeastern half of Bavaria. It would be deppert to declare particulary that dialect group a language when it was not more different from other German dialects than the other dialects spoken in Bavaria. The Franconians and the Swabians could feel alienated and inclined to join the Franconian and Swabian speakers outside of Bavaria.

For Austria the situation was similar. German was only one of the languages of the Habsburg, later Austro-Hungarian empire, and there were several dialect groups covered. Again, it would have been deppert to draw a line between the Austro-Bavarian dialects in the Austrian mainland and the German dialects spoken in Galicia and Transsylvania. Doing so would have intensified the centrifugal forces in that "empire" even more.

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  • I see your point about Bavaria, but what percent of Germanic speakers in the Austrian Empire spoke a dialect closer to Standard German than to Austro-Bavarian?
    – MWB
    Jul 7, 2023 at 19:24
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    Not too many but it was those in the outposts who made that land "German" to a degree. So their concerns had some weight.
    – Janka
    Jul 7, 2023 at 19:55
  • np, the Franconians feel alienated anyway...
    – Alazon
    Jul 12, 2023 at 21:42
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Bavaria and Austria never have been a united country. The region, where people spoke German dialects, and which is today covered roughly by the countries Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein was hundreds of different countries in the past. They united to something similar to todays European Union, but only for mainly German speaking countries, and this union of countries was the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, but also some non-German speaking regions like parts of northern Italy and Slovenia belonged to it.

Germany as a country did not exist and Austria was a small country in those days, covering the region of the two today's Austrian provinces Upper-Austria and Lower-Austria. But for example even Salzburg or Styria did not belong to Austria. The famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was not an Austrian citizen. His nationality was Salzburgian, and he never changed that nationality. Salzburg became part of Austria only many years after Mozarts death.

Later Austria grew to a huge nation. Not only Salzburg and Styria, but also Tyrol and Carinthia became part of Austria, whereas about 1/3 of Styria was not German speaking, but Slovenian (and this part is today a big region in Slovenia). But also Hungaria, the regions that today belong to the check republic, and many more areas were part of Austria. Even parts of the Ukraine belonged to Austria, including the Crimea peninsula. The Habsburgian monarchy had emperors in Spain and even in Mexico for a few years.

Austria lost all non-German speaking regions at the end of world war one, in 1919, and it even lost some German speaking regions (South Tyrol now belongs to Italy). But it kept some small Slovenian speaking regions in the south (in Carinthia), and when former German-West-Hungaria became the ninth Austrian province Burgenland in 1921, also some Croatian speaking regions became part of Austria.

And when all this happened, Bavaria was never a part of Austria, and Austria was never a part of Bavaria. They were always two separated political regions, only both part of a bigger union together with half of Europe, like Austria and Germany are now as part of the EU.

And, as Janka said correctly in his answer: About half of the people living in Bavaria are not Bavarian native speakers. They speak Franconian and Swabian dialects.

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It was a political decision by Austria's Maria Theresia

Just as the German speaking region is divided by language and religion in north and south, there used to be an alternative written standard used in the South, the so-called Oberdeutsche Schreibsprache, whereas the North used the Ostmitteldeutsche (Eastern Middle German) Schriftsprache.

Eastern Middle German has a long written tradition, starting with Luther. In the 19th century, there were a lot of influential writers, such as Goethe and Schiller using this Eastern Middle German standard.

Because of this, and the fact that Middle German is, well, in the middle and thus easy to understand for most German speakers, Middle German gained more and more influence, weakening the position of an Upper German standard.2

But what I think was the deciding factor is that when Austria introduced compulsory education in 1774 under Maria Theresia, it specifically chose to teach a Middle German standard. This was in a time were Austria was especially weak, having just lost the Seven_Years'_War against Prussia. She was just not politically stable enough to go for its own standard and anger its non-Upper German-speaking citizens in its North.1 There were also the reasons outlined in the other answers.

If Austria had not been that weak at that time, it would have been entirely probable for it to form its own, competing standard based on Austro-Bavarian.

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