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Jarring German: How “Badisch” Defies the National Stereotype

By Rachael Greyhound (

The German language has long-suffered a reputation for its harsh-sounding gutturals and short vowel sounds — an extension of the curt and efficient national stereotype. However, on a recent trip to Constance, South West Germany, I was pleased to discover a pocket of Baden-Württemberg where this preconception could not be further from the truth. I had stumbled upon Badisch, the aural equivalent of a mug of hot chocolate.

The third largest state in Germany, Baden-Württemberg is a 1950s conglomeration of pre-existing states: Baden, Württemberg-Hohenzollern, and Württemberg-Baden. You can understand why they picked a new name — imagine trying to cheer the state team, you’d get lockjaw. To the inhabitants themselves, however, the state is often referred to by the cuddlier sobriquet Ländle [Lend-leh] (little country). Here the umlaut over the “ä” produces a longer, softer vowel sound, typical of Alemannisch German, the dialect group at the heart of what it means to speak “Badisch.”

Historically, South West Germany has been a melting pot of languages, under French and US occupation post second world war, and invaded numerous times previously by Frankish, Roman, and Germanic forces. Despite its place in the cultural identity of the Badener, Badisch does not exist as a homogenous dialect, but as an umbrella term for the various dialects spoken in the former territory of Baden along the southwest German border. These include variants of Allemanisch, which date back to the Alemanni — a confederation of German tribal groups occupying South West Germany as early as the year 213.

Pre-1952, the former territory of Baden stretched along the Franco-German border up to Mannheim, and the southern Swiss-German border to Linzgau. Local dialects took influence from Swiss and Swabian German, with others sounding more French. At Lake Constance, the locals have their own Bodenseeallemanisch, specific to the northern shore. There you often hear the greeting Salli, taken from the French Salut (a leftover from the French occupation). But it was the invented, collective Badisch that brought together the diverse and fascinating ways of speaking in the far South West, representing Baden and its culture, well after the state was assimilated into Baden-Württemberg.

The Alemannic dialects match the Badener stereotype well — famed for being friendly, generous, and easy-going, as well as living a slower pace of life. In local dialects, the emphasis seems to be on softening and abbreviating words: Gute Nacht (Good Night) becoming Gued Nacht.

Another endearing feature is the diminutive “LE” suffix, which is used to make words cuter as far as I can see. This seems to occur more frequently than you’d expect, the diminutive often replacing the original word. With telephones referred to as little boxes and grown cats as kittens, it raises the question: is everything somehow smaller over there? It seems somehow, in the glorious evolution of the German language, grown adults have begun to speak to other grown adults as they would to toddlers or excitable dogs…

EnglishHochdeutsch (Standard German)Badisch/Allemanisch (Badish/Allemanic German)
Kitten/Small CatKätzchenKätzle [Ket-sleh]
Small houseHäuschen Häusle [Hoi-zleh]

Fricative and plosive sounds are also blunted in this dialect group, leading to increased use of “Gs” and “Ds.” For example, Auto (car) becomes Audo. While Swabians living in central Baden-Württemberg might call a bread roll a Weckle, Badeners would be more likely to say Weggle, as if spoken without teeth.

In addition to “N” endings often being dropped in the plural (as shown below), spoken “badisch” traditionally shortens verbs by dropping the final letter. For example, Gehen (to go) becomes Gehe, and Genommen (have taken) becomes Genomme. To my struggling British ear, this makes everything sound like slang to me.

Some words, in fact, bear no resemblance to Hochdeutsch (standard German) at all:

EnglishHochdeutsch (Standard German)Badisch/Allemanisch (Badish/Allemanic German)
ScoopsKugelnBolle [Bol-leh]
PotatoesKartoffelnGrumbeere [Grum-beer-eh]

In spite of the highly industrial parts of the state, home to the headquarters of Porsche, Bosch and Mercedes-Benz, the people of Baden-Württemberg have somehow attracted a reputation as country bumpkins or Landeier (country eggs) over time. I had to wonder whether it was the dialect itself that had a part in this stereotyping.

I’d stumbled across the Grimm Brothers’ Die Sieben Schwaben (The Seven Swabians), a folktale in which a group of co-dependent and bumbling Swabian men drown in a river after confusing a frog’s ribbit for a voice telling them to wade in. This seemed a tad unflattering. The portrait of the country simpleton, of co-dependency and naivety all evoked a sense of the child-like, something somehow connected to the long vowels, soft consonants, and fantastical nicknames for things that I associate with Allemanic German.

Defying the brutality which non-speakers so frequently associate with the German language, the Allemanic dialect group is a whimsical, ancient, and wonderfully cuddly legacy of the South West – a middle finger to those who view German people as mechanical or cold. And yet as the Grimm Brothers’ story suggests, the people of Baden-Württemberg are not immune to stereotyping, portrayed rather on the opposite end of the spectrum — as child-like country folk. Perhaps then it would be better to view language as a double-edged sword, a means of preserving identity, yet inescapably bound to reductive pigeonholing.

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