Alemannic German

Alemannic German
Pronunciation [alɛˈman(ː)ɪʃ]
Spoken in  Switzerland: entire German-speaking part.
 Germany: most of Baden-Württemberg and Bavarian Swabia.
 Austria: Vorarlberg and some parts of Tyrol.
 Liechtenstein: entire country.
 France: Alsace.
 Italy: some parts of Aosta Valley and northern Piedmont
 Venezuela: Alemán Coloniero
Native speakers about 10 million  (date missing)
Language family
Writing system Latin alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-2 gsw › aeg
ISO 639-3 aeg – Macrolanguage
individual codes:
gct – Colonia Tovar
gsw – Swiss German
swg – Swabian
wae – Walser
The traditional distribution area of Western Upper German (=Alemannic) dialect features in the 19th and 20th century

Alemannic (Alemannisch) is a group of dialects of the Upper German branch of the Germanic language family. It is spoken by approximately ten million people in six countries: Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France and Italy. The name derives from the ancient Germanic alliance of tribes known as the Alamanni.



Alemannic itself comprises a dialect continuum, from the Highest Alemannic spoken in the mountainous south to Swabian in the relatively flat north, with more of the characteristics of Standard German the farther north one goes.

Some linguists and organisations that differentiate between languages and dialects primarily on the grounds of mutual intelligibility, such as SIL International and UNESCO, describe Alemannic as one or several independent languages. ISO 639-3 distinguishes four languages: gsw (Swiss German), swg (Swabian German), wae (Walser German) and gct (Alemán Coloniero, spoken since 1843 in Venezuela).

At this level, the distinction between a language and a dialect is frequently considered a cultural and political question, in part because linguists have failed to agree on a clear standard. Standard German is used in writing, and orally in formal contexts, throughout the Alemannic-speaking regions (with the exception of Alsace and Switzerland), and Alemannic varieties are generally considered German dialects (more precisely, a dialect group within Upper German) rather than separate languages.


The following variants comprise Alemannic:

Note that the Alemannic dialects of Switzerland are often called Swiss German or Schwyzerdütsch.

Written Alemannic

The oldest known texts in Alemannic are brief Elder Futhark inscriptions dating to the 6th century (Bülach fibula, Pforzen buckle, Nordendorf fibula). In the Old High German period, the first coherent texts are recorded in the St. Gall Abbey, among them the 8th century Paternoster,

Fater unser, thu bist in himile
uuihi namu dinan
qhueme rihhi diin
uuerde uuillo diin,
so in himile, sosa in erdu
prooth unseer emezzihic kip uns hiutu
oblaz uns sculdi unsero
so uuir oblazem uns skuldikem
enti ni unsih firleit in khorunka
uzzer losi unsih fona ubile

Due to the importance of the Carolingian abbeys of St. Gall and Reichenau Island, a considerable part of the Old High German corpus has Alemannic traits. Alemannic Middle High German is less prominent, in spite of the Codex Manesse compiled by Johannes Hadlaub of Zürich. The rise of the Old Swiss Confederacy from the 14th century leads to the creation of Alemannic Swiss chronicles. Huldrych Zwingli's bible translation of the 1520s (the 1531 Froschauer Bible) was in an Alemannic variant of Early Modern High German. From the 17th century, written Alemannic was displaced by Standard German, which emerged from 16th century Early Modern High German, in particular in the wake of Martin Luther's bible translation of the 1520s. The 1665 revision of the Froschauer Bible removed the Alemannic elements, approaching the language used by Luther. For this reason, no binding orthographical standard for writing modern Alemannic emerged, and orthographies in use usually compromise between a precise phonological notation, and proximity to the familiar Standard German orthography (in particular for loanwords).

Johann Peter Hebel published his Alemannische Gedichte in 1803. Swiss authors often consciously employ Helvetisms within Standard German, notably Jeremias Gotthelf in his novels set in the Emmental, and more recently Tim Krohn in his Quatemberkinder.


  • The diminutive is used frequently in all Alemannic dialects. Northern and eastern dialects use the suffix -le; southern dialects use the suffix -li (Standard German suffix -lein or -chen). Depending on dialect, thus, 'little house' could be Häusle, Hüüsle, Hüüsli or Hiisli (Standard German Häuslein or Häuschen).
  • A significant difference between the high and low variants is the pronunciation of ch after the front vowels (i, e, ä, ö and ü) and consonants. In Standard German and the lower variants, this is a palatal [ç] (the Ich-Laut), whereas in the higher variants, a uvular or velar [χ] or [x] (the Ach-Laut) is used.
  • The verb to be is conjugated differently in the various dialects:
    (The common gs*-forms do historically derive from words akin to ge-sein, not found in modern standard German.)
The conjugation of the verb to be in Alemannic dialects
(standard German)
Low Swabian Alsatian
Lower High Alsace
Allgäuerisch Lower
Voralpenland Eastern Swiss German Western Swiss German Sensler
I am
(ich bin)
I ben Ich bìn
[eç]~[ex] [ben]
I bi Ich bi I bee I bi I(g) bi I bü/bi
You are
(du bist)
du bisch dü bìsch du bisch du bisch dou bisch du bisch du bisch du büsch/bisch
He is
(er ist)
er isch är ìsch är isch är isch är isch är isch är isch är isch
She is
(sie ist)
sia isch sie ìsch sia isch sie isch si isch si isch sia isch
It is
(es ist)
es isch äs ìsch as isch as isch äs isch äs isch as isch
We are
(wir sind)
mr send mir sìnn mir send/sönd mir sin mr send m(i)r send/sön/sinn mir sy wier sy
You are
(ihr seid)
ihr send ihr sìnn ihr send ihr sin ihr send i(i)r sönd/sind dihr syt ier syt
They are
(sie sind)
se send sie sìnn dia send si sin dia send di sönd si sy si sy
I have been
(ich bin ... gewesen)
i ben gwäa ich bìn gsìnn
[eç]~[ex] [ben] [gsenn]
i bi gsi ich bi gsi i bee gsei i bi gsi i(g) bi gsi/gsy i bü/bi gsy

See also

External links

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