Alemannic German

Alemannic, or rarely Alemannish (Alemannisch, pronounced [alɛˈman(ː)ɪʃ]), is a group of High German dialects. The name derives from the ancient Germanic tribal confederation known as the Alemanni.[3]

Pronunciation[alɛˈman(ː)ɪʃ] (listen)
Native toSwitzerland: entire German-speaking part, except for the town of Samnaun.
Germany: most of Baden-Württemberg and Bavarian Swabia.
Austria: Vorarlberg and some parts of Tyrol.
Liechtenstein: entire country.
France: most of Alsace.
Italy: some parts of Aosta Valley and northern Piedmont
United States: Parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and by Amish in Adams and Allen counties, Indiana
Venezuela: Alemán Coloniero
Native speakers
7,162,000 (2004–2012)[1]
  • Germanic
    • West Germanic
      • Irminonic
        • High German
          • Upper German
            • Alemannic
Latin, Historically Elder Futhark
Language codes
ISO 639-2gsw
ISO 639-3Variously:
gct  Colonia Tovar
gsw  Swiss German and Alsatian
swg  Swabian
wae  Walser
Blue indicates the traditional distribution area of Western Upper German (=Alemannic) dialects.


Alemannic dialects are spoken by approximately ten million people in several countries:

  • In Europe:
    • Switzerland: all German-speaking parts of the country except Samnaun
    • Germany: centre and south of Baden-Württemberg, Swabia, and certain districts of Bavaria
    • Austria: Vorarlberg, Reutte District of Tyrol
    • Liechtenstein: entire country
    • France: Alsace region (Alsatian dialect) and in some villages of the Phalsbourg county, in Lorraine
    • Italy: Gressoney-La-Trinité, Gressoney-Saint-Jean, Issime, Alagna Valsesia and Rimella, in some other villages almost extinct
  • Outside of Europe:
    • United States: Allen and Adams County, Indiana by the Amish there and also in their daughter settlements in Indiana and other U.S. states.
    • Venezuela: Colonia Tovar (Colonia Tovar dialect)


Alemannic 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.

In Germany and other European countries, the abstand and ausbau language framework is used to decide what is a language and what a dialect. According to this framework, Alemannic varieties of German form a dialect continuum and are clearly dialects. 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 of 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).

Standard German is used in writing, and orally in formal contexts, throughout the Alemannic-speaking regions (with the exception of Alsace, where French or the Alsatian dialect of Alemannic is used).


Alemannic comprises the following variants:

  • Swabian (mostly in Swabia, in Germany, covering large parts of Württemberg and all of Bavarian Swabia). Unlike most other Alemannic dialects, it does not retain the Middle High German monophthongs û, î but shifts them to [ou], [ei] (as opposed to Standard German [aʊ], [aɪ]). For this reason, "Swabian" is sometimes used in opposition to "Alemannic".
  • Low Alemannic dialects. Retain German initial /k/ as [kʰ] (or [kx]) rather than fricativising to [x] as in High Alemannic. Subvariants:
  • Lake Constance Alemannic (Bodenseealemannisch) (in Southern Württemberg, Southeastern Baden, Northwestern Vorarlberg), a transitional dialect, close to High Alemannic, with some Swabian features in the vowel system.
  • High Alemannic (mostly in Switzerland, parts of Vorarlberg, and in the southern parts of the Black Forest in Germany). Complete the High German consonant shift by fricativising initial /k/ to [x]. Subvariants:
    • Bernese German
    • Zürich German
    • Vorarlbergisch
    • Liechtensteinisch
  • Highest Alemannic (in the Canton of Valais, in the Walser settlements (e.g., in the canton of Grisons), in the Bernese Oberland and in the German-speaking part of Fribourg) does not have the hiatus diphthongisation of other dialects of German. For example: [ˈʃnei̯jə] ('to snow') instead of [ˈʃniː.ə(n)], [ˈb̥ou̯wə] ('to build') instead of [ˈb̥uː.ə(n)]. Subvariants:
    • Walliser German
    • Walser German

The Alemannic dialects of Switzerland are often called Swiss German or Schwiizerdütsch.

Written Alemannic

The oldest known texts in Alemannic are brief Elder Futhark inscriptions dating to the sixth 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 eighth-century Paternoster:[4]

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 fourteenth century led 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 seventeenth century, written Alemannic was displaced by Standard German, which emerged from sixteenth 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 Allemannische Gedichte in 1803. Swiss authors often consciously employ Helvetisms within Standard German, notably Jeremias Gotthelf in his novels set in the Emmental, Friedrich Glauser in his crime stories, 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). As in standard German, these suffixes cause umlaut. Depending on dialect, 'little house' may be Heisle, Hüüsle, Hüüsli or Hiisli (Standard German Häuslein or Häuschen). Some varieties have plural diminutives in -ler or -lich.
  • Northern variants of Alemannic (Swabian and Low Alemannic), like standard German, pronounce ch as a uvular or velar [χ] or [x] (Ach-Laut) after back vowels (a, o, u) and as a palatal [ç] consonant (Ich-Laut) elsewhere. High Alemannic, Lake Constance Alemannic and Highest Alemannic dialects exclusively use the Ach-Laut.
  • In most Alemannic dialects, the past participle of the verb meaning to be (sein in standard German, with past participle gewesen) derives from a form akin to gesein (gsi, gsìnn, gsei etc.).
Some conjugated forms of the verb to be in Alemannic dialects
(standard German)
Low SwabianAlsatian
Lower High Alsace
Upper SwabianEastern Swiss GermanWestern Swiss GermanSensler
I am
(ich bin)
I benÌch bìI biIch biI beeI biI(g) bi [ɪɡ̊ b̥ɪ]I bü/bi
you (sg.) are
(du bist)
du bischdü bìschdu bischdu bischd(o)u bischdu bischdu bisch [d̥ʊ b̥ɪʒ̊]du büsch/bisch
he is
(er ist)
er ischär ìschär ischär ischär ischär ischär isch [æɾ ɪʒ̊]är isch
she is
(sie ist)
sia ischsa ìschsia ischsie ischsi ischsi ischsi isch [sɪ ɪʒ̊]sia isch
it is
(es ist)
es ischäs ìschas ischas ischäs ischäs ischäs isch [æz̊ (əʒ̊) ɪʒ̊]as isch
we are
(wir sind)
mr sen(d)mìr sìnmir send/söndmir sinmr sendm(i)r send/sön/sinnmir sy [mɪɾ si]wier sy
you (pl.) are
(ihr seid)
ihr sen(d)ìhr sìnihr sendihr sinihr sendi(i)r sönd/sinddir syt [d̥ɪɾ sit]ier syt
they are
(sie sind)
se sen(d)sa sìndia sendsi sindia sendsi sind/söndsi sy [sɪ si]si sy
I have been
(ich bin ... gewesen)
i ben gwäaìch bì gsììi bi gsiich bi gsii bee gseii bi gsii bi gsy [ɪ(ɡ̊) b̥ɪ ksiː]i bü/bi gsy

See also

  • Alemannic separatism
  • German dialects
  • Muettersproch-Gsellschaft
  • Muggeseggele
  • Swiss German


  1. Colonia Tovar at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Swiss German and Alsatian at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Swabian at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Walser at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. "Swiss German / Alemannic / Alsatian". IANA language subtag registry. 8 March 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  3. Jordioechsler (5 November 2013). "Alemannic German and other features of language". WordPress. Archived from the original on 10 June 2017.
  4. Jacobs, Stefan. "Althochdeutsch (700 – 1050)". Archived from the original on 18 October 2017. Retrieved 17 Oct 2017.
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