Languages in Austria

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Languages in Austria

The national official language of Austria is German which, in its national standard variety, known as Austrian (Standard) German (Österreichisches (Hoch)deutsch) is generally identical to the German used in Germany, with some significant vocabulary differences (many of which concern kitchen language or the home) and a rather distinct accent. Most Austriacisms are loanwords from Austro-Bavarian, even though languages of the neighbouring countries have influenced as well. Other languages have some official status in different localities (e.g., Slovenian in Carinthia, Burgenland Croatian and Hungarian in Burgenland).

Some examples for different vocabulary in Austrian German:

Austria Germany English
der Jänner der Januar January
der Topfen der Quark the curd
die Marille die Aprikose the apricot
die Fleischhauerei die Metzgerei the butcher's shop
das Obers die Sahne the cream
die Matura das Abitur the school leaving examination
der Polster das Kissen the pillow

The first language of almost all Austrians, however, is not Standard German, but instead local dialects of the Austro-Bavarian (Boarisch) family, except in Vorarlberg where it is replaced by Alemannic (Alemannisch). These dialect groups are only partially mutually intelligeble to each other and Standard German, and especially in the larger cities almost everyone will be able to communicate in Standard German as well, if only when speaking to foreigners, (including Northern Germans). Most Austrians can understand another region's dialect but have the hardest time in Vorarlberg due to the fact that it's Alemannic-speaking.

English is widely spoken, and the only area most tourists have linguistic problems with is in translating menus. Even competent German-speakers may find that they are replied to in English, and it is not uncommon to hear Austrians addressing each other in English! In rural places, however, people older than 50 often don't speak English, so it can help to learn a few basic German phrases if travelling to such places.

Italian is widespread in the parts of Austria bordering Italy like the Tyrol, even though the majority language on the Italian side (except in Bolzano, the region's capital) is still German (again, an Austro-Bavarian dialect in practice).

In general, when speaking Standard German, Austrians tend to pronounce the vowels longer and use a pronunciation which is regional, yet genuine, elegant and melodic; it is agruably the most beautiful form of German. Also, the "ch", "h" and "r" are not as harshly pronounced as in Germany, making the accent much more mild in nature.

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