What language is spoken in Vienna, and Austria? Since Austria is a German speaking country, Vienna talks German, too, with its own soft accent. Viennese German is large phonetically different, the vocabulary and grammar are almost identical. Because most Austrians learn English in school they speak it fairly well. In Vienna, you will definitely get by speaking English.
More specifically, Vienna has long cultivated its own Viennese dialect: Wienerisch. You don’t need to speak it to get around there. However, understanding a few words and peculiarities is fun and gets you closer to local culture.
Where will you hear that ‘Vienna language’ Wienerisch? Certainly at Vienna sausage stands, at neighbourhood markets and inns, and probably when your taxi driver talks to others. Some local wineries and concert venues host ‘Wienerlied’ singers. Bottom line, the Vienna Song uniquely blends coloratura singing and yodeling. Even the Holy Bible has been translated into Viennese (‘Da Jesus und sane Hawara’ by Peter Wehle).
Vienna Language ‘Wienerisch’: Fun Facts
As I speak a mild form of Wienerisch get some fun facts from the horse’s mouth. For example, I stretch my ‘e’s and ‘a’s more. When I’m lazy I blend two vowels like in ‘Haus’ and ‘Reise’ to sound like one, and stretch them a little: Any German school teacher would cringe at this.
If you want to learn German properly this is not considered ‘beautiful German’. In fact, hard core Viennese speakers go as far as transforming long vowels and Umlaute like in ‘Wien’ and ‘hören’ into ‘Wean’ [we’an’] and ‘hean’ [‘he’an’], and creating more colourful vowels and substituting letters (‘Kälte’ becomes ‘Ködn’).
Essentially, I like to mix my German with certain Viennese words and phrases (see below). Unlike the real ‘down-to-earth’ Viennese I stick to the standard German grammar and overall pronunciation. Except using the genitive, which sounds quite posh in verbal language: I would say ‘the shirt of Hans’ instead of correctly ‘Hans’ shirt’.
Another essential characteristic of Viennese is our diminutive: We use ‘Manterl’ instead of ‘Mäntelchen’, ‘Sesserl’ instead of ‘Sesselchen’ and ‘Apferl’ instead of ‘Äpfelchen’. Using it is almost obligatory for a Viennese, if he/she doesn’t want to sound posh.
Who speaks that peculiar Vienna language? Actually, you can find Viennese speakers across all social levels. Respectively, there are various different intonations and pronunciations of Wienerisch. Some locals, like my brother in law, manage to switch effortlessly between these variations, depending on whether they go to the butcher or the notary. If you are a dedicated linguist, compare the original language of upper class ‘Sissi’ films and Viennese operettas with the down-to-earth Viennese used in Viennese films such as ‘Der Bockerer’ and ‘Echte Wiener’.
Origins of the Viennese Dialect ‘Wienerisch’
Officially, Wienerisch belongs to the group of Eastern middle Bavarian dialects. In fact, most Viennese will deny this, though. They regard their dialect as something unique that many Bavarians won’t fully understand.
To give you a flavor, the richest characteristics of Wienerisch go back to influences from other languages, from Yiddish, Turkish, Czech, Croation, Hungarian, and Polish to French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish.
- Czech origin: auf Lepschi [a’uf ‘lep’schee’], being on leisure time, having nothing much to do
- Yiddish origin: Mas’n [Maa’sn], luck; Chuzpe [hootz’pae] chutzpah
- Turkish origin: Kukuruz [Koo’koo’roo’z] corn
- Hungarian origin: Maschekseitn [Mash’ek’saet’n], under the counter, in a roundabout way
- French origin: Lawua [lav’oo’a], from French lavoir (wash basin);
However, fewer and fewer people speak and nurture Viennese nowadays.
Top 10 Viennese Words
There are several hundred original Viennese expressions. Here are my top ten of most commonly used words you may hear:
- Gemma [g’emmma] let’s go (preferably used twice to express our hurry)
- Heast! [he’ast] come on!, listen!
- Deppert [d’epp’at] silly
- Fesch [fesh] handsome, well dressed
- Leiwand [l’ai’wand] great
- Baba [babá] good bye (informal)
- Eierspeis [‘Ai’a’sh’pa’is] scrambled eggs
- Schmäh [shm’ae] joke
- Leiberl [la’i’berl] t-shirt
- Sackerl [sa’kerl] plastic bag
Best Viennese German Phrases
These popular phrases in Viennese German reveal a lot about our way of life, and metaphors of things close to our hearts (such as breaded food).
- nua ned hudln [noo’a nae’d hoo’dln] means ‘don’t stress‘;
- nua kane Wöhn [noo’a ka’ne woe’n] means ‘don’t make a fuss‘;
- ka Göd, ka Musi [ka goe’d, ka moo’si] ‘no money, no music’ means don’t expect anything in return if you don’t have money;
- die Panier hoin [de pan’ee’a ho’in], ‘get the coat of breadcrumbs’ means to get one’s clothes;
- des Glück is a Vogerl [de’s glue’k is a foh’gerl] ‘luck is a bird’ means luck is volatile;
- an Hund einedrah’n [un hoond e’inedra’n] ‘to screw in a dog’ means to make a mistake;
- a Eitrige mit an Bugl [a aetrig’e meet an boog’l] ‘a pyogenic with a hump’ means a cheese kransky sausage;
Top Places To Listen To Wienerisch Live
If you want to get a feel of the Vienna language, visit local sausage stands, best set in an authentic neighbourhood such as Favoriten (10th district), Meidling (12th district) or Fünfhaus (15th district). Many Vienna wineries in areas such as Floridsdorf, Stammersdorf, and Jedlersdorf are also a great source of linguistic exploration when queuing up for your food. Finally, listen in to some stall owners’ chatter at Saturday’s Naschmarkt flea market (photo).
Video Primer on Austrian/Viennese
This post was inspired by Vienna Unwrapped reader Irving Adler, who is currently tracing his family’s Viennese roots. Thanks, Irv.
Other German resources on Vienna Unwrapped: Learn German in Vienna, Learn German Software, Rosetta Stone German, Learn German For Free, Learn German Books;
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