German dialects – Hamburgerisch and Ostfriesisch

German dialects - Hamburgerisch and Ostfriesisch

Do you know that feeling? You’ve been learning German for a while. Your vocab is pretty good and when you do any listening exercises you understand (almost) everything.
Then you go to Germany and very excitedly you try and eavesdrop on conversations ……… and then … you cannot … understand …  a word, because the people you hear speak a dialect!

If this sounds familiar you will be pleased to know that it happens to an extend to me, too. If I hear people speaking in dialect, I might understand some of it but not necessarily all.
So I thought it would be a nice idea for you and me to have a look at some of Germany’s dialects. Let’s see how far we get …..

We start with a little bit of general information. According to Wikipedia, there are three main dialect areas: Niederdeutsch, Mitteldeutsch and Oberdeutsch, low, middle and upper German. In these areas there are countless dialects, I read in one forum where somebody posted that just in their village people spoke different dialects. I won’t be able to cover all dialects, but we can cover a few main ones, one post a month. We can work our way from the top (Niederdeutsch) to the bottom (Oberdeutsch).

So, let’s start at the top with Hamburgerisch.

As the name suggest, that’s the dialect you might hear in Hamburg. Luckily, most people speak Hochdeutsch (high German, or “proper” German as I like to call it), but sometimes you might still hear various types of Plattdeutsch (low German). For example you could hear people say:

  • dat instead of das (that)
  • wat instead of was (what)
  • lütt Deern = kleines Mädchen (little girl)
  • and they might find my blog post dröge = trocken/ langweilig (dry/ boring)

Want to hear some? Watch this video to find out how people in Hamburg might swear!

Ostfriesisches Platt  

The East Frisian dialect is spoken in East Frisia along the North Sea coast. The following video is a lesson for Germans about flirting in Plattdeutsch, and no, I don’t understand it either ☺

If you come across an East Frisian word and want to know what it means, you can type into the Ostfriesisches Wörterbuch or you translate a German word into an East Frisian word.

I’ll leave you with two East Frisian farmers who are haggling over six dairy cows:

12 thoughts on “German dialects – Hamburgerisch and Ostfriesisch”

  1. Lived in Emden for a while, infact two of my sons were born there. This was back in 89 & among the ‘lower orders’ ‘platt prooten’ was very common. Infact so common I had little choice but to at least learn to understand it, if not speak it. My ‘tutor’ in all things platt was a work colleague -who a couple of years later gave himself the ‘golden shot’ before the leukemia could finish him off.
    He came from an old Emder family, infact his mother tongue was platt not High German. He didn’t learn German until he went to school and , as was common at that time, he was put in a ‘special’ school simply because he couldn’t speak German. I was shocked when he told me that. I thought that kind of thing had died out with Hitler. But there was worse to come.

    Obviously every time I learnt a new platt word from him I would ask him how it was spelt and he never seemed to be sure. Finally one day he admitted he had no idea how to spell the language he thought and lived in. At that time there was no codified spelling of the Emder Platt and even if there had been, no one had ever taught him to read and write his own bloody language!

    At the time he was teaching me , he was in love with a girl with whom he only spoke high German to, and she with him. They had been together for a while and then moved in together. One evening after moving in together, her parents came over to see their new flat. Her parents came through the door and started to talk to their daughter in a platt so strong that my mate could barely understand it. His girlfriend was also a native platt speaker of one of thickest platts going- from the ‘fehns (tiny farming villages were the Friesian language hasn’t quite died out). The two of them had lived and slept together for months without realising that they shared a common mother tongue!

    I never did get the hang of Platt , I always prefered the ‘Hessisch’ I learnt at the kiosks of Offenbach… Ei guuude.

    • Wow, thanks for sharing that!
      I have to admit, that despite being born and bred in Germany we were always outsiders with regard to dialect. My parents didn’t speak any and we children only learned Hochdeutsch. The disadvantage is that there are articles or videos I do not understand even though they are from home.
      The advantage is that, because I do not speak any dialect, my students learn ‘proper German’ from me ☺

  2. “Plattdeutsch” ist kein Dialekt, sondern eine Sprache mit verschiedenen Dialekten (Oldenburger, Bremer, Hamburger, Holsteiner usw. Platt bzw “Niederdeutsch”) Es ist die Sprache der Hansekaufleute mit eigener Grammatik und wird auch in Teilen der Niederlande gesprochen. Jedenfalls sagte mir einmal ein niederländischer Geschäftspartner, daß er mit seinem Holländischplatt auch im Oldenburgischen gut zurecht komme.

    • Das ist gut möglich, aber selbst die Deutschen streiten sich darüber. Ich hatte am Anfang der Serie lange überlegt, welche Beschreibung ich benutzte und habe mich dann für Dialekt entschieden, weil ich in Englisch schreibe und weil allgemein Plattdeutsch als Dialekt beschrieben wird.

  3. Pingback: Die deutschen Deutschen verstehen nicht - deutsche Dialekte -
    • “Für viele Deutsche ist ein Dialekt jedoch die erste Sprache, in der sie aufwachsen,…” Für viele, aber nicht für alle. Ich habe nur Hochdeutsch gelernt, meine Eltern auch.


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