Austrian German - Do they speak German in Austria?

Though German is the official language of Austria, the widely spoken regional dialect here is Austro-Bavarian, plus the Alemannic dialect in the Bundesland Vorarlberg which is similar to the dialect of Switzerland.  

Austrian German and Standard German are quite similar, both originating from the West Germanic language group. Essentially, they are two dialects of the same language, so despite sometimes hard to understand regional accents and country-specific expressions, synthax, fundamental grammar and the majority of their vocabulary is identical. Though a closer look do reveal some distinctions.

As for mutual comprehension, Austrians and Germans can understand one another quite well, as both speak variations of German. It's comparable to the relationship between American and British English; occasional unfamiliar terms and funny accents may arise, but overall, communication is smooth. 


Dialect Spectrum: Austrian German exists along a Spektrum of dialects, which were historically related to the dialects spoken across Germany. Before standardization in the late 19th century, Austria and Germany both utilized vernacular languages that lacked standardized writing systems.

Germany with its 83 million people boasts a diverse range of dialects, with Low German prevalent in the North and Swabian dominant in the South. The evolution of these dialects has been shaped by local tribes, historical states, and various cultural influences from abroad. Austrian has as well a diverse array of regional dialects, shaped by the Bavarian dialect as well as Slavic languages such as Slovenian and Czech.


Similarity to Bavarian: The extreme south of Germany and the extreme north of Austria share similarities in their dialects, that's why Bavarian and Austrian German are quite alike. An Austrian from Salzburg and a Bavarian will find it easier to understand each other in their native dialect than with an Austrian from Burgenland. 


Cultural Differences:  Envision Austrians conversing in a melodious and friendly manner, frequently employing dialect words and expressions, and generally being polite but distanced, therefore often indirect, contrasting with the more direct and pragmatic communication style of most Germans.

Austrians place a high value on politeness and tactfulness, which are also reflected in their everyday expressions. If you regret not having done something because something came up, you can excuse yourself by saying: Tut mir leid, ich bin noch nicht dazu gekommen, etwas ist  dazwischengekommen. 

Austria presents a charming assortment of unique regional vocabulary throughout all of the 9 Bundesländer, with a strong emphasis on tradition and the precise use of formal titles.

In Germany, while local dialects often emerge in informal conversations, formal and national discourse tends to adhere closely to standard High German.


Pronunciation Differences: In Austrian German, longer vowels are more common, and sometimes stress falls on different syllables compared to Standard German with its clear pronounciation which gives Austrian German a certain melodic lilt. Austrians tend not to enunciate words as distinctly as Germans do so Austrian German sounds a bit muffled therefore often hard to understand. Hard consonants are often spoken softly and in a gentle tone, while vowels are frequently omitted, pronounciation isn't precise, giving the impression of mumbling. 


Differences in Grammar:

  • Verbs expressing movement (Bewegungsverben) are used with the helping verb sein rather than haben like in Germany, so the recent past (Perfekt) of these verbs would be ich bin gesessen, ich bin gelegen, ich bin gestanden, ich bin  gegangen and so on. 
  • The long-gone past (Präteritum) is rarely used in Austria, especially in the spoken language, with the exception of the modal auxiliaries. 
  • Some of the personal pronouns and the conjugated forms of the verb "to be" = sein have also a dialect version favoured especially on the countryside: I am - i bin , you are (plural) - ihr seids, we are - mia san, they are - sie san and the formal You Mr. or Mrs. XYZ, Sie san

Austrian Vocabulary: Everyday words, basic vocabulary items related to food etc., vary a bit between Austrian and German.

  1. Instead of the German “Guten Tag!,” Austrians say “Grüß Gott!” (meaning “greet God”), which is also common in some areas of Bavaria.
  2. Cell phone: The Austrian term is Handy, along with the German “Mobiltelefon”. 
  3. Tram: Austrians refer to it as Bim rather than “Straßenbahn.”
  4. Jänner instead of Januar, and Feber instead of Februar, as well as heuer for dieses Jahr. 
  5. Staircase ist called Stiege along with the German Treppe. 
  6. Hallway: The Austrian term is Vorzimmer rather than “Diele.”
  7. Wardrobe: In Austria, it’s called Kasten instead of “Schrank.”
  8. Chair: Austrians say Sessel instead of “Stuhl.”
  9. Pillow: In Austria, it’s Polster instead of “Kissen.”
  10. Oven: Austrians use Ofen instead of “Kamin.”
  11. Ground beef is called Faschiertes instead of Hackfleisch. 
  12. Quark: Austrians say Topfen for curd / sweet cottage cheese.
  13. Whipped cream is Schlagobers and for sure not Sahne. 
  14. Pancake is Palatschinke instead of Pfannkuchen. 
  15. Scrambled eggs is called Eierspeis(e) rather than Rührei.
  16. Buns are Semmel or Weckerl and not Brötchen. 
  17. Apricots are Marille instead of Aprikose. 
  18. Potato: In Austria, it’s Erdapfel instead of “Kartoffel.”
  19. Tomatoes are Paradeiser, rather than Tomaten. 
  20. Corn can be called Kukuruz as well es Mais.

More examples and explanations in German you'll find here and here


Typical Phrases in Austrian Slang

Let's take a look at the mostly used expressions and phrases in Austrian German: 

  • "Dude! or Mate!" is often used to address a friend which is Oida! (= Alter!) in Austria, especially among the younger generation, meaning "an old man". This expression is so popular in the Viennese dialect that it is used in a variety of contexts, each with its own distinct meaning and emphasis. 
  • Heans! (= Hören Sie!) is a funny but insulting way to address someone officially and politely but actually meaning the exact opposite. 
  • The suffix attached to a verb stem refers to plural 1st if asking a question or using imperative,  similar to the English let's do something. For example: Samma fertig? oder kurz: Sammas? (= Sind wir fertig?) to ask whether we're ready to leave. Or Gemma? (= Gehen wir!) for 'Let's go!' in English. And Hamma Müch z'Haus? (= Haben wir Milch zu Hause?) if you want to know whether you have some milk at home. 
  • If something is fantastic Austrians say (Ur)Leiwand! or Geil! meaning Awesome! 
  • If you appreciate something or someone, you can express your liking by saying: Das taugt mir.  
  • Use Huach zua! (= Hör zu!) if you want someone to listen closely. 
  • This phrase carries two distinct interpretations. Literally, it translates to "Are you stupid?" which, if directed at a German, would probably be taken as an insult. Conversely, in Austria, the same phrase is often used colloquially to express astonishment, akin to saying: Bist du deppert!  
  • A sarcastic way to react like "Well, obviously / not!" starts with No na! or No na net! and culminating in Na no na / net
  • The next phrase indicates that a certain resource (mostly time, but also money and space) is insufficient to accomplish a task. Das geht sich nicht aus. could be interpreted as "There isn't enough time / money / space to do it."
  • Die Oaschkortn ziagn (= die Arschkarten ziehen) means to "get the ass card," if you're experiencing particularly bad luck that day.
  • The phrase Hüft's nix, schodt's nix. (= hilft es nichts, schadet es nichts) translates to, "Doesn't help, doesn't hurt.", is used to encourage someone when they're reluctant to do or try something new. 
  • Austrians have a saying that serves as a cautionary reminder that reigniting a romance with an ex may not be wise. It can also be applied when someone revisits a subject that has been exhaustively debated: Aufgewärmt ist nur ein Gulasch gut - only a goulash tastes good reheated 

More of the Austrian Slang you'll find here


If I've made you curious and you'd want to find out more about spoken Austrian and the Viennese Dialect get in touch with me.