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German Dialects, Names & More

As I was saying in my post, Getting into German dialects, over the course of two millennia, German has developed a lot of dialects. How different are they? Let’s look at the Lord’s Prayer, the Vaterunser, in High German, in Platt, and in Swiss German. And there are dialects within dialects; Platt and Schwyzerdütsch differ from the standard language High German the most.

Hochdeutsch - High German - Lord's Prayer

and then

Plattdeutsch - Low German - Lord's Prayer

Compare those to:

Schwyzerdütsch - Swiss German - Lord's Prayer

Our Father, who art in ... good heavens, those hardly look anything alike. Well, if you really dig through it, you’ll see related words and phrases...

As far as what they sound like- try YouTubes of the Vaterunser in various German dialects. Even different YouTubes of the same dialect will sound different- there aren’t just dialects, or subdialects, but sub-sub-dialects. A skilled German linguist can often figure out which village a German comes from, because there’s a noticeable difference just from one village to another.

How about some comparisons of specific words?

Even this example papers over major variations just within Platt and within Bavarian.

What does this do to genealogy? Mostly not too much, since a lot of family history is written by bureaucrats writing the standard language, and people generally felt they needed to write in standard High German. Dialect will still work its way in, though.

The same profession or name can come out very differently in the various dialects:

An ancestor named for their profession as a butcher might be named:

Metzger, Fleischer, Fleischhacker, Fleischhauer, Fleischmann, Schlachter. And that’s before it potentially gets anglicized into Slaughter, Fleisher, Fletcher and more.

Here are some first at last names showing just a part of how much variation there is:

Carl Straube vs Strobel or Struve

The word that High German knows as straube ("shtraobuh") means ‘curly-haired’, and it shows up as a last name, but it varies by region:

North Germany has it with a v sound: Struve, Struwe, Struwevolt, Struveke ("stroovuh") etc.

Central Germany and South Germany have Straube or Strobel, even Strube.

There's just that much variation from region to region.

Going back a few centuries, records may be kept in Latin, so a Georg Krüger may be Latinized into Georgius Tabernarius

A few more examples of the kind of variation that can sneak in:


northwestern: Tönnes

Bavarian: Tone, Tonerl


It sometimes shows up as Krischan

Carsten is a specifically North German variant

In Switzerland, it can come out as Chrigel, Chrigi, Chrigu, Hitsch

Bavarians turn it into Christl as a last name.


Tina (which could also be from Bettina from Elisabet, or from Martina)


southern: Tinele

northwestern: Tinka

Johannes Hans Hansi

southern: Hänsel,

Swabian: Hanne, Hanse, Hansele

northwest/Rhine: Hennes

northwest border with France: Scheng, which... sort of... reflects how the French say Jean.


Bavarian: Sepp, Sepperl

Ruhr/northwest Jupp

When you are trying to reconcile similar names cropping up in various documents, sometimes it’s unrelated names, sometimes it’s the same name but different people, but sometimes it’s the same person, called Christianus Piscator, Christian Fischer and Karsten Visser.

That's just one example of how dialect can creep into genealogical work.


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