(Standard) German in Austria: Areal-horizontal and vertical-social variation ‘on the ground’
2022-04-14, 11:30–12:00 (Europe/Vienna), Room 1


Our presentation is driven by the general question (adapted from Fishman 1965): ‘Who in Austria speaks how to whom and when and to what end?’. To empirically address this question with a focus on variation within the German language in Austria, we draw on large-scale surveys and comprehensive analyses of the individual linguistic repertoires of 150 speakers in rural areas across the country, particularly on analyses of the dynamics and structure of ‘vertical’-social variation spectra on the entire dialect/standard axis (cf. Auer 2018). Our speakers (from a range of socio-demographic backgrounds) each participated in eight different situational settings within the full (oral) data survey. The aim of the variation in settings was to evoke various registers of the individual spectra of linguistic variation, which enables intra-speaker as well as cross-speaker comparisons (Lenz 2018).
Our corpus provides an impressive and complex picture of the overall variation spectra of German in Austria. On the phonological, morphological and syntactic level, we find evidence for almost all types of ‘vertical stratification’ of variants, as for example:

  • variants which are used mainly in a translation task into dialect and in a dialect experiment, but rarely in conversation among friends, and even more rarely in the other five settings (intended to elicit more standard-oriented language);
  • variants which show relatively high frequencies in the translation into dialect, the dialect experiment and the conversation among friends, while in the interview and the other formal settings (translation into standard, standard experiment, readings tasks) their intermediate (regiolectal) or standard counterparts are dominant;
  • variants whose frequencies only show small differences between the translation into dialect, the dialect experiment, the conversation among friends and the interview, but which are realised more rarely in the more formal settings;
  • variants which only appear in the reading tasks and, hence, are evoked almost only by a writing-focus;
  • ‘hyperforms’, which appear in our most standard-oriented settings (especially translation into standard, standard language experiment, and reading tasks) and indicate that speakers have a specific standard-language norm in mind but ‘fail’ to reach this norm due to ‘false analogies’ (overexpansion of a pretended rule);
  • variants which show almost no variation across the settings.

Even one and the same variable can demonstrate this abundance of variants. In all our 15 survey locations, we encounter highly complex variables with a high heterogeneity on the basis of cross-speaker, cross-region or cross-setting comparison, and which encompass up to five variants within one individual speaker’s repertoire.
Rounding out our presentation is a discussion of its implications for the issue of bootstrapping a definition of ‘standard German in Austria’ from a users’ perspective.

Panel affiliation

Standard language in Austria: Towards a new agenda (with language users taking the lead)


Auer, Peter. 2018. Dialect Change in Europe – Leveling and Convergence. In Charles Boberg, John Nerbonne & Dominic Watt (eds.), The Handbook of Dialectology, 159–176. Hoboken: Wiley.

Lenz, Alexandra N. 2018. The Special Research Programme „German in Austria. Variation – Contact – Perception“. In Ammon, Ulrich & Marcella Costa (eds.), Sprachwahl im Tourismus – mit Schwerpunkt Europa, 269–277. Berlin: de Gruyter.

... is currently a PhD student at the German Department of the University of Vienna, Austria, and part of the SFB project "German in Austria. Variation - Contact - Perception" (part PP03: Speech Repertoires and Varietal Spectra). Her research emphases lie on variationist linguistics and sociolinguistics of present-day German with a focus on phonetic-phonological variation within the dialect-standard-spectrum.

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Katharina Korecky-Kröll is a postdoc researcher in psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics at the Department of German Studies of the University of Vienna. Her main areas of research are adult production as well as child language acquisition (L1 and L2) of German in Austria on the basis of experimental data and spontaneous speech corpora, with a focus on morphology ond pragmatics.

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... is currently a doctoral student at the German Department of the University of Vienna, Austria.
Main research interests: variationist linguistics and sociolinguistics with a focus on the linguistic levels of (morpho-)syntax and pragmatics

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