Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities - German in Multilingual Contexts

Linguistic innovation in Kiezdeutsch

In the media and comedy shows, Kiezdeutsch is sometimes portrayed as a linguistically reduced mixed language with many grammatical errors. In public discussion, concern is therefore sometimes expressed that this "broken German" could rub off on standard German and impair it grammatically. Kiezdeutsch, however, is not broken German, but features interesting linguistic innovations.

In addition to grammatical simplifications, Kiezdeutsch shows a great deal of linguistic creativity and grammatical innovation. In Kiezdeutsch, new foreign words (e.g. from English, Turkish and Arabic), new turns of phrase and even new grammatical constructions emerge. These linguistic innovations fit into the German language system, whereby Kiezdeutsch proves to be an integrated dialect: it makes use of the linguistic offerings of German and expands already existing patterns. This is not surprising when one considers how dominant German is as the majority language in Germany. Because German is so dominant in public as well as in private spaces, and not least at school, it is typically part of family communication even in multilingual families, and for children and young people growing up here, it is the dominant language.

Kiezdeutsch is not a formulaic, grammatically reduced, flawed language that exhausts itself in ritualised threatening gestures, as often quoted in caricature („Was guckst du?“ „Bin ich Kino?“ „Ich mach dich Messer!“ i.e. "What are you looking at?" "Am I cinema?" "I'll make you knife!"). Kiezdeutsch is also characterised by various grammatical simplifications, for example in the area of inflection and the use of functional words such as articles and pronouns or the verb „sein“ ("to be"). However, Kiezdeutsch does not simply stick to these simplifications. A closer look reveals the emergence of new linguistic expressions and grammatical patterns particular to Kiezdeutsch. This is where the innovative potential of Kiezdeutsch lies.

Lexical newcomers are integrated into Kiezdeutsch as new foreign words, which is exactly the case for foreign words in German. Their pronunciation is "Germanised". In addition, these new foreign words are used according to the rules of German grammar and their meaning also changes during this integration. For example, "lan", which comes from Turkish, is used in a way similar to how „Alter“ is used in youth language, and the Turkish-Arabic "wallah" is used in a way similar to „echt“.



This integration is also found at the level of language users. New expressions from Turkish, Arabic etc. are equally used as foreign word by speakers of different origins, even by those for whom Arabic or Turkish is not part of the linguistic repertoire in the family. Just as how no knowledge of English is necessary to use words like „Job“ or „Computer“ in German, one can also use "lan" without speaking Turkish. Kiezdeutsch thus draws on the other languages of its speakers, but it does so actively and integratively, i.e. expressions from other languages are not simply added to the language indiscriminately in the style of "language mixing", but are processed and changed so that they fit into the linguistic system of German.


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New grammatical patterns in Kiezdeutsch often emerge due to the influence of the "information structure", i.e. the way in which the information provided by a sentence is linguistically packaged: due to its greater grammatical openness, Kiezdeutsch often offers broader possibilities for structuring information in a particularly clear and/or efficient way compared to standard German.
One example is word order: if you want to tell someone, for example, that you are going to the cinema tomorrow, it might make sense from an information-structural point of view to first make the time frame clear („morgen“ i.e. "tomorrow"), then to name the actor(s) („wir“ i.e. "we") and then the action („gehen“ – "to go"). This is not possible in standard German, where you always have to put the verb in the second position. So you could say, for example, „Morgen gehen wir ins Kino“ (literally: "Tomorrow go we to the cinema"), but not „Morgen wir gehen ins Kino“ ("Tomorrow we go to the cinema"). In the first case, we only find out who is actually involved after knowing the time (morgen – tomorrow) and the action (gehen – to go). In the second case, on the other hand, we have the information-structurally preferred sequence, and this is also possible in Kiezdeutsch.

This does not mean, however, that sentences in Kiezdeutsch function in a fundamentally different way from in standard German; the word order "adverbial - subject - verb" is only one possibility alongside the standard German word order with the verb in second place, and this standard version is used much more frequently (in our corpus, for example, in over 98% of cases!).

Kiezdeutsch thus uses and expands the possibilities that German offers in the area of grammar and vocabulary; here, particular use is made of developments in German that are evident in spoken language and in informal situations.

Every one of us has command over different linguistic varieties, registers and/or styles. For example, we generally speak a dialect in addition to Standard German, e.g. a regional variety such as Berlinerish, the Saxon dialect or Bavarian. We also use a different, more informal German within the family or in conversations with friends. In contrast, we choose a more distanced, formal style when, for example, dealing with our superiors, at an important exam or at a public lecture.

Likewise, speakers of Kiezdeutsch also use other varieties and styles of speech. Kiezdeutsch is therefore not a threat to standard German, but contributes to linguistic diversity by developing its own linguistic elements and innovative grammatical patterns.


For reference and further reading:

Wiese, Heike (2012). Kiezdeutsch. Ein neuer Dialekt entsteht. München: C. H. Beck.

Wiese, Heike (2010). Kiezdeutsch: ein neuer Dialekt. In: Politik und Zeitgeschichte 8/2010. [Themenband: „Sprache“]. Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. S. 33-38.

Wiese, Heike, & Pohle, Maria (2016). „Ich geh Kino“ oder „… ins Kino“? Gebrauchsrestriktionen nichtkanonischer Lokalangaben. Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft 35 (2). S. 171-216.

Wiese, Heike; Öncü, Mehmet Tahir, & Bracker, Philip (2017). Verb-dritt-Stellung im türkisch-deutschen Sprachkontakt: Informationsstrukturelle Linearisierungen ein- und mehrsprachiger Sprecher/innen. Deutsche Sprache 2017 (1). S. 31-52.

Freywald, Ulrike, & Wiese, Heike (Hg.). Deutsche Sprache der Gegenwart. Stuttgart: Metzler. Erscheinen geplant für 2020. [Kap.2: H. Boas & H. Wiese: „Ein Land – eine Sprache?“; Kap.5: H. Wiese „Prozesse an der Schnittstelle von Form und Bedeutung“].

Wiese, Heike (2013). What can new urban dialects tell us about internal language dynamics? The power of language diversity. Linguistische Berichte Sonderheft 19 [„Dialektologie in neuem Gewand. Zu Mikro-/Varietätenlinguistik, Sprachenvergleich und Universalgrammatik“, hrsg. von Werner Abraham & Elisabeth Leiss]. S. 207-245.