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

What is Kiezdeutsch?

Kiezdeutsch has now established itself as a new urban dialect of German. Like other urban dialects (e.g. Berlinish), Kiezdeutsch is characterised by the great linguistic diversity that is typical of cities. Kiezdeutsch has developed in residential areas where different dialects, linguistic styles and languages come together, and this diverse linguistic context has led to Kiezdeutsch being a particularly innovative dialect of German. Someone who speaks Kiezdeutsch with their friends, for example, may speak Kurdish with their grandmother, Arabic with their grandfather and aunt, German with their father, and Kurdish and Arabic with their mother. Another youth who speaks Kiezdeutsch may only speak German at home, but may have learned some Turkish from friends or their parents. These multilingual competences make Kiezdeutsch a particularly dynamic dialect in which we can practically observe language development at an accelerated pace.


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These developments form a system of their own, similar to what we find in other varieties of German. These new linguistic forms and construction patterns are grammatical innovations which fit into the German language system. Kiezdeutsch illustrates the options that German offers and the possible paths of development which result from them. From the perspective of the language system, Kiezdeutsch thus constitutes a new addition that expands the spectrum of German. One is therefore most likely to do justice to Kiezdeutsch if one regards it as a new dialect, a dialect of German that – like other dialects – furthers the grammatical possibilities of our language: a use of language that is part of German but deviates from standard German and has its own characteristic features in the areas of phonetics, grammar and vocabulary.


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Because Kiezdeutsch fits so well into the German language system, its linguistic characteristics are nothing unfamiliar, and most of us – even those who don't have Kiezdeutsch in their repertoire – have a good grasp of the grammatical rules that underlie them. We intuitively know, for example, whether one can say "Gestern ich war im Kino" or "Ich gestern war im Kino" in Kiezdeutsch (literal translation: "Yesterday I was in the cinema" or "I yesterday was in the cinema"). Neither works in standard German, but the first example is fine in Kiezdeutsch, whereas the second example is not. Most people who know German – not only speakers who speak Kiezdeutsch regularly – have no problem recognising this. The reason is that the word order in the first example fits well into the German language system; it is also known, for example, from earlier forms of the German language. Presumably, this possibility of word order had never been lost in colloquial speech, it has just not become part of standard German. Kiezdeutsch supports this old option once again.

Multilingual urban residential areas are also found in other countries, and Kiezdeutsch is therefore not an isolated German phenomenon. In Europe, such urban dialects are intensively studied e.g. in Great Britain, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and France; this is also the case in Africa, e.g. in Cameroon, Senegal, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania, among others.


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 (ersch.). Neue Dialekte im urbanen Europa. In: Beatrix Busse & Ingo Warnke (Hg.), Sprache im urbanen Raum / Language in Urban Space. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter [Handbuchreihe Sprachwissen, Band 20]. Kap.II. Erscheinen geplant für 2021.

Wiese, Heike (2013). Das Potential multiethnischer Sprechergemeinschaften. In: Arnulf Deppermann (Hg.), Das Deutsch der Migranten. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter [Jahrbuch 2012 des Instituts für Deutsche Sprache Mannheim]. S.41-58.

Wiese, Heike (2020). Contact in the City. In: Raymond Hickey (Hg.). Wiley Handbook of Language Contact. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell. Kap. 13. Erscheinen geplant für 2020.

Kerswill, Paul, & Wiese, Heike (Hg.). Urban Contact Dialects and Language Change: Insights from the Global North and South. London: Routledge [Routledge Studies in Language Change, hrsg. von Isabelle Buchstaller & Suzanne Evans Wagner]. Erscheinen geplant für 2020.