Tuesday, August 17, 2004


I was browsing in the stacks of my university library today, looking at the foreign literature sections, and I discovered that following the German section, there was a small section of literature in German dialect, or Mundart as it's called in German. (When I say small, I'm speaking in relative terms; there are at least a couple hundred books.) Many, if not most, of these books had been published relatively recently: that is, since 1960 or thereabouts. Nor was all this literature folkloric or nostalgaic; there seem to be quite a few people devoted to preserving, or creating, an active "Mundart" literary tradition. ("Mundart" refers not to a single dialect, but to German nonstandard dialects in general, of which there are a number.)

At its extreme, Mundart may not look like German at all at first glance. Here's a poem from leidln, lesds eich zaum: Alte und neue Dialektgedichte (those are lower-case "L"s, not upper-case "i"s) by Hugo Schanovsky, published in 1978:

mea eafuachd

mea eafuachd
foam dod
sogn de filosofn

mea eafuachd
foam leem
sog i

Here's my conjectural translation:

i am reverent
before death
say the philosophers

i am reverent
before life
say i

I can't find an indication of which dialect this is, but the book is published in Linz, Austria, so I would presume it's an Austrian dialect. (The absence of capital letters seems to be an idiosyncracy of the author, not a characteristic of Mundart.)

Here's a less extreme example, this time in prose, from alli sy mer wi mer sy: Fabuloesi Gschichte zum Vorlaese u Verzelle by Johann Ramseier, in the dialect of Bern, Switzerland, published in 1982. This is the first paragraph of the first story in the book, "E Schoepfigsgschicht":

Wo synerzyt di erschte Moensche - Gschoepf vom Prometheus - di groeschti lyblechi Not hei hinder sech gha, sy si gly einisch uebersueuenig worde u dilaengersi schlaechter anschtatt dilaengersi besser, bis sech der Donnerer Zeus uf em Olymp obe het vorgno, die Suendemuergglen uf der Aerde mit Schtumpf u Schtil u mitsamt ihrnen arme Tier in ere Suendfluet z ertraenke. Di beide brevschte Moenschen aber - der Deukalion u d Pyrrha, sy Frou - sy vom Prometheus no zur raechte Zyt gwarnet worde; u wo du di grossi Ersueueffeten isch losggange, hei sech di zwoei oemel du imene Schiffli choennen i Sicherheit bringe.

(I don't know how to do umlauts in blogger. From the first book, I cleverly chose a poem which contained no umlauts. In this example, I've represented an umlaut by an "e" after the vowel; and, except for "Tier" and the second "ue" in "Suendfluet," all the vowel-e combinations in the paragraph above were originally umlauts.)

Following the Mundart section, there was a smaller section containing German literature written in America. Here the books were nearly all nineteenth-century, as far as I could tell from a brief inspection.

(I lied in the first paragraph of this post. I had actually discovered the Mundart section several weeks ago, and only got around to writing about it today. Yes, I suck.)

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