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Hendl or G

Austrian Science Fund (FWF) : 16 May, 2001  (Technical Article)
There is not one single German language, Austrians use different linguistic expressions to those used by Swiss or German people. This is not only true of dialect, but also applies to High German. There are many linguistic variants, even within the individual countries.
Even the High German of the Vorarlberg Province is significantly different to High German spoken in Vienna. Since 1997, Hans Moser and his team from the Institute for German Language, Literature and Literary Criticism at the University of Innsbruck have been working on a trilateral project with the universities of Duisburg and Basle, recording the many variants within the German language. With the support of the Austrian Science Fund, they are compiling the first dictionary of national and regional variants of the standard German language.

More than 240,000 lemmas have already been entered into the project database. Approximately 10,000 of these will be included in the dictionary which is due to be published in Autumn 2002. Each word is explained, its national and regional distribution is given, together with its variants, and a sentence which clearly illustrates the meaning is quoted as an example of usage. “The interesting thing about our project is that, for the first time, we are researching the unique Austrian linguistic variations within all fields, ranging from law, administration, politics, economics and education to sport, culinary art and everyday culture etc. and, at the same time, we are determining the extent to which these expressions overlap with their Federal German and Swiss equivalents,” explains Moser.

How are the variations discovered? Each of the three project centres (Basle, Duisburg, Innsbruck) sends a large number of carefully selected texts (novels, newspapers, reference books, crime novels, cookery books, forms etc.) to the project centres in the other two countries, where the project team members read the material and mark everything which to them is unusual. The “search process” is therefore always carried out by the project team members in the other two countries. However, the description and evaluation process is performed in the country of origin, where all variants are checked and stored in a database. “We have therefore acquired a solid basic stock of linguistic material which we are now substantiating through targeted Internet research, consultation with experts and discussion amongst colleagues,” explains Moser. The dictionary, which will soon be commercially available, constitutes a practical reference work for interpreters, editors, journalists, writers and German teachers, as well as providing a solid basis for all future research into variation within the German language. Moreover, it should also help to refute the view, which is still prevalent, that national variants are, at best, stylistically inferior equivalents, rather than linguistic material of equal status, thereby helping to raise the profile of both Austrian and Swiss German.
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