Basel German


Basel German

Basel German or Baseldytsch (also "Baseldütsch", "Baslerdüütsch", "Baseldeutsch") is the dialect of the city of Basel, Switzerland. Among the Swiss German dialects, it is the only Low Alemannic one.

Phonetics and Phonology

Consonants

Aspirated plosives

It is characterised by aspirates /kʰ, tʰ, pʰ/ which are absent or at least less common in other dialects. Compare Basel German "Khind" (usually spelled "Kind"), pronounced more or less as Standard German "Kind", with "Chind" with initial /x-/, used in all other Swiss German dialects, with the exception of the dialect of Chur. Thus, Basel German didn't complete the second Germanic sound shift (High German consonant shift). Nowadays, many speakers pronounce the /x-/, however. There are nevertheless still words that are never pronounced with /x-/, for example "khenne" (Standard German kennen, to know) or "Keenig"/"König" (Standard German"König"). Typically, words from Standard German or Latin are pronounced with aspirated /kʰ, pʰ, tʰ/, too, which is not or only to a lesser extent done in other dialects.

Examples: "phee" (name of letter), "phalte" (to keep), "Phargg" (park); "Thee" (tea and name of letter), "tholl" (great, swell), "Thangg" (tank); "khaa" (name of letter; had), "Khaschte" (cupboard, also: "caste"), "kheje" (to throw, to fall).

Affricates

Like other dialects and forms of the standard, Basel German has /pf, ts/ as well as /tʃ/.

Examples: "Pfanne" (pan), "Zaan" (tooth), "dytsch" (German), "Tschooli" (stupid person, traditional word), "Tschoope" (jacket, traditional word), "tschegge" (to understand, from English ‘to check’, also: to check out).

Pronunciation of IPA|/r/ phoneme

A French-style pronunciation of IPA|/r/ as IPA| [ʁ] is also used in Basel German, although many younger speakers—especially those with foreign parents—also use Italian style IPA| [r] which is more common in other Swiss German dialects. Traditionally, IPA|/r/ is voiceless IPA| [χ] , and it may in general be described as a lenis IPA|/x/. The pronunciation per se seems to derive from French (originally Parisian), and was probably re-interpreted as a lenis IPA|/x/ according to Basel German phonology. Not surprisingly, French influence was for a long time dominant in Basel, with well-to-do families speaking French even at home.

Lenition of consonants

Basel German also has more lenis sounds in word-initial position—for example, "Dag" (day). This lenition is now often absent due to influence from other dialects, for example, the name of Santa Claus, "Santiglaus", is now often pronounced with IPA|/kʰ/ or IPA|/x/, as is the word "Graft" (Standard German "Kraft"), which traditionally has a lenis sound, now also IPA|/kʰ/ and IPA|/x/. In the same vein, the verb "schútte" IPA|/ʃuttə/ (which derives from English ‘shoot’), has initial IPA|/ʃ/ whereas the dialect of Zürich has IPA|/tʃ/: IPA|/tʃuːtːə/.

Lenis plosives

Lenis plosives are however all voiceless; whereas fortis plosives are long or geminated. They are (like other lenis or short consonants) always preceded by long vowels, with the possible exception of unstressed vowels. According to Pilch, vowel length is not distinctive, however, vowel length is not always predictable: IPA|/ro:ttə/ 'to guess' has both a long vowel and a long/geminated consonant.

Examples: "Dag" IPA|/tɑːk/ (day), "ume" IPA|/ʊmə/ (around), "ane" IPA|/ɑːnə/ (there), "lose" IPA|/loːsə/ (listen), "Gas" IPA|/kɑːs/ gas. Phonemically speaking, IPA|/p t k/ may also be (more traditionally) transcribed IPA|/b d g/, or as unvoiced IPA|/b d g/.

Fortis consonants

Fortis or long consonants in general are more stable than in other dialects—‘to swim’ is always "schwimme", whereas it’s pronounced with only a short IPA|/m/ in other dialects. This is probably because in stressed words, short vowels only appear before double or geminated/long consonants. Hence, a word like IPA|/ˈʃvʏmə/ is not possible in Basel German. As in other dialects, the difference between fortis and lenis is in length. Pilch (180) however interprets IPA|/tt/ as alveolar, not long. Fortis consonants may also be transcribed IPA|/bb dd gg/, since lenis IPA|/p t k/ are often transcribed as IPA|/b d g/.

Examples: "schwimme" (to swim), "phagge" (to pack), "drugge" (to squeeze), "rootte" (to guess—note the long IPA|/oː/ followed by fortis IPA|/tt/)

Vowels

Unrounding of vowels

Unrounding is also typical, but now it has been abandoned by many speakers. Lengthening of vowels is also found, linking it more closely to Standard German than all other Swiss German dialects.

Examples: "griezi" (good day; "grüezi" in other dialects, still more common), "Hell" (hell, now rounded form more common), "greescht" (biggest, greatest; now "grööscht" more common).

Lengthening and shortening of vowels

Lengthening always occurs before lenis (short) vowels, for example in words like "Daag" (day), "loose" (listen), "miir" (we). Shortening, on the other hand, always occurs before long or fortis consonants, for example in Baseldytsch/Baseldütsch, the name of the dialect: whereas other dialects have long IPA|/y:/ in Baseldütsch or any other word with -dütsch (German) in it, Basel German always has short IPA|/i/ or IPA|/y/.

Velarisation of MHG /a:/

Middle High German IPA|/a:/ was velarised and appears as IPA|/o:/. For example, "Strooss" IPA|/ʃtro:ss/ ‘street’.

Vowels before /r/

Typically (but not exclusively) open vowels occur before IPA|/r/, for example, "Oor" (‘ear’) has the allophone IPA| [ɔ:] , not IPA| [o:] . Both IPA| [ɔ:] and IPA| [ɛ:] only occur before IPA|/r/ in native words.

Additionally, vowels before /r/ are always long, with the exception of loan words such as IPA| ['sɔri] ‘sorry’, IPA| ['kʰøri] ‘curry’ as well as unstressed vowels.

Examples: "Oor" IPA| [ɔ:r] ‘ear’, "Eer" IPA| [ɛ:r] 'honour'.

Pronunciation of /a/ /a:/

The vowels IPA|/a/ and IPA|/a:/ traditionally are front, yet distinct from IPA|/æ/ and IPA|/æː/. Nowadays, a back pronunciation IPA|/ɑ/ and IPA|/ɑː/ is more common.Examples: "Sagg" (bag), "Baasel" (Basel).

Diphthongs

Modern pronunciation has IPA|/aj/, IPA|/aːj/, IPA|/ej/, IPA|/aw/, IPA|/aːw/, IPA|/iə/, IPA|/uə/ and IPA|/œj/; traditional pronunciation lacks IPA|/œj/ which is partly IPA|/aj/, partly IPA|/ej/. In modern pronunciation IPA|/aj/, IPA|/a:j/, IPA|/aw/, IPA|/aːw/ are IPA| [æj] , IPA| [æːj] IPA| [æw] , IPA| [æːw] , whereas traditional pronunciation has IPA| [aj] , IPA| [aw] etc. Suter (1992: 11) posits only one diphthong IPA|/au/, pronounced as IPA| [æ:w] . In exclamations, IPA| [uj ɔw] also exist.

Examples: "elai" (alone), "draaie" (to turn), "drey" (three), "baue" (to build), "blaau" (blue), "vier" (four), "zue" (shut), "nöi" (new); "ney" (new, traditional form).

ociolinguistics

Unlike other dialects, Basel German is also characterised by a rather strong dichotomy between the traditional Baseldytsch, used especially for the Carnival of Basel (Basler Fasnacht), and normal spoken language. Some speakers prefer to use the more traditional variety in written form. The traditional variety is normally associated with the upper classes and with Fasnacht. As other Swiss German dialects, Basel German has (at least in Basel) more prestige than Standard German, and it is now even used in churches.

pelling

There is a lot of confusion especially when it comes to the use of the grapheme ‘y’, which is often used for rounded sounds, i.e. IPA|/ʏ/ or IPA|/y/, whereas it is exclusively used for IPA|/i/ traditionally. Typically, lenis stops are spelled ‘b’, ‘d’, ‘g’, fortis stops are spelled ‘p’, ‘pp’, sometimes ‘bb’ ("öpper", "öbber", "ebber" ‘someone’); ‘t’, ‘tt’, rarely ‘dd’ ("Mitti" ‘middle’); ‘gg’, rarely and mainly in loan-words ‘k’, ‘ck’, etc. This use of ‘gg’ for the fortis, unaspirated consonant is used also in other varieties of Swiss German, but sometimes abandoned in favour of spellings more closely resembling Standard German spellings. Examples: "drugge" (to push), "Läggerli" (typical sweet; but also "Läckerli"), "Sagg" (bag; but sometimes also "Sack"), "Gugge" (bag, traditional word).

Obviously, especially the typical use of ‘y’ and ‘gg’ leads to confusion, even among native speakers, since the dialect is not taught in schools. Aspirates are normally spelled as in Standard German, namely with ‘p’, ‘t’, ‘k’.

Terminology

Baseldytsch reflects traditional pronunciation with IPA|/i/, Baseldütsch reflects modern pronunciation with IPA|/y/, whereas Baseldeutsch is the Standard German form.

Bibliography

* Pilch, Herbert. 1977. "Baseldeutsche Phonologie. Auf Grundlage der Intonation" In: Phonetica 34: 165-190.
* Suter, Rudolf. 1976. Baseldeutsch-Grammatik. Basel: Merian.
* Suter, Rudolf. 1992. Baseldeutsch-Wörterbuch. 3rd edition. Basel: Merian.


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