Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dialect disputes: Street signs in Germany

This article from the Tageszeitung in Berlin highlights an unusual language dispute. In Germany, many street names and a fair amount of public signage is done, to one extent or other, in dialect. For those who don't read German, the piece reports on efforts to change Low German street names into German ones. Low German — spoken in the north — is, from a linguist's perspective, a distinct language from what we call German, but they are closely related. One example from the piece is Schoosterstraat 'Shoemaker Street', which presumably would be changed to Schusterstra├če. The claim is that southern Germans could have trouble pronouncing and understanding the current forms.

I don't doubt for a second that people are complaining (as reported), but it's hard to imagine serious pronunciation difficulties — German and Low German spelling conventions have basically very good sound-symbol correlations. And it seems nonsensical to talk about 'understanding' street names.

Wat en ding.

Image from here.


John Cowan said...

What's this "dialect" jazz? Low German is a separate language.

Joe said...

Yes, as the post says. The title reflects the language used in the German story.

Luke said...

what do they mean by people that don't know German? Like tourists? And it's really a shame that they would do that..

"And it seems nonsensical to talk about 'understanding' street names."
no kidding!

The Ridger, FCD said...

Most German streets are called Einbahnstra├če, anyway. So what's the problem?

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, I drove on that street. The WRONG way.