Pulling a page from French efforts to keep their language “pure,” Austria is undertaking a major new endeavor to preserve its own unique tongue.
The difference is that while the French seek curtail the use of phrases imported from English, Austrians aren’t fighting against a foreign language, but against German, the same tongue spoken in Austrian.
While both Austrians and Germans speak German there are many words and phrases that mark Austrian German as different from standard German.
Austrian German traces its beginning to the mid-18th century, when Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II introduced compulsory schooling and several administrative reforms. They chose to adopt the already standardized language of Saxony, which was based on the standard language used for administrative purposes in cities such as Dresden.
Austrian German is spoken by approximately 8.5 million people and is recognized as an official language not only in Austria, but also in nearby Italy.
Austria’s education minister this week announced plans to preserve the unique Austrian form of German, amid increased intrusion from words and expressions from neighboring Germany, according to The Telegraph.
“What is heard in movies, on TV or the internet, is often produced or dubbed in our neighboring country Germany,” the education minister, Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, wrote in a 64-page booklet distributed to schools. “One consequence is that specifically Austrian peculiarities and expressions of our language slowly but surely fall into the background.”
While Austrians and Germans can understand each other, there are many words and phrases that mark Austrian German out as different. When Austria joined the EU in 1995, it insisted its version of the language be given protected status, the publication added.
The new government booklet encourages children to use the Austrian version of the language, and urges teachers to favor the Austrian word Schlagobers for cream, over the German Sahne; Marille for apricot, instead of Aprikose; and the traditional Austrian greeting Servus for goodbye, instead of the German Tschüs.
“The move comes after a recent study for the University of Vienna found that more than half the Austrian teachers surveyed believed German forms of vocabulary and grammar to be more correct than the Austrian,”according to The Telegraph.
Austrian linguists object that even within their own borders, their version of the language is often seen as a mere local dialect, rather than a separate form of German, it added.
(Top: Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace, once the summer residence of Austria-Hungary’s Habsburg Dynasty.)