German language atlas

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The German Language Atlas (DSA) is a language atlas of the dialects in the area of ​​the former German Empire . The DSA was founded by Georg Wenker (1852–1911). With over 40,000 survey locations (and other locations from the follow-up surveys in German-speaking areas outside the German Reich), it represents the most comprehensive overall survey of the dialects of a language worldwide. The material was made available on the Internet under the project name Digitaler Wenker Atlas (DiWA) ; today it can be viewed at (REDE) .


The DSA used the indirect survey methodology. The survey was carried out by sending a questionnaire to teachers in each school location with sentences to be translated into the local dialect. The sentences were put together in such a way that typical phonetic and selected grammatical properties of the dialects concerned had to emerge in the translation. For example, if the word apple was given in the questionnaire , it was to be expected that in areas where the plosive / p / was not shifted to the affricate / pf / in terms of linguistic history, the students would write a form with / p /. In the sum of such dialect features, it should be possible to distinguish individual language landscapes from one another.

The survey was carried out in different stages with different questionnaires: the near and far surroundings of Düsseldorf in 1876 with a questionnaire that comprised 42 sentences (Rhenish sentences). In 1877 all of Westphalia was raised with a sheet that comprised 38 sentences (Westphalian sentences), in 1879 and 1880 North and Central Germany with a sheet of 40 sentences ( Wenker's sentences in the real sense). By 1887, the survey of southern Germany followed with a sheet in which, in addition to the 40 Wenker sentences, individual keywords were queried (e.g. days of the week, numerals).


New building for the German Language Atlas in Marburg (left)
opposite the parking garage at Pilgrimstein (right below the old town)

When the surveys in the German Reich were completed in 1887, a total of 44,251 questionnaires from 40,736 school locations were available. Separate follow-up surveys were carried out for the German-speaking areas outside the German Reich: in 1888 in Luxembourg (325 sheets), from 1926 to 1933 in the Sudetenland (2,854 sheets), in Austria (3,628 sheets), in Liechtenstein (24 sheets), in Burgenland (28 Bogen), in Gottscheer Land (35 sheets), in Switzerland (1,785 sheets), in Poland beyond the old border (396 sheets), in South Tyrol (485 sheets), in the seven and thirteen communities of the Cimbrian dialects in northern Italy (each 1 sheet) and in North and East Friesland (67 sheets). In addition, 2,050 foreign-language forms were received (e.g. Yiddish with its specifically Jewish forms of German). A total of 51,480 questionnaires were collected from 49,363 locations with a German-speaking population. Meanwhile, Wenkerbogen are available from other German-speaking islands abroad (e.g. Russia).

The entire material is archived in the research institute Deutscher Sprachatlas at the University of Marburg .


  • In 1876 Wenker sent a questionnaire with 42 short sentences to the schools in the Rhineland, which he had translated into the respective local dialects with the help of the teachers.
  • From this work a dialect map of the northern Rhine province emerged , then in 1878 the language atlas of the Rhine province north of the Moselle and the district of Siegen .
  • In 1879, as librarian at the University Library in Marburg, he presented the Prussian Minister of Culture in Berlin with a plan for expanding the company to all of Prussia and received support.
  • 1881 Beginning of the preparatory work for a linguistic atlas of northern and central Germany
  • 1887 Extension of the survey area to the entire German Empire
  • Between 1888 and 1923 the data collected was entered in 1668 hand-drawn, colored maps
  • By 1939, coverage of the German-speaking areas of Central Europe outside the imperial borders
  • 1927–1956 Publication of a reduced black and white version
  • 1984–1999 revision of selected questionnaires from Wenker's survey as part of the Small German Language Atlas (KDSA)
  • Complete online publication of the maps since 2001 as part of the Digitaler Wenker Atlas (DiWA) project

Importance of the DSA

The dialectological research at the University of Marburg had a great influence on German dialectology. Based on the language atlas materials, the basic features of the dialectal structure of the German-speaking area as well as essential results of the history of sounds and forms in German were worked out. In addition, the methodology in data collection using questionnaires and data evaluation in maps brought decisive progress. The advantage of the method lies in the extremely high density of records, as almost every school location in the former German Reich and numerous school locations outside the Reich were recorded.

The criticism of the methodology crystallizes mainly in the indirect survey. The dialects had to be written using the normal alphabet, which leaves no room for linguistic subtleties. Many dialect phenomena (e.g. vowel duration, accentuation, weakening of consonants ) are largely beyond the reach of the language atlas . In addition, the questionnaires were filled out by teachers who had not been linguistically trained, and they could also decide for themselves whether they were competent enough in the local dialect or whether they should include other informants. Thus, the problem of lay scripting arises as well as the lack of informant verification.

The specifics of the DSA emerge not least in comparison to the almost synchronously collected Atlas linguistique de la France by Jules Gilliéron (1854–1926), which represents a methodological alternative in several respects. Gilliéron preferred direct data collection. Only one person, the phonetically trained explorer Edmond Edmont (1849–1926), conducted the entire survey from 1897 to 1901. This enabled precise phonetic transcription, but the local network had to be much more extensive than that of Wenker (639 locations instead of 40,000). The further methodological development, not only internationally, but also in Germany, followed the French method, according to which the data was mostly collected in direct interviews with linguists.

The Wenker data has actually been rediscovered recently. The Marburg linguist Alfred Lameli evaluated the Wenker data in terms of area typology and was able to make clear the distance and proximity of the various High, Middle and Low German dialects by using a differentiated arsenal of quantitative methods . Jürg Fleischer , who also works in Marburg, is currently evaluating the syntactic and morphosyntactic aspects of Wenker's sentences in a project supported by an opus magnum grant from the Volkswagen Foundation ; Wenker and his co-workers and successors only exhausted these in terms of phonetic, morphological and lexical considerations. The project thus enables a first complete overview of syntactic phenomena in the dialects of the entire German-speaking area.

Digital Wenker atlas

The Digital Wenker Atlas (DiWA) is the goal of a project in which all maps of the DSA are filmed, digitized and geocoded . This preserves the data that has been developed, because the DSA is at risk because it only exists in two originals and the 22 colors used in the card sets are beginning to fade. The maps, which for technical and financial reasons were never fully published, are made available to a broader public via the Internet. The integration of sound recordings of the Wenker sentences is intended to create an interactive multimedia world of experience .

Through the geocoding, the digital Wenker atlas forms a geographic information system (GIS) that offers innovative analysis options. The language cards can be associated with material encoded in the same way, including cultural-historical and demographic information. The historical material of the Wenker maps can be overlaid with maps from surveys for modern regional atlases, whereby the dialect development can be examined from a temporal and spatial perspective. The DiWA project, which started in 2001, is based at the Research Institute for the German Language - Deutscher Sprachatlas in Marburg and is financed by the German Research Foundation. The 576 cards were already available online in 2003, for which 1 terabyte of data is kept.

Wenker sets

Final version of the Wenker sentences (1880):

  • 1. In winter the dry leaves fly around in the air.
  • 2. It will stop snowing soon, then the weather will be better again.
  • 3. Put coals in the oven so that the milk will soon start boiling.
  • 4. The good old man broke into the ice with his horse (s) and fell into the cold water.
  • 5. He died four or six weeks ago.
  • 6. The fire was too hot, the cakes are burned all black below.
  • 7. He always eats the eggs without salt and pepper.
  • 8. My feet hurt (so much), I think I ran them through.
  • 9. I went to the woman myself and told her, and she said she wanted to tell her daughter too.
  • 10. I don't want to do it again either.
  • 11. I'll hit you around the ears with a wooden spoon, you monkey.
  • 12. Where are you going (then)? Shall we go with you (go with you)?
  • 13. These are bad times.
  • 14. My dear child, stay down here, the bad geese will bite you dead.
  • 15. You have learned the most today and have been good, you can go home earlier than the others.
  • 16. You're not big enough to drink a bottle of wine on your own, you have to grow and get bigger first.
  • 17. Go, be so good, and tell your sister to finish sewing your mother's clothes and clean them with the brush.
  • 18. Would you have known him! Then things would have turned out differently and he would have been better off.
  • 19. Who stole my basket of meat from me?
  • 20. He acted as if they had ordered him to thresh (but they did it themselves).
  • 21. To whom (then) did he tell the new story?
  • 22. You have to shout out loud, otherwise he won't understand us.
  • 23. We are tired and thirsty.
  • 24. When we came home / back last night, the others were already in bed and were fast asleep / asleep.
  • 25. The snow stayed that night, but it melted this morning.
  • 26. Behind our house there are three beautiful apple trees / three apple trees with red apples / apples.
  • 27. Can't you wait a moment for us? Then we go with (you).
  • 28. You are not allowed to play such childish acts.
  • 29. Our mountains are not that (very) high, yours are much higher.
  • 30. How many pounds of sausage and how much bread do you want?
  • 31. I don't understand you, you have to speak a little louder.
  • 32. Didn't you find a piece of white soap on my table (s)?
  • 33. His brother wants to build two beautiful new houses in your garden.
  • 34. The word came from his heart.
  • 35. That was right of them!
  • 36. What kind of birds are sitting on top of the wall?
  • 37. The peasants had brought (five) oxen and (nine) cows and (twelve) sheep outside the village, which they wanted to sell.
  • 38. Today the people are all out in the field (e) mowing.
  • 39. Go ahead, the brown dog won't hurt you.
  • 40. I drove into the grain with the people over there across the meadow.

Southern Germany: The additional lemmas were hot, no, blue, gray, hit, hand, hemp, helmet, flax, it grows, broom, plum, letter, yard, young, crooked, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday , Saturday, eleven, fifteen, sixteen and fifty raised. Nasalization, closed vs. open / e /, apical vs. uvular / r /, voiced vs. voiceless / s /, Lenis vs. Fortis and dialectal pronunciation of the place name requested.

Luxembourg: North, earthen, morden, foreleg, with its horses, herd, shepherds, belts, maps, the hard words, bean, strength, air, donate, hind harness (from the horse) and du haust were queried as additional lemmas. The lemmas letter and court were dropped.

Switzerland: For the survey of Switzerland, the South German sheet was supplemented by the lemma potato .

Head of the DSA project

1888–1911: Georg Wenker
1911–1929: Ferdinand Wrede
1930–1933: Hermann Jacobsohn (acting)
1933–1956: Walther Mitzka
1956–1973: Ludwig Erich Schmitt
1973–1979: Reiner Hildebrandt
1979–1987: Wolfgang Putschke
1983–1989: Walter Haas
1987–1995: Joachim Göschel
1995–1998: Reiner Hildebrandt
since 2000: Jürgen Erich Schmidt

(From 1973 a board of directors took over the management, between 1983 and 1989 two institutes operated under the umbrella of the DSA)


  • Georg Wenker : The Rhineland Platt. Dedicated to the teachers of the Rhineland. Self-published, Düsseldorf 1877.
  • Language atlas of the Rhine province north of the Moselle and the district of Siegen. Compiled from material systematically collected from around 1500 locations, designed and drawn by Dr. Georg Wenker. Marburg 1878.
  • Linguistic Atlas of Northern and Central Germany. Edited, designed and drawn by Georg Wenker on the basis of material collected systematically with the help of elementary school teachers from around 30,000 locations. Abth. I, 1. Strasbourg, London 1881.
  • Otto Bremer : Contributions to the geography of the German dialects in the form of a criticism of Wenker's linguistic atlas of the German Empire. Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig 1895.
  • German Language Atlas (DSA). Based on the Linguistic Atlas of the German Empire by Georg Wenker, started by Ferdinand Wrede, continued by Walther Mitzka and Bernhard Martin. Elwert, Marburg 1927–1956.
  • German word atlas (DWA). By Walther Mitzka [from volume 5 by Walther Mitzka and Ludwig Erich Schmitt, volumes 21 a. 22 ed. v. Reiner Hildebrandt]. Schmitz, Giessen 1951–1980.
  • Bernhard Martin : The German dialects. Elwert, Marburg ² 1959.
  • Viktor M. Schirmunski : German dialectology. Comparative theory of sounds and forms in German dialects. Translated from Russian and scientifically edited by Wolfgang Fleischer. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1962. New edition under the title: Deutsche Mundartkunde. Edited and commented by Larissa Naiditsch. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2010. ISBN 978-3-631-59973-0 .
  • Ulrich Knoop u. a .: The Marburg School: Origin and early development of dialect geography. In: Werner Besch u. a. (Ed.): Dialectology. A manual for German and general dialect research. Half volume 1. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1982, pp. 38-92.
  • Small German Language Atlas. On behalf of the Research Institute for the German Language - Deutscher Sprachatlas - Marburg (Lahn) dialectologically edited by Werner H. Veith, computatively edited by Wolfgang Putschke. Volume 1: Consonantism, Part 1: Plosives. Volume 2: Vocalism, Part 1: Short Vowels. With the collaboration of Lutz Hummel. Volume 2: Vocalism, Part 2: Long vowels, diphthongs, combination cards. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1983–1999. ISBN 3-484-24501-8 .
  • Roland Kehrein, Alfred Lameli , Jost Nickel: Possibilities of computer-aided regional language research using the example of the Digital Wenker Atlas (DiWA). In: Jahrbuch für Computerphilologie 7 (2005), pp. 149–170. Online version
  • Alfred Lameli: What else Wenker had to say ... The unknown parts of the "Linguistic Atlas of the German Empire". In: Zeitschrift für Dialektologie und Linguistik 75 (2008), pp. 255–281.
  • Writings on the linguistic atlas of the German Empire (= German dialect geography. Volume 121). Ed. And edit. by Alfred Lameli with the assistance of Johanna Heil and Constanze Wellendorf. Olms, Hildesheim 2013–2014.
  • Jürg Fleischer : History, layout and implementation of the questionnaire surveys from Georg Wenker's 20 sentences. Documentation, discoveries and reassessments (= German dialect geography. Volume 123). Olms, Hildesheim / Zurich / New York 2017, ISBN 978-3-487-15616-3 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Alfred Lameli: Structures in the language area. Analyzes of the area-typological complexity of dialects in Germany. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / Boston 2013 (Linguistics - Impulse & Tendencies. 54). ISBN 978-3-11-033123-3 .
  2. ^ Morphosyntactic evaluation of Wenker sentences. Institute homepage of Jürg Fleischer, University of Marburg, accessed on May 24, 2017.