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A shibboleth (emphasized shibboleth or shibboleth; plural: shibboleths or Schibbolethe ) is a linguistic peculiarity by the spokesman of a social group or a region can be assigned. Shibboleths are to be distinguished from tongue twisters , which are difficult to pronounce for all speakers. Rather, Shibboleths are words whose different pronunciation can be used to identify the speaker's origin and which thus become a social code .


Shibboleth (Heb. שיבולת, dotted שִׁבֹּלֶת(Plural shibbolim ) is a Hebrew word and literally means “current”, “current” or “flood”, but is used to mean “ password ” or “code word”. In the Jewish Tanach (the Christian Old Testament ) it says in the Book of Judges ( Judges 12,5-6  EU ):

Gilead cut off the Jordan fords to Efraim . And when the refugees from Ephraim said: I want to go over! The men from Gilead asked him: Are you an Ephraimite? If he said no, they asked him: Say shibbolet! If he then said Sibbolet because he could not pronounce it correctly, they seized him and killed him there at the fords of the Jordan. So at that time forty-two thousand men fell from Ephraim. "

The respective ways of pronunciation were used to classify people into the dichotomy enemy and friend.

The French philosopher Jacques Derrida took up the code word (the password ) in a lecture at an International Paul Celan Symposium in 1984 . To identify the Ephraimites, Derrida writes:

"A certain inability that their vocal apparatus had happened was ... was responsible for ensuring that the Ephraimite their inability to say what - how they were well aware - shibboleth and not Sibboleth had read, were hit in the body and the hard way . "

The word shibboleth is accordingly itself a shibboleth ( homolog ). It is traditionally used in Freemasonry as the password of the journeyman's degree.

Schibboleths in German-speaking countries

With shibboleths in the broader sense, the origin of a speaker in High German can be assigned to a more or less large region through various small peculiarities of pronunciation. The speaker himself is often not even aware of these peculiarities. The assignment occurs naturally in the conversation without using a special password.

German (written German)

For the difference between North German and South German, the s in the wording is used as a characteristic: South German speakers use the voiceless (IPA: [s]), North German the voiced (IPA: [z]). So a word like sun can be used as a shibboleth. Another north-south distinction is shown by the pronunciation of st : “Chimney sweep Stefan fishes for sausage in the nest.” The more southern the speaker's linguistic origin, the more often he utters the “st” like scht (up to four times). In the Bremen dialect , sp and st are always separated in sp [sp] and st [st] instead of standard German schp [ʃp] and scht [ʃt] , which is made clear in the classic sentence “Der Stadtbremer stumbled over the sharp stone”.

Light ch and sch are difficult to distinguish, especially for speakers from the Rhineland, Saxony and South Hesse: “Black Forest cherry tart”, “Greek history”, “Czech sound engineer”.

Regional pronunciation of the r:

  • Münsterland and Ostwestfalen : also after short vowel vocalization (or coincidence here due to the lack of distinction between length), e.g. B. in “Church”: IPA ['kiːɐçə] instead of [' kɪʁçə] (catch phrase: “My name is deer.”); on the other hand in the upper Lausitz as well as Siegerland and Wetterau : almost analogous to the American r, d. H. as alveolar approximant [ɹ]: "cream" as [ɹaːm] instead of [ʁaːm].
  • Franconia : The alveolar rolled [r] v. a. after consonants, d. H. as in high-level Italian or Swedish: "cream" as [rɑːm]. Before consonants, however, there is often an adjustment to the following consonants: "Sport" [ʃpɔd̥].
  • Rhineland : after trailing vowels such as velares / uvulares ch (IPA [x] or [χ]): "Sport" [ʃpɔχt].

Regional pronunciation of ch (e.g. in "Chemie" or "China"): High German: [ç], Northern and Central German [ʃ], Upper German and Austrian [k], Swiss [x]

North German and West German pronunciation of pf at the beginning of the word like f . Pennael's joke : Caesar equus consilium = 'Caesar horse council' = ['tsɛːsaː fɛːɐt raːt] = Caesar rides his bike.

In Swiss and Bavarian-Austrian (especially Tyrol), k often becomes kch [kχ].

Swiss pronunciation of chs always as ch-s and lack of throat- cracking sound with initial vowels: Sechsachser (IPA [ˈsæxsʌxsəɾ] instead of [ˈzɛksʔaksɐ]).

Giraffe: In Austrian Standard German [ˌʒiˈʁafə] or [ˌʃiˈʁafə] instead of West German Standard German [ˌɡiˈʁafə].

Ü versus i and ö versus e are typically easy for West and North Germans, while Poles, Czechs, Bavaria and Saxony typically find it difficult; in Bavarian the "ü" is not spoken.

Swabian : nasal colored etc.

French accent test : “Hans lived in a tall skyscraper.” First, it is difficult to pronounce h and the throat ch in skyscraper ; secondly, Hans and lived like nasalized; third, that is e in high happy as ɛ rounded or very short, easy œ pronounced (correctly would unrounded ə ).

In Bavarian there are finer distinctions between sound nuances and phonemes than in standard German. An example are the standard German phonemes / a / [ a ] and / o / [ ɔ ] or [ o ], which are juxtaposed with three to four phonemes in Bavarian (if the nasal vowels were added, it would be even more): Das überhelle a / à / [ ], the dark a / å / [ ɒ ], the open o / ò / [ ɔ ] (the latter two are sometimes not differentiated) and the closed o / o / [ o ]. An example from West Central Bavaria is nà - na - nò - no ( no - then - down - still ). That is why the phrase “The Pope pappt Pop-Plakate” can also be used as a shibboleth to identify non-Bavarians. A Baier (who speaks a Bavarian dialect) will also pronounce the shibboleth sentence in Bavarian German with two differently colored a- sounds : “Pope” and “pappt” with a darker a , “Plakate” with a twice lighter a , while in the word “Pop” a clearly darker o is spoken.

Shibboleths in the written language

Shibboleths in the written language are characteristics which, in the best case without knowledge of the language in question, allow you to quickly recognize which language is involved. In the simplest case, these are characteristic diacritical marks on letters such as the Romanian ț or the Hungarian ő and ű , but also ligatures such as the German ß (which, however, is not used in Switzerland).

Shibboleths in other languages


"Red lorries, yellow lorries, red lorries, yellow lorries" ... (is pronounced repeatedly; is also considered a tongue twister) means "red trucks, yellow trucks ..."

The English in the south-west of the country ( Cornwall ) and the southerners in the USA in particular can not pronounce this, or only with difficulty, because fine-tuning fails because of the sheer volume of r and l .

The pronunciation of the name of the Texan city ​​of Corpus Christi is considered to be a simple test to separate South Texans and Southerners from other American English speakers, as with locals the first syllable makes up over 70% of the speaking time of the name, with o and r merging, which increases with Distance gradually decreases.


For foreigners

After the unsuccessful Krakow uprising of Bailiff Albert against the Polish Duke of Krakow Władysław (Ladislaus) Ellenlang , the loyalty of the Krakow citizens was checked by him with a simple language test. Anyone who was unable to repeat the words soczewica, koło, miele, młyn (lens, wheel, grind, mill) correctly was considered guilty. The largely German-speaking citizens of Krakow, who had largely contributed to the rebellion, could not pronounce this correctly and were partly expelled or subjected to repression.

Within Poland

Some Upper Silesians only know two rows of sibilants ( Siakanie ) instead of three . However, this only affects smaller language groups, including Gorals at the Polish-Czech-Slovak tri-border triangle:

  • polish c / ć / cz // s / ś / sz // z / ź / ż = rz
  • Upper Silesian c / (ć =) cz // s / (ś =) sz // z / (ź =) ż = rz


In the Netherlands , the word Scheveningen is often used as a language test. The Dutch pronunciation is “S-cheveningen” ( listen ? / I ), while Germans typically pronounce the toponym with a ʃ at the beginning. The same applies to Enschede and Schiphol . In the case of the latter, it should be noted that the “ph” is not pronounced like “F” but rather separately, ie “S-chip-hol”. Audio file / audio sample

Likewise, the name of the famous Grandhotel Huis ter Duin , whose correct pronunciation can be described as "Häüs t (e) r Däün" and is pronounced by non-Dutch people either literally or as "Höis ter Döin".

Similar to what the Poles did a good 10 years later in the Krakow uprising (see above), the Flemish citizens are said to have carried out a shibboleth language test at the Bruges morning mass in 1302 in order to separate their own people from the enemies: everyone was forced to To repeat Wendung schild en vriend (shield and friend) and who did not succeed in doing this was considered French and was gutted. This legendary episode continues to this day - a right-wing extremist Flemish group founded in 2017 has named itself "Schild & Vrienden" afterwards.

Czech, Slovak

The “sentence without vowels”: Strč prst skrz krk (' stick your finger through your throat').


"Rødgrød med fløde" [ ˈʁœðɡʁœðʔ me fløːð ] ('Red Grits with Cream') is the most famous Danish language test for foreigners. The difficulty lies in pronouncing the “soft d” [ð] characteristic of the Danish language three times in quick succession. This sound is a challenge in itself. In combination with a preceding ø or the two r in “rødgrød”, it also requires foreign speakers to use an unusual sequence of tongue and mouth movements.


The sentence “sju sjösjuka sjömän sköttes av sju sköna sjuksköterskor” / ˈɧʉː ... / audio sample ? / i ('Seven seasick sailors were cared for by seven beautiful nurses') or one of its many variations test the speaker's ability to produce the Swedish “sj” sound several times in a row. Non-Swedes tend to pronounce this sound like “sch”, “ch”, “s (j)” or “h”, but the sound is somewhere in between, in southern Swedish pronunciation more like 'h', in northern Swedish more like 'h' "Sch", but at least for a Swede clearly distinguishable from it. In addition, the speaker must recognize which of the k is pronounced in the letter combination sk . Audio file / audio sample


During the uprising of 1282 ( Sicilian Vespers ), the French were persecuted and driven out of Sicily. Anyone suspected of being a Frenchman in hiding is said to have been forced to pronounce the word ceciri (English: ' chickpeas '). Instead of [ ˈtʃɛːtʃɪɾɪ ] ( Sicilian ), many French pronounced the word in French as [ sesiˈʀi ] and were then murdered.


Mount Ararat in Turkey ( Eastern Anatolia ) is called Ağrı Dağı [ ʼɑɣɾɯ dɑɣɯ ] in Turkish . This is mostly used as a Turkish test for foreigners. The pronunciation is so difficult for non-native speakers, among other things, because in many other languages ​​(except Turkic languages ) the letters ğ (“soft” G) and ı (an i without an i-dot) do not exist and thus no equivalent or similar sounds to have.


Web links

Wiktionary: Shibboleth  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
  • Migration and multilingualism [1]

Individual evidence

  1. Schibboleth, das. Duden Online, accessed on July 6, 2017 .
  2. Langenscheidt's pocket dictionary Hebrew ( ISBN 3-468-10160-0 ) lists two feminine wordsשִׁבֹּלֶת, one (meaning “ ear of wheat ” and “shibboleth”) has the pluralשִׁבֳּלִים(e.g. Gen 41.5  EU ), the other (meaning "water vortex") has the pluralשִׁבּוֹלוֹת
  3. ^ Gesenius, Wilhelm: Hebrew and Aramaic concise dictionary on the Old Testament . 18th edition. Springer, S. 1316 .
  4. Dieter Binder : The Freemasons. Origin, rituals and goals of a discreet society. Herder, Freiburg i. Br. 2006, p. 241
  5. The Ü is to blame
  6. Why mia Bayern ned Tschüs say kenna and ned woin
  7. Valentin Erl: The Bavarian knows no "ü"
  8. ^ Ludwig Zehetner : The Bavarian dialect book. Munich 1985, ISBN 3-406-30562-8 , section on phonology , pp. 75-78
  9. Ludwig Zehetner: Basst scho! Words and expressions from the dialects and the regional high-level language in Old Bavaria. Regensburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-939112-42-6 , chapter 36
  10. ^ Ludwig Zehetner: Bavarian German. Lexicon of the German language in Old Bavaria. Kreuzlingen 2005, ISBN 3-9807028-7-1 , definition see introduction, pp. 13–24
  11. ^ Ludwig Zehetner: Bavarian German. Lexicon of the German language in Old Bavaria. Kreuzlingen 2005, ISBN 3-9807028-7-1 , keywords a; à and o as well as Pope, pappen, poster pillar .
  12. Cenni di storia ( Memento from November 20, 2008 in the Internet Archive )