Monthly Archives: May 2011

Code-switching and Bavarian

The other day, when I went to my Frauengymnastikkurs (Women’s Fitness class), the other women who arrived before me were chatting about when their babies were born. It took me about a minute to figure out what they were discussing, however, because they were speaking a mixture of Hochdeutsch and Boarisch. In other words, they were code-switching between German and Bavarian.

What does code-switching mean? It’s a phenomenon that occurs when someone is fluent in more than one language; basically, someone who speaks two languages or more will switch between the languages as appropriate. As a person who is fluent in German, French and English, I code-switch all the time. When I’m shopping with my children, I’ll speak to them in English but once I am in a situation where I need to talk to a German, I switch to using the German language. Sometimes if I need to tell Rosebud something, I use both German and English, switching back and forth between the languages because I don’t want to alienate a German speaker who may not understand English. Here at home, we mostly speak English but we throw in German words and expressions because there’s either not a good English translation or we simply can’t think of the English word. For some reason, we say “Wasserkocher” instead of “Electric kettle”, maybe because “Wasserkocher” (“Water cooker”) is more fun to say. Truthfully, code-switching is not even something I think about doing, for the code-switching simply happens.

One of the women in my Women’s Fitness class mostly speaks Bavarian, and although I miss some of the vocabulary she uses, I’ve been living here in Bavaria long enough that I’m generally familiar with the dialect to understand the gist of the conversation but only sometimes. Other times, I’m completely at a loss. I, however, can’t speak Bavarian at all. I haven’t even really tried (apart from using simple words like “pfiati”, which means “bye bye”). I think that if I were to try speaking Boarisch, my friends would probably tease me and be highly amused, although if they were to ply me with a beer or glass of Grüner Veltliner, perhaps I’d be more willing to give it a go. Most of the Bavarians born and raised here who I’ve encountered will either speak to me in a mixture of German and Bavarian, or they will immediately switch to standard German once they realize that I’m not a native speaker.

One of my neighbors always speaks a mixture of Bavarian and standard German to me (there’s that code-switching again!). I suspect her usage of both with me is partially generational, in that I’m sure she grew up only speaking Bavarian at home, but a mix of Bavarian and standard German at school. When we first moved in to our house back in February 2009, I couldn’t understand her at all, apart from one or two words here and there. But as I’ve listened to Bavarian and have talked with my neighbor and others while out and about, I’ve become a little more adept at understanding individual words and overall ideas when the Bavarian words are used.

Here are a few examples: the German word “gut” becomes “guat” in Bavarian. One interesting Bavarian word is “Bua” which means “Junge” in standard German, and “boy” in English. I think it’s fascinating that “Bua” sounds a lot like “boy”. From my perspective as a non-native speaker, Bavarian sort of sounds like German with a strong shift in the vowels with consonant-dropping along with its own set of vocabulary. Bavarian also feels a little less formal to me than standard German, maybe because it’s especially used between family members who would otherwise speak standard German when they’re with non-Bavarians. Some other phrases: “i mog di” means “ich mag dich” in standard German, or, “I like/love you”. Another expression I hear all the time is “gell?” which means “nicht wahr?” or “right?”. If you want to sound like a local, or at least make the locals smile when they know you’re not a native, you can always toss in a “gell?” at the end of your conversation.

One American friend of mine, who is married to a German and lives in the northern part of Germany, said that she and her husband both have difficulty understanding Bavarians. Germans from other parts of Germany have told me the same thing and, in fact, often say something like, “Bavarian is like a different language”.

I really am fascinated by how people switch back and forth between Bavarian and German, just as I do between German and English (or French and English, when in a French-speaking situation). I suppose it’s a bit different, because for Bavarians, they have grown up as native speakers of both their local Bavarian dialect and standard German whereas in my case, I’m fluent in German but not a native speaker.

Amusingly, I found this tongue-in-cheek web page claiming to give German-speakers a list of important “Business” Bavarian phrases: http://www.lankuttis.net/bavarian.html
For the translation of “Schmarrn” (“nonsense” or something a bit stronger than that, if you catch my drift) the German phrase given is “da bin ich anderer Meinung” (“I’ve got a different opinion” or “I don’t agree”). Schmarrn, by the way, is a pretty common expression here in Bavaria. It’s not a word I heard much, if at all, when I was an exchange student up in Köln.

Advertisements

Thomahof Farm Visit

One of the many things I love living in Upper Bavaria is that we live in the country and yet we’re just an hour away from the world-class city of Munich.

A few weeks ago, we visited a farm called Thomahof, which is a ten-minute drive from our house.

Griaß God am Thomahof (Greetings at Thomahof)

Beautiful upper Bavarian farm field

I’ve already been back a second time so that I could go to the farm store, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Thomahof farm is truly a typical Upper Bavarian working farm, but the farming family has made their farm very welcoming for a family visit. Our farm visit was a Krabbelgruppe (toddler play group) field trip.

upper Bavarian farm

As we drove to the farm, I explained to Rosebud that we were going to visit some farm animals. She then provided a nice backdrop of farm animal noises and was telling her little brother about the animals we would see. I think that Superdude may have ended up being disappointed that we didn’t see a giraffe, as she had promised, but I digress!

First, we visited the cows in their barn.

Cows eating freshly cut grasses

I liked this poster, which says “Our milk makes Bavaria strong!”

Our milk makes Bavaria strong!

Rosebud enjoyed feeding the cows and was truly giddy to discover that cows have really big tongues. She cackled with delight when they stretched out their tongues to nibble on some grass. I explained to her that cows and other ruminants have four stomachs and they chew their cud, but Rosebud sort of looked at me like, “Oh, whatever, Mom,” and skipped on to the next thing.

Alongside the milk poster in the cow barn were trivia questions geared toward older kids, asking questions like “what kind of grasses are harmful to cows” and “how much milk can the average cow produce”, etc. For the most part, cattle in Bavaria tend to be of the milk-producing variety. As we walked around the farm, it occurred to me just how much the landscape reminds me of upstate New York (where I grew up) and Wisconsin (where I went to Lawrence University), which are also dairy cattle regions. It’s probably not too surprising when I say that Bavaria is known for its cheeses, yogurts and Quark fresh cheese and other dairy products. We are about half an hour from the region called Allgäu which is especially known for its cheese production, particularly Emmentaler, or what we often call Swiss cheese in the US. (Side note: Swiss Emmentaler usually designates Emmentaler from Switzerland, but the name Emmentaler can designate cheese in that style that is produced in Germany, France, etc.).

After visiting the cows and the calves, we visited all the other farm animals (except for the chickens, as they were in their coop).

Sheep may safely graze

A farmhorse

Pigs in the outdoor pen

Rosebud was always delighted when the animals made their noises, as were the other kids in our group.

Oink, oink!

I was wearing Superdude in the baby carrier while walking around the farm. From time to time, he would coo or babble, so I think he got a lot out of the farm visit. Or maybe he was trying to find the promised giraffe…

Toward the end of our visit, all of us walked up a farm path to find a place where we could sit down for a mid-morning snack. There was a large gravel hill, which turned out to be a great climbing hill for Rosebud and some of the slightly older kids.

Farm tractor, of great interest to the kids

Rosebud walks along the farm path

She was so pleased with herself for climbing up to the top.

playing on the gravel pile with the other kids

By the time we finished with our visit and snack, Superdude was exhausted and ready to be home. I had been hoping to visit the farm store, but decided to come back another day.

And so we did this past week, this time with two mama friends of mine and their children. Rosebud was thrilled to see all the animals again, and her favorite animals still seemed to be the cows.

Rosebud reaches for some grasses to give to the cows

However, on this second visit, the chickens were happily strutting about in their indoor pen. (According to a sign, if I understood everything correctly, they were young chickens and not quite ready to strut out in the open area attached to their coop and indoor pen). Rosebud really enjoyed the chickens, which she thought were terribly funny.

Chickens wandering

After visiting all the animals again, I was determined to stop in the farm store. I’m very happy I did. The farm store offered some greens, fresh eggs, a beautiful selection of meat products, freshly baked bread, pasta, jams and cheese. I bought some pasta made from spelt flour and farm eggs, cheese, whole grain spelt bread, oxtail for stewing and cheesy sausage wrapped in bacon called Berner Würstl. I am so excited to know about this farm store, because everything I bought has been amazing (as you’d expect, fresh from the farm). I can’t wait to go back to the store, and I know that Rosebud and Superdude will always be happy to see the animals.

Moooo, cow!

Speaking of animal sounds, many German animal sounds are fairly similar to English ones. For instance, the animal that says “muh” is, of course, a cow. To learn about German animal onomatopoeia, here’s a German-English animal sounds chart.

(For more sound fun, check out this list of Cross-linguistic onomatopoeias.)

Another view of the cow barn