Linguistics professor Heike Wiese says “Kiezdeutsch” which roughly translates as “neighbourhood German”, is a mutated, fluid form of high German spoken by urban young people across the country.
Incorporating many foreign words, the slang also simplifies German grammar, but is often dismissed as “ruining the purity of German language,” she said.
Wiese has spent over ten years exploring the language melting pot that is inner-city Germany to collect colourful anecdotes about the street language used by young people.
“Kiezdeutsch” is, in many respects, a more logical spin on a complicated language, despite negative media coverage dismissing it as an incorrect version of German, said the professor from Potsdam University.
Her book “Kiezdeutsch: ein neuer Dialekt entsteht” – (Neighbourhood German – a new dialect arises) – aims to give an in-depth explanation to those left baffled by it, and proffer an argument as to why it holds its own linguistically. It will be published – in high German – in February.
Wiese uses the two letter word “so” as an example. She said that young people use it freely to lend emphasis to a statement – although it is not grammatically accurate, it makes sense.
Another example of “Kiezdeutsch” is “Gestern war ich Schule” (Yesterday I was school) which is grammatically incorrect but accepted and understood by most young people.
One of the teenagers Wiese interviewed for her book was 18-year-old Sharon Wendzich, from Berlin.
Wendzich told Wiese about an incident when she and a group of friends chatting on the street were approached by an elderly couple, one of whom asked them “What are you young people saying nowadays?” They couldn’t understand the “Kiezdeutsch” that the girls were using.
This, said Wiese, suggests that “Kiezdeutsch” should be considered as a dialect in its own right and not a bastardisation of the German language.
Young people can switch it on and off, though. She said none of her young interviewees, “spoke with their teacher in the same way they speak to their friends, unless they are trying to anger an authority figure.”
“Kiezdeutsch”, which differs from city to city, is most common in multicultural areas, where different languages are mixed, said Wiese.
Young people of Turkish or Arabic origin seem to dominate the wannabe-dialect, she said.
Dalia Hibish, a 15-year-old from Berlin, has been working on a language project with Wiese.
She said she spoke mostly Arabic yet the majority of her neighbours are English-speaking and is taught in German – but in the school yard she speaks “Kiezdeutsch” – which for her is a mix of all these language.
“Chatting in “Kiezdeutsch” sometimes is fun” said Madagascar-born Aichat Wendlandt who, like Wendzich and Hibish, is working towards her high school leavers’ Abitur certificate. But she admitted she did not speak it regularly.
While “Kiezdeutsch” crosses multicultural borders easily on the street, it has yet to be accepted in the classroom, as Wendzich discovered after slipping a phrase into her homework by accident. Her teacher wrote “What does this mean?” next to it.
“After eight years in a multicultural school it was bound to happen sometime,” Wendzich told Wiese.