Changes in the historical lexicon of Bernese Swiss German

Schneider, Christa (26 June 2019). Changes in the historical lexicon of Bernese Swiss German (Unpublished). In: IClave 10. Leeuwarden. 26.-28.06.2019.

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Changes in the Historical Lexicon of Bernese Swiss German

Published between 1962 and 1997, the Atlas of German-speaking Switzerland (SDS) contains more than 1500 linguistic maps depicting dialect phenomena (cf. Baumgartner et al. 1962-1997). Specifically, it also contains data from 1944 on the greater area of Bern where NORMs were mainly taken into account. Since then, only very specific factors of the Bernese Swiss German varieties have been examined (e.g. Hodler 1969 on Bernese German syntax, Marti 1976 on Bernese German grammar more generally, and Siebenhaar 2000 on socially determined variants in the city of Bern), but the dialect has not been examined in its entirety.

I have collected new data for Bern and its greater area using select variables already documented in the SDS, allowing for a direct comparison of linguistic variables collected at different points in time, but with similar elicitation methods. To this end, 20 localities in the greater area of Bern were surveyed, taking into account three different generations (=a younger, middle-aged, and older generation) as well as one professional group (=farmers) for each locality. The aim of this study is to investigate which linguistic variables have undergone change, and then to determine/provide an explanation for the observed changes, or inversely, for the observed linguistic stability. The data collection includes a range of lexical items, which could be considered today as archaic forms/relict forms even though they were documented as very stable variables in the SDS. Very often, the oldest group of speakers still use these items, the middle-generation of speakers has a passive knowledge of them, and the youngest generation of speakers either has no or scant knowledge of them, even if these lexical items designate concepts, which are still present and in use today as the different lexical variants of the word ‘cream’ in examples 1–3 show:

1. Nidle (historical Bernese form)
2. Rahm (modern Bernese form)
3. Sahne (Standard-German form)

As the questionnaire of the study also includes motivation- and identity-related questions, I will in this talk not only focus on the newly emerged changes in the lexicon of Bernese Swiss German, but also look for the speakers' motivation to rename a concept such as cream in the example above. Furthermore, I will also show that the archaic forms should not be considered as lost but to play an important role when speakers of Bernese Swiss German consolidate their linguistic identity. Finally, I will discuss whether these lexical changes have to be considered as an expansion of the lexical field of a certain item or as a semantic shift and I will discuss whether there exist tendencies to choose a variant from other Swiss German dialects or from Standard German when renaming an archaic form.

Baumgartner Heinrich, Hotzenköcherle Rudolf (1962-2003). Sprachatlas der deutschen
Schweiz. Bern, Basel: Francke Verlag

Hodler, Werner (1969). Berndeutsche Syntax. Bern: Francke Verlag

Marti, Werner (1985). Berndeutsch-Grammatik für die heutige Mundart zwischen Thun und Jura. Bern: A. Francke

Siebenhaar Beat, Stäheli Fredy, Ris Roland (2000). Stadtberndeutsch : Sprachporträts aus der Stadt Bern. Murten: Licorne-Verlag

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Other Institutions > Walter Benjamin Kolleg (WBKolleg) > Digital Humanities
06 Faculty of Humanities > Other Institutions > Walter Benjamin Kolleg (WBKolleg)
06 Faculty of Humanities > Other Institutions > Walter Benjamin Kolleg (WBKolleg) > Center for the Study of Language and Society (CSLS)

Graduate School:

Graduate School of the Humanities (GSH)

UniBE Contributor:

Schneider, Christa


400 Language
400 Language > 410 Linguistics
400 Language > 430 German & related languages




Christa Schneider

Date Deposited:

14 Apr 2021 10:42

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:50




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