Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Kiezdeutsch: A New Way to Speak German?

Warning:  This post makes more sense if you know a little German. Nevertheless, I hope this post is enjoyable to non-German speakers as well. 

Like all languages, German has its share of slang and dialects. One of the first things I encountered in Berlin is the prevalence of non-standard German spoken throughout the city. At school, non-Germans learn Hochdeutsch or standard German. However, when actually living in Germany, it adds interest if you have some familiarity with non-standard German, especially if you want to make sense of the language of the urban youth. 

Kiezdeutsch is the language spoken by many young people living in multi-ethnic communities in Berlin such as Kreuzberg, a neighborhood not far from where I live. "Kiez" is a word common in Berlin that means a district within a neighborhood. Thus, Kiezdeutsch literally means "Neighborhood German." Kiezdeutsch is a kind of German "jive."

I first encountered Kiezdeutsch at the Kreuzberg U-bahn station. I overheard a young German tell her mother on a cell phone, "Ich geh jetzt Karstadt" instead of "Ich gehe jetzt zu Karstadt" (I'm going to Karstadt [Department Store]). During the same conversation she also said, "Ich bin Kotti" (meaning "I'm Kotti"). At first, I thought her name was "Kotti," but in context, I eventually realized that the young woman had meant to say, "Ich bin an der Kottbusser Tor U-bahn." (I am at the Kottbusser Tor Subway station.)

I often hear Kiezdeutsch on the streets, in shops and on the subway. Most people assume that speakers of Kiezdeutsch are immigrants or their children. But that's not necessarily true. Kiezdeutsch is spoken by many urban city dwellers, including young people of German origin, and is often portrayed in movies as menacing jargon. 

Most experts agree that Kiezdeutsch is not a dialect, but a style of speaking. In Kiezdeutsch, word order is less strict. You often hear phrases like: "Morgen ich geh Kino," instead of "Morgen gehe ich ins Kino"(Tomorrow, I will go to the movies).

Also, articles or endings of words are often dropped. For example,"musstu" is derived from "du muss" meaning "you should." Words also get combined and shortened. "Es gibt" (there is) becomes "gibs," and "lass uns mal" (let us) becomes "lassma." Kiezdeutsch also borrows many Arabic and Turkish words. 

Listening and even understanding this form of urban speech adds yet another facet to your Berlin experience. 

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