The Tyrolean dialects are spoken in Austria, in the Bundesland Tirol, in the Swiss municipality of Samnaun, and in Italy in the Autonomous Province of Bozen-Südtirol/Bolzano-Alto Adige (South Tyrol). They belong to the larger group of the Southern Bavarian dialects. As there are considerable linguistic differences across the valleys, the Tyrolean dialects can be divided into a western, a central and an eastern subgroup. It makes little sense to speak of a ‘South Tyrolean’ dialect, since there are no significant linguistic features that divide Tyrolean dialects into a northern and southern subgroup – a fact highlighted by many maps of the Tyrolean Linguistic Atlas (Tirolischer Sprachatlas).

The west-east differences are present in the pronunciation, but also in other parts of the system of the dialects. For example, in the Vinschgau/Val Venosta valley, there exists a different pronominal system from the one found in the central and eastern dialects of South Tyrol.

While in the majority of the Tyrolean dialects (and standard German), there is an overt distinction between nominative/accusative case forms on the one hand and dative case forms on the other, this is not always the case. Many of the Vinschgau dialects have a system in which the nominative, the accusative, and the dative cases share a single form. This means that, for example, the third person plural pronoun (sie ‘they’ in standard German) no longer has a separate dative form (in the other dialects the dative form is imen, imenen, imile, or ihnen ‘(to) them’). Instead, there is just one case-neutral form: sui. The map shows the geographical distribution of this feature across South Tyrol (cf. Kruijt 2022, p. 95).

In other parts of the pronoun system, there is often the loss of the accusative form (i.e., mich ‘me’, dich ‘you’), where speakers instead use the dative form (i.e., mir, dir) for the direct-object function, too. The process of cases combining in form is called syncretism, and it is a linguistic process that takes place in many German dialects and which has also taken place in Standard German in the past (e.g. compared to older language stages like Old High German).

AlpiLinK considers the Tyrolean dialects of the province of Bozen-Südtirol/Bolzano-Alto Adige, not the Tyrolean dialects in Austria. In South Tyrol the Tyrolean dialects are used in almost all functional domains except the most formal ones, for which standard German is used, which is also the language of schooling. However, in contrast to the diglossia situation in Switzerland, in South Tyrol standard German is sometimes spoken, not only written (cf. Ciccolone & Franceschini 2015, pp. 459-460). In the province of Bozen-Südtirol/Bolzano-Alto Adige, standard German has the status of an official language, equivalent to Italian, and is protected by the Autonomy Statute. The Tyrolean dialects have no official status. Nevertheless, 93% of the German-speaking South Tyroleans report that they can express themselves fluently in the dialect (ASTAT 2015, p. 137). These numbers clearly show that the Tyrolean dialects are by no means endangered, but rather thriving speech varieties, which are actively used across all generations and social groups.


Further reading

  • Glück, Alexander, Mara Maya Victoria Leonardi & Claudia Maria Riehl (2019): Südtirol. In Beyer, Rahel & Albrecht Plewnia (eds.): Handbuch des Deutschen in West- und Mitteleuropa. Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto, pp. 245-280.
  • Rabanus, Stefan (2019): Tedesco. 3. Tedesco in Alto Adige. In Thomas Krefeld & Roland Bauer (eds.) (2019): Lo spazio comunicativo dell’Italia e delle varietà italiane, Versione 67. Korpus im Text.
  • Rabanus, Stefan, Ermenegildo Bidese & Silvia Dal Negro (2019): Deutsch als Minderheitensprache in Italien. In Joachim Herrgen & Jürgen Erich Schmidt (eds.): Sprache und Raum. Ein internationales Handbuch der Sprachvariation. Vol. 4: Deutsch. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton, pp. 1096-1114.
  • Scheutz, Hannes (ed.) (2016): Insre Sproch. Deutsche Dialekte in Südtirol. Mit dem ersten ‘Sprechenden Sprachatlas’ auf CD-ROM. Bolzano-Bozen: Athesia.
  • Tirolischer Sprachatlas = Klein, Karl Kurt & Ludwig Erich Schmitt (eds.) (1965–1971): Tirolischer Sprachatlas. Unter Berücksichtigung der Vorarbeiten Bruno Schweizers bearbeitet von Egon Kühebacher. 3 vols. Marburg: Elwert/Innsbruck: Tyrolia. A part of the maps is freely accessible online via REDE SprachGIS, see the overview here.