up2date. Das Onlinemagazin der Universtiät Bremen

“Bremer Schnack:” Do You Speak the Bremen Dialect Yet?

An encounter with the Bremen vernacular from a linguistic perspective.

University & Society / Starting Your Degree

Shall we walk around the custard, “up’n Swutsch,” or go coffee-ing? Have you just moved to Bremen and don’t understand a word of it? Don’t worry, it’s the same for many people new to Bremen. up2date. asked the linguist and Bremen native Dr. phil. Andreas Jäger what the Bremen dialect means to him.

You will most likely encounter the following terms in your day-to-day life in Bremen:

The sign with the hashtag MOIN is located in Bremen’s
Bild 1/19 Moin – Good morning, good day! (you also say this in the evening, basically at any time of day)
© Lena Wenke / Universität Bremen
Two young men are sitting on a sofa and are having a conversation.
Bild 2/19 Schnacken / wir müssen mal wieder schnacken - to speak, talk, chat / would be great to catch up again
© Adobe Stock / zinkevych
A cappuccino cup sits on a table with a slice of apple pie in the background
Bild 3/19 Kaffeesieren – to go for a coffee [literally: coffee-ing]
© Adobe Stock / Vitaliy Hrabar
A post-it note with a question mark against a blue background
Bild 4/19 Nech? – can be attached to the end of a sentence and means “doesn’ it?” or “right?””
© Adobe Stock / ytemha34
Bremen’s market square with Bremen Town Hall, Bremen Cathedral, and the Bremen Parliament
Bild 5/19 Bremen und umzu – Bremen and its immediate surrounding area
© Adobe Stock / Mikhail Markovskiy
The Schütting House located on Bremen's market square
Bild 6/19 Buten un binnen – outside and inside (based on the motto of the Bremen merchants “buten un binnen – wagen un winnen,” which translates to “out and in – dare and win”)
Butenbremer – former Bremen resident
© Lena Wenke / Universität Bremen
Two hands intertwined
Bild 7/19 Da nich für – You’re welcome. (No problem.)
© Adobe Stock / Prostock-Studio
A small vanilla pudding sits on a plate and is covered with caramel sauce
Bild 8/19 Um’n Pudding gehen – to go for a walk around the block [literally: to walk around the custard]
© Adobe Stock / Peter
The Sielwall intersection in Bremen in the evening.
Bild 9/19 Wollen wir up’n Swutsch – to paint the town red
© Lena Wenke / Universität Bremen
Gray cozy slippers with fur trim.
Bild 10/19 Puschen – slippers / Komm in die Puschen – Hurry up! [literally: jump into your slippers]
© Adobe Stock / vasanty
An elderly woman holds her cell phone to her ear, looking confused
Bild 11/19 Tüdelich – awkward, confused, clumsy / Jemanden betüdeln – to look after someone caringly
© Adobe Stock / Yakobchuk Olena
A piece of chewing gum sticks to the sole of a sneaker
Bild 12/19 Das backt – it is sticky
© Adobe Stock / lufeethebear
A Golden Retriever puppy and a baby cat snuggle up under a blanket
Bild 13/19 Lütsch – little / Nen Lüttschen heben – to drink a shot
© Adobe Stock / Ermolaev Alexandr
Coffee spills out of a fallen coffee cup onto the light-colored carpet
Bild 14/19 Plörre – weak coffee that doesn’t taste good / Ich hab geplörrt – I spilled something
© Adobe Stock / Pixelot
Five wrapped peppermint sticks in red and white paper sit on a table
Bild 15/19 Bremer Babbeler – candy stick with herbs (Bremen specialty) / Halt den Babbel – Shut up!
© Lena Wenke / Universität Bremen
A young man stands in front of the Mensa cafeteria, a cotton bag with the University of Bremen logo hanging over his shoulder. He greets two female students coming out of the Mensa cafeteria.
Bild 16/19 Büddel – cotton or jute bag
© Matej Meza / Universität Bremen
Rain on the window and blurred houses in the background
Bild 17/19 Wat für’n Schmuddelwedder – Such bad weather!
© Lena Wenke / Universität Bremen
A man in a scarf and hat stands freezing in the living room, hugging himself.
Bild 18/19 Frostködel – someone who quickly feels cold
© Adobe Stock / Catalin Pop
Two young women embrace each other affectionately
Bild 19/19 Lass dich knuddeln – Let me give you a hug!
© Adobe Stock / fizkes

Mr. Jäger, do you consider such terms and phrases to be typical for Bremer Schnack (Bremen vernacular)?

From a linguistic perspective, this would be a little too simple. These are terms you are likely to encounter in dictionaries such as “Sprechen Sie Bremisch?” (Do you speak the Bremen Dialect?) or similar literature. But this fact alone does not say anything about how often the terms are actually used. I grew up in Bremen and I know the phrases and terms above, but I find it difficult to label them as unique to Bremen. I would say they originate in the North German regiolect, that means the way of speaking that would be recognized everywhere as distinctly North German dialect. At least, you cannot exclusively assign the terms to the Bremen urban area only.

Can you tell us more about the North German regiolect?

It originated from the fact that the North German Plain was originally an area with a lot of variation within the Low German dialect. Until the 16th century, only Low German was spoken here, and even the written language and all matters of public life were regulated in Low German as a matter of course. Due to power relations, High German then entered the region and a mixture of languages took place, referred to as “Missingsch.” Nowadays, by the way, the vast majority of people in Northern Germany speak a variety of Standard German, which has established itself because official people with charisma spoke it and it was associated with prestige. The fact that High German established itself more quickly in the cities can be explained by the circumstance that more people with influence lived there than in the countryside. In addition, cities have always been melting pots. This is still true today and explains why Low German is spoken almost exclusively by people who live in the countryside.

How can I tell where someone comes from based on the differences within their regiolect?

You can trigger this via self-reflection when you notice that people speak differently – perhaps not fundamentally differently, just slightly. If you come from Southern Germany, for example, you probably wouldn’t hear the linguistic differences between people from Hamburg and Bremen. But anyone local to the region can hear the subtle differences. It’s a matter of proximity. The closer you are, the more you will notice varieties; it’s a listening habit. We often detect differences through phonetic markers that recur frequently. In Bremen and west of it, if you go you somewhere, you go “rübo,” (the last sound is more like the “o” in pot or north) in Hamburg, it sounds like “rüba,” (like in “at”), but the latter is also said in Rostock or Kiel. Thus, dialect boundaries are never determined by city or geographical boundaries. Nevertheless, for the sake of simplicity, conspicuous features, such as those in the phonetic area, are often associated with the largest city in the area. This gives rise to notions of a city-specific language, such as Bremer Schnack.

“My personal definition of Bremer Schnack would be: The set of all expressions where the greatest or an exclusive understanding is guaranteed within Bremen only.”

How would you characterize the Bremen vernacular from a linguistic perspective?

I have noticed that many people who do not deal intensively with language are usually not aware of the importance language has and how much identity it creates. Many people have a definite opinion about “right or wrong language” based on something they have picked up somewhere. But who defines this? Language is not a codified standard and therefore there can be no “wrong” or “right” version. On the other hand, there are many linguistic terms that people have associations with, but that no one can actually define. I think it’s the same in terms of the Bremen dialect. My personal definition of Bremer Schnack would be: The set of all expressions where the greatest or an exclusive understanding is guaranteed within Bremen only.

That is very abstract. What exactly does that mean and can you give examples of terms and phrases included in this definition?

I am talking about terms and phrases that you can usually only understand if you come from Bremen. There are only a few altogether. I would include, for example, everything involving urban traditions that have become verbalized. One example is the phrase “Ischa Freimaak” (After all, it’s Freimarkt!), which refers to an Bremen institution: the Freimarkt funfair. The word amalgamation “ischa” instead of “ist ja” (after all, it is), however, can also be found around Bremen. If you are new to Bremen, you will probably have problems understanding some local expressions referring to things and places in the city that you are not familiar with at the beginning. It can be difficult, for example, if someone wants to meet you at the “Parrot House” (the high-rise building near the central station with the colorful window frames) or at the “upside-down chest of drawers” (the old water reservoir on the Stadtwerder). City-specific terms also include culinary specialties, such as Bremer Knipp (sausage), Bremer Klaben (fruit bread), Schnoor Kuller (filled nut meringues), or Bremer Babbeler (candy stick with herbs). However, Knipp also exists in the area surrounding Bremen.

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