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|2 million (1998)|
Central German dialects
Upper Saxon (8)
Upper Saxon (German: Obersächsisch, pronounced ['o:bz?ks]; Upper Saxon: [?:b?o?'ss?]) is an East Central German dialect spoken in much of the modern German State of Saxony and in the adjacent parts of Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. Linguistically speaking, it is a "regiolect" or "regional vernacular" rather than a dialect in the strict sense. Though colloquially called "Saxon" (Sächsisch), it is not to be confused with the Low Saxon dialect group in Northern Germany. Upper Saxon is closely linked to the Thuringian dialect spoken in the adjacent areas to the west.
The Upper Saxon dialect evolved as a new variety in the course of the medieval German Ostsiedlung (eastern colonisation) from about 1100 onwards. Settlers descending from the stem duchies of Saxony, Franconia, Bavaria as well as Thuringia and Flanders, moved into the Margravate of Meissen between the Elbe and Saale rivers, formerly populated by Polabian Slavs. As the colonists belonged to different German tribes, speaking different dialects, Upper Saxon became an intermediary, koiné dialect (Kolonialdialekt or Ausgleichsdialekt), having less distinct features than the older, more original dialects.
Upper Saxon dialect needs to be distinguished from the "chancery language" of Saxony (Meißner Kanzleisächsisch). This was the official, literary language of the Margravate of Meissen (respectively the Electorate of Saxony after 1423), replacing Latin as the language of administrators during the period of Renaissance humanism (15th to 16th century). It was less influenced by Upper German features than the Habsburg chancery language, and thus intelligible to speakers of both Upper and Low German dialects. In the context of the Bible translation by Martin Luther, it played a large part in the development of the Early New High German language as a standard variety.
Due to the influence and prestige of the Electorate of Saxony during the Baroque era (17th to 18th century), and especially its role as a focal point of artists and scientists, the language of the Upper Saxon elite (but not of its ordinary people) was considered the exemplary variant of German during that period. The literary theorist Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700-1766), who spent most of his adult life in Leipzig, considered Saxony's upper-class speech as the guiding form of standard German. When Johann Christoph Adelung (1732-1806) published his High German dictionary (Grammatisch-kritisches Wörterbuch der hochdeutschen Mundart), he made clear that "High German"--to him--meant the parlance of educated Upper Saxons. He claimed that the Upper Saxon variety was to the German language what Attic was to Greek and Tuscan to Italian. One motive of the parents of German national poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832; a native of Frankfurt) to send him to study in Leipzig was to adopt a more sophisticated language.
With Saxony's loss of political power after the Seven Years' War (1756-63), its dialect lost prestige as well. In 1783, philosopher Johann Erich Biester, residing in the Prussian capital of Berlin, rated the "unpleasant singsong" and "highly peculiar confusion of b and p, of d and t"--even among upper-class speakers--"very crude".
According to linguist Beat Siebenhaar, Upper Saxon dialect--defined as a cohesive linguistic system with its own, clear rules for pronunciation, word formation and syntax--became largely extinct during the second half of the 19th to early 20th century. Since then, (Upper) Saxon merely refers to a colloquial, regional variety of Standard German and not a dialect in the proper sense.
Spoken by leading communists descending from the Central German industrial area like Walter Ulbricht, the Upper Saxon dialect was commonly perceived as the colloquial language of East Germany by West German citizens and up to today is a subject of numerous stereotype jokes. The mildly derogatory verb sächseln means to speak with a Saxon accent.
The most notable distinguishing feature of the dialect is that the letters o and u are pronounced as centralized vowels ([?] and [?], respectively, when short; [?:] and [?:], respectively, when long). Speakers of other German dialects that do not have these sounds tend to perceive these sounds as being ö [ø:] and ü [y:] respectively. For example, they hear ['?:ma] 'grandma' as if written Öma (Standard Oma ['o:ma]). Front rounded vowels are pronounced as non-rounded (ö = [e:], ü = [i:]). Final -er is pronounced [o?] (or similarly, depending on the subdialect), which speakers of other German dialects tend to hear as [o:]; e.g. ['he:o] 'higher' (Standard ['hø:] höher) is misheard as if written he(h)o.
The Upper Saxon dialects outside the Ore Mountains can be easily recognized by the supposed "softening" (lenition) of the voiceless stop consonants /p/, /t/ and /k/. Speakers of other dialects hear these as if they were "b", "d" and "g" respectively. In reality, these are merely non-aspirated versions of the same /p/, /t/ and /k/, a widespread feature among Central German dialects, as opposed to strongly aspirated [p?], [t?] and [k?] in dominant German dialects.
The degree of accent varies from place to place, from a relatively mild accent in the larger cities such as Dresden, Chemnitz or Leipzig to a stronger form in rural areas, depending on the grade of the High German consonant shift: