Region 8: Western Europe

Welcome to Western Europe

Hi, I am Gosia Cavar and today I will take you and the LINGUIST List crew to Southern Germany. If you think that Southern Germany is linguistically boring, you cannot be more wrong. German dialects can be traced back to different Germanic tribes - they are often hardly intelligible for someone who knows only Standard German.The Alemannic dialects are spoken from Swabia, over Baden-Württemberg in Southern Germany to Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, and western parts of Austria; Austro-Bavarian dialects are spoken - no surprise here - in Bavaria and Austria, but also in South Tyrol and parts of Switzerland.

Frankfurt am Main is a great starting point to our visit in Germany; it’s a historical city which happens to be the financial capital of continental Europe, and also a main European transit airport. For linguists, an important point on the route will be Goethe Universität Frankfurt, with its library holding the biggest in Germany collection of linguistic literature.

When in Frankfurt, you should not miss the historical city hall (Römer), the Frankfurt cathedral, and historical St. Paul’s church.

When you finally get hungry, try local cuisine: “Handkäs mit Musik” (literally: cheese with music) - German regional sour milk cheese, topped with chopped onions and vinegar, and “Grüne Söße” (“green sauce”) - a sauce made with hard-boiled eggs, oil, vinegar, salt, and seven fresh herbs, including borage, sorrel, garden cress, chervil, chives, parsley, and salad burnet. The local drink is “Apfelwein” - called in Frankfurt "Ebbelwoi", "Äppler" or "Stöffsche", apple wine with a low alcohol content and a tart, sour taste. It is served in traditional thick glass tumblers.

Day Trip 1: Lake Konstanz

Where to land:

Friedrichshafen, Germany



  • Alemannic
  • Volapük (a constructed language, designed in the late 19th century by Johann Martin Schleyer, a Catholic priest who lived in Litzelstetten, a - nowadays - suburb of Konstanz.

Bodensee (Lake Konstanz) area is a favorite holiday destination with beautiful nature, stunning views on the Swiss Alps, and multiple historical attractions. The city of Konstanz itself is worth visiting for its Altstadt (Old City), and the Münster (the cathedral) - among others. Although the area was inhabited before the Roman conquest, the name of the city, originally Constantia, comes either from the Roman emperor Constantius Chlorus, who fought the Alemanni in the region and built a fortress around 300 AD, or from his grandson Constantius II, who visited the region in 354. The remains of the late Roman fortress were discovered in 2003 under the cathedral square. Konstanz was also the stage of the Council of Constance, during which, on 6 July 1415, Jan Hus was burned at the stake. The 15th-century Council is commemorated by the 1993-erected statue of Imperia, a courtesan: located at the entrance to the harbour, the curvaceous figure holds a naked Emperor and Pope in her hands.

The University of Konstanz is also a home to an interesting linguistics center, with colleagues working in psycholinguistics, language acquisition, semantics, and syntax, among others.

The area of the Lake Konstanz was inhabited since the stone age. An impressive reconstruction of a settlement from the stone and bronze age is located in Unteruhldingen.

In Meeresburg on the Lake Konstanz, you can see the oldest constantly inhabited medieval castle in Germany; the oldest part of the castle was build some time in the 7th century, according to the tradition, in year 630 by the Merovingian king Dagobert I.

Friedrichshafen, another city on the Lake Konstanz is famous as the home of Zeppelin airships. In the late 1800s, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin developed a cigar-shaped rigid airship powered by gas. The first model was launched in 1900 and passenger flights to America followed. In 1937, a Zeppelin airship Hindenburg exploded on landing in New Jersey, killing 36 out of 97 passengers onboard. The Hindenburg disaster, broadly covered by the news at the time, marked the end of the Zeppelin flights era. The Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, among others, hosts a small 33m reconstruction of the Hindenburg, and offers Zeppelin trips (now using non-inflammable gas).

Finally, go and see a sea of flowers, a jewel of the art of gardening, the park on the island of Mainau.

After a day of sightseeing, try excellent local wines, Käsespätzle - a type of noodles served with cheese and roasted onion, or Maultaschen - pasta “bags” filled with a delicious hearty filling.

See you at our next stop!

Day Trip 2: Ruhr region, Duesseldorf and Cologne

Where to land:

Duesseldorf, Germany



  • Kölsch

Rich in natural resources, since the Middle Ages situated on an important trading route, since the 18th century Ruhrgebiet became THE center of coal mining and steel industry in Europe. Now the coal mines and steel furnaces closed, and the area offers visitors tours featuring a mixture of medieval churches, and castles on the one hand, and sights of industrial history of the 19th and 20th centuries, on the other hand. An absolute highlight in the area is the gothic Cologne Cathedral, a World Heritage sight. World-famous is also carnival in Cologne. One can also visit a big archeological museum with changing exhibitions at the site where the most famous Neanderthal man fossil has been discovered.

When I am in Dortmund, I always go for “pommes spezial”: French fries served with ketchup, mayonnaise and diced onion. The national drink of the area is, of course, beer.

Thanks for following us on our global adventure! See you at the next stop!

Featured Linguists

Neil Smith, Featured Linguist

University College London

It all began at secondary school when I specialised in languages – French, German and Latin – simply because the man teaching French and German (Leonard Priestley) was an inspiration. Reading Voltaire’s Zadig was an excuse to discuss astronomy and the nature of the senses; studying Molière led to ruminations on hypochondria. Syllabus? What syllabus? So I went to Cambridge (UK) and read ‘Modern and Medieval languages’.

In my final year I had to select five optional subjects (out of some 77) to be examined on. I had chosen the History of the French Language, the History of the German Language, German Literature before 1500, Vulgar Latin & Romance Philology, and was about to put down German Literature in the 20th century, when a friend asked if I knew what ‘Linguistics’ was. After we had agreed that neither of us had the slightest idea, he persuaded me to join him in adding it as our final option. So in October 1960 we enrolled on John Trim’s course on “The Principles of Linguistics”, and I have been hooked ever since.

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Jost Gippert, Featured Linguist

“Buenos dias”, “buenas noches” – this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French – there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. The first foreign language I had to learn “officially”, in secondary school, was Latin – fascinating as well, not so much for its sounds (as nobody “spoke” it) but for its structure, with case endings, perfect subjunctives, and the accusativus cum infinitivo. Then, when I was eleven years old, my father gave me a textbook of Russian he had received for evaluation (as a school teacher of German, so it made no sense for him). Yet another fascinating experience: first, I had to deal with a different script here (actually, not for the first time, I had learned the Greek alphabet long before, but not so much the language); and second, the textbook came along with a disc which contained the first five or so lessons, spoken by well articulating native speakers (of course there were no “normal” Russian speaking people around on our side of the Iron Curtain then) – I still have their voices in my ears today after listening to them for many hours in those times. Finally, when I was 15 years old, I had the opportuny to apply what I had learned from the discs, on a one-week trip to Moscow, which turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments in my “early linguistic career”: I had to realize that the “stagy” pronunciation of the speakers on the disc (presumably all elder emigrants from Tzarist St. Petersburg) had barely anything in common with the colloquial Muscovite slang with all its vowel reductions etc. I was confronted with on that trip. Nevertheless, I did not give up – after four days I had accustomed myself to that sufficiently for an intriguing conversation with a young lady of my age (whom I never met again, alas!).

It all began at secondary school when I specialised in languages – French, German and Latin – simply because the man teaching French and German (Leonard Priestley) was an inspiration. Reading Voltaire’s Zadig was an excuse to discuss astronomy and the nature of the senses; studying Molière led to ruminations on hypochondria. Syllabus? What syllabus? So I went to Cambridge (UK) and read ‘Modern and Medieval languages’.

Read More

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