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Do you speak Alps?

Oct 04, 2021 / Michael Gams, CIPRA International
A different dialect in every community: the linguistic diversity of the Alps is fascinating and constantly changing, which also makes it interesting for linguists. Using modern methods such as crowdsourcing, a research project is collecting dialect words across the Alps for a digital, living lexicon.
Image caption:
Not all water is the same: people from all Alpine regions can contribute their regional dialect terms to VerbaAlpina.

For some, a mountain is a “Munt”, for others a “Moutanye”, a “Grič” or a “Mut”. Dialects play an essential role in communication in the Alpine region; hardly anyone there speaks a high-level language in everyday life. Since 2014, the VerbaAlpina project of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich has been investigating and digitising this diversity of dialects and languages. Over several phases, the project team has been collecting dialect terms on topics such as Alpine farming, landscape, weather, flora, fauna, ecology and tourism. On the one hand, these can be found in language atlases and dictionaries, while on the other VerbaAlpina also uses crowdsourcing. Every dialect speaker in the Alpine region can take part. The online survey revolves around one central question: What do people say about a certain term in their own community?

How many dialects are there in the Alpine region? It's impossible to quantify, says linguist Beatrice Colcuc: “Actually, every community in the Alps speaks its own dialect”. VerbaAlpina currently lists 126 dialects, but more could be added at any time. Dialects differ from official national languages only in their status in society, according to Thomas Krefeld, one of the two project leaders: “Each dialect is a language complete in itself”. An interactive map of the Alps illustrates this diversity of dialect words and, in the digital “Lexicon Alpinum”, you can find the corresponding dialect words for “mountain” and more than 16,000 other terms within seconds. The project team has high expectations: “The Lexicon Alpinum should be just as stable and reliable as books used to be”.


Further information and online survey: (de, fr, it, sl, rg, en)