Alsatian language

Elsässerdeutsch, Alsacien
Spoken in  France
Region  Alsace
Total speakers more than 700,000
Language family Indo-European
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2
ISO 639-3 [

Alsatian (Alsatian and Alemannic German: Elsässerditsch (literally Alsatian-German); French: Alsacien; German: Elsässisch or Elsässerdeutsch) is a Low Alemannic German dialect spoken in most of Alsace, a region in eastern France which has passed between French and German control many times.


Linguistic family

Not readily intelligible to speakers of standard German, Alsatian is closely related to other nearby Alemannic dialects, such as Swiss German, Swabian, and Badisch. It is often confused with Lorraine Franconian, a more distantly related Franconian dialect spoken in the far north-east of Alsace and in neighboring Lorraine.

Many speakers of Alsatian would, if pressed, write in reasonable standard German. For most this would be rare and confined to those who have learnt German at school or through work. They would, however, tend to resort always to writing in French, the language in which they have been educated. Dialect is very much reserved for close family and friends. People switch from one to the other, mid conversation or even mid sentence, as required. There are many unwritten rules as to when and where and to whom you should speak dialect. Some dialect speakers are unwilling to speak standard German, at times, to certain outsiders and prefer to use French. In contrast many people living near the border with Basel, Switzerland, will speak their dialect with a Swiss person from that area, as they are mutually understandable for the most part. Some dialect street names in Alsace may use Alsatian spellings (they were formerly displayed only in French but are now bilingual in some places, especially Strasbourg and Mulhouse).


Alsatian has a rather simple set of 14 consonants:

Labial Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop ɡ̊,
Affricate pf ts
Fricative f s ʃ ç
Sonorant ʋ l, ɾ

Two consonants are restricted in their distribution: /kʰ/ only occurs at the beginning of a word or morpheme, and then only if followed immediately by a vowel; /ŋ/ never occurs at the beginning of a word or morpheme.

Alsatian, like many German dialects, has lenited all obstruents but [k]. Its lenes are, however, voiceless as in all Southern German varieties. Therefore, they are here transcribed /b̥/, /d̥/, /ɡ̊/.

As in German, the phoneme /ç/ has a velar allophone [x] after back vowels (/u/, /o/, /ɔ/, and /a/ in those speakers who do not pronounce this as [æ]), and palatal [ç] elsewhere. In southern dialects, there is a tendency to pronounce it /x/ in all positions, and in Strasbourg the palatal allophone tends to conflate with the phoneme /ʃ/.


Short vowels: /ʊ/, /o/, /ɒ/, /a/ ([æ] in Strasbourg), /ɛ/, /ɪ/, /i/, /y/.

Long vowels: /ʊː/, /oː/, /ɒː/, /aː/, /ɛː/, /eː/, /iː/, /yː/


Comparative vocabulary list

English Alsatian High Alemannic Standard German Swabian German dialect Standard French
house Hüüs [hyˑs] Huus Haus Hous maison
loud lüüt [lyˑd̥] luut laut lout bruyant
people Lit [lɪd̥] Lüt Leute Leid gens/peuple
today hit [hɪd̥] Hüt heute heid aujourd'hui
beautiful schen [ʃeːn] schö schön sche beau
Earth Ard [aˑɾd̥] Ärd Erde Erd terre
Fog Nabel [naːb̥l̩] Näbel Nebel Nebl brouillard
water Wàsser [ʋɑsəɾ] Wasser Wasser Wasser eau
man Mànn [mɑˑn] Maa Mann homme
eat assa [asə] ässe essen essa manger
to drink trenka [d̥ɾənɡ̊ə] trinkche trinken trenka boire
little klai [ɡ̊laɪ̯] chlei klein kloi petit, petite
child Kind [kɪnd̥] Chind Kind Kind enfant
day Däi Dag Tag Dàg jour
woman Frài Frou Frau Frau femme

Status of Alsatian in France

The constitution of the Fifth Republic states that French alone is the official language of the Republic. However Alsatian, along with other regional languages, is recognized by the French government in the official list of languages of France. A 1999 INSEE survey counted 548,000 adult speakers of Alsatian in France, making it the second most-spoken regional language in the country (after Occitan). Like all regional languages in France, however, the transmission of Alsatian is on the decline. While 39% of the adult population of Alsace speaks Alsatian, only one child in four speaks it, and only one child in ten uses it regularly.