Ausbausprache, Abstandsprache and Dachsprache

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The Ausbausprache – Abstandsprache – Dachsprache (German pronunciation: [ˈaʊsbaʊʃpʁaːxə] - [ˈapʃtantʃpʁaːxə] - [ˈdaxʃpʁaːxə]) framework is a tool in dialectology used by sociolinguists for analysing and categorising the distinctiveness of language varieties that are closely related and often are used by the same society. The terms, which were coined by Heinz Kloss in 1967,[1] are designed to capture the political reality that there are two separate and largely independent sets of criteria and arguments for deeming one variety to be an independent "language" rather than a "dialect": one linguistic, based on its objective structural properties, and the other sociological, based on its social and/or political functions.[citation needed] This framework is intended to deal with situations in which a speech community that is unified politically (e.g. Germany) or culturally (the "German speaking" regions that span several countries, the "Arabic speaking" regions that span dozens of countries) uses multiple dialects that mutually are highly divergent, but the two language varieties are closely related genetically, e.g. different varieties of "German", different varieties of "Arabic". In such areas, there sometimes is a large fraction of the population that adopts the view that the entire community (defined politically and/or culturally) speaks a common language, although it is universally conceded within the same community that many of the members of the community literally can't hold a conversation with each other because of dialect unintelligibility. Again the "German speaking" and "Arabic speaking" worlds provide eminent examples of this belief phenomenon. The theory of abstand and ausbau is not relevant to situations where the two varieties are related only distantly (if at all), e.g. French and German, or Spanish and English. One of the applications of this theoretical framework is language standardisation (examples since ca. 1960 being Basque and Romansh).

The terms are often rendered in English with the German qualifier abstand or ausbau untranslated.


Abstandsprache literally means "distance language". Kloss suggested the English translation "language by distance", referring to linguistic differences rather than geographical separation.[2] Abstand means a distance of ongoing separation, e.g. a clearance by mechanical design. In the context of language varieties, abstand indicates the discontinuity of two dialects; in the words of Kloss, there is a "definite break" between the varieties.[3]

By the criterion of objective grammatical similarity, one language variety is called an abstand language with respect to another language variety if the two are so different from each other that they cannot be considered dialects of the same language. Kloss left unspecified exactly how the differences between two dialects are to be measured objectively. A standard criterion among linguists is mutual intelligibility. By this measure, there is a chasm between Standard Arabic and colloquial Egyptian Arabic.


The core meanings of the verb ausbauen (literally "build out") are to "expand" something or "develop something to completion", e.g. to add to an existing structure. Kloss suggested the English translation "language by development", referring to the development of a standard variety from part of a dialect continuum:[2]

Languages belonging in this category are recognized as such because of having been shaped or reshaped, molded or remolded — as the case may be — in order to become a standardized tool of literary expression.

(Muljačić translated ausbausprache into French as langue par élaboration.[4]) A commonly cited example occurs in the Scandinavian dialect continuum spanning Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The three standardised languages Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish (or four if Norwegian Bokmål and Nynorsk are distinguished) are mutually distinct ausbau languages, even though speakers of the different standards can readily understand each other.

This classification invokes the criterion of social and political functions of language use. The sociolinguist Peter Trudgill has linked Kloss's theoretical framework with Einar Haugen's framework of autonomous language versus heteronomous language, with the finding that a dialect is an ausbau language corresponding to the finding that it is used "autonomously" with respect to other related languages.[5][6] Such a language has an independent cultural status, even though it may be mutually intelligible with other ausbau languages from the same continuum.[7] This typically means that it has its own standardised form independent of neighbouring standard languages, it is typically taught in schools, and it is used as a written language in a wide variety of social and political functions, possibly including that of an official national language. In contrast, varieties that are not ausbau languages are typically only spoken and typically only used in private contexts. Trudgill expands the definition to include related varieties:[7]

an Ausbau language is an autonomous standardised variety together with all the nonstandard dialects from that part of the dialect continuum which are heteronomous with respect to it i.e. dependent on it.

Interrelation of the abstand and ausbau statuses[edit]

A variety may be an abstand language (again, with respect to some other dialect) without being an ausbau language. This is often the case with minority languages used within a larger nation state, where the minority language is used only in private, and all official functions are performed in the majority language. On the other hand, a language may be an ausbau language even when it has little or no abstand from its neighbours, as noted above for Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian. The concept of ausbau is particularly important in cases where the local spoken varieties across a larger region form a dialect continuum. In such cases, the question of where the one language ends and the other starts is often a question more of ausbau than of abstand. In some instances, ausbau languages have been created out of dialects for purposes of nation building. This applies for instance to Luxembourgish vis-a-vis German (the vernaculars in Luxembourg are varieties of Moselle Franconian, which is also spoken in the German sections of the Moselle River valley and neighbouring French département of Moselle). Other examples of groups of vernaculars lacking abstand internally but that have given rise to one or more ausbau languages are: Persian of Iran and Afghanistan (cf. Dari); Bulgarian and Macedonian, because they have different dialect basis. On the contrary, Hindi and Urdu have the same dialect basis; therefore they constitute a pluricentric language.[8] The same is the case with Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin, which also have the same dialect basis (Shtokavian),[9] and consequently constitute four standard variants of the pluricentric Serbo-Croatian language.[10][11][12][13]


Dachsprache has been translated as "roofing language".[14]

A dachsprache is a language form that serves as standard language for different dialects, mostly in a dialect continuum, even though these dialects may be so different that mutual intelligibility is not possible between all dialects, particularly those separated by significant geographical distance. In 1982, "Rumantsch Grischun" was developed by Heinrich Schmid as such a dachsprache for a number of quite different Romansh language forms spoken in parts of Switzerland.[citation needed] Similarly, Euskara Batua (Standard Basque) and the Southern Quechua literary standard were both developed as standard languages for dialect continua that had historically been thought of as discrete languages with many dialects and no "official" dialect.[citation needed] Standard German and Standard Italian, to some extent, function in the same way. Perhaps the most widely used dachsprache is Modern Standard Arabic, which links together the speakers of many different, often mutually unintelligible varieties of Arabic.

Kloss has also used the term pseudo-dialectized abstand language for cases in which a variety is so different from its dachsprache that it ought to be regarded as a separate language on abstand grounds even though social practice does not concur and political recognition may be refused. Examples include[citation needed] Low German vis-à-vis (High) German, Sardinian vis-à-vis Italian, Occitan vis-à-vis French, Gheg Albanian vis-à-vis (Tosk) Albanian, or Maithili vis-à-vis Hindi.

Change of roles over time[edit]

There are several instances of languages and language pairs that have undergone role changes over time. Low German, for instance, was both an ausbausprache and a dachsprache of local dialects in the Netherlands and Germany and in parts of the Baltic states and their formerly German vicinity. With the end of the Hanseatic League, Low German lost its status as an official language to a large degree. Approximately at the same time, Dutch started to replace Low German as a dachsprache of the Low German dialects in the Netherlands that form today's Dutch Low Saxon group, and most Central German dialects went under the "roof" of the evolving High German.[15] Low German ceased to be spoken on the eastern rim of the Baltic Sea. Today, its dialects surviving in northern Germany have come under the dachsprache, Standard German.[citation needed] Local Low German dialects spoken in the Netherlands have come under the dachsprache, Dutch.[15] This happened despite the effect of notable migration streams in both directions between the Western (Dutch) and Eastern (Prussian, now mainly Polish and Russian) areas of the region of the Low German languages, motivated both by religious intolerance and labour need. In several spots along the Dutch–German border, identical dialects are spoken on both sides, but it is deemed to belong to different dachsprachen according to which side of the border it is on.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kloss 1967.
  2. ^ a b Kloss 1967, p. 29.
  3. ^ Kloss 1967, p. 30.
  4. ^ Goebl 1989, p. 278.
  5. ^ Haugen 1966.
  6. ^ Trudgill 2004, pp. 2–3.
  7. ^ a b Trudgill 2004, p. 3.
  8. ^ Dua, Hans Raj (1992). "Hindi-Urdu as a pluricentric language". In Clyne, Michael G. Pluricentric Languages: Differing Norms in Different Nations. Contributions to the sociology of language 62. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 381–400. ISBN 3-11-012855-1. OCLC 24668375. 
  9. ^ Gröschel, Bernhard (2009). Das Serbokroatische zwischen Linguistik und Politik: mit einer Bibliographie zum postjugoslavischen Sprachenstreit [Serbo-Croatian Between Linguistics and Politics: With a Bibliography of the Post-Yugoslav Language Dispute]. Lincom Studies in Slavic Linguistics 34 (in German). Munich: Lincom Europa. p. 451. ISBN 978-3-929075-79-3. LCCN 2009473660. OCLC 428012015. OL 15295665W. 
  10. ^ Blum, Daniel (2002). Sprache und Politik : Sprachpolitik und Sprachnationalismus in der Republik Indien und dem sozialistischen Jugoslawien (1945-1991) [Language and Policy: Language Policy and Linguistic Nationalism in the Republic of India and the Socialist Yugoslavia (1945-1991)]. Beiträge zur Südasienforschung ; vol. 192 (in German). Würzburg: Ergon. p. 200. ISBN 3-89913-253-X. OCLC 51961066. 
  11. ^ Bunčić, Daniel (2008). "Die (Re-)Nationalisierung der serbokroatischen Standards" [The (Re-)Nationalisation of the Serbo-Croatian Standards]. In Kempgen, Sebastian. Deutsche Beiträge zum 14. Internationalen Slavistenkongress, Ohrid, 2008. Welt der Slaven (in German). Munich: Otto Sagner. p. 93. OCLC 238795822. 
  12. ^ Kordić, Snježana (2009). "Plurizentrische Sprachen, Ausbausprachen, Abstandsprachen und die Serbokroatistik" [Pluricentric languages, Ausbau languages, Abstand languages and Serbo-Croatistics]. Zeitschrift für Balkanologie (in German) 45 (2): 210–215. ISSN 0044-2356. Archived from the original on 4 August 2012. Retrieved 9 May 2013. 
  13. ^ Kordić, Snježana (2010). Jezik i nacionalizam [Language and Nationalism]. Rotulus Universitas (in Serbo-Croatian). Zagreb: Durieux. pp. 69–168. ISBN 978-953-188-311-5. LCCN 2011520778. OCLC 729837512. OL 15270636W. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 July 2012. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  14. ^ Muljačić 1993, p. 95.
  15. ^ a b Stellmacher 1981.
  16. ^ Russ 1990.


  • Goebl, Hans (1989), "Quelques remarques relative aux conceptes Abstand und Ausbau de Heinz Kloss", in Ammon, Ulrich, Status and function of languages and language varieties, de Gruyter, pp. 278–290, ISBN 978-0-89925-356-5. 
  • Haugen, Einar (1966), "Dialect, Language, Nation", American Anthropologist 68 (4): 922–935, doi:10.1525/aa.1966.68.4.02a00040, JSTOR 670407. 
  • Kloss, Heinz (1967), "Abstand languages and Ausbau languages", Anthropological Linguistics 9 (7): 29–41, JSTOR 30029461. 
  • Kloss, Heinz (1976), "Abstandsprachen und Ausbausprachen" [Abstand-languages and Ausbau-languages], in Göschel, Joachim; Nail, Norbert; van der Elst, Gaston, Zur Theorie des Dialekts: Aufsätze aus 100 Jahren Forschung, Zeitschrift fur Dialektologie and Linguistik, Beihefte, n.F., Heft 16, Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, pp. 301–322, ISBN 978-3-515-02305-4. 
  • Kordić, Snježana (2004). "Pro und kontra: "Serbokroatisch" heute" [Pro and contra: "Serbo-Croatian" nowadays]. In Krause, Marion; Sappok, Christian. Slavistische Linguistik 2002: Referate des XXVIII. Konstanzer Slavistischen Arbeitstreffens, Bochum 10.-12. September 2002. Slavistishe Beiträge ; vol. 434 (in German). Munich: Otto Sagner. pp. 97–148. ISBN 3-87690-885-X. OCLC 56198470. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 August 2012. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  • Muljačić, Žarko (1993), "Standardization in Romance", in Posner, Rebecca; Green, John N., Bilingualism and Linguistic conflict in Romance, Trends in Romance Linguistics and Philology 5, pp. 77–116, ISBN 978-3-11-011724-0. 
  • Russ, Charles V.J. (1990), The dialects of modern German: a linguistic survey, London: Routledge, ISBN 978-1-136-08676-2. 
  • Stellmacher, Dieter (1981), Niederdeutsch: Formen und Forschungen, Germanistische Linguistik 31, Tübingen: Niemeyer Verlag, ISBN 3-484-10415-5. 
  • Trudgill, Peter (2004), "Glocalisation and the Ausbau sociolinguistics of modern Europe", in Duszak, A.; Okulska, U., Speaking from the margin: Global English from a European perspective, Frankfurt: Peter Lang, pp. 35–49, ISBN 978-0-8204-7328-4. 
  • Wrede, Adam (1999), Neuer Kölnischer Sprachschatz (12th ed.), Köln: Greven Verlag, ISBN 978-3-7743-0243-3. 

External links[edit]

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