There is a lot of regional variation within Bernese German dialects. However, with the increasing importance of the big agglomeration of Bern, the variety of Bern is spreading out, levelling the old village dialects.
- The patrician Bernese German of the high society. It has neither l-vocalisation nor nd-velarisation, it does not employ the alveolar trill but the French uvular trill, and it has more French loanwords than the other varieties.
- The variety of the native city population.
- The varieties of the countryside people who moved into the city.
- The variety of the – generally poor – people living in the part of the old town called Matte, known as Mattenenglisch (Matte-English), even though it has little relation with English, but has a number of loans from Jenisch, Rotwelsch and Yiddish. In addition to it, there was also a special kind of Pig Latin which is the proper Mattenenglisch according to some people.
Bernese German is distinguished from other Swiss German dialects by the following characteristics:
- The shortening of many high vowels, e.g. Zyt [tsit], Lüt [lyt], lut [lut] instead of Ziit [tsiːt], Lüüt [lyːt], luut [luːt] (Standard German Zeit, Leute, laut; 'time', 'people', 'loud').
- The vocalisation of l, e.g. Haue [hɑwwə], Esu [ɛsu] instead of Halle, Esel ('hall', 'donkey'). This has led to a huge repertoire of diphthongs and triphthongs.
- The change of nd to ng, e.g. angers [ɑŋːərs] instead of anders [ɑnd̥ərs] ('different'). The many words ending with -ng created the joke that Bernese sounds almost like Chinese: "Schang chum hey d'Ching wei Hung" [ʃɑŋː χʊm hɛj kχiŋː ʋɛj hʊŋg̊] ("Schang (Jean) come home, the kids want honey(bread)")
- Words such as Fleisch [flɛjʃ] ‘flesh’ and Oug [ɔwg̊] ’eye’ are pronounced with the diphthongs /ei/ and /ou/, and not /aɪ/ and /aʊ/.
As in other Western Swiss German dialects and as in French, the polite form of address is the second person plural and not the third person plural as in German.
A lot of the vocabulary known as typical to Bernese German comes from the Mattenenglisch, e.g. Gieu 'boy', Modi 'girl'. The best known shibboleths of Bernese German may be the words äuä 'no way' or 'probably', (j)ieu 'yes', geng (or ging, gäng) 'always'. Bernese typically say mängisch for the German manchmal (sometimes). An often used word at the end of a sentence is a question tag, "gäu" (2nd person singular) or "gäuet" (2nd person plural, polite form) meaning 'isn't it?', whereas other Swiss German dialects prefer "oder", like 'or what?'.
Bernese German literature
Although Bernese German is mainly a spoken language (for writing, the standard German language is used), there is a relatively extensive literature which goes back to the beginnings of the 20th century.
Bernese German music
Many Bernese German songs have become popular all over the German speaking part of Switzerland, especially those of Mani Matter. This may have influenced the development of Bernese German rock music, which was the first Swiss German rock music to appear and continues to be one of the most important ones.
- Otto von Greyerz, Ruth Bietenhard: Berndeutsches Wörterbuch ISBN 3-305-00255-7 Bernese vocabulary
- Werner Marti: Berndeutsch-Grammatik ISBN 3-305-00073-2 Bernese grammar