‘Were you born in Berlin?’ I asked her after she sat down next to me. We were both on the train from Berlin. Thrilled to find someone from Australia since she had lived there recently, she was keen to talk.

‘Yes’, she said.

‘So do you speak the Berlin dialect – Berlinerisch?’ I said.

‘Only when I am angry’, she replied. ‘My mother was from outside Berlin, so she made sure that I did not grow up speaking the dialect. But my father, he is from Neukölln and he speaks it well and truly’.

‘But why do you speak it only when angry’, I said.

‘It’s not a good dialect’, she said.

‘But why not?’ I said.

‘It’s a working class dialect’, she said. ‘In the west, it was very much the dialect of the lower class, while the upper class looked down on it’.

‘What about the east?’ I said.

‘There it was the official language, spoken by everyone’, she said.

‘Is that still the case?’ I said.

‘Of course, east and west no longer exist as they did’, she said. ‘But these differences are still present’.

‘Yeah, I guess such deeper differences don’t disappear overnight’, I said. ‘But do you think that’s a result of the emphasis on workers in the communist east? The language of the working class becomes the official language’.

‘I suppose so’, she said. ‘But now that difference, between a capitalist west and communist east, is overlaid by the difference between middle class and working class’.

‘So a double condemnation’, I said. ‘It marks one as either from the old east or from the working class, or both – at least in terms of the ruling class’.

‘Yes’, she said, laughing. ‘But it’s still not a good dialect’.


2 thoughts on “Berlinerisch

  1. You struck a nerve there.
    I have a strong working class accent, not strange cos thats my background.
    And when by some capricious quirk of fate as a young fella I found myself socialising with the upper class in my capital city, meeting and even living wit privately educated rich contemporaries who were the sons and daughters of the movers and shakers, ‘the right people’, they let me know that class exists in Australia and that I was definitely not their equal.
    They had lots of ways of doing so but their favourite was my accent.
    I would guess that at every social event I was with the upper class present someone, or several, would mention my accent, often in a surprised tone ‘What are you doing here/” implied, ask me what school I went to [a rural city technical high] and had I been overseas or had I met famous person so and so and thats a fish knife or perhaps all of the preceding.
    Beautifully done, usually but not always subtle, and always intended to demean.
    it was a strange period in my life.

    Incidentally its a tactic that has been used against PM Julia Gillard.
    I wonder how she feels sometimes.

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