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Title: Ausbausprache  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Sociolinguistics, Ulster Scots dialects, Dialectology
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The Ausbausprache – Abstandsprache – Dachsprache (German pronunciation: [ˈaʊsbaʊˌʃpʁaːxə] - [ˈapʃtantˌʃpʁaːxə] - [ˈdaxˌʃpʁaːxə]) 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. This theory is intended to deal with situations in which a speech community which 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 which 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 Romansch).


The German linguist Kloss, writing in English, suggested these capsule translations of two terms coined by him: abstandsprache = 'language by [virtue of] distance' and ausbausprache = 'language by [virtue of] development'.[2] The terms are often rendered in English with the German qualifier abstand or ausbau untranslated. Abstandsprache may be translated as 'gap language' or 'rift language'. 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] The core meanings of the verb ausbauen (literally 'build out') are 'expand' something or 'develop something to completion', e.g. to add to an existing structure. Kloss elaborated: "languages belonging in this category are recognized as such because of having been shaped or reshaped, molded or remolded". With these explanations, the concept of ausbausprache can be understood as follows: a dialect B is deemed to be of a different "language" from a dialect A by virtue of having been further developed; succinctly, an elaborated language. (Muljačić translated ausbausprache into French as 'langue par élaboration'.[4]) An example of the distinction is provided by Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish.[5] In each of the three countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, there are several vernacular varieties spoken. In their linguistic structure, most of these vernaculars really constitute one big language across the three countries (in most instances there is no gulf (abstand), no definite break, between any pair of them). On the other hand, the three standardised languages "Norwegian", "Swedish", and "Danish" are mutually distinct ausbau languages (cultivated languages).

Dachsprache has been translated as 'roofing language'.[6]


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.


This classification invokes the criterion of social and political functions of language use. The sociolinguist Trudgill has posited a convergence between Kloss's theoretical framework and Einar Haugen's framework of "autonomous language" versus "heteronomous language", whereby the finding that a dialect is an ausbau language corresponds to the finding that it is used "autonomously" with respect to other related languages.[5] 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.

Interrelation of the abstand and ausbau statuses

A dialect 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). Other examples of groups of vernaculars lacking abstand internally but which have given rise to one or more ausbau languages are: Persian of Iran and Afghanistan (cf. Dari); Bulgarian and Macedonian, since they have different dialect basis. On the contrary, Hindi and Urdu have the same dialect basis; therefore they constitute a pluricentric language.[7] The same is the case with Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin, which also have the same dialect basis (Štokavian),[8] and consequently constitute four standard variants of the pluricentric Serbo-Croatian language.[9][10][11][12]


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 on the basilectal level 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. 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. 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 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 during history

There are several instances of languages and language pairs that have undergone role changes during history. 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.[13] 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. Local Low German dialects spoken in the Netherlands have come under the dachsprache, Dutch.[13] 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 on the Dutch-German border, the identical dialect is spoken on both sides, but it is deemed to belong to different dachsprachen according to which side of the border it is on.[14]

See also



  • Goebl, Hans. 1989. Quelques remarques relative aux conceptes Abstand und Ausbau de Heinz Kloss. In Ulrich Ammon, ed., Status and function of languages and language varieties. de Gruyter. pp. 278-290.
  • Kloss, Heinz. (1967) Abstand languages and Ausbau languages. Anthropological Linguistics, 9(7): 29-41.
  • Muljačić, Žarko. 1993. Standardization in Romance. In Rebecca Posner and John N. Green, eds. Trends in Romance Linguistics and Philology. Vol. 5: Bilingualism and Linguistic conflict in Romance. Studies and monographs 71. pp. 77-116.
  • Russ, Charles V.J. 1990. The dialects of modern German: a linguistic survey. London: Routledge.
  • Stellmacher, Dieter. (1981) Niederdeutsch. Formen und Forschungen. Tübingen, Niemeyer Verlag. Series: Germanistische Linguistik, 31. ISBN 3-484-10415-5
  • Trudgill, Peter (2004): Glocalisation and the Ausbau sociolinguistics of modern Europe. In: A. Duszak, U. Okulska (eds.), Speaking from the margin: Global English from a European perspective. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
  • Wrede, Adam. (1999). Neuer Kölnischer Sprachschatz. 12th edition. Köln: Greven Verlag. ISBN 3-7743-0243-X.

External links

The following article contains useful definitions:

  • Peter Trudgill, Norwegian as a Normal Language (2002)
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