It started with a reaction to Romy saying she wanted to spend time in the UK to learn to speak Oxford English. Romy was not alone in holding up Oxford English as being the “best” English pronunciation; that belief did seem prevalent amongst the Germans we met.
But could one actually rank the way a language was spoken as being “best”, “second best” and so forth, I argued? In Berlin itself, I pointed out, the accents were so varied that, as our command of German increased, even we were starting to be able to tell that there were differences which were not dialectical, but of spoken Standard German.
For fun, I asked Romy to name me where in Germany she thought the equivalent of Oxford English was spoken. This developed into an interesting straw poll.
Romy had to think about this, but rejected first Bavaria (where she comes from), followed by the neighbouring Baden-Württemberg. As my straw poll progressed, it was interesting to see how this pattern repeated itself, affirming that southern accents are perceived as being the least desirable.
Then she remembered a conversation she’d had with a friend who swore that a region west of the Bodensee near the southern border was where the best German was spoken.
But Romy had been there, heard the people speak, and had not been able to figure out how their German could be considered better German than anyone else’s.
Finally, she settled on the German spoken in the northern cities such as Frankfurt, as likely to be defined as having the best German.
I next posed the question to Berlin-born Sofia.
Her immediate answer was “Berlin!” but with a wink. (The Berlin accent is widely considered coarse.) Then she went through the same thought process as Romy’s: Bavaria – no, Baden-Württemberg – no, and thence through all the states, till she ended up deciding that there was no one place she would consider as having the best spoken German.
(Interestingly, when I asked Romy and Sofia, who had been friends for awhile, if they could discern each other’s origins from their accents, they looked at each other and said no, they both spoke Standarddeutsch.)
Next, I posed this question to Yoggi, who hails from the west.
“Rubbish!” he declared firmly with a shake of his head, when told about Romy’s west-of-Bodensee offering. He, too, started by eliminating the different regions, being especially emphatic about the south and his home state of North Rhein-Westphalia.
At the end, he concluded that the north would probably be where the best German was spoken, but couldn’t say where the quality-boundary would lie.
Finally, we went to Fritz, who hails from the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, and asked him if he thought that he spoke the best Deutsch in Germany.
As with Yoggi, Fritz didn’t think the Bodensee argument held, but did say that it was there that the German language was supposed to have originated. However, the language in that area had changed so much over the years, it could no longer be considered the ‘pure’ or best form of German spoken, he reckoned.
Like the others, no immediate answer came to Fritz’s mind, but he did settle on the north and specifically Hanover, not as where the best or most proper German was spoken, but because it was the centre of all the different northern regional dialects. Works out that Wikipedia agrees with him. ω
The German language is regulated internationally by the Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung (Council for German Orthography) while one of the most respected dictionaries for the German language is the Duden, of which Volume 6 of its 12 volumes is devoted to pronunciation (both sites in German only).