|Region||Cologne and environs|
|Native speakers||250,000 (1997)|
Colognian or Kölsch (Colognian: Kölsch [kœɫːʃ]) is a very closely related small set of dialects, or variants, of the Ripuarian Central German group of languages. These dialects are spoken in the area covered by the Archdiocese and former Electorate of Cologne reaching from Neuss in the north to just south of Bonn, west to Düren and east to Olpe in the North-West of Germany. Kölsch is one of the very few city dialects in Germany, besides for example the dialect spoken in Berlin.
In Cologne, it is actively spoken by about 250,000 people, roughly one quarter of the population. Almost all speakers are also fluent in standard or high German. It is widely understood in a region inhabited by some 10 million people (a conservative estimate).
There is a community who speaks a variety of Kölsch in Dane County, Wisconsin. 
There are local (decreasingly divergent) variants of Kölsch in the Quarters, most notably those only recently incorporated into the city, and the Hinterland.[clarification needed] Sometimes, also the far more than 100 clearly distinct Ripuarian languages of Belgium, Netherlands, and German Rhineland are incorrectly referred to as Kölsch, as well as the Rhinelandic regiolect. In fact, the regiolect is very different from Kölsch, being the regional variety of Standard German influenced only to a certain degree by the dialect. As such, many native speakers of the regiolect are in fact unaware of the fact that a “regiolect” exists, believing they speak plain Standard German.
Kölsch is one of the variants of the Ripuarian dialects (also known as the Rhinelandic or rheinisch dialects - as opposed to the regiolect), which belong to the West Franconian family, itself a variant of West Middle German. It is closely related to the lower Rhineland (niederrheinisch) and Moselle Franconian (moselfränkisch) dialects and combines some features of them, as well employing a variety of words being hardly in use elsewhere. Common with the Limburgish language group and other Ripuarian languages, it has a distinct intonation, referred to as the 'singing' rheinisch tone.
In fact, there are several, rather commonly used words only distinguishable by slight intonation differences, very noticeable ones to locals.
Also, Kölsch conveys different meaning by different intonation inside sentences; for example, depending on the intonation alone, Dat hätt dä esu jesaat can mean all these things:
- He meant what he said.
- He was only consoling (someone).
- He knew what he was saying.
- He did not mean what he said.
- He was lying/pretending. He said exactly that.
- It is most questionable that he said something like that.
- He said that.
- It was he who said that (and no one else).
- He has expressed that precisely so.
- He would have said that so (but was involuntarily kept from).
- He said that so orally (but did not write it or sign it).
In its modern form it is of comparatively recent origin. It developed from Historic Colognian, but has been under the influence of New High German since the 17th century. It was also influenced by French during the occupation of Cologne under Napoleon Bonaparte from 1794 to 1815, and therefore contains some more words from and expressions pertaining to French than does Standard German. There are also phonological similarities with French, which however may be coincidental.
Features in comparison to Standard German
This list shows only the most important differences. Most of these are not typically Kölsch, but true for all Ripuarian dialects.
- Kölsch uses [ɕ] or even [ʃ] instead of standard [ç], so when Colonians say “ich”, it sounds more like “isch”.
- The Standard German /ɡ/ phoneme is pronounced [j] in the beginning of a word, and [j], [ʁ], [ɕ] or [x] in other positions, depending on the syllable structure.
- Kölsch has three diphthongs pronounced [ei], [ou] and [øy], which are equivalent to but less frequent than [aɪ], [aʊ] and [ɔʏ] in the standard.
- Voiceless stops are not aspirated, unlike in Standard German and English.
- Words with an initial vowel are not separated from the preceding word by a glottal stop.
- Kölsch has a larger vowel system than Standard German. In Standard German [ɔ] and [œ] are always short, [e], [o] and [ø] always long. In Kölsch all of these occur long and short, and the difference is phonemic.
- Vowel quality often differs between standard words and Kölsch words. Sometimes the standard has the more original form, sometimes Kölsch does. Standard [ɪ], [ʊ], [ʏ] often correspond to Kölsch [e], [o], [ø], and [iː], [uː], [yː] often correspond to [eː], [oː], [øː]. Standard [aɪ], [aʊ], [ɔʏ] often correspond to Kölsch [iː], [uː] and [yː], and [aː], [ɛː] often correspond to [ɔː] and [œː]. All of these patterns (and others to be found), however, have many exceptions and cannot be used to build Kölsch words blindly.
- Kölsch is even more non-rhotic than the standard. It often vocalizes “r” completely so that any hint of it is lost, e.g. std. “Karte”, ksh. “Kaat”; std. “kurz”, ksh. “koot”.
- Being a Central German dialect, Kölsch has undergone the High German sound shift, but incompletely. Where the standard has “pf”, Kölsch uses “p”, as do Lower German and English. Compare: Standard German: “Apfel, Pfanne”; Kölsch: “Appel, Pann”, English: “apple, pan”. Moreover, where the standard has “t”, Kölsch usually keeps the older “d”: Standard German: “Tag, tun”; Kölsch: “Daach, donn”; English: “day, do”.
- Kölsch has shifted stem-internal [b] and [f] to [v]. Again, this sound change is shared by Lower German and English. Compare: Standard German: “leben, Ofen”; Kölsch: “levve, Ovve”; English: “live, oven”. (Nota bene: this does not affect [f] shifted from older [p], e.g. Kölsch “schlofe”, English “to sleep”.)
- As a typically Ripuarian phenomenon, [d] and [n] have changed into [ɡ] and [ŋ] in some cases, e.g. std. “schneiden, Wein”, ksh. “schnigge, Wing”.
- Kölsch deletes a word final “t” after another consonant (except l, m, n, ng). When a vowel is added, a lost “t” can reoccur.
- Kölsch deletes word-final schwa and shortens the standard ending “-en” to schwa instead. Therefore, Standard German singulars often resemble Kölsch plurals, e.g., std. “Gasse” > “Gassen”, ksh. “Jass” > “Jasse”.
- Kölsch has a reduced case system, where the genitive is lost and the accusative takes the form of the nominative (except with personal pronouns). Kölsch also uses the grammatical endings differently in some cases. Compare: Standard German: “mein Mann, meine Frau”; Kölsch: “minge Mann, ming Frau”; English: “my husband, my wife”.
- Many regular verbs of Standard German have an irregular present conjugation in Kölsch, e.g. the verb “stonn” (= std. “stehen” and English “to stand”) is conjugated as follows: “ich stonn, du steihs, hä steiht, mir stonn, ehr stoht, se stonn”.
In comparison to most other German dialects, Kölsch is unusually well documented through the work of the Akademie för uns Kölsche Sproch and scholars like Adam Wrede whose publications include a dictionary, a grammar and a variety of phrase books. While Kölsch is not commonly taught in schools (although there are often extracurricular offerings) and a lot of young people do not have a proper command of it, many theaters exist that perform exclusively in Kölsch, most notably the Volkstheater Millowitsch, named after the late Willy Millowitsch (1909–1999) and the famous puppet theater, Hänneschentheater. There has also recently been an increase in literature written in this dialect and both traditional music and rock in Kölsch are very popular in and beyond Cologne, especially around Carnival, including bands such as Brings, The piano has been drinking... (), Bläck Fööss, Höhner and others. The Kölsch rock group BAP is even among the most successful rock bands in Germany. Another noticeable phenomenon is the usage of either a watered-down Kölsch dialect or the Rhinelandic regiolect by German TV personalities, especially comedians like Gabi Köster and others.
In the Ripuarian dialects, “kölsch” is an adjective meaning “from Cologne” or “pertaining to Cologne”, thus equivalent to “Colognian”. Its nominalized forms (ene Kölsche, de Kölsche etc.) denote the inhabitants of Cologne. The word “Kölsch”, without an article, refers to either the dialect or the local Kölsch beer. Hence, a humorous Colognian saying is: “Ours is the only language you can drink!”
The Lord's Prayer in Kölsch
Leeve Herrjott, hellich ess Dinge Name.
Vum Himmel us rejeers Do et janze Weltall
noh Dingem Welle.
Wie ne Vatter sorgs Do för de Minschheit,
die he op de Äd Di Rich erwaden deit.
Vill Nut es en der Welt, döm bedde mer:
maach doch, dat keine Minsch mieh muss
Nemm vun uns alle Sündeschold,
domet och jederein ess jnädich de eije
Helf Do uns, dat meer alle Versökunge
un halt alles vun uns fähn, wat unsem
iwije Heil schade künnt.
- Colognian at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- from page 139 of Jean Jenniches: Foder för Laachduve, Greven Verlag, Köln, 2009. ISBN 978-3-7743-0435-2
- 'Hover & Hear' Kölsch pronunciations, and compare with equivalents in English and other Germanic languages.