Institution: Institute for German Studies, University of Vienna
Project lead: Alexandra N. Lenz
Universitätsring 1, 1010 Wien
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

ABCs of Dialect

Language is one of the most important means of human communication, an essential part of our culture and it can also fulfill an identity-forming function. At the same time, it is constantly changing with the society that uses it. There are words that were used a century ago, but that no one knows today. Simultaneously, there are other words are still in use but have changed their meaning.

With the "ABCs of Dialect" you can rediscover old German dialect words and help us process the linguistic and cultural heritage of the Bavarian-Austrian language area!

What is it about?

Citizens have always played a significant role in linguistics. Especially in the field of lexical variation – long before the term Citizen Science was established – they were not only passive suppliers of linguistic data, but actively participated in its collection. A prominent example is the “Wörterbuch der bairischen Mundarten in Österreich” (WBÖ) (‘Dictionary of Bavarian Dialects in Austria’), whose data was originally gathered by citizens. Already since 1914, this project has been dedicated to the comprehensive documentation and lexicographic analysis of the rich and unique dialect landscape of (historical) Austria. Now we want to invite citizens back to process and evaluate the data and to (re)discover their linguistic and cultural heritage.

The basis for the WBÖ is data from the so-called ‘Hauptkatalog’ (‘main catalogue’), a collection of paper slips covering approximately 3.6 million entries with dialect samples that were collected in the first half of the 20th century. The major part of the dialect data in this collection was obtained indirectly with the help of so-called collectors (“Sammler”) on the basis of questionnaires. While a large part of the paper slips (from letter D onwards) has already been digitized for editorial and archival reasons and is publicly accessible as a database via the Lexikalisches Informationssystem Österreich (LIÖ) (‘Lexical Information System Austria’), only the physical paper slips for letters A, B/P and C as well as scans exist. At this point, the project “The ABCs of dialect: exploring historical notes digitally” starts.

What are the tasks of the citizens?

  • Citizens transcribe original WBÖ paper slips (collection of letter A to C) and thus help complete the already existing WBÖ database.
  • Citizens reflect on the content of the 100-year-old paper slips with regard to current dialect usage and hence are integrated into analyses of dialect change in the course of the last 80-100 years. (e.g.: Is a dialect word still in active use in Austria? Has the meaning of a particular word changed?).

In this way, interested persons (particularly from Austria, but not limited to) should be given access to their linguistic and regional heritage. In addition, by dealing with the historical information, a reflection on current language use and a connection to current research on vocabulary, language use and language change should be established.

How can I participate?

Citizens can participate via the Zooniverse platform by transcribing old paper slips and the handwritings on them. In addition, they can reflect on their own or general current language use by answering questions about the words they have copied, e.g. whether they still know the word or even use it themselves.Participation is possible anywhere and anytime via the Zooniverse platform. The only requirement is internet access. Not necessary but very helpful is the ability to read Kurrent handwriting, which was used on some of the paper slips.

At introductory workshops, citizen scientists are familiarised with the platform and the paper slips and trained in the tasks. In the course of this, some participants are trained as experts who other participants can then turn to. However, it is also possible to contribute to the project without prior training.

Who can participate?

Everyone who is interested in language or dialects and the cultural heritage of Austria is invited to contribute to the “ABCs of dialects”. We want to involve both younger and older Citizen Scientists, since older people typically have high dialect skills and are still familiar with the diverse handwriting systems that we find on the paper slips in the collection, while younger people have high digital skills. In this way we bring generations and their skills and abilities together and encourage intergenerational collaboration. At the same time, their competence and knowledge are not only valued, but also made visible to the outside world in a linguistic and cultural context.

A special added value of the project consists in that the historical material, which was collected about 100 years ago using citizen science methods (even if they were not called such at the time), is made accessible to the citizens and they contribute to the evaluation and transcription of this historic material.

 Further information at

Podcast episode

As part of the episode "The Citizen Science Award 2024 - behind the scenes", Cornelia Sommer-Hubatschke, teacher at BG & BRG Stockerau, who took part in the ABCs of Dialect with a school class, talked about her experiences in the project in the podcast Wissen macht Leute. You can listen to the episode on our blog or on the podcast app of your choice (the episode is in German). You can find all the details here.

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