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Native toGermany
RegionCologne and environs
Native speakers
(250,000 cited 1997)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3ksh

The Colognian dialect, or Kölsch is a variety of the German languages. People in and around the city of Cologne in the West of Germany use Kölsch. Nowadays most of them have High German as their primary language or secondary language.


About 250,000 people actively speak Kölsch. More than 2,500,000 people understand Kölsch well and use some Kölsch, or a variant, somehow. An estimated 20,000,000 to 30,000,000 people understand it partially.


How to say "Kölsch"? Take the beginning from "kernel" or "colonel"; next take a real dark, long "l" as in "bold", or "ball"; then append a "sh" as in "shrimps", or "ti" as in "nation". That's the sound "Kölsch". However, the German "ö" is not exactly the same as an English "o", but a sound between "o" and "e".


The word 'Kölsch' comes from the Name of the City of Cologne. It is 'Köln' in native tongue, yet 'Kölle' in Kölsch. Now by ordinary German word building rules, 'kölnisch' means 'belonging to Cologne', 'related to Cologne', 'in Cologne', 'from Cologne'—as in 'kölnisch Wasser' (Eau de Cologne). The word 'kölnisch', or 'köllesch', shortened to 'kölsch' in local tongue, became a shorthand noun for the local beer and the local language, or dialect.

Today's name of the city stems from ancient times of the Roman occupation of Northern Germany 100 years before Christ, and later. In the place of a longer existing German tribal settlement, the Romans built a fort or castle — then, approximately under the reign of Julius Caesar, enhanced it to a colony (Latin: colonia) with religious and city rights. Part of its Roman name stuck, 'Colonia Clavdia Ara Agrippinensivm Oppidvm Vbiorum' became 'Köln' over the centuries.


Although Kölsch speakers occasionally claim that it is rooted in pre-Roman times, Kölsch's ripuarian base developed from a mix of Lower German and Middle High German in medieval times. It learned from other languages through political and trade connections during the times of the Hanse, and from various waves of immigration. In modern times, there were:

Special properties

Kölsch has outstanding or unique properties. Here are some:


After the Second World War, Cologne took up and integrated a huge number of former inhabitants from the former East German regions, which now are part of Poland. That has not had a remarkable impact on the Kölsch language; but on the immigrants. They soon began to integrate into the social life and otherwise, they began to learn Kölsch. Naturally they initially were not perfect speakers. The Kölsch language recognized that, and quickly created a word for them: "imi" ('imitating' or 'imitated' Kölsch). As they lerned Kölsch well over the years, you could hear the word 'imi' less often. It came back recently, when the wall that separated East and West Germany was taken down.

People who speak Kölsch

Kölsch music


  1. "Ripuarian". Ethnologue.
  2. * Frank Steffan: Kölsch Rock. Köln o. J. [1981]
  3. * Kölschrock. In: Rolf Hosfeld (Hrsg.): Kulturverführer Köln. Helmut Metz Verlag, 2005 (2. akt. Aufl.), S. 48–49f.
  4. * Kölsch-Rock. In: Jürgen Raap: Köln. Marco Polo Reiseführer, Lonely Planet, 2014, S. 21–22.

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