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Matteänglisch: The secret language at the foot of the Nydeggtreppe

BE! Tourism, 13.05.2015

People living in the Matte district in Bern once had a secret language all of their own. It was not, as commonly supposed, for reasons of secrecy, but rather in order to communicate with traders from other areas and language regions at marketplaces along the Aare river. This "Matte dialect" has been preserved until the present time – even if only among smaller groups of people.

The Matte has a long history. This settlement below the cathedral was mentioned in documents as early as 1327. It was here, on the fringes of Bern’s Old Town on the banks of the Aare river, that the labourers, fishermen, carters and tradesmen mainly lived. Skippers and raftsmen would dock their vessels here, and, of course, the traders also found it useful to be located by the water.

In 1448 there were some 600 people living in the Matte, which was around 10% of the city’s population. Matteänglisch, derived from Rotwelsch, developed among this population. Rotwelsch is a collective term for special German-based linguistic sociolects that were used among marginal groups. The language also furthered the cohesion among beggars, itinerants and the members of so-called dishonest professions, and among criminal subcultures.

Itteme-Inglische (Dialect: Matteänglisch)
Matteänglisch is a secret language. Another example of a secret language is that of Pig Latin, used by some English speakers. Of course, Matteänglisch is based on the Matte dialect and employs many special words and terms that were used in the Matte over a long period. Here is a rough guide using the example of Fridu (Fritz):

1. Separate the word after the first vowel: fri-du
2. Swap the resulting particles around: du-fri
3. Add an I to the beginning of the word: I-du-fri
4. Change the final vowel to an E: I-du-fre So, in Matteänglisch, Fridu is Idufre.

There are many adjustments and exceptions to this basic rule. It might seem fairly easy to translate a text into Matteänglisch, but just imagine what it would be like if you wanted to follow a conversation among several people.

How about an audio sample?
A short text, translated into Matteänglisch and read out by Matteänglisch club president Peter Hafen.

In Bernese German:
„A de Türe hets früecher Chlopfer gha. Gross, schwär u schön. Oder es het es Glöggli gä. Mängisch hei Buebe Streiche gmacht. Sie hei e Schnuer ume Buch vomene grosse Frösch oder Chrott bunde u mit em Glöggli verbunde. Geng we der Chrott gumpet isch, hets gschäuelet.“

In Matteänglisch:
A ide Ire’te its’he iecher’fre Ipfer’chle ighe, iss’gre, ir’schwe u in’sche, ider’e ise it’he es Iggli’gle ige. Ingisch’me i’he Iebe’be Iiche’schtre icht’gme. Ise i’he e Ier’schne ime’e Ich‘be imene’ve isse’gre Isch’fre ider’e Itt’chre inde’be u it’me im‘e Iggli’gle ir’ve-inde‘be. Ing‘ge iwe ir’de Itt’chre impet’ge ische‘, its’he iuelet’gsche.

More about the Matte and Matteänglisch
Here, at irregular intervals, you can learn more about the cultural and linguistic characteristics of the Matte district and the entire region of Bern-Bernese Oberland.

Summer is coming, so cool off in the Aare with your team
Float on the Aare river around the city of Bern. Swim in the river, experience a water fight and enjoy a BBQ with your workmates. Let a certified raft guide accompany you on an unforgettable team event. From the boat view the city from an unusual perspective. Admire the mighty sandstone bridges, narrow half-timbered houses and the naturally-curving river landscape during this group excursion around Bern.

Foxtrail in Bern – Discover the city in an unusual way
In the Federal Capital it's not only under the roof of the federal parliament building that cunning foxes are to be found. Between the covered promenades and the Bear Pits, there are foxes doing their rounds on four different trails all year round. If you want to set off from the Railway Station and go and catch them, you will need to have all your wits about you.

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