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Vernacular Literature: literature, written in a certain vernacular, deliberately contrasting with standard and supraregional poetry. Vernacular literature in a literal sense did not exist until the time of Luther (1st half of 16th century), as there was no supraregional, uniform German standard language up to that time. This relation between standard language and vernacular is called "diglossia"; however, one has to bear in mind that nowadays vernacular literature is often only "simulated dialect" and therefore not identical with the authentically spoken vernacular of a region.
As written standard language developed, vernacular began to be regarded as the language of the underprivileged, socially declassed people; using the vernacular in "high" literature was disapproved of. It only maintained a presence in drama, where it used to characterise certain actors (mainly peasants) according to their social background and achieve comic, parodistic effects. Austrian vernacular literature thus reached its first peak in the farcical pickle-herring play (Hanswurstspiel), which had developed from the medieval Shrovetide play and the commedia dell´arte. Its protagonist, the Hanswurst, created by J. A. Stranitzky, a "Salzburg pig gelder and cabbage cutter" ("Salzburger Sau- und Krautschneider", skilfully displays his coarse Salzburg peasant vernacular against the pompous standard language, exposing the hollowness of conventional phrases. Under Stranitzky's successors G. Prehauser and J. F. von Kurz Salzburg vernacular changed into Viennese dialect, word-play and witty remarks became the central parts of each play, which from then on was to be a typical feature of the old Viennese popular comedy (P.Hafner, A. Bäuerle, K. Meisl, J. Gleich) as well as of the plays by J. Nestroy and F. Raimund, which displayed complex and many-faceted linguistic variation.
In the 18th century Upper Austria developed into the second centre of vernacular literature. The Jesuit and rationalist Maurus Lindemayr became the founder of Upper Austrian vernacular literature, also using standard language and vernacular as counterparts in his comedies, singspiels and travesties. He made the "obderennsische Mundart" (vernacular common in the region west of the river Enns) well-known; in the 19th century Upper Austrian writers like Karl Adam Kaltenbrunner (1804-1867) and especially F. Stelzhamer ("Lieder in obderenns´scher Volksmundart"/"lieder in popular vernacular from the region west of the river Enns", 1837) followed in his footsteps.
Vernacular literature had by now gained considerable renown. J. G. Hamann, J. G. Herder and the Romantics revived interest in the vernacular as the language of the people, which made many enthusiasts speak of a new quality of vernacular literature: it was regarded as being original, close to the people, idyllic, and rich in local colour. I. F. Castelli (Gedichte in niederösterreichischer Mundart, Poems in Lower Austrian Vernacular, 1828) stimulated vernacular literature during the period of the Austrian Biedermeier; his "Wörterbuch der Mundart in Österreich unter der Enns", "Dictionary of Vernacular in Austria east of the river Enns" (1847) gave the philological discussion on dialect a new and important stimulus. J. Misson ("Da Naz, a niederösterreichischer Bauerbui, geht in d´Fremd", "Naz, a Lower Austrian country lad goes away from home", 1850) became the most important vernacular poet of Lower Austria; in the 2nd half of the 19th century P. Rosegger ("Zither und Hackbrett", "Zither and Dulcimer", 1869) became the most important representative of Styrian vernacular literature; reading "folksy" vernacular literature finally became popular among residents of major towns and vernacular writings became a recognised branch of literature. L. Anzengruber achieved great success using an imitated dialect in his plays and novels; some time later K. Schönherr made vernacular literature popular throughout Tirol ("Inntaler Schnalzer", "Inn Valley Tongue Click", 1895, etc.). K. Morré from Carinthia wrote a "Kärntner Sprach- und Konversationslexikon" ("Carinthian Language and General Encyclopedia"), in Salzburg O. Pflanzl ("Salzburger Nockerl", "Salzburg Semolina Dumplings", 1910, etc.) and K. Prisner ("Salzburgische Hoamatg´sangeln", "Salzburg Local Songs", 1930) enjoyed great success.
The Heimatkunst Movement gave vernacular literature a further impetus; numerous authors began using the vernacular in their anti-modern, pessimistic writings, which finally culminated in the provincialism of corporate state literature and in the idealised language of the peasant heroes of "blood and soil" literature (J. G. Oberkofler). J. Weinheber revived the Viennese vernacular poem ("Wien wörtlich", "Vienna literally", 1935); at the same time vernacular phrases and means of expression continued to be used for criticizing language and society, as in the plays by Ö. von Horváth.
The fact that vernacular literature was ideologized in the corporate state and later in the Third Reich, initially prevented any sober, straight-forward discussion on it after 1945 and relegated it to "second-class" literature among critics; it was not until the texts written by the Wiener Gruppe, particularly by H. C. Artmann ("med ana schwoazzn dintn", "in black ink", 1958) and G. Rühm ("hosn rosn baa", 1959), which experimented with language, that vernacular literature regained a critical dimension. "Nua ka schmoez ned" ("Anything but schmaltz", wrote Artmann, determining the direction for a "new vernacular literature", which turned away from conventional folk literature in a programmatic way and criticised clichés and traditional, rigid patterns of thought and behaviour (C. Miculik, K. Bauer, H. Haid, E. Schirhuber, O. Grabner, B. C. Bünker, T. Prix, R. Liebe, H. Leiseder, E. Jakowic, etc.), whereas a second branch of vernacular literature, which also continues to deal with local aspects, picks up conventional forms and contents. The situation is similar in theatre with light but highly successful dialect comedies and farces (Löwinger-Bühne) on the one hand and socio-critical popular plays ("Rozznjogd", "Rat hunting", 1967 by P. Turrini, "Magic Afternoon", 1968 by W. Bauer, "A unhamlich schtorka Obgaung", "A terrifically great exit", 1970 by H. Sommer), continuing the tradition of Austrian scepticism and criticism of language on the other. Since 1970 dialect songs and dialect chansons, promoted by radio and television, have flourished in Austria; P. Henisch, Georg Danzer, A. Brauer and of course H. C. Artmann have been successful "vernacular songwriters".
Literature: B. Martin, Mundartdichtung, in: Reallexikon der deutschen Literaturgeschichte, ed. by W. Kohlschmidt and W. Mohr, vol. 2, 1965; M. Hornung, Bairisch-österreichische Mundartdichtung, in: ibid.; idem (ed.), Mundart und Geschichte, 1967; F. Hoffmann and J. Berlinger, Die Neue Deutsche Mundartdichtung, 1978; L. Berlinger, Das zeitgenössische deutsche Dialektgedicht, 1983; G. Reinert-Schneider, Dialektrenaissance?, 1987.