What Language do They Speak in Switzerland?

Each country in the world has its official language that depicts its identity. You will be surprised to know that Switzerland is a country that has declared four languages as its official languages and speakers of these languages are spread all around the country. People from different ethnicities live there. This is why Switzerland is also called a melting pot. It is obvious that when people from different nationalities mingle with each other, they promote different languages. Declaring the four languages as their official language is seen as a step towards promoting and preserving the languages. 

Let’s have a Look at the Languages that People Living in Switzerland Speak.

Table of Content

Swiss German

60% of the population of Switzerland speaks Swiss German. These people are inhabitants of the Northern, Eastern, and central parts of the country. Local people of Germany called this language Schwyzerdutsch which is a collection of Alemannic dialects. The people of Germany and Austria don’t speak these dialects solely. There are different dialects of Swiss German which are spoken in the country. The important thing to note is that the Swiss-German that you can hear in Basel is different from what you hear in Zurich.

In many countries, different dialects of a single language are not given due importance but in the case of Switzerland, all the dialects are promoted because they are spoken widely in the country.  Because of the different types of dialects, Swiss German is difficult to understand. To solve this problem, you can take the assistance of Swiss-German translation services, Hochdeutsch in early school so that they can communicate with Austrians and German without any problem.

The Swiss children are taught standard German, Hochdeutsch in early school and as a result, they can communicate with Austrians, Germans, and other German speakers without any trouble. In addition to it, as there is no universal written form of Swiss German dialects, all the books, newspapers, and law books are written in standard German.  This is the reason why most Swiss German people call the standard German Schriftdeutsch which means German. In the written form of German, different foreign words are used as German equivalents. For instance, despite using Fahrrad for bicycles, Swiss Germans use the French loanword, Velo.

The standard form of German is also preferred as a standard means of communication in formal situations like public transportation announcements, news broadcasts, and parliamentary discussions. Swiss German kids don’t like to use traditional ways of communication therefore, they are including Swiss German dialects in the written forms, especially in informal situations like Facebook and WhatsApp.  It is observed that if the communication is done formally then there is a probability that standard German is used if non-Swiss German speakers are around. 

Swiss-French

The other language that is spoken in Switzerland is French. Mostly, people living in the Western part of the country speak the French language. Approximately, 20 percent of the Swiss population includes French papulation. In cities such as Geneva and Lausanne speak, the majority of people speak the French language. Therefore, if you are planning to visit these cities then you must know the French language and if you are unable to communicate in the French language then, you can take the assistance of professional translation services

The Swiss-French and the standard form of French, you hear in France are different just like German and standard German. People that speak French in Switzerland speak the language at a slower pace. The difference in accent, variations, and variants shows the uniqueness of Swiss-French. 

Swiss Italian

Approximately, 8.5% of the Swiss population speak the Italian language. Mainly the Italian language is mostly spoken in the Southern region of the country. It includes regions of the canton of Ticino, The Gonda valley in Valais, and the Southern part of Graubünden or Grisons. In the area of Ticino, more than 20% of the population is Italian, Italian people also reside in another part of Switzerland and they have become citizens of this beautiful country.

Whether it is Swiss Italian or Swiss-French, Italian students can understand it easily. Many local dialects like Ticinese and Lombard Italian dialects which are spoken in Switzerland are very similar to Standard Italian. The only difference is because of loanwords that they have taken from Germany and French. If you are in Italy then, you can order cornetto. On the other hand, if you are in Switzerland, then you need to order Chafer. Swiss Italian distinguishes itself from other standard Italian by the loan words that they have taken from other languages. These are the phrases that are translated word for word translation from German and French.

Romansh

Have you heard about the Romansh language? Probably not. It is one of Switzerland’s smallest national languages that gain official status in 1996. Approximately, 37,000 people living in Switzerland speak this language. Many tourists ignore this language while traveling to Switzerland. It is the official language in the South-Eastern district of Grisons. Here it is used in all operational activities. The important thing to note is that its speakers are from mountainous parts of Southeastern Switzerland. One question must be raised in our mind why this language is surviving in the 21st century, despite the great influence of Italian and German on Traditional Romansh-speaking areas.

Romansh is a Romance language that has taken many loanwords and syntax from German. Although the number of Romansh-speaking people is less, However, there are five different dialects of the Romance language that people used in their daily life.

Linguistic Diversity in Switzerland

There are different challenges related to linguistic diversity that were prevailing in Switzerland over the 150 years since the 1848 Constitution. The first concern that the Swiss faced in linguistic diversity is not giving importance to the presence of immigrants that came from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.  Many people argued that education should be given in their mother tongue education for migrant children so that their cognitive skills and educational opportunities can’t be hindered. This thing is still debatable along with various experiments that narrate how many different languages can be used as a medium of instruction at the pre-school and elementary school levels. Such suggestions are presented to preserve individual linguistic rights.

The second school of thought does not favor the traditional school of thought and it is expected that they will not fulfill their promises. Specifically, the invisibility of Italian and the deterioration of Romanche gave importance to territories. Italian medium of education is important for Italian-speaking children zin France and German that have come to Switzerland through immigration.

The concept of less territoriality is taken care of. Romanche is an uncertain language. Therefore, in the case of this language, Romanche is uncertain at best. One observation is that more territoriality should be given to more threatening language. To deal with the traditional way of dealing with linguistic diversity, the process should be made to control the Swiss people as citizens from their government.

The French speakers don’t get any competence in German to interact easily with German speakers. The people that speak the French language as a second language don’t consider communication hindrances in such a way. These observations are very complex. To check the authenticity of these observations, many research projects are undertaken by the Swiss National Science Foundation but there were some limitations of time and space that prevent them from entering these considerations. One problem that is faced is the development of bilingual education where the local language was used as the medium of instruction for elementary and lower secondary school. It could be a long journey to create average competence levels in national as well as second languages so that they can contribute to inter-community relationships.

Discussion of languages cannot be completed without globalization. As the population is increasing, national languages are losing their relevance when compared to English. This shows that many people preferred to learn English as their first foreign language and they disregard the acquisition of another national language which is German in French-speaking Switzerland and French in German-speaking Switzerland. Several observations change the directions because they are impacted by the verdicts of cantonal authorities.

The authorities of the canton of Zurich are considered one of the top economic powerhouses which is established in December 1997. It is narrated to increase the use of English in the compulsory school syllabus and to reduce the use of French. This notion was supported by the local people. However, it created a problem in official circles. Therefore, a letter was sent to the commission in July 1998. It discussed the motivation to include a second language throughout Switzerland.

In any case, the letter indorses Zurich,s choices as they acknowledge English as an international language. In addition to it, they support nationalism which will remain a priority as a second language in the education system. This priority is not related to syllabus endowments; however, it results in language proficiency. Here the question arises that how these results are to be attained if they are detached from syllabus endowments. If for any reason, these endowments are used to give importance to English. This will create a problem of spreading English as a global language that can give a threat to the cultural and linguistic characteristics of societies.

This is taken into consideration when you operate in other languages too, no matter if they are major languages or small minority languages. The insights that English is making in every aspect of our lives are a matter of concern in many non-anglophone countries.

In the case of Switzerland, this concern is creating many harmful effects. To your surprise, many Swiss citizens are of the view that English is the most efficient way of solving communication problems among the different distinct communities. It is the German-speaking group on one side and the Latin minorities on the other side. This thing can damage the credibility of the traditional Swiss model.  The worst part of this is that indicates the de-legitimization of Switzerland’s national languages. On the contrary, it leads to the de-legitimization of the languages of other communities also.  

De-legitimization of the language is also considered the de-legitimization of the communities that speak different languages. This thing can be serious because it can hamper the socio-economic gap that carries major risks. Although, language boundaries do not impact political or religious boundaries. Therefore, they are free of economic connotations. In short, the German and French-speaking regions of Switzerland include rich and poor cantons of Switzerland. 

The industrial and agricultural service sectors created a balance between two languages in the Italian-speaking part of the country which are Ticino and the Grigioni Italiano. Thus, there is no integration between language and social-economic conditions both at the micro and macro level.

How Multilingual are the Swiss People

Some regions like Valais, Bern, and Fribourg are officially bilingual in French and German languages. In addition to it, the region of Garrisons is considered trilingual as German, Italian, and Romansh are designated as official languages. If you are in Switzerland, you don’t have to look hard to find its multilingual identity. 

The most obvious example of Swiss multilingualism is seen through numerous existences of global companies like scientific bodies, banks, and political organizations that have set their offices in Switzerland because of the multilingual workforce available there. The interesting thing is that multilingualism is found in every aspect of daily life. If you visit a supermarket outside Zurich, you will find warning signs in German, French, and Italian language. Swiss people spend a considerable amount delivering these announcements in all four languages.

The Swiss people are brought up to be multilingual from an early age. The children are required to learn at least one national language with another foreign language which is English. These languages are required among all Swiss schoolchildren. However, this multilingualism can fall into other adulthood. Unfortunately, if you are in one language area, you can rarely speak other national languages. Due to the highly delegated Swiss political system, it is easy to remain in one language. 

Wrapping Up

Languages play a very important part in the culture of any country. To understand the culture of Switzerland, you must know the four official languages spoken there. If you are unable to speak these languages then you can take the assistance of professional translation agencies.

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