why do they speak french in switzerland

Switzerland is widely considered to be the model for a kind of tolerance relatively rare within countries: Peaceful coexistence between different language groups. While Swiss dialects of three of the country's official languages в German, French and Italian в differ from standard versions, they're all mutually intelligible. However, the fourth, Romansh, is in a class of its own. This ancient and mysterious tongue, spoken in only one region of the country by less than 1 percent of the Swiss population, is found nowhere else in the world. Although English isn't an official language, it's widely spoken and understood, especially in cities. In the first century B. C. , today's Switzerland was part of the Roman Empire, but following its collapse in the fifth century, Germanic tribes moved into the region, and linguistic diversity began evolving from there. The Swiss federation consists of 26 cantons, or states, all with much more control over their own affairs, including education and language policy, than North American or European states and provinces. Despite four official languages, 22 cantons have only one official language, and children who attend public schools there don't have the choice of being educated in any other language. The vast majority of the Swiss population, about 64 percent, converse in a dialect of German called Swiss German, which divides even further into regional sub-dialects. For example, the customary greeting in standard, or high, German would be "guten Tag," but in Swiss German, the all-purpose hello for one person is "gruetzi" or "gruetzi wohl," and for more than one, "gruetzi miteinander," the equivalent of "hello, everybody. " Whereas "guten Abend" is the standard German way of saying, "good night," speakers of Swiss German would say, "guten Abig" when addressing one person, and "guten Abig zusammen" or "guten Abig miteinander" for two or more.


Despite conversational differences, the Swiss use standard German in writing. In both Zurich, the largest city, and Bern, the capital, Swiss German is the dominant language, although in the canton of Bern, French is also officially recognized. The differences between standard French and Swiss French, spoken by about 20 percent of the population, aren't as great as they are between standard and Swiss German. As Andres Kristol, director of the University of NeuchГtelвs Centre for the Study of Dialects and Regional French, puts it, вItвs the same dish but the spices are different. " To the ears of a Parisian, the Swiss French spoken in Geneva in the country's Romandie region has a charmingly antique quality, with a slower pace, different accent and variant words and phrases. Like Swiss German and French, the Italian spoken by about 7 percent of the population differs somewhat from the Italian spoken in Italy but people use standard Italian when writing. If Romansh were an animal, it would be classified as critically endangered. In fact, fewer people in Switzerland today в only half of 1 percent of the population в speak Romansh than Serbo-Croatian. Most visitors to Switzerland visit the alpine canton Graubunden, the only place where this language is spoken but also famous for its ski resorts, including St. Moritz. Romansh is believed to have evolved from the native language spoken by a tribe that migrated into the region around 500 B. C. but was also strongly influenced by the Latin spoken by ordinary people in the old Roman Empire. Five dialects exist but in 1982, a standardized written version was adopted. Romansh's march to extinction may have been slowed after Microsoft added it to its range of desktop language options.


Graubunden is the only canton with three official languages, the other two being German and Italian. Even though English is the first language of no more than 1 percent of the Swiss population and has no official status there, its importance as the language of international communication has made it the most desirable second language to learn. Among speakers of German and French, English is increasingly being used as the common language of business in Switzerland. While this is good news for English-speaking tourists, as Francois Grin, former deputy director of the European Centre for Minority Issues, points out, many Swiss people find this disappointing: They think citizens should show more enthusiasm for learning one more of their country's national languages. /* This style seem important, DO NOT REMOVE */
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Two recent stories are reminders of the cultural and political importance of language in Switzerland. Choosing to learn English as a second language makes sound practical sense in an increasingly global world, however in Switzerland it is not that simple. Switzerland, a country with four national languages (German, French, Italian and Romanche), has to juggle the practical benefits of learning English with the benefits that come from learning the languages of fellow Swiss. In addition, German-speaking Swiss donБt speak regular High German as a first language. They speak one of a number of dialects of Swiss German while reading and writing in High German. At school they must learn High German before learning another language so a second language for them is in effect their third.


A recent story in the Geneva newspaper entitled: French-speaking Swiss, the UDC loves you! , discusses the Swiss PeopleБs PartyБs (UDC Б French acronym or SVP Б German acronym) announcement that they will add support for the teaching of French ahead of English in the non-French speaking regions of Switzerland to their legislative agenda. The UDC is playing a balancing act. In some quarters they support initiatives that call for a single extra language to be taught in primary schools, i. e. English, while trying to be seen to support Swiss values, which would logically include support for learning national languages ahead of English. On the other side, an article in the newspaper presents the controversial vote this Sunday 8 March 2015 in the Swiss German-speaking half-canton of Nidwalden (Nidwald in French) to stop teaching French at primary school. The initiative is the work of the Nidwalden branch of the UDC and a БYesБ result would mean English would be taught in favour of French. The drama began some time ago when a group of teachers and politicians launched an initiative to stop the teaching of two extra languages at primary schools in the canton of Zurich. They argued that children are over burdened, are losing interest in language learning and neglecting other important subjects. Similar initiatives were then launched in a number of cantons, however NidwaldenБs will be the first to reach the voting stage and the result could set a precedent. The parliament of Nidwalden is against the initiative on the grounds it will impact on national cohesion and advises voters to reject the proposal. UDC NidwaldenБs response is that teaching Swiss history would do more for national unity than teaching French.


Understandably the French-speaking Swiss ( Romands ) are upset by moves to delay the teaching of French at school in Swiss-German regions. However, some on the Swiss-German side of the Rцsti Graben, the symbolic linguistic dividing line between French and Swiss German speakers, argue that French speakers are holding them to a double standard. Many Swiss-German speakers see High German as the first extra language they must learn. French speaking children are not faced with this extra subject because they donБt speak a dialect at home. Perhaps if the Romands were required to learn both Swiss German and High German on top of French at primary school they would have greater empathy with the learning burden on Swiss-German speaking children. And while High German is taught as a second language throughout the French-speaking part of Switzerland ( Suisse Romande) it is not always taught with much gusto. Few primary school children in Geneva would be able to hold a conversation in High German, let alone Swiss German. Also some Lake Geneva-based expatriates are disappointed to discover how elusive the often-touted benefit of Swiss schooling is that of trilingual children. Many will identify with the song: Hallo, Susi! Guten Morgen! Komm, wir spielen! Komm, komm, komm! La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la. Komm, wir spielen! Komm, komm, komm! , often regaled by their children year after year when asked how their German is coming along Б a reminder of just how little progress they have made. The Federal Council will be looking at the issue again in June. In the meantime votes similar to NidwaldenБs are planned in the cantons of Zurich, Thurgau, Schaffhausen, Luzern and Graubцnden. To be continedБ More on this: Filed Under:, Tagged With:,

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