Switzerland and its four official languages (or more?)

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For my project in Nestlé I moved to a small village in the canton Bern called Konolfingen. The valley where Konolfingen in situated in is called Emmental (Yes, this is where the famous cheese comes form). When you think about Switzerland you imagine rough mountains (Jungfrau, Eiger and Munk), and beautiful lakes (Lake Geneva, Thuner see). But that you don’t realize is the huge amount of languages they speak.

First things first, Switzerland’s official name is confederation Helvetica, which is Latin. It is a confederation because of 16 cantons that started to form a country together 1291 at august 1st, which is still celebrated as the birthday of Switzerland. People come together on big squares where traditional Swiss culture is shown, for example the alphorn is played. The evening ends with a lot of firework all over Switzerland. Other parts of Swiss culture are yodeling as well as alpinism, which is hiking and mountain biking in summer and skiing in winter. Swiss cuisine is contains a lot of cheese, but the most famous meals are cheese fondue, raclette and rösti. Switzerland is also known for its chocolate, and after trying some different kinds I can tell you the chocolate is indeed really good here. The most famous literature born in Switzerland is Heidi, an orphan girl who lives with her grandfather in the Alps. Several movies are produced based on this book.

So because of Switzerland being composed of different cantons that form confederation Helvetica together, there are different languages spoken. The four official languages are Swiss German, French, Italian and Romanic. Most cantons are bilingual but only in the one canton where they speak Romanic, Graubünden, is trilingual. The canton where I live in has French and Swiss German as official languages, but Swiss German is mainly used. Unless you get a document from an official authority, then the document is written in three languages, German, French and Italian. Now you would think four languages is enough and indeed there is only one French, Italian or Romanic accent spoken. On the other hand a different form of Swiss German is spoken everywhere. In most big cities they have their own dialect, which they explicitly say when you ask someone which language they speak. A German speaking Swiss will not say I speak Swiss German, but they will rather say I speak Baseldytsch (dialect of Basel), Bärndütsch (dialect of Bern) or Züridütsch (dialect of Zurich).

So living in Konolfingen I try to get a hang on Bärndütsch, which is not easy. On one hand it sounds more similar as High German to my native language, Dutch, and on the other hand so different. But the good thing is that Dutch and Bärndütsch have the same pronunciation for different materials in the lab. On the other hand it can be a bad thing as well, because one day we tried to find the English name for the symbol N. We found that it is stikstof in Dutch and Stickstoff in German but we actually needed google translate to find out that the English name is nitrogen.

To conclude I would say that it is always fun to learn a new language, but I think I will start with High German here, because having a different form of Swiss German in every city sounds like there is too much options to choose from.

By | 2018-01-18T17:05:51+00:00 January 18th, 2018|Inge van Vilsteren, NEWS|
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