Language / Switzerland

Multilingual Switzerland & Swiss German

Although Geneva is located in the French-speaking region of Switzerland, meaning I will mostly be focusing on French while I’m there, it is important to know that Switzerland is a multilingual nation with four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh – the order in which I list them is no mistake. If you take a look at a map that shows the distribution of languages, you’ll see that Switzerland is a majority German-speaking nation (see below; the area in orange is where German is spoken). I learned this, and the complex history behind it, in a paper about language politics in Switzerland.

swissmaplang

It turns out the Swiss have their own German dialect, known as Swiss German (I’m sure the same is true for French; for now, I choose to remain in denial about the implications that possibility may have on my day-to-day life there). I, personally, do not speak a lick of German (I once visited a friend in Berlin and had to be taken around like a 5 year old), but I still find the fact that Swiss German is allegedly so different from the German spoken in Germany (or “High German”) extremely fascinating. I guess I should have already known that would be the case. After all, the same is true for Portuguese (European vs. Brazilian), Arabic (Moroccan vs. Egyptian, for instance), and others.

What really did it for me, though, was hearing the difference between the two.

Now, you’re probably wondering: If she hasn’t actually gotten to Switzerland yet, where did she hear the difference? The answer is Mary Angel.

I’m not sure if that’s her actual name but it is her YouTube name and she posts these really useful and funny videos of words and phrases in Swiss German on YouTube. In the video below she reads a text in English, High German, and Swiss German. Afterwards, she delves a little deeper into the grammatical and phonetic differences between them. If you actually speak German or have ever studied German, you’ll probably appreciate this video even more but I believe that even non-speakers can find the value in what she is articulating for us non-Swiss German speakers (watch it on YouTube and read along with her!).

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