|Switzerland has four national languages: German,
French, Italian and Romansh, but German predominates. In principle, speakers
of all four languages have equal rights. In practice, however, the smaller
groups sometimes have to struggle to assert their political and economic
rights. The federal constitution states that German, French and Italian
are Switzerland's official languages. They have equal status in Parliament,
the federal administration and the army. In 1938, Romansh was declared
the fourth national language.
German is spoken by about three-quarters of the
population, primarily in the central and northern areas. Although German-speaking
Swiss learn formal German or High German at school, in everyday conversation
they often use a regional German dialect. French is spoken by about 20%
of the population, mostly in the west. Swiss French is similar to the French
spoken in France. Italian is spoken by about 5% of the population, mostly
in the south. Swiss Italians use three different kinds of Italian: the
local dialect, the general Lombard dialect known as koine, and literary
or standard Italian.
Did you know?
70 and 80 Swiss-German dialects are spoken in Switzerland. They are commonly
referred to as SchwyzerdŁtsch.
|Romansh is spoken by about 1% of the Swiss, mostly
in the canton of GraubŁnden. Romansh belongs to the Rhaeto-Romanic
group of languages. When the Romans conquered the valleys of Rhaetia in
15 B.C., the original inhabitants incorporated some Latin words into their
language. The language survived because this region was isolated for many
centuries. Although the Romansh-speaking community consists of only about
50,000 people, they are divided into five groups, each with its own distinct
version of the language.
Most Swiss speak at least two of the national
languages. Many also speak or at least understand English. Business is
usually conducted in French, German or Italian, but some larger companies