In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that Switzerland has four national languages: Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansh. Swiss German speakers make up 63.6% of the population, French speakers make up 20.4%, Italian speakers make up 6.5% and Romansh 0.5%.* In fact, Switzerland’s diversity, particularly it’s diverse languages, is one of the primary ways it differentiates itself from its more homogeneous neighbors.
Romansh is only spoken in a few valleys in the southeastern alps, but is one of four national Swiss languages. It is a national language, but not an official language. Therefore, it not used in Parliament, government and the army. Also, laws do not have to be translated into Romansh.
When the Romans conquered the area in about 15 B.C.E., they latinized the area. Today’s inhabitants of the area speak Romansh, a descendant of Latin.
The area is very remote and isolated. As a result, five different versions of the language exist. Notice the lack of roads (due to the Alps) in the southeast, where Romansh is spoken.
These are some of the largest, most easily accessible and well-known areas. You can see how transportation and contact with the outside world might have been (and still be) difficult.
It is a unique phenomenon to have so many dialects in such a small area. In fact, Romansh is spelled many different ways including: Romansch, Rumants(c)h, Romanche, Romansh, Rumantsch, Rumantsch, and Romontsch. To help keep it alive, a standard written form was developed in the 80’s.
Check out the Romansh keyboard. Despite my frustration with them, French keyboards are starting to look a lot easier.
*Those who add will note that this does not total 100%. Other language speakers make up around 9%. Expats, like us, are a good example.