L’Exception Suisse

Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. All Swiss learn at least one language other than their own at school. French-speaking Swiss learn German as their second language, but they learn the standard variety, Hochdeutsch. The Education Department of Canton Geneva is now proposing that French speakers should first learn one of the regional German dialects before learning Hochdeutsch. Details (auf Deutsch) here  (note the multi-lingual headline) and here.

To get an idea of what this means, imagine that Welsh was the first language of most people living in Wales, and was a national language that could be used for official purposes throughout the United Kingdom. Imagine, too, that the Welsh have been learning Standard English at school, alongside Welsh, but that the Welsh Education Department thought that children should learn one of the regional dialects of the English-speaking part of the United Kingdom before learning Standard English.

It, of course, is a false comparison. The UK is not a federal state in the way that Switzerland is. English regional dialects do not differ as much as Swiss German ones, and Welsh is not spoken as widely in Wales as French is spoken in French-speaking Switzerland. But it does highlight the status given to regional dialects compared with the standard variety of a language. As I have previously posted, no Swiss German regional dialect is regarded as linguistically, socially or intellectually inferior to any other, or to the standard. This latest move by the authorities in Geneva reinforces this position, and Switzerland, in this area of public life, as elsewhere, can give a lesson to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the rest of the world isn’t listening.

Further discussion, uf Schwiizerdütsch, here.


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