Swiss German

Use

Unlike most regional languages in modern Europe, Swiss German is the spoken everyday language of all social levels in industrial cities as well as in the countryside. Using dialect conveys neither social nor educational inferiority and is done with pride.[1] There are only a few specific settings where speaking Standard German is demanded or polite, e.g., in education (but not during breaks in school lessons, where the teachers will speak in dialect with students), in multilingual parliaments (the federal parliaments and a few cantonal and municipal ones), in the main news broadcast or in the presence of German-speaking foreigners. This situation has been called a medial diglossia since the spoken language is mainly the dialect whereas the written language is mainly Standard German.

Swiss German is intelligible to speakers of other Alemannic dialects but poses greater difficulty in total comprehension to speakers of Standard German, including French- or Italian-speaking Swiss who learn Standard German at school. Swiss German speakers on TV or in movies are thus usually dubbed or subtitled if shown in Germany.

Dialect rock is a music genre using the language; many Swiss rock bands, however, sing in English.

The Swiss Amish of Indiana also use Swiss German.

Variation and distribution

Swiss German is a regional or political umbrella term, not a linguistic unity. For all dialects, there are idioms spoken outside Switzerland that are more closely related to them than some Swiss German dialects. The main linguistic divisions within Swiss German are those of Low, High and Highest Alemannic. Low Alemannic is only spoken in the northernmost parts of Switzerland, in Basel and around Lake Constance. High Alemannic is spoken in most of the Swiss plateau, and is divided in an eastern and a western group. Highest Alemannic is spoken in the Alps.

Each dialect is separable into numerous local sub-dialects, sometimes down to a resolution of individual villages. Speaking the dialect is an important part of regional, cantonal and national identity. In the more urban areas of the Swiss plateau, regional differences are fading due to increasing mobility, and a growing population of non-Alemannic descent. Despite the varied dialects, the Swiss can still understand one another but may particularly have trouble understanding Walliser dialects.

History

As Alemannic dialects, Swiss German dialects did not participate in the second German vowel shift during medieval times — they use mostly the same vowels as Middle High German. Therefore, even though the Alemannic dialects belong to High German, their vowels are closer to Low Saxon[clarification needed] than other High German dialects or standard German. An exception is certain central Swiss and Walser dialects, e.g. some dialects of Unterwalden, of the Schanfigg Valley (Graubünden) and that of Issime (Piedmont).

Examples:

Zürich dialect Unterwalden dialect Schanfigg and Issime dialects Standard German translation
[huːs] [huis] [hous] [haʊ̯s] house
[tsiːt] [tseit] [tseit] [tsae̯t] time

Most Swiss German dialects, being High-Alemannic dialects, have completed the High German consonant shift, that is, they have not only changed t to [t͡s] or [s] and p to [p͡f] or [f] but also k to [k͡x] or [x]. Most Swiss dialects have initial [x] or [k͡x] instead of k; there are however exceptions, namely the idioms of Chur and Basel. Basel German is a Low Alemannic dialect (like most, but not all, Alemannic dialects in Germany), and Chur German is basically High Alemannic without initial [x] or [k͡x].

Examples:

High Alemannic Low Alemannic Standard German translation
[ˈxaʃtə] [ˈkʰaʃtə] [ˈkʰastən] box
[k͡xaˈri(ː)b̥ik͡x] [kʰaˈriːbikʰ] [kʰaˈriːbɪk] Caribbean