Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Romansh (also spelled Rumantsch, Romansch or Romanche) is one of the four national languages of Switzerland, along with German, Italian and French. It is a Romance language, believed to have descended from the vulgar Latin spoken by Roman-era occupiers of the region. It is spoken by around 50-70,000 people in the canton of Grisons (Graubünden), the "canton of a hundred and fifty valleys". Spoken by only some 1% of Switzerland's 7.4 million inhabitants, it is the smallest of Switzerland's languages in terms of number of speakers.
Romansh is not a single language but a group of closely-related languages or dialects, all belonging to the family of the Rhaetian languages. The group of various Rhaetian languages spoken in Switzerland are termed Romansh; the other members of the group are from northern Italy: Friulian, spoken by around 500-600,000 people in the north-east, and Ladin, spoken by around 20,000 in the Dolomite mountains of the Italian Tyrol.
The five largest languages in the Romansh family are Sursilvan, Sutsilvan, Surmiran, Puter and Vallader. Puter and Vallader are sometimes considered one language: Ladin. Ladin is sometimes associated with the language in Italy's Dolomite mountains also known as Ladin. The ISO 639 language codes are
Romansh was standardized in 1982. This is called Rumantsch Grischun. On the orthographic level, Heinrich Schmid sought to avoid all "odd-looking" spellings, in order to increase general acceptability of the new idiom and its spelling. Therefore, words with plus [e] or [i] have tg (for example tgirar) instead of ch. Words with [tɕ] followed by [a], [o], [u] have ch (for example chalanda) as both speakers of Engadin (chalanda) and the Rhine territory (calanda) expect a spelling with c. At the same time, che and chi are — due to this rule, called "Leza Uffers Kompromiss" — pronounced [ke] and [ki]: k would be a grapheme deemed unfit for a Romance tongue such as Romansh. Schwa [ə], however, is represented by e in Romansh, which makes it closer to German, as does the use of sch for both ([ʃ]) and ([ʒ]), and <tsch> for ([ʧ]).
On the other hand, the fact that there is no ü or ö in Rumantsch Grischun may not only be due to the lack of [y] and [ĝ] in most Romansh idioms, but also to the graphic form which is seen as non-Romance. This also shows that it is not always phonetics that leads to the adoption of a new grapheme, but sometimes also the lack of a grapheme that leads to a certain phonetic shape of the standard. All in all, Romansh spelling is a compromise between Romance (Italian, French) and Germanic (German) spelling.
The Lia Rumantscha is the umbrella organization for all Romansh associations. Their web site provides further background information. Standard Romansh language is called Rumantsch grischun. Rumantsch Grischun has not been very well accepted, and speakers of the different dialects tend to address one another in German. This is leading to an accelaration of the decline of the language.
- Website of the Lia Rumantscha organization
- Romansch - English Dictionary
- An Account of the Romansh Language originally published in the 1776 Philosophical Transactions
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