Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Swiss German language
Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch, Schwyzerdütsch, Schwiizerdütsch, Schwyzertütsch, Schwizertitsch) is any of the Alemannic dialects spoken in Switzerland. The term Hochdeutsch (High German) or Schriftdeutsch (i.e. 'writ-German', written German) is, in a Swiss context, often reserved for Standard German, which is a non-regional language, based not on one dialect, but on several, mainly Middle German dialects.
Unlike most dialects 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 no social or educational inferiority. There are specific settings where speaking Standard German is demanded or polite, e.g. in school classes (but not during breaks), in parliament, in TV news, in the presence of German-speaking foreigners, but outside of such settings two Swiss do not speak Standard German with each other.
Swiss German is intelligible to speakers of other Alemannic dialects, but — unlike Austrian German — usually not intelligible to speakers of Standard German (which includes 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.
The Swiss dialects do have marked regional differences in pronunciation and vocabulary, but are mutually understandable - with a few exceptions, e.g., in the German-speaking part of Valais. Swiss dialects are an essential part of the local cultural identity, which goes in some places down to the local village or cultural subgroup level (the upper class of Basel has their special dialect as well as the farmers of Adelboden). In some regions a politician who does not speak the local idiom has lower chances in elections.
It expresses strong regional, cantonal and national Swiss separateness, setting Swiss residents apart from those living in "the big canton" (Germany).
Unlike the other High German dialects, most Swiss dialects did not participate in the second German vowel shift during medieval times - they use mostly the same vowels as Middle High German. As such, even though Swiss German linguistically is a High German language, its pronunciation is in places closer to Low German than other High German dialects or standard German. An exception are certain central Swiss dialects, e.g. the Uri dialect.
|Zürich dialect||Uri dialect||Standard German||translation|
On the other hand, most Swiss German dialects have completed the Second Germanic sound shift, that is, they have not only changed t to [ts] or [s] and p to [pf] or [f] but also k to [kχ] or [χ]. Most Swiss dialects have initial [χ] or [kχ] instead of k; there are however exceptions, namely the idioms of Chur and Basel. Basel German is a mix between High and Low Alemannic (most, but not all, Alemannic dialects spoken in Germany are Low Alemannic), and Chur German is basically High Alemannic without initial [χ] or [kχ].
|High Alemannic||Low Alemannic||Standard German||translation|
(Note that many dialects use the word Schmutz instead of Kuss.)
Like in all Southern German dialects, Swiss German dialects have no voiced plosives or voiced [z]. Instead, there is a length distinction.
Swiss German /p, t, k/ are not aspirated. Aspirated [pʰ, tʰ, kʰ] have (in most dialects) secondarily developed by contractions or by borrowings from other languages (mainly standard German), e.g. /phaltə/ 'keep' (standard German behalten); /theː/ 'tea' (standard German Tee [tʰeː]); /khalt/ 'salary' (standard German Gehalt).
In the dialects of Basel and Chur, aspirated /k/ is also present in native words.
Swiss German /x/ only has one allophone, namely [χ]. Standard German /x/, on the other hand, has two allophones, namely [ç] and [x].
Final hardening (Auslautverhärtung) is not present in Swiss German dialects. Since there are no voiced plosives, foreigners may get impressions similar to Standard German, however. Also, very often, long consonants are preceded by short vowels.
Most Swiss German dialects have rounded front vowels, unlike many German dialects. Only in the Low Alemannic dialects of northwest Switzerland (mainly Basel) and in the Walliser dialects, these have been unrounded. Due to influence from other Swiss German dialects, the roundening is spreading.
Like Bavarian dialects, Swiss German dialects have preserved the opening diphthongs of Middle High German: /iə̯, uə̯, yə̯/, e.g. in /liə̯b̥/ 'lovely' (standard German lieb, but pronounced /liːp/); /huə̯t/ 'hat' (standard German Hut /huːt/); /xyə̯l/ 'cool' (standard German kühl /kʰyːl/). Note that some of those diphtongs have been unrounded in several dialects.
Like Low German dialects, Swiss German dialects have preserved the old monophthongs /iː, uː, yː/, e.g. /pfiːl/ 'arrow' (standard German Pfeil /pfaɪ̯l/); /b̥uːx/ 'belly' (standard German Bauch /bau̯x/); /z̥yːlə/ 'pillar' (standard German Säule /zɔʏ̯lə/).
Western Swiss German dialects (e.g. Bernese German) have preserved the old diphthongs /ei̯, ou̯/, whereas the other dialects have /ai̯, au̯/ like Standard German.
|short /a/||long /aː/|
|short /f/||/hafə/ 'bowl'||/d̥i b̥raːfə/ 'the honest ones'|
|long /fː/||/afːə/ 'apes'||/ʃlaːfːə/ 'to sleep'|
Stress is more often on the first syllable than in standard German (even in French loans such as [ˈmɛrsːi] or [ˈmersːi] "thanks" - note that French stress itself is sentence-based rather than word-based; hence, Swiss German speakers see their own pronunciation as superior to pronunciations with final stress.) Note that there are many different stress patterns even within dialects. Bernese German is one of the dialects where many words are stressed on the first syllable, e.g. [ˈkaz̥ino] 'casino', whereas standard German has [kʰaˈziːno]. However, there seem to be no dialects that are as consistent as the Icelandic language in this respect.
The grammar of Swiss dialects has some specialties compared to German:
- In most dialects, there is no genitive.
- The order within verb groups may vary, e.g. wil du bisch cho/wil du cho bisch vs. standard German weil du gekommen bist "because you have come/came (literally: are come)".
- All relative clauses are introduced by the relative particle wo 'where', never by the demonstrative particles der, die, das, welcher, welches as in Standard German, e.g. ds Bispil, wo si schrybt vs. Standard German das Beispiel, das sie schreibt 'the example that she writes'; ds Bispil, wo si dra dänkt vs. Standard German das Beispiel, an das sie denkt 'the example that she thinks of'.
- In combinations with other verbs, the verbs gah or goh "go", cho "come", la or lo "let" and aafa or aafo "begin" reduplicate, prefixed to the main verb.
example: Si chunt üse Chrischtboum cho schmücke. literal translation: she comes our Christmas tree come adorn translation She comes to adorn our Christmas tree. example: Si lat ne nid la schlafe. literal translation: she lets him not let sleep translation: She doesn't let him sleep.
- This is probably a generalization of a close association of these verbs with the following verb in perfect tense or modal verb constructions:
perfect tense: Si het ne nid la schlafe. literal translation: she has him not let sleep translation: She hasn't let/didn't let him sleep. modal verb: Si wot ne nid la schlafe. literal translation: she wants him not let sleep translation: She doesn't want to let him sleep.
Swiss German dialects are usually not written, but only spoken. All formal writing, newspapers, books and much of informal writing is done in Standard German, which is usually called Schriftdeutsch (written German). Certain dialectal words are accepted regionalisms in Swiss Standard German and are also sanctioned by the Duden, e.g. Zvieri (afternoon snack).
There exist relatively few written works in Swiss dialects. Today especially young people use the dialect more and more in informal written communication (e.g. e-mail or SMS). However, most write standard German more fluently than their dialect.
There is no standard language, so the writers use the dialect of the region they come from.
There are no official rules about writing Swiss German. The orthographies used in the Swiss German literature can be roughly divided in two systems: Those that try to stay as close to standard German spelling as possible and those that try to represent the sounds as well as possible.
Two letters are used differently from the Standard German rules:
- The letter <k> (and <ck>) is used for the affricate /kx/.
- The letter <gg> is used for the fortis /k/.
- <y> (and sometimes <yy>) traditionally stands for the /iː, i/ that corresponds to Standard German /aɪ̯/, e.g. in Rys 'rice' (Standard German /raɪ̯s/) vs. Ri(i)s 'giant' (Standard German /riːzə/). Many writers, however, don't use <y>, but <i(i)>, especially in those dialects where there's no distinction between these sounds, compare Zürich German Riis /riːz̥/ 'rice' or 'giant' to Bernese German Rys /riːz̥/ 'rice' vs. Ri(i)s /rɪːz̥/ 'giant'. Some use even <ie>, influenced by Standard German spelling, which leads to confusion with <ie> for /iə̯/.
The vocabulary is rather rich - especially in rural areas there are many special terms retained, e.g. regarding cattle or weather. In the cities, much of the rural vocabulary has been lost.
Most borrowings come from Standard German. Many of these are now so common that they have totally replace the original Swiss German words, e.g. the words Hügel 'hill' (instead of Egg, Bühl), Lippe 'lip' (instead of Lefzge). Others have replaced the original words only in parts of Switzerland, e.g. Butter 'butter' (usually called Anken in southwestern Switzerland), Kopf 'head' (usually called Grind in southwestern Switzerland). Virtually any Swiss Standard German word can be borrowed into Swiss German, always adapted to Swiss German phonology. However, many Standard German words are never used in Swiss German because they feel "wrong", e.g. nieseln 'mizzle/drizzle'.
Swiss dialects have quite a few words from French, which are perfectly assimilated. Glace (ice cream) for example is pronounced /glas/ in French but [ˈg̥lasːeː] or [ˈg̥lasːə] in many Swiss German dialects. The French word for 'thank you', merci, is also used as in merci vilmal, literally "thanks many times". Maybe these words aren't direct borrowings from French but survivors of the once numerous French loans in Standard German, many of which have fallen out of use in Germany.
In recent years, Swiss dialects have also borrowed some English words which already sound very Swiss, e.g. [ˈfuːd̥ə] (to eat, from "food"), [ˈg̥eimə] (to play computer games) or [ˈsnøːb̥ə] or [ˈsnːb̥ə] - (boarding, from "snowboard"). While most of those loanwords are of recent origin, some have been in use for decades, e.g. [ˈʃutːə] (to play football, from "shoot").
Interestingly, there are also a few English words which are modern borrowings from the Swiss German languages. The dishes muesli and rösti have become English words, as did loess (fine grain), flysch (sandstone formation), and the act of putsching in a political sense.
Distribution of dialects
There are a number of distinct dialects in Swiss German (yellow). Although dialects of some regions are generally differentiated, it is possible to hear which town somebody comes from merely by listening to a person's speech. As people move around more in recent years, this distinction has weakened. The regional dialects, however, remain strong.
The main dialects are of the German-speaking parts of Graubünden (GR), of St. Gallen (SG), Appenzell (AP), Thurgau (TG), Glarus (GL), Schaffhausen (SH), Zürich (ZH), Zug (Z), Schwyz (SZ), Lucerne (LU), Uri (UR), Unterwalden (UW), the German-speaking parts of Valais (VS), Aargau (AG), the German-speaking parts of Bern (BE), Basel (BS), Solothurn (SO) and the German-speaking parts of Fribourg (FR). Swiss German is also spoken in the north of Italy (P) and in the north west of Ticino (T).
- Schweizerisches Idiotikon Comprehensive 17-volume Dictionary of Swiss Dialects (in university libraries)
- Chochichästli-Orakel - choose the Swiss German words you would normally use and see how well this matches the dialect of your area. (German only)
- Dialekt.ch a site with sound samples from different dialects. (German only)
- An Examination of Swiss German in and around Zürich A paper that presents the differences between Swiss German and High-German.
- The Alternative Swiss German Dictionary A site with all the words you will not find elsewhere.
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