Distinctive Features and Peculiarities of Swiss Dialects


Even though there are 4 languages spoken in Switzerland – German, French, Italian, and Romansh – there are lots of peculiarities of the Swiss dialects that have to be explained. Indeed, Romansh is spoken only by 0.5% of the entire Swiss people in the Southern part of the country, as well as by a small minority in the North of Italy, so there are no dialects of this language.

The most widespread and preserved dialects are, indeed, the Swiss German dialects that belong to the Alamannic group of German dialects. The German dialect of the Baden-Würtemberg region (the Southern West of Germany) also belongs to this group of dialects, unlike Swabian, Bayern, or Austrian dialects, all of which significantly differ from the Alammanic ones.

One of the distinctive peculiarities of Swiss dialects development is the richness of German dialects: there is no single, commonly accepted Swiss dialect of the German language, but a few dozens of such, which causes a problem in establishing a common written version of the Swiss German dialect.

swiss dialects

The map of the dialects of the Swiss German language

Supposedly, the German dialect appeared in Switzerland in the 5th century, when Alamannen, a Germanic tribe, started to populate this territory. Through the centuries, the German language was spread to the other parts of Switzerland, yet with some changes and differences, which resulted in the appearance of more Swiss German dialects.

However, a mix of the words is one of the other peculiarities of Swiss dialects. For instance, there is no word “Fahrrad” (a bike) used in the Swiss German, but a Velo borrowed from the French language. Likewise, the words like “Portmonnee”, “Billet”, and “Trottoir.” Though, there were some words borrowed from English too. Thus, one may state that the Swiss dialects of German are somewhat influenced by French, English, and Italian.

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The dialects of the central and northern Switzerland are, indeed, closer to the standard version of German, so-called Hochdeutsch. In the alpine regions, however, you may find more “special” dialects with invented, new words. One of the most unusual dialects of the German language in general is the dialect of upper Wallis, since it sounds strange and unusual even to many Swiss people. Keep in mind, however, that, unlike many other cultures, the Swiss people are very proud of their German dialects.

There had been quite a few dialects of the Swiss French (known as Patois), but almost all of them disappeared and are not used even in a close circle of relatives or friends. Though, there are some slight differences and word substitutes, like “Nonante” instead of “Quatre-vingt-dix”, which stands for 90. An important note about the French-speaking regions: the French-speaking citizens of Switzerland like a thought about belonging to the French-speaking community and don’t understand why other Swiss citizens use those barely understandable dialects of German.

Unlike the Swiss dialects of French, the Italian dialects are still commonly used among friends, families, and sometimes are even used in business, if other partners or negotiators understand them as well. The Swiss dialects of Italian have some words borrowed from the French, so the residents of the French-speaking cantons can understand them pretty well.


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