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Defining Swiss Lingua Franca with Four Official Languages

Swiss Language
Defining Swiss Lingua Franca with Four Official Languages
on November, 20 2013

Swiss Lingua Franca: Switzerland has four national languages. These are German, French, Italian and Romansh, and all are treated with the same distinction as certified lingua franca, except for Romansh. The Federal Administration of the Swiss Confederation acknowledges German, French and Italian to be Switzerland’s official national languages on equal levels.

Language distribution

Among the four national languages of Switzerland, the languages spoken by more people are the Swiss German dialects with 64 % or 4.6 million speakers. Apart from the use of Swiss German, quite a number of Swiss people also use Swiss Standard German in writing and speaking. Meanwhile 20% or 1.5 million of the nation’s residents use Swiss French including a fraction who speak in Arpitan dialects. Around 6.5 % or 500,000 speakers use Swiss Italian and Lombard dialects while 35,000 speakers, representing 0.5 % of Swiss population communicate in Romansh tongue.

Celtic settlers

Around 2,500 years ago, Celtic-speaking Helvetians came to settle in the Swiss region and left historic records in written form. Along with the Helvetians, another tribe known as the Rhetians lived in the alpine valleys of southeastern Switzerland. These people used the Rumantsch dialect or what is commonly known as Latin, the Roman language. The Rhetians succeeded in preserving their culture and language up to now however the Helvetians or Celtic group failed to leave any traces in Switzerland except for several names of places. History relates that the Helvetians tried to leave Switzerland to go to France but Julius Caesar of Rome blocked them. They were forced to go back to Switzerland and be governed by Roman rule.

Tribal migration

It was in 400 A.D. when a migration of tribes and a significant movement of people from different points in Europe and Asia took place. A number of Germanic tribes that included the Francs and Burgundians crossed the Rhine river boundary. The Francs stayed in western Switzerland and the Burgundians put up homes in the western part. These two tribes eventually inherited the Roman administration and adopted the Roman or Latin culture and language.

Germanic tribe

In the course of the same tribal movement, the Lombardians, a Germanic tribe, moved to Northern Italy and in the valleys of southern Switzerland. Through the centuries, French, Italian and Spanish languages replaced the Latin dialect.

Another Germanic tribe known as the Alamannen gradually organized themselves in northern Switzerland with a few tribes remaining in southwestern Germany. This tribe was not interested in assimilating Roman culture but rather stayed in their new villages, speaking their own Germanic language. Two centuries passed and they were able to infiltrate most parts of northern Switzerland while majority of the Celts and Romans withdrew and Latin dialect disappeared over time and occasionally used only in religious rituals.

Melting pot

Swiss population does not have a single ethnic origin as can be delineated from the history of settlers that came to the land. Switzerland is a melting pot of at least four tribes that adopted the use of different languages. And since the Germanic tribes occupied more portions of the settlement, their language has become dominantly spoken in many areas.

Day Translations Team

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