Slide 1 Swiss Romantsch
Study of a language under threat
Romantsh is a Romance language, a natural development from Latin. It is spoken by about 70,000 people in Switzerland, mostly in the canton of Graubünden (the Grisons). It belongs to the same family as French, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, and Romanian. Others are Sardinian, Provencal/Occitan and the extinct Dalmatian language.
Slide 2 Romantsch
A language spoken by 70,000 people
Concentrated in south-east Switzerland
In the canton of Graubunden (Grisons)
Developed from Vulgar Latin
Related to French, Spanish, Catalan,
Portuguese, Romanian, Sardinian, Occitan and Dalmatian
The term Rhaeto-Romance is used to refer to three separate language groupings in different parts of the Alps. They include:
1. Ladin, spoken by 30,000 Italian citizens in the Dolomite valleys in Alto Adige (formerly South Tirol).
2. Friulian, spoken by 700,000 Italian citizens in the area further east around Udine and stetching down towards Trieste and Venice
3. Swiss Romantsch, spoken by 70,000 Swiss citizens, mostly in the canton of Graubünden (Grisons).
Ladin in Italy - in Alto Adige - 30,000
in the Dolomites
Friulian in Italy - NE Italy - 700,000
towards Udine & Trieste
Romantsch - in Switzerland - 70,000
in the Grisons (Graubunden)
Slide 4 The languages of Switzerland
Switzerland has 4 national languages:
French, spoken by about 20%,
German by over 60%,
Italian by 8%
and Romantsch by 1%.
In 15 BC, the Romans conquered the Alpine region, which was known as Raetia. Latin in its spoken form (Vulgar Latin) gradually displaced the languages spoken by the indiginous inhabitants, which were related to Celtic, Etruscan and Ligurian. But in displacing them they blended with them, resulting in a form of Vulgar Latin with a particular Rhaetian imprint. This finally evolved into today's Rhaeto-Romance language variants, including Swiss Romantsh. It occurred in much the same way as Vulgar Latin replaced the indiginous languages of Gaul and the Iberian peninsula, influencing their development into French, Provencal, Catalan, Spanish and Portuguese.
Romans conquered the Alpine region 15 BC
Local languages Etruscan/Celtic/Ligurian
Local languages were replaced by Latin
Latin was influenced by the local languages
Vulgar Latin with a strong Rhaetian imprint
The territory known as Rhaeto-Romania reached its maximum extent in the fifth century AD, and covered an area from the Danube to the Adriatic: roughly from Munich in the north down to Venice in the south.
Slide 6 Rhaeto-Romania
At its height in 5th century AD
Area stretched from Danube to Adriatic
from Munich in the north
to Venice in the south
Two administrative centres:
raetia prima: Chur (now Switzerland)
raetia secunda: Augsburg (now Bavaria)
The area where the Rhaeto-Romance languages were spoken was gradually eroded following the collapse of the Roman empire and the mass-migration of Alamanni and other Germanic-speaking peoples from the north between the 5th and10th centuries.
The area was divided into two regions, known as raetia prima in the south, with its centre in Chur, and raetia secunda in the north, with its centre in Augsburg. In the northern part the language was gradually replaced by that of the Germanic-speaking invaders, leaving Chur the effective centre for what was left of the area.
The arrival of so-called Walsers from the Rhone Valley in the west, during the13th and 14th centuries, caused a futher erosion of the area where the language was spoken.
In 1464 there was a
disastrous fire in Chur and the town was burned down. It was rebuilt largely by German-speaking workmen who then
stayed and settled there. The effect of this was to separate the
Romantsch-speaking valleys from each other and leave the whole region without a
Romantsch-speaking economic and cultural centre.
In 1464 Chur was completely burnt down
Rebuilt by Germanic-speaking workmen
They stayed and settled in Chur
Romance language replaced by Germanic
Romance Valleys cut off from each other
Isolated valleys each developed own idiom
These valleys were mostly involved in agriculture. For many months in winter deep snow made contact between the valleys difficult, further increasing their isolation. As a result they developed their own forms of the language and these more and more diverged from one another.
Five distinct forms of the language gradually emerged and these became the idioms used today.
Apart from fragments from the Middle Ages, the earliest records of written Romantsh are from the sixteenth century, when the Reformation and Counter-Reformation movements published works in it.
In the course of time, each of the regional variants developed its own written form and each its own literature. For many years now each of the five variants has had its own newspaper.
The areas where the five idioms are spoken are divided between the valleys of the Inn and the Rhine and have the following names:
Upper Engadine: Puter
Lower Engadine: Vallader
Upper Rhine: Surselva
Lower Rhine: Sutselva
in between: Surmeiran
In the Inn Valley (the Engadine): Puter and Vallader (plus Val Müster)
In the Rhine Valley: Surselva and Sutselva
in between: Surmeiran (called Oberhalbstein in German).
As in most of Switzerland, virtually every village has its own distinct dialect.
Romantsh is one of Switzerland's four national languages, along with French, German and Italian. It is one of the three official languages of the canton of Graubünden (Grisons), along with German and Italian.
In 1990 Romantsh speakers represented 1% of the Swiss population and 23% of the Graubünden population.
The five regional idioms have the following percentages:
Upper Engadine Puter 13%
Lower Engadine Vallader 15%
Upper Rhine Surselva 43%
Lower Rhine Sutselva 3%
In between Surmieran 8%
Are the five idioms mutually intelligible? If two people from different areas really want to make themselves understood, and are patient, they often can - though probably with some difficulty. The main problem with reading is that the written forms of the five idioms look very different since the spelling varies greatly.
An accurate estimate of the number of Romantsch-speakers is problematc. Many Swiss people are bi-lingual or trilingual. They may use one language in the home and another at school or at work. They may not speak their so-called mother-tongue as well as the language that they use every day. The figures quoted are the result of different surveys. Some have asked for "mother-tongue". Others have asked for "best language". The two figures can be quite different.
The Romantsh language is taught in schools, in the idiom appropriate to the area. In Romantsch-speaking communes, all teaching in kindergartens, and in primary schools during the first 4 years, is done entirely through the medium of the local idiom. This means that up to age 11 the children do everything in Romantsch. After that, German is gradually introduced. From age 13, when they go to secondary school, the instruction is in German. Romantsch is then taught as a separate subject.
Over the centuries Romantsh has continued to lose ground. This has been at an ever-increasing rate since the mountain regions were opened up to tourism through the building of roads and railways. Greater prosperity has brought a major new threat to the Romanstch language.
With the opening-up of the
Alpine region, Romantsch-speakers began to see their language as an economic
impediment, especially when dealing with new-comers and visitors - mainly German-speakers from other parts of
Switzerland, but also people speaking Italian and other languages. As a result many communes changed the
language of instruction in their schools to German.
Roads & railways opened up the valleys
Increasing economic prosperity
Business contacts with German speakers
Influx of German-speaking visitors
Romantsch seen as an impediment
Many schools switched to German
The advent of radio and television has tended to re-inforce the use of German at the expense of Romantsch, even though there are now regular programs transmitted in the various idioms.
Switzerland has its own distinctive form of democracy with a referendum taking place at frequent intervals on a whole range of issues. By Swiss law, when fifty percent of a commune becomes German-speaking, the kindergarten and primary school can, and usually do, change from using Romantsch to German as the medium of instruction. This has further eroded the language.
Anyone wanting to learn
Romantsch has to decide which of the five varieties to choose. Whilst they have a lot in common, they do
vary markedly one from the other.
Indeed local people can have great difficulty in communicating with
those from other regions.
There is an important and influential umbrella organization whose task it is to promote the Romantsch language and culture. It is called the The Lia Rumantscha and is based in Chur.
Following a study set up by the government, the Lia Rumantscha appointed Prof. Müller from Zürich University to carry our a 5-year research project with the aim of creating an artificial unified written language, based on the dominant characteristics of the five dialects. This was completed in 1982. It was decided to call it Rumantsch Grischun, (meaning Grisons Romantsch).
Significantly, the first book to be published in the new language was Tick-Tack for Business. 1000 copies were ordered from us in 1983 to celebrate the first anniversary of the new language. Since then the book has been converted into software, and other Tick-Tack programs in Rumantsch Grischun have been added.
5-year study of all the variants
Created a combined artifical language
Commonest characteristics of all 5 idioms
The result: a unified written langauge
Called Rumantsch Grischun
First book to be produced in it:
In the past eighteen years there has been a rapid development in the use of the unified written language in the form of books, videos, dictionaries, and web-sites, as well as in advertising and packaging.
Initially the only items in the new language were Tick-Tack for Business and a slim dictionary. When the Swiss cantons write to the government in Bern they write in their own idiom, so the Romantsch-speakers in Graubunden began to write in Rumantsch Grischun. The government, obliged to write to the canton in the canton's language, did the same. But in order to make sure that they wrote it correctly, both sides for a time relied on Tick-Tack.
There has been much resistance from local people to this new language, which many dismissed as an artificial construct which would undermine their own mother-tongue, i.e the local idiom that they use for speaking, reading and writing. This has been as true in the schools as in the general community.
Over the years many of these fears have diminished, though not everywhere. In June this year there was a referendum on whether to accept Rumantsch Grischun as the one and only written form to be used for official purposes. Two thirds of the population accepted it. But it still meant that one third were not in favour, including a significant proportion of people in the largest region: Surselva in the Upper Rhine.
The future of Rumantsch Grischun
It is uncertain whether Rumantsch Grischun will ever become a spoken language. German-speaking Swiss read and write in high German (Hochdeutsch) but they do not speak it, except to foreigners. They all speak the dialect of their own region, or village. It is usually referred to as Schwiezerdutsch. So Rumanstch Grischun may well become the sole written language but people will no doubt continue to speak their own idiom.
German-Swiss read & write in Hochdeutsch
But they speak "Schwiezerdutsch"
Each village has its own dialect
They are fiercely proud of their dialect
Romantsch-speakers may do the same
Read & write in Rumantsch Grischun
But speak in their own native idiom
The only time that High German (Hochdeutsch) is spoken in Switzerland is to German-speaking visitors, apart from the radio and television news, which is delivered in High German, but with a strong Swiss accent.
Speakers of Ladin and Friulian, the related Rhaeto-Romance languages in Italy, are unlikely ever to adopt the new unified written language. Their idioms are even further removed - in spelling, vocabulary and grammar. The Lia Rumantscha and others maintain contact with similar organizations in the Italian areas, but are forced to communicate in German with the Ladin-speakers and in Italian with the Friulian-speakers.
To help promote the use of the new unified written language we are planning to produce Tick-Tack programs with the sentences in both Romantsch Grischun and the local idioms so that, in school, pupils will be able to read and select sentences in their mother-tongue, and create their texts in the new unified language.
It is very difficult to learn a language without knowing how it is pronounced. Latin is a good example of this. Until recently Latin was in steep decline in English schools, but since the introduction of the very popular Cambridge Latin Course, which is accompanied by voice-recordings of all the narratives, Latin has enjoyed a renaissance.
In order to encourage people to learn Romantsch, we want to help create a standard pronunciation for Rumantsch Grischun by recording the sentences. This will then mean that anyone wishing to learn Romantsch will not have to decide which of the five variants to learn. They will be able to learn the unified language, Rumantsch Grischun, not only to read and write it but also to speak it.