Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Swiss German problems

I've talked a bit on this blog about how challenging I find Swiss German, which is basically an oral language with no written rules. But even that definition is an oversimplification. Swiss German is actually a language group - but even that term can't be properly defined due to the wide variation in the local dialects.

That's right - Swiss German doesn't actually exist, technically speaking. As Wikipedia puts it, "Linguistically, Swiss German forms no unity." You're telling me.

It truly fascinates me that such a small country with only 8 million residents already has four official languages, but even that doesn't begin to cover the breadth of linguistic variation. I'm not a linguist, nor have I been around Swiss German enough to try to explain any of the differences, but if you want to know more, the above article makes for interesting reading (even if I don't know the difference between Low, High, and Highest Alemannic).

As a demonstration of the mind-boggling variation, I present this video that a friend posted on facebook. Zurich, as you may know, is located in north central Switzerland, while Valais (German: Wallis) is a canton in the southwest and is bilingual - the western part speaks French, which the eastern speaks German. The two areas are separated by well under 200 km/125 miles (Zurich to Zermatt is 161 km/100 miles).

I mean, seriously - Ausländers don't even stand a chance, do we?

(Also note: I'm not fluent in any of these languages other than English, but I will say that I've never heard anyone say "Guten Tag" - in any accent - as "hello" in Switzerland. They say "Grüezi." The point of the video is to show different accents, I suppose, but just sayin'). UPDATE: A Swiss friend informs me that Guten Tag is used in Switzerland for some informal situations. Apparently I have never been in an informal situation in Swiss German (true dat, I have not).


  1. Hi! I found your blog by looking for a bead store in Zurich... I'm an exchange student spending a year here in Zurich. I understand the pain of Swiss german.XD
    Is the bead store mentioned in your post from 2013 still open? I believe it was April 3rd you wrote it:)

    1. Hi, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Yes, Leibundgut is still going strong. If you're looking for beads specifically, you might want to try out House of Beads (, also centrally located in Zurich. I need to get more posts up about Zurich craft resources!

    2. Yay! Thanks a bunch, I went there yesterday and it was amazing! And I will definitely check out the House of Beads. :)