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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).

3 comments:

  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:)

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    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 (http://www.beads.ch/index.php?id=1), also centrally located in Zurich. I need to get more posts up about Zurich craft resources!

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

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