Millions of people speak German in Switzerland, and it is no secret that the way they talk is variant from those who are from Germany. However, the German language did not originate from Switzerland. Has the language evolved enough for Swiss German to be considered its own language?
Swiss German is not an official language, rather it is a collection of German dialects. Because there are many different regions within Europe- specifically Germany and Switzerland in this case- different villages and areas within these countries developed their own dialects and forms of speaking.
There are a few things to break down in order to better understand why this question holds so much valor, and why it is relevant. Deconstructing the origins of the Germanic roots will bring its relevancy to light. Once reading this article, one should have a better understanding of what Swiss German is, what makes it different from the official German language, and where Swiss German is most commonly used.
What is Swiss German?
Swiss German is a form of speech used across the country of Switzerland. It is a label reference to Alemannic Germanic dialects, which are informal ways of talking based on specific regions. Spoken by approximately 5.2 million people in Switzerland, it is an important part of the Country’s functioning and way of living.
While it is an unofficial language, understanding it is a crucial part of being able to understand and interact with the language, people, and overall culture of not only Switzerland but other countries in relation to Swiss Germans who speak Alemannic.
One of the reasons “Is Swiss German a Language” is a question in the first place, is because the dialect is sometimes so different from traditional German that the people might as well be speaking completely different languages.
The Origins of Swiss German
Even though approximately 60% of people in Switzerland speak Swiss German, it cannot be classified as an official language because it is not a singular form of communication. In fact, it is regionally based. Swiss German is a description of the German dialects spoken across different regions of Switzerland.
Throughout the years, these vernaculars have developed to become more and more unique to their country or place of origin. They have formed into very idiosyncratic dialects of Swiss German that could sometimes be difficult for someone from another region to understand, even if they were native to Switzerland, while other times, the differences between speech are minimal.
Some accents and forms of communication are much thicker than others. A good way to think about Swiss German versus ‘regular’ German is to compare it to living in the United States. For example, some people from areas in the deep southern states like Texas, or other places such as New Jersey or New York have very thick and distinguished accents. The further one goes into these places and the deeper an individual’s roots are to the said location, the more prevalent their accent will be.
Sometimes, this can make a person hard to understand, especially if you haven’t been exposed to the accent before. This is because dialects are influenced by culture, history, tradition, education, the way others pronounce things around them, and a number of other factors.
Similarly, Switzerland has a heavy influence on history that has impacted the way they speak across their various sectors. Their differentiation could arguably be even more significant than those within the United States because of the longstanding European history and prevalence of the German language.
Alemannic: a Collection of Dialects
Specifically in Switzerland, Swiss German actually refers to a collection of German dialects called Alemannic. It has many different names, including Schwiizerdütsch, Schwyzerdütsch, Schwiizertüütsch, Schwizertitsch, and Mundart.
All of these are simply different ways of labeling the patois spoken in Switzerland which belong to the larger group of German dialects called Alemannic, which also encompass dialects of German spoken in other areas.
Alemannic is only a spoken form of German, and is not written; therefore, it is somewhat informal.
What is Standard German?
With all of the various accents, argots, slang, and other distinctions going on across various regions within the country, a reasonable question to ask is: how do people from different areas communicate one with another?
Among the majority of all who learn German- encompassing those in Germany, Switzerland, and even the United States- the official form of the language taught is called Standard German or High German.
High German follows a set structure of grammatical rules, functions, and other characteristics that can be taught at a generalized level. This allows all German-speaking individuals from across cities, provinces, and countries to communicate on a ground level that is easy to understand, separate from their distinctive regional dialects.
Standard German in Switzerland
Even though Standard German is taught in Switzerland and is one of the official languages of the country, many people do not describe Standard German and Swiss Standard German as the same, which can be a bit confusing.
Here is why. It is the most common for people to use a regional dialect in Switzerland; so the norm within Switzerland is for individuals to use a form of Alemannic. Therefore, Swiss German is considered Standard German in Switzerland, even though it isn’t actually High German.
In attempts to put it as simply as possible though, Swiss Standard German is just a variation of regular Standard German. It is kind of like a dialect of High German- slightly more formal than Swiss German.
The main difference between Swiss German and High German is pronunciation and slang.
Dialects within the Country
Swiss German is used pretty much everywhere in Switzerland, making it important to have common ground in being able to communicate. This is why the country has four official languages: German, French, Romansh, and Italian. Many of the Swiss also are taught English as well.
There are many types of dialects in the Country, so it would be difficult to advise a person to learn a specific one in order to communicate with a majority of people in a certain area. Above is a video comparing different dialects of the language from different areas of Switzerland.