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  #101  
Old 19.08.2011, 12:52
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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Agree with the rest. But different language or not isn't quite as binary, Swiss German could have evolved more in the direction Dutch has, which is now considered a different language.
It could have done, but so far it hasn't.

You're right that it's hard to lay down a single criterion for language vs. dialect (mutual intelligibility? where's the cutofff?) but surely the main thing has to be linguistic self-determination. Swiss German speakers still evidently consider themselves members of the German language community - they read newspapers, write novels, joined the debate when the Reform-Duden came out - and that's good enough for me.

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The main difference between Germany/Austria and Switzerland is that in the German dialects and standard German a gliding transition between the two is possible, whereas in Swiss German and (Swiss) standard German this isn't possible, you can only speak either of them. Hence the popular phrase that speaking German is like a foreign language for them, even if technically that is not true, but it feels that way, because you have to switch.
I agree, for the Swiss it probably is. For me as an obvious learner, I can speak mixed-up Mare Connishes Ooss Lander Doych if I want and nobody turns a hair*.



*well, sometimes in Germany they do. "So, how long are you liffing in Svitzerland?"
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  #102  
Old 19.08.2011, 13:17
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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They're not two languages though - any more than (to use your own example) British Received Pronunciation and some remote Scottish dialect are two languages.

A strong accent does not a language make.
Regional vocabulary does not a language make.
Even slightly different grammar does not a language make.

Swiss German and High German are both German, just as Brummie or Geordie English and standard British English spoken in purest RP are both English.

Don't know how I can make this any clearer. Yes, accents and dialects undeniably make life more difficult for the learner - and more so where the regional accent is a heavy one (instead of DC, now imagine learning English in Joisey or Alabama!) - but that's not the same as "having to learn two languages."

You'd be facing exactly the same problem if you'd moved to southern Germany, by the way. There are lots of German dialects of German. Like the Swiss, they all write in standard German and speak either in their own dialect or (when required) in standard German. Again, this is normal behavior in any language with a written standard plus a bunch of dialects. The Germans do it, the Italians do it, the English do it. You probably do it yourself (if your regional accent is strong enough to be worth bothering about) without even realizing it.


I don't know where you are getting this idea that spoken Swiss German is only 10% similar to its written form. I acknowledge it sounds that way at first - in fact it sounds like an unbroken wall of sound at first! But that's just the first step in learning any language.
wall of noise -> identifiable words here and there -> vaguely comprehensible blether > mostly comprehensible blether -> 99% comprehensible, 60% so mundane you almost wish you hadn't bothered.

In the case of Swiss German, the differences are really superficial. In fact there are only a few transformation rules ("ei" sounds like feet instead of fight, "k" sounds like loch instead of lock, etc.) and once you take those into account it's 80-90% similar. There are still a few common words that just have to be learned (e.g. mir = wir) and a lot of obscure vocabulary (like Bettmümpfeli - a piece of candy given to children at bedtime (!)) but again, that stuff exists in all German dialects, not just Swiss ones.
There are two complicated issues that have been brought up. What is a language (a conversation even experts go in circles with) and what is the attitude in society to speaking a dialect, etc.

I generally agree with what you said but I think it is more than you are making it out to be.

I work with Germans. A guy from Hamburg can only understand 50% (at best) of what Swiss German speakers in Zug say. That's it.

This is more akin to a nonNative English speaker trying to learn English in Jamaica or a person learning French in Haiti.

Maybe it is a difference of degree, not kind...I will admit that.

American English doesn't have many dialects, because the country was rather new, and by the time it reached it's current size there was already radio, and tv came right after. It's definately not like the the UK.

Pretty much, the dialects are in the Northeast and Southeast. Even then...

my ex was a non-Native English speaker from Japan, and the only place we ever went in America where she could not understand what people were saying was in a ghetto area, where she had to listen to Ebonics + slang, rural Texas, and I think in West VIrginia (she thought a guy at a gas station was not speaking English, lol, but it turned out he was just some hillbilly, who I also could barely understand, and had to ask him to repeat himself).

New Jersey has accent difference, nothing much else, my ex could understand people in New York and New Jersey fine as long as they didn't speak at machine gun pace (which is common).

I would bet money this guy from Hamburg could read as much Dutch as he can listen to Swiss German.

So is Dutch not a language seperate from German?

This gets tricky, as you yourself admitted. Do Jamaicans speak English to each other? Hmmm...some might say they do not. Most would say they do.

The break is arbitrary and has more to do with politics than linguistics.

Like I said, I speak another language already, and I have lived in this situation before, and the difference was much greater. Any Chinese person will tell you Shanghainese is not mutually comprehnsible at all with Mandarin (well okay, a few words here and there, that's it, the grammar is completely different).

A big thing is the attitude is different also, as I explained.

The Swiss consider it superior and even patriotic to speak dialect. It is "Swiss". Many Chinese (and especially the government) does not think dialect is good per se in public places, in mixed company, but it is "tolerated". Most Chinese have no issue with speaking dialect in very personal situations (at home, with kids, etc). This attitude varies in China though by region, family, etc.

In America, dialect is usually considered low class ghetto or "redneck" babble, that people look down on. But dialect for us is mostly accent, not vocabulary. Some very isolated rural areas use strange phrases and words, but most American use the same vocabulary, but for a dozen words or so. Many who want to move up in life are put under pressure to change their dialect. This varies from place to place and many folks are proud to speak how they do, and refuse to change, but the reality is we are more like China than like Switzerland when it comes to dialect in our attitude. Every southern knows that a true dialect speaking person from the South is often looked down on outside of their region. Most people from "the hood" know the same.

So that brings another dynamic. Typically in America, the dialect speakers in "the hood", "rural deep south", "the barrior", "the mountains" don't have a lot of immigrants in their areas anyway, so these issues are not a big thing. And if you don't understand these folks, it usually has no social consquence unless you happen to find yoursel fin some village in West Virginia or some store owner in Harlem. haha

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  #103  
Old 19.08.2011, 13:43
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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I generally agree with what you said but I think it is more than you are making it out to be.

I work with Germans. A guy from Hamburg can only understand 50% (at best) of what Swiss German speakers in Zug say. That's it.
I don't doubt it. If you plonked me down in Newcastle I wouldn't understand more than 50% of what the locals were saying, and it's still my native language.
That's not to say that Geordie English is "less than 50% the same" as American English. All it means is that a 10% superficial difference in pronunciation is obscuring the 90% similarity.

I'm trying to help you peel back those superficial differences and show you that it's all the same language underneath. Whatever High German you have learned/are learning/will learn is not a wasted effort. It transfers directly to Swiss German - and vice versa - because they are the same language.

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The break is arbitrary and has more to do with politics than linguistics.
Mm, I would say it's cultural rather than political.

So what are you trying to do with this thread? Every time someone accuses you of complaining you say it's not a complaint, and every time someone tries to help you figure out how you can communicate better with Swiss people (your stated objective), you fall back on arguing that it's not the same in China or the US.

Sounds to me as if the point of this thread is not "How can I communicate better with Swiss people?" but "Why won't Swiss people take more trouble to communicate with ME?"

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Typically in America, the dialect speakers in "the hood", "rural deep south", "the barrior", "the mountains" don't have a lot of immigrants in their areas anyway, so these issues are not a big thing.
Like Switzerland was up until about a hundred years ago, you mean?
(Even then, immigrants were almost all from neighboring countries, and thus native speakers of one of the national languages. Linguistic immigration to Switzerland didn't take off until after WW2... in contrast to the US where it's been going on for +/- 300 years.)
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  #104  
Old 19.08.2011, 13:50
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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I get your analogy, but it's somewhat wrong. HK was not apart of China until recently, everything was always taught in English and Cantonese. They even standardized Cantonese writing in Hong Kong during British rule.

So no, most people in HK don't speak Mandarin at all, can't understand it, and don't want to. Most people in Mainland China, outside of the area adjacent to Hong Kong (Guangdong) can't understand Cantonese, don't want to, see it as a dialect, and don't care about it.

Hong Kong is still under the one country – two systems rules, so many don’t yet see the areas as “really the same”.

What you are talking about is more similar to someone in Shanghai or Guangdong who learns to read and write (and speak) Mandarin in school, but goes home and speaks their local dialect, and never speaks Mandarin.

This is where you are wrong.

The Chinese govenrment tries very hard to limit the speaking of dialect in public, on tv, radio, etc. They actually discourage the speaking of dialect. Singapore had a similar program of "speak Mandarin, not dialect", because most people there spoke Fujianese (Fukkaniese) because that is where their ancestors came from in China. The official language used in school is English (and maybe Mandarin/Tamil/Malay depending on ethncity), but the government wants people to learn Mandarin to do more business with Mainland China/Taiwan, etc. So their attitude is similar to Mainland China, if not more extreme. SPEAK ENGLISH AND MANDARIN, not dialect.


You can read more about this here:
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2008060,00.html
http://www.sccybsc.com/en/background.asp


As far as being "pure" to be High German or Swiss German.

I don't have this attitude. I don't care if Swiss people want to speak Swiss German to be honest.

If you ask me what is best for foreigners, it is that Swiss people speak Swiss German to each other, but in mixed company they speak High German, because that is what most foreigners learn and what everyone should be able to understand as a minimum.

That is not the Swiss atittude, so the purpose of this post was how to get on a fast track to learn Swiss GErman, since High GErman has serious limitations.

Obviously the Swiss government and Bern would be voted out of office if they took the same attitude as Beijing toward dialect. Can you imagine the government in Bern saying "Speak High GErman, not dialect. Do not use dialect on tv and radio. Don't be 'backward', speak High German"

It would cause riots.
Since the handover I would say Mandarin is increasingly spoken even in HK. Most HK people don't speak Mandarin well - it is true, but to say they don't understand Mandarin (I mean reading and listening) at all is not true. Like Swiss German in writing (if you ever receive SMS from a Swiss in dialect), you will notice the writing is not completely uncomprehensible. Of course you need to understand some words like alüege (instead of anschauen) or Leitig (instead of Leitung). The cool thing about Cantonese in HK is they even got a standard writing though which I always find it very refreshing to try to figure out. Maybe I have come across many HK movies since young and I always prefer to see it in the original Cantonese...

At a government level they might have some different policies. But if you ask me I would say it is actually a pity that some younger Singaporean generation couldn't speak dialect anymore. Dialect is part of the culture, want it or not. And I always find it very heart warming to be able to speak to my grandma in dialect. It doesn't really bother me much whether the language has any economic value. And I am thankful that I am given the ability to converse in different languages. I see it as a gift, not a burden.

The same applies to Swiss German. I had a hard time switching from High German to Swiss German since arrived and I know I will most probably never be able to speak Swiss german completely fluently. But after some years I actually prefer people don't switch to High German because of me. We all know the Swiss (in fact most human beings) prefer to speak in a language they feel comfortable with. Why not let them be? If they switch to High German during your presence, it is a polite gesture. if they don't, don't take it personally - take it as a motivation for you to master the language sooner. Just remember that by learning Swiss German it won't "pollute" your High German (believe it or not someone told me that before as an excuse not to learn Swiss German). And be thankful that you have the opportunity to live in different countries to see the difference compared to some people on the wedding you met that have most probably never left East Switzerland before...

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  #105  
Old 19.08.2011, 14:32
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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I don't doubt it. If you plonked me down in Newcastle I wouldn't understand more than 50% of what the locals were saying, and it's still my native language.
That's not to say that Geordie English is "less than 50% the same" as American English. All it means is that a 10% superficial difference in pronunciation is obscuring the 90% similarity.

I'm trying to help you peel back those superficial differences and show you that it's all the same language underneath. Whatever High German you have learned/are learning/will learn is not a wasted effort. It transfers directly to Swiss German - and vice versa - because they are the same language.
okay...I see what you are saying.

[quote]
Mm, I would say it's cultural rather than political.

So what are you trying to do with this thread? Every time someone accuses you of complaining you say it's not a complaint, and every time someone tries to help you figure out how you can communicate better with Swiss people (your stated objective), you fall back on arguing that it's not the same in China or the US.

Sounds to me as if the point of this thread is not "How can I communicate better with Swiss people?" but "Why won't Swiss people take more trouble to communicate with ME?"

[\quote]

Well, my attitude is simple. It is:

a) This is the situation.
b) it would be nice if...
c) but that is not the case so I should do what?

So is there some complaint? Yes, but is that the purpose no, because although I complain, I also recognize that nothing is going to change on the part of the larger society. So I have to accept it in some way.

It is interesting to compare different countries attitudes to dialect, just from a curiosity point of view, as I've said, I have had other experiences.

I appreciate the things you have said, and as I said, I'm not really disagreeing with the bulk of what you are saying, it's pretty correct, in my estimation.



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Like Switzerland was up until about a hundred years ago, you mean?
(Even then, immigrants were almost all from neighboring countries, and thus native speakers of one of the national languages. Linguistic immigration to Switzerland didn't take off until after WW2... in contrast to the US where it's been going on for +/- 300 years.)

point taken.
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  #106  
Old 19.08.2011, 14:37
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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Since the handover I would say Mandarin is increasingly spoken even in HK. Most HK people don't speak Mandarin well - it is true, but to say they don't understand Mandarin (I mean reading and listening) at all is not true. Like Swiss German in writing (if you ever receive SMS from a Swiss in dialect), you will notice the writing is not completely incomprehensible. Of course you need to understand some words like alüege (instead of anschauen) or Leitig (instead of Leitung). The cool thing about Cantonese in HK is they even got a standard writing though which I always find it very refreshing to try to figure out. Maybe I have come across many HK movies since young and I always prefer to see it in the original Cantonese...
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At a government level they might have some different policies. But if you ask me I would say it is actually a pity that some younger Singaporean generation couldn't speak dialect anymore. Dialect is part of the culture, want it or not. And I always find it very heart warming to be able to speak to my grandma in dialect. It doesn't really bother me much whether the language has any economic value. And I am thankful that I am given the ability to converse in different languages. I see it as a gift, not a burden.

The same applies to Swiss German. I had a hard time switching from High German to Swiss German since arrived and I know I will most probably never be able to speak Swiss german completely fluently. But after some years I actually prefer people don't switch to High German because of me. We all know the Swiss (in fact most human beings) prefer to speak in a language they feel comfortable with. Why not let them be? If they switch to High German during your presence, it is a polite gesture. if they don't, don't take it personally - take it as a motivation for you to master the language sooner. Just remember that by learning Swiss German it won't "pollute" your High German (believe it or not someone told me that before as an excuse not to learn Swiss German). And be thankful that you have the opportunity to live in different countries to see the difference compared to some people on the wedding you met that have most probably never left East Switzerland before...

As far as China or any other places, and dialect.

I didn't speak my grandparents ebonics. I don't cry in the mirror at night that I can't. LOL I think you feel that way because you are a product of your environment as much as I am. So our attitudes about dialect, the purpose and the values are conditioned.

I think language is primarily a tool. People can have emotional attachments, identity based on language, but personally, I do not. I define myself in other ways, and being an American English speaker is not really one of those catagories I put much emphasis on.

I don't speak English and think..."boy this makes me proud to be American, or from Ohio originally, etc", it is just "the language I speak". I can understand Ebonics (but so can most white Americans), but I don't speak it, there is no value in that to me. I still get on with my family just fine.

If my grandkids can't speak exactly like me, say they speak with some London accent, I am not going to be upset as long as we can talk. I don't, that's my general attitude.

Then again you are talking to someone who is not nationalistic and not particularly attached to any location.

I think for China more than Switzerland (since they really can't understand each other a lot of the time) it is more efficient to discourage dialect.
France thought the same thing, as they have virtually eliminated some Southern "French dialects/langauges" in the last 200 years or so. This was on purpose as well, not by chance.
Other than emotional ties, I don't see much value in maintaining various dialects, but I can easily calculate the value of having a unified common langauge that is used.
For some emotional ties trump efficiency and I accept this too. E veryone is not the same.
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Old 19.08.2011, 21:00
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

I'm guessing the OP has been in CH less than 5 years.

Cut him some slack folks! I remember when I arrived here 11 years ago - getting used to the differences in social events, going to LONG dinners where people would start patiently in high German and then lapse into Swiss - sitting for hours totally zoning out and feeling extremely isolated.

Incredibly hard times - really hard - in particular if you're an outgoing person and have come from a place where you have a wide circle of friends.

I remember - it can be frustrating, annoying, infuriating, depressing, and more.......It is linguistic but it's also cultural. It takes time, time time......If you're lucky you'll find people who understand and support you. If you're less fortunate you go through it on your own.

It took me time to feel comfortable as I am here - but once you're comfortable, have an idea what they're talking about then the barriers fall and it is possible to enjoy those evenings even if you reply in high German or even part German, part English. Understanding the dialect is the key - or it least it was for me.

It isn't easy - it can be frustrating and it takes some time.....and in my experience and in the experience of other English speakers with Swiss partners - you're feelings and experience are not at all uncommon or unnatural - but they will change with time
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Old 20.08.2011, 20:42
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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I'm guessing the OP has been in CH less than 5 years.

Cut him some slack folks! I remember when I arrived here 11 years ago - getting used to the differences in social events, going to LONG dinners where people would start patiently in high German and then lapse into Swiss - sitting for hours totally zoning out and feeling extremely isolated.

Incredibly hard times - really hard - in particular if you're an outgoing person and have come from a place where you have a wide circle of friends.

I remember - it can be frustrating, annoying, infuriating, depressing, and more.......It is linguistic but it's also cultural. It takes time, time time......If you're lucky you'll find people who understand and support you. If you're less fortunate you go through it on your own.

It took me time to feel comfortable as I am here - but once you're comfortable, have an idea what they're talking about then the barriers fall and it is possible to enjoy those evenings even if you reply in high German or even part German, part English. Understanding the dialect is the key - or it least it was for me.

It isn't easy - it can be frustrating and it takes some time.....and in my experience and in the experience of other English speakers with Swiss partners - you're feelings and experience are not at all uncommon or unnatural - but they will change with time
Thank you for that.
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Old 21.08.2011, 00:56
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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This is probably not a complaint, but an observation about society in Deutschschweiz (which is already well known to most foreigners here) and an attempt to find a faster solution.

I went to a wedding yesterday in Eastern Switzerland and it was TOO LONG (10-12 hours...not sure because we left early, risking the displeasure of those who invited us, but I really don't care about that, if they aren't reasonable people they aren't my friends or people I would like to associate with anyway, but that is another story)...

The main issue is, my High German is approaching intermediate, but that is not really enough for good communication in social situation in a group of people, where there is a lot of cross-talking.

Anyway, the same old story emerges. People will respond to me in High German or English, but then immediately switch to Swiss German when speaking about the same thing to the person next to me, with no translation, cutting me out of the conversation completely.

People do not do this to be purposefully rude, but they don't even think anything of it, because most of them have absolutely no contact with any foreigners (meaning recent immigrants who can not at least understand Swiss German).

I lived in China for a few months, speak intermediate Mandarin Chinese, but had the same experience in Shanghai, the exact same. Having been in Beijing and Chengdu was refreshing because I'm speaking the language most peopel speak everyday (Mandarin, with some regional accent and slang but it is not a completely different langauge, as Shanghainese and Mandarin are). Shanghainese, like Swiss German are not written languages either, not really (that's complicated and I don't want to get into how Chinese written language is structured, the lack of alphabet, etc).

Anyway, I've come to the conclusion that spending time learning a language that is not spoken is pointless.

I do not need High German. I don't care if I can watch a television show, read a book, or read a newspaper. I have options for almost all of these.


What I care about is being able to communicate with Swiss people. High German is fine for a one: one conversation, but useless in groups, and I also find many Swiss do not want to speak High German anyway, it makes them unconformable (something many Swiss have said to be directly, including my girlfriend).


However, Swiss also say that learning "Swiss German (dialects)" without speaking High German as an adult is nearly impossible.

I find that hard to believe. First, I know a woman from the UK who learned Swiss German first, and high German second. She has issues understanding people from certain Cantons, but where she lives she is fine.

Migro Schule (at least some of them) teach Swiss German classes. What are they teaching if it is not possible? what dialect? What grammar?

It seems to me if you learn a dialect, like St. Gallen Dialect, and you go to Zurich, the words vary a bit, grammar might also vary. Okay.

1) In English some folks in America say "goin to'" some say "going", and others "gonna". All me "I am going to".

However if you know one, you can usually guess the others, and foreigners typically can do this. If you are learning something that says "Ich Gehe", but everyone is saying "I'm gonna" you can't even guess.

That is a bad analogy, but my point is learning any common Swiss German dialect is more useful than High German, because the Swiss German word is likely similar in the other dialect, but not the same, it is almost always closer than the High German equivalent.


2) Grammar is not that important most of the time.

If I say in English..."I tomorrow go store early".

That is very bad English grammar, but almost everyone reading this knows exactly what the meaning is.


If I say..."Yeah...told you i did to eat not the candy".

Everyone can understand that too.

Grammar is overrated. Usually, in my experience with languages, the grammar needed for communication is actually quite low, and how Swiss German speakers communicate in Switzerland is proof of this.

So how would I go about learning Swiss German?

This would all be more simple, and foreigners could integrate more easily if the Swiss had just standardized their language like the Luxemburgers and Dutch, but that's also another topic...and a pointless one, since it won't happen.
When I first came to Switzerland I lerned the basic High German in the migrosklubschule. after 6 months I was speaking German better than some of my work mates that had been in Switzerland 20 years. What I think is give in to the language take every word as if you are a child and lerning it for the first time. Don`t try to translate just accept the new word as the official word. I have been living here for the last 21 years and can comunicate in Swiss german and High German. I love Swiss German very much. it is also much easier than High German. As for the Swiss accepting you as one of them, that will never happen.
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Old 21.08.2011, 12:16
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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Granted. However, even my husband (who is German) often had a problem understanding Swiss German, even on a one-to-one basis. So I can imagine that in a noisy social environment it would be even more difficult.
my grandmoms from SH and BE had trouble to understand each other while the wide travelleved GrandPapa on the fatherside understood SH-erisch very well --- and GrandPapa on motherside perfectly well understood the French of that lover of my mom
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Old 21.08.2011, 12:50
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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Everyone is not the same.
...according to fingerprints and DNA, every single individual is different and unique. The strange thing is that society suppresses uniqueness every way it can with ridiculous role models, trying to press you in a mold that doesn't fit, telling you how to act, how to dress, how to speak, categorizing you, no dancing out of line, et cetera ad infinitum. Everybody is trying to be somebody else, which is literally impossible, while conversely, being yourself is the easiest thing in the world 'cause that is how you were made.

If society has it's way, cloning will trump, though it may result in the species failing... or maybe it is failing anyway.

Easter Island
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Old 21.08.2011, 17:37
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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...according to fingerprints and DNA, every single individual is different and unique. The strange thing is that society suppresses uniqueness every way it can with ridiculous role models, trying to press you in a mold that doesn't fit, telling you how to act, how to dress, how to speak, categorizing you, no dancing out of line, et cetera ad infinitum. Everybody is trying to be somebody else, which is literally impossible, while conversely, being yourself is the easiest thing in the world 'cause that is how you were made.

If society has it's way, cloning will trump, though it may result in the species failing... or maybe it is failing anyway.

Easter Island
Sorry but this is just daft fantasy. If we want to live in any kind of cohesive society, there have to be certain ways of conforming otherwise it will just turn into some disorganised mess.

Do you suggest we all adopt our own individual language, currency, set of morals or education for fear of falling into line with anyone else and "not being yourself"?
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Old 21.08.2011, 18:03
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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Sorry but this is just daft fantasy. If we want to live in any kind of cohesive society, there have to be certain ways of conforming otherwise it will just turn into some disorganised mess.

Do you suggest we all adopt our own individual language, currency, set of morals or education for fear of falling into line with anyone else and "not being yourself"?
Yes, absolutely, but I believe that people with no insight into their own nature and very individual needs are like a great mass of thoughtless cattle. Only conscious individuals can create a harmonious, cohesive society.
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Old 21.08.2011, 23:39
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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Only conscious individuals can create a harmonious, cohesive society.
...who respect each others uniqueness, don't try to force round pegs in square holes and resist the urge to grind sand pounders.
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