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Old 18.12.2020, 20:40
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How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

Hi all, sorry for a slight off-topic, but what have you learned from personal communication with the Swiss people as well as your own experience about this question: How can Switzerland work as a country while having as many as four national languages?

- Having signs and cash notes in all 4 languages in the easy part.
- But how about the Swiss Army? How can its chain of command work reliably when officers at different levels may not share a language they speak fluently enough?
- How do federal government officers from different language regions communicate with each other and maintain written documentation?
- How would an average middle-aged Romandie person speak with an average middle-aged person from say Thurgau? E.g. in a domestic tourism situation.
- Any other situations you can think of where the language barrier can be a problem for the country's unity and functioning?

My personal reason for asking this is that my own country of origin has this perpetual conflict between national identity+unity on the one hand and having multiple languages spoken across the country on the other hand. In this kind of situation the Swiss experience is extremely interesting, if not easily applicable eslewhere.

Thanks!

Last edited by yarique; 18.12.2020 at 20:54.
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Old 18.12.2020, 20:56
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

I have sat with 3 Swiss colleagues in the past, 1 French speaker, 1 German speaker, 1 Italian speaker. They spoke English as between them that was the only common language
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Old 18.12.2020, 21:02
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

I think if you dig down a little you will find that many European Countries are Multilingual. Even unilingual countries like Austria and France have regional dialects recognised in law. Tiny Luxembourg has three official languages.
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Old 18.12.2020, 22:07
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

Belgian politicians can definitely learn a thing or two from Swiss.
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Old 18.12.2020, 22:23
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

Luckily, a lingua franca has evolved over the past few generations because of the social, economic and military hegemony of a global superpower.

Yes, they all speak Latin...
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Old 18.12.2020, 22:31
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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Belgian politicians can definitely learn a thing or two from Swiss.
I think the evidence shows that Belgian politicians are incapable of learning anything.
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Old 18.12.2020, 22:48
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

All I can say about Belgium is that I pity the poor German speakers.
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Old 18.12.2020, 23:29
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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1 But how about the Swiss Army? How can its chain of command work reliably when officers at different levels may not share a language they speak fluently enough?
2 How do federal government officers from different language regions communicate with each other and maintain written documentation?
3 How would an average middle-aged Romandie person speak with an average middle-aged person from say Thurgau? E.g. in a domestic tourism situation.
4 Any other situations you can think of where the language barrier can be a problem for the country's unity and functioning?

1. They speak german, then they say "for the romands the same thing" in french. More seriously, there might be someone helping and translating a bit if it's really impossible for some to understand AFAIK.

2. They have a rule: you have a right to speak your language, and you have the obligation of understanding the others that do. In practice, this translates to people speaking french or german and the others having to deal with it. The 2 other minorities are very likely to have been at least in university in either french or german anyway. Lots of documentation gets translated, especially everything that gets released to the public. In practice, German is the majority language and thus has some prevalence. Most stuff for the public gets translated to italian but many federal publications are only in german and french. Rumantsch is not on the same level as the other languages.
The federal councillors have to learn the 3 main languages.

3. This is not that important to the functioning of a country. Your day-to-day life is mostly in your canton or region with full services in all of its languages, most swiss people have a monolingual daily life. So you just find a shared language in these situations, just like you do across european borders. French for older people, English for younger ones.

4. A strongly decentralized structure helps.

Basically, multilingualism across geographic distances works well with federalism, and you have to drop the presumption that the dominant group does not need to learn the regional language if they move to a minority region of their country.
Representation and local power is much more important if there isn't a shared language, as it can make people feel really unrepresented otherwise.

Also, Switzerland has no issue of national identity relating to language because there was never a swiss language or ethnicity in the first place, the country did not unite on the basis of language.
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Old 19.12.2020, 22:44
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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All I can say about Belgium is that I pity the poor German speakers.
Why ?

The German-speaking minority in Belgium probably has it best of any historic German-speaking minority group anywhere in Europe.

Compared to the plight of the German speaking minority in places like Poland etc ...
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Old 19.12.2020, 22:56
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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Why ?

The German-speaking minority in Belgium probably has it best of any historic German-speaking minority group anywhere in Europe.

Compared to the plight of the German speaking minority in places like Poland etc ...
ROFL, there are no German speaking minorities left in Eastern Europe or Russia. Everyone who still has not drank their brain off repatriated back to Germany.
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Old 20.12.2020, 09:10
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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I have sat with 3 Swiss colleagues in the past, 1 French speaker, 1 German speaker, 1 Italian speaker. They spoke English as between them that was the only common language
We normally speak French at work, and have had coworkers from all 4 lingustic regions, English was never an option as few spoke it.

Tom
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Old 20.12.2020, 09:11
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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I think if you dig down a little you will find that many European Countries are Multilingual. Even unilingual countries like Austria and France have regional dialects recognised in law. Tiny Luxembourg has three official languages.
I work with a guy from Luxembourg for over 30 years, we speak about 50/50 English/French, he's the only coworker I speak English with.

Tom
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Old 20.12.2020, 09:12
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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All I can say about Belgium is that I pity the poor German speakers.
I know some, but I normally speak French with them.

Tom
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Old 20.12.2020, 09:20
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

Bear in mind they've been doing this successfully for a long time, with a strong federated setup which supports it.

In the armed forces, the conscripts are split by location and therefore by language. Dealing with the issue at higher levels isn't going to be that big a problem.

For the federal government they have multilingual experts who do translation, and each department of the federal government is not spread around that much - that's left to the cantons.

Romansch is a bit of a special case, it's only the sole language in a very small number of places with very low numbers of people, so most speak some form of German.

In shops in many cases there's an accepted word taken from German, French or now English which is used for their headline banners etc. Nobody cases if it says "Sale", "Ausverkauf" or "Soldes" as long as the discount is ok (I've seen all three in our local Migros).
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Old 20.12.2020, 09:24
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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Romansch is a bit of a special case, it's only the sole language in a very small number of places with very low numbers of people, so most speak some form of German.
And/or Italian.

Tom
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Old 20.12.2020, 15:27
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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Hi all, sorry for a slight off-topic, but what have you learned from personal communication with the Swiss people as well as your own experience about this question: How can Switzerland work as a country while having as many as four national languages?

- Having signs and cash notes in all 4 languages in the easy part.
- But how about the Swiss Army? How can its chain of command work reliably when officers at different levels may not share a language they speak fluently enough?
- How do federal government officers from different language regions communicate with each other and maintain written documentation?
- How would an average middle-aged Romandie person speak with an average middle-aged person from say Thurgau? E.g. in a domestic tourism situation.
- Any other situations you can think of where the language barrier can be a problem for the country's unity and functioning?

My personal reason for asking this is that my own country of origin has this perpetual conflict between national identity+unity on the one hand and having multiple languages spoken across the country on the other hand. In this kind of situation the Swiss experience is extremely interesting, if not easily applicable eslewhere.

Thanks!
Dunno, maybe because most of us speak english as well . It can be pretty irritating when Berset makes different (or partially lacking) statements about the Corona pandemic in different languages though - French and German - then we are all confused. The Italian speakers - well they are not really considered at all...
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Old 20.12.2020, 15:34
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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Dunno, maybe because most of us speak english as well .
Not in Ticino or Grigioni.

Tom
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Old 20.12.2020, 15:36
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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Not in Ticino or Grigioni.

Tom
I accept that as a thumbs up - you were in mind in my post
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Old 20.12.2020, 16:10
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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Not in Ticino or Grigioni.

Tom
Not around here either.
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Old 20.12.2020, 16:25
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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Not around here either.
Genau
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