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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 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, 09:20
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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, 20:04
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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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.

Well I don't know what it is like now, but in the past it certainly was due to a lack of men being willing to act as officers in the French & Italian speaking areas.


My father-in-law did all his service in the French speaking part rather than the German speaking area, simply because as a junior officer, he made the mistake offering to translate for a senior officer on one occasion.
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Old 20.12.2020, 20:08
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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Well I don't know what it is like now, but in the past it certainly was due to a lack of men being willing to act as officers in the French & Italian speaking areas.
Umm, the last Swiss general, Henri Guisan, was from the French bit.

Tom
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Old 24.12.2020, 20:48
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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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
Thats interesting - my work is about 1/3 british, 1/3 German or Swiss German (mostly the former) and 20% French.

I've only ever heard the native French speakers speak English with the native German speakers. Guess that's because they are French French not Swiss French.

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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 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 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, 09:11
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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 21.12.2020, 13:36
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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Even unilingual countries like Austria and France have regional dialects recognised in law.

This is news to me. What are the dialects in France?
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Old 21.12.2020, 13:41
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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This is news to me. What are the dialects in France?

Not a linguist but top of mind is Corsican in Corsica, Occitan/Catalonian around Carcassone, Basque in the Pays Basque Franšais (Bayonne), and whatever variant you find in any remote French Island around the world. I was once diving in Guadeloupe and it's a different language
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Old 21.12.2020, 14:16
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

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Not a linguist but top of mind is Corsican in Corsica, Occitan/Catalonian around Carcassone, Basque in the Pays Basque Franšais (Bayonne), and whatever variant you find in any remote French Island around the world. I was once diving in Guadeloupe and it's a different language
german and alsatian in parts of alsace
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Old 21.12.2020, 13:44
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Re: How does Switzerland manage four national languages?

Patois actually
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French is the only official language of France. However, France has many tongues that are native to its lands.

These languages are often referred to as patois (a regional form of communication, i.e., dialects, mainly of French), but the term usually has negative connotations.

Alsatian is a form of Swiss German, Auvergnat is related to Catalan, Breton is Celtic, and Basque is altogether a unique language.

Occitan is similar to Catalan, whereas Corsican is close to Tuscan-based Italian. Besides, French Flemish is also technically a dialect of German/Flemish, and Lorraine Franconian is another dialect of West Central German.
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