Swiss German

Peter Richardson prichard at LINFIELD.EDU
Mon Nov 1 21:42:44 UTC 1999

> I notice that Peter Richardson is conspicuously silent... ;-}

Well, now that Andrea has smoked me out, I'll add yet another tidbit to
the discussion. Outside of the hallowed halls of the Sprachatlas der
deutschen Schweiz, there isn't an agreed upon system for transcribing SwG,
although most of the ads circulated in nationally-read newspapers use one
version or another of Zurich dialect, the 500-lb. gorilla in everyone's
Stuebli. And no wonder, for Zurich is the cultural/economic capital of the
SwG-speaking part (i.e. about 70%) of the country and the lingua franca of
the broadcast media. But local versions of SwG are immediately apparent in
the names of establishments that view themselves as trendy (e.g. clothing
stores, fast food places). Foreign words are treated in different ways
according to region, generation, and audience, a pretty common phenomenon
in other places as well. A place that sells denim garments might be a
Jeans-Shop in one town and a Tschiins-Schop in another--with identical
pronunciations, of course.

What has not yet been mentioned is Schweizer Hochdeutsch, a spoken variant
of what was earlier referred to as Schriftdeutsch or Standarddeutsch, the
school standard of all three German-speaking countries. Those used to
non-Swiss pronunciation of German might think that Swiss speakers of the
standard are indeed speaking SwG, because prosodic features of the
"language of heart and home" are almost without exception transplanted to
the standard. When I asked a Swiss friend why this might be so, he opined
that the German Swiss want very much to identify themselves as Swiss and
not be mistaken for either Germans or Austrians. So it's not, as many
think, that "they can't do it,"  but rather that "they don't want to do

For a super-regional dictionary of SwG, take a look at the Schweizerisches
Idiotikon. Otherwise there are smaller dictionaries for most of the
cities, from Bern to Davos--and even translations of classics such as The
Iliad into Baeaerndueuetsch (sorry for the missing diereses, as I said


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