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Helvetisms (New Latin Helvetia "Switzerland" and -ism) are features distinctive of Swiss Standard German, that distinguish it from Standard German. The most frequent Helvetisms are in vocabulary and pronunciation, but there are some syntax and orthographic features as well.

The French spoken in Switzerland has similar terms, which are equally known as Helvetisms. Current French dictionaries, such as the Petit Larousse, include several hundred helvetisms.[1]


The definitive work for German orthography, the Duden, explicitly declares a number of helvetisms as correct Standard German - albeit with the [schweiz.] annotation, denoting that the usage of the word is limited to Swiss territory. But yet not each and every word may be considered part of the "Swiss standard language"/"Swiss standard German" category, because its frequency of usage must be evaluated as well; if this does not apply, or if its use is known to span one or more certain dialectal regions only, they must be categorized "dialectal" (German: mundartlich, often abbreviated mdal.)

In orthographical terms, the most significant difference to Standard German outside Switzerland is the absence of ß. (After having been officially abandoned in the Canton of Zürich in 1935, this character gradually fell into disuse, until it was eventually dropped by the NZZ in 1974.)

In everyday language, Helvetisms may both be used consciously and unconsciously by a Swiss German native speaker. Classic examples of Helvetism usage throughout the whole literary work are found in a great part of Swiss literature, notably Jeremias Gotthelf's novels located in the Emmental; a contemporary example would be Tim Krohn in his Quatemberkinder. Another group, the most notable of whom is Peter Bichsel, deliberately use helvetisms to arouse a sort of emotional attachment to the readers' home country: Bichsel is notorious for using dialectal words like "Beiz" (instead of "Kneipe" [English: pub]), or "Kasten" (instead of "Schrank" [English: cupboard/cabinet/closet]) in his "San Salvador" short story. Lastly, there is yet another group of authors whose book readers' are known to be located all over the German-speaking territory (Germany, Austria, Switzerland as well as some smaller minorities in other European countries) and thus traditionally refrain from using any helvetisms in their literary works.

Also words which are used outside Switzerland, but which originate from Swiss German may be called "Helvetisms."

Analogously to "Helvetisms", there are also Austricisms and Germanisms (also Teutonicisms).

Abbreviations used in following word list[edit]

  • inf. used in informal situations
  • dial. dialect
  • aust. Austrian
  • TM. trademark

After the helvetism, you see the German word followed by the English translation.

Figures of Speech[edit]

  • mit abgesägten Hosen dastehen (den kürzeren gezogen haben=being in an unlucky and hopeless situation)
  • aus Abschied und Traktanden (fallen) (ausser Betracht fallen=when a thing doesn't matter anymore)
  • es macht den Anschein (es hat den Anschein=it seems)
  • in den Ausgang gehen (ausgehen=going out)
  • von Auge (mit blossem Auge=by naked eye)
  • ausjassen (aushandeln=bargaining something, negotiating)
  • von Beginn weg (von Beginn an=from the beginnings)
  • ab Blatt (spielen) (vom Blatt spielen, ohne Übung=not playing by heart, not having practised)
  • Bach ab schicken (etw. verwerfen=refusing or dismiss something, e.g. a project)
  • Einsitz nehmen (Mitglied in einem Gremium werden=becoming a member of a gremium)
  • dastehen wie der Esel am Berg (dastehen wie der Ochse vorm Berg=getting stuck and perplexed by an unexpected situation)
  • die Faust im Sack machen (die Faust in der Tasche ballen=holding back/hiding aggression)
  • innert nützlicher Frist (angemessen schnell=in a quick way)
  • das Fuder überladen (des Guten zuviel tun=doing too much)
  • handkehrum (andererseits=on the other hand)
  • Hans was Heiri (Jacke wie Hose=when two things result in the same or are the same; either way)
  • es hat (es gibt=there are)
  • sein Heu nicht auf derselben Bühne haben mit (nicht dieselben Ansichten haben wie=don't like someone, having other interests)
  • jemandem geht der Knopf auf (jemandem geht ein Licht auf=suddenly getting an idea to solve a problem; "a light bulb goes up")
  • den Rank finden (eine Lösung finden=finding a solution)
  • zu reden geben (für Gesprächsstoff sorgen=a thing being controversial, being much discussed)
  • kein Schleck (kein Honigschlecken=no picnic)
  • neben den Schuhen stehen (falsch liegen; sich nicht wohl fühlen in seiner Haut=don't feeling well in a situation)
  • es streng haben (viel zu tun haben=having a lot of work)
  • in Tat und Wahrheit (in Wirklichkeit=the truth is that...)
  • einen Tolggen im Reinheft haben (einen (Schönheits-) Fehler haben=having one single flashy mistake)
  • gut tönen (gut klingen, vielsprechend sein=sounding well/interesting)
  • gut schmecken (gut riechen = smelling good; the literal translation would be tasting good)
  • keinen Wank tun/machen (sich nicht rühren=being still, not moving)
  • es wird sich weisen (es wird sich zeigen=future will show it)
  • werweissen (hin und her raten=thinking about sth., more like guessing)
  • Jetzt ist genug Heu unten (Jetzt reicht es!=enough!)
  • (etwas) versorgen (einräumen=put s.th. into [e. g. a cupboard or a cabinet]; in Standard German, versorgen means to attend to s.o.)

Swiss Specifics[edit]

In the areas kitchen, local culture and politics, there are numerous peculiarities, that are not well known outside of Switzerland and which are missing a German expression.


Because of their characteristic of helvetisms in pronunciation, speakers of Swiss Standard German will be instantly recognized by other German speakers in most cases.

In general, the pronunciation of Swiss Standard German is influenced by the respective Swiss German dialect of every speaker. The degree of that influence may vary according to the education.

Differing Pronunciation[edit]

In Switzerland, some words are stressed on other syllables than in the rest of the German-speaking area (Here marked with an accent):

  • Family names that have a preposition are always accentuated on the preposition, even when those names are written with a space (blank character) between preposition and the rest of the name. E.g. in Michael vón Grünigen
  • Acronyms like CD, WC, FDP etc. are not accentuated on the last, but on the first letter. (like this: CéDe, WéZe, 'éffdeepee)
  • A lot of foreign words from different languages are accentuated on the first syllable, e.g. Ásphalt, Ápostroph, Bíllet, Búdget, Fílet, Gárage, Lábor, Pápagei, Pénalty, Pórtemonnaie.


  • /b d g z/ are voiceless lenes [b̥ d̥ ɡ̊ z̥]
  • There is no final-obstruent devoicing.
  • /v/ is pronounced as an approximant [ʋ]; in some words, it is replaced by a voiceless lenis [v̥], e.g. in Möve oder Advent.
  • Double consonants are often geminated, e.g. immer as [ˈɪmːər].
  • Initial <ch> is pronounced as a [x], for instance in local names like Chur and Cham or in foreign words like China or Chemie, Chirurgie etc.
  • The ending <-ig> is pronounced [-ɪɡ̊], not [-ɪç], e.g. König [køːnɪɡ̊] 'king'
  • <chs> is pronounced [xs] or [çs], not [ks], e.g. Dachs as [daxs] or sechs as [z̥ɛçs] 'six'.
  • The <r> is not vocalized. In Switzerland, Vater 'father' is pronounced [ˈfaːtər] and not [ˈfaːtɐ].
  • In Switzerland (except the eastern part and Basel-Stadt) the alveolar [r] is more usual than the uvular [ʀ].
  • There is often no glottal stop.
  • Sometimes, /x/ is always pronounced as [x], and not differentiated into [x] and [ç], e.g. in nicht [nɪxt] instead of [nɪçt] 'not'.
  • Sometimes, /k/ is pronounced as velar affricate [k͡x], e.g. Kunst [k͡xʊnst].
  • Seldom /st sp/ are pronounced [ʃt ʃp] instead of [st sp] in all positions, not only at the beginning of a word stem, e.g. Ast as [aʃt] 'branch'.


  • Unstressed /ɛ/ is often not pronounced as schwa, but as [e] or [ɛ], e.g. Gedanke [ɡ̊ɛˈd̥aŋkɛ] or [ɡ̊eˈd̥aŋke] 'thought'.
  • The /ä/ is usually pronounced as an open [æ] like in English "hat", "patch".
  • Depending on the dialect, /a/ may be pronounced as a back [ɑ]).
  • Depending on the dialect, short vowels may be pronounced more closed, e.g. Bett [b̥et] instead of [b̥ɛt] 'bed', offen [ˈofən] instead of [ˈɔfən] 'open', Hölle [hølːe] instead of [ˈhœlːe] 'hell'.
  • Depending on the dialect, long vowels may be pronounced more open, e.g. See [z̥ɛː] instead of [ˈz̥eː] 'lake', schon [ʃɔːn] instead of [ʃoːn] 'already', schön [ʃœːn] instead of [ʃøːn] 'beautiful'.


A special feature of the Swiss standard German, is a somewhat "singing" cadence. That means: Each word's accentuated syllable isn't only marked through the higher voice volume, but even through a hearable modification of the voice's sound. In general, the pitch of the accentuated syllable sinks.

  • On the word Merci ("thanks!"), the first syllable is spoken louder and deeper than the second.
  • On the calling Profitieren Sie! (Benefit!) in the shopping malls' transmissions, the pitch sinks from pro- to -fi-, until it has reached the deepest point at -tie-; at -ren and Sie the voice approx. reaches its original pitch again.


In orthography, the most visible difference from Standard German usage outside Switzerland is the absence of ß (officially abolished in the Canton of Zürich in 1935; the sign fell gradually out of use and was dropped by the NZZ in 1974).

French and Italian Loanwords are written in their original forms - despite the reformation of German language's spelling rules. Majonäse stays Mayonnaise, and Spagetti stays Spaghetti. The newspaper NZZ has even chosen the word placieren, to not have to write platzieren.

Geographic names, like streets, are mostly written together: Baslerstrasse, Genfersee, Zugerberg etc., but also Schweizergrenze, Schweizervolk (very often)

Umlauts at Swiss proper names's beginning are written as <Ae>, <Oe> and <Ue>: Aebi, Oerlikon, Uetliberg (= Üetliberg, not Ütliberg!).

Finally, there are specialities like e.g.

  • Bretzel instead of Brezel

Some of the above-mentioned specialities are due to the general introduction of the typewriter in economy and administration. Because a Swiss typewriter must be able not to write only German texts, but also French and Italian texts, the limited number of characters wasn't enough for all those languages' special characters. So, the "Eszett" and the high-case Umlauts (Ä, Ö and Ü), but also the high-case accentuated vocals (e.g. À or É) were skipped.


The Swiss German differs from Standard German in e.g. the gender (das E-Mail, das Tram und das SMS statt die) or in verbs' valence -the preposition they require- (jemanden anfragen instead of bei jmdm. anfragen).

In general, more often than in Germany or Austria, the Swiss use female descriptions of professions instead of using a generic masculine (e.g. Bundesrätin Ruth Metzler, Frieda U. wurde zur Primarschullehrerin gewählt). The "Binnen-I" isn't only used by the "politically correct" people.

Relative pronouns: The relative pronoun "welche(r)", that is clumsy and antiquated in Standard German is used without hesitation, e.g. in Damit wurde in der Schweiz ein Kompetenzzentrum für Klimafragen geschaffen, welches verstärkt die Bedürfnisse der Bevölkerung in den Mittelpunkt ihrer Forschung stellt. (from Jahresbericht 2001, Annual report of the ETH Zürich).

Grammatical case[edit]

Rabatt is used in Dative; in Standard German in Accusative. Example: "20% Rabatt auf allen Artikeln"

Sentence structure[edit]

The syntax has a lot of constructions with a shortened main clause and a following subordinate clause, which is only marked by the initial position of a verb, e.g.

  • Gut, gibt es Schweizer Bauern. instead of Es ist gut, dass es Schweizer Bauern gibt.
  • Schön, haben Sie heute Zeit. instead of (Es ist) schön, dass Sie heute Zeit haben.
  • Schade, bist du gestern nicht hier gewesen. instead of (Es ist) schade, dass du gestern nicht hier gewesen bist.

Grammatical gender[edit]

In his book "Zündels Abgang", author Markus Werner uses "Tram" ("streetcar") - which would normally take the female article, "die" - with the typically Swiss neuter article "das".

Swiss expressions loaned into Standard German[edit]

The word Putsch is one of those widely used in political context even in notable Standard German newspapers. The word Müsli, however, is a special case: in Swiss German (and only there), Müsli is the diminutive of Mus ("mouse") and stands for "little mouse". To describe the food, the Swiss would use a special spelling, which is nowhere used abroad (in English one says Muesli): esli.

  • Nature:
  • Politics:
    • Putsch (Putsch, or Coup d'état)
    • Reichsdeutsche (Germans living in the German Empire; this term was coined in 1871 by Swiss German-speaking people.)
    • Überfremdung (So-called "over-alienation" of the country)
  • conventions and customs:
    • Heimweh (Homesickness; first described among Swiss soldiers who missed their homes in the Alps)
    • Vignette (Automobile sticker verifying payment of a road tax)
  • kitchen:
    • (Bircher-)Müesli (Muesli, a breakfast food with cereals, milk, yogurt, and fruits)
    • Cordon bleu (breaded cutlet dish of traditionally veal or pork pounded thin and wrapped around a slice of ham and a slice of cheese, breaded, and then pan fried)
    • Fondue (Fondue, a melted cheese dish)
    • Raclette (Raclette, a melted cheese dish)
    • Bündnerfleisch (A seasoned, dried meat, also called Bindenfleisch or Viande des Grisons.)
  • other:
    • unentwegt (unflagging)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michael G. Clyne (1992). Pluricentric Languages: Differing Norms in Different Nations. Walter de Gruyter. p. 164. ISBN 978-3-11-012855-0. Retrieved 7 September 2013. 

External links[edit]