The Suisse romande or Romandie is the French-speaking parts of western Switzerland. In 2010 about 1.9 million people, or 24.4% of the Swiss population, lived in Romandie. The bulk of Romand population lives in the Arc Lémanique region along Lake Geneva, connecting Geneva, Vaud and the Lower Valais.
The adjective romand (feminine romande) is a regional dialectal variant of roman (modern French romain, i.e. "Roman"); in Old French used as a term for the Gallo-Romance vernaculars. Use of the adjective romand (with its unetymological final -d) in reference to the Franco-Provençal dialects can be traced to the 15th century; it is recorded, as rommant, in a document written in Fribourg in 1424 and becomes current in the 17th and 18th centuries in Vaud and Fribourg; it was adopted in Geneva in the 19th century, but its usage never spread outside of what is now French-speaking Switzerland.
The term Suisse romande has become widely used after 1945; before the World Wars and during the 19th century, the term Suisse française "French Switzerland" was used, reflecting the cultural and political prestige of France (the canton of Vaud having been created by Napoleon out of former Bernese subject territories, while Geneva, Valais and Jura were even briefly joined to France, as the Léman, Simplon and Mont-Terrible départements, respectively).
Suisse romande is used in contrast to Suisse alémanique, "Alemannic Switzerland", the term for Alemannic German speaking Switzerland. Formed by analogy is Suisse italienne ("Italian Switzerland"), which is composed of Ticino and of a part of Graubünden.
In Swiss German, French-speaking Switzerland is known as Welschland or Welschschweiz, and the French-speaking Swiss as Welsche, using the old Germanic term for "Latins or Celts" also used in English of Welsh (see Walha). The terms Welschland and Welschschweiz are also used in written Swiss Standard German but in more formal contexts they are sometimes exchanged for französischsprachige Schweiz ("French-speaking Switzerland") or französische Schweiz ("French Switzerland"). Simple Westschweiz "western Switzerland" may also be used as a loose synonym.
The Romandie is not an official territorial division of Switzerland any more than there is a clear linguistic boundary; substantial parts of the canton of Fribourg and the western canton of Bern are traditionally bilingual, most prominently in the Drei-Seen-Land or Pays des trois lacs surrounding the lakes of Morat, Neuchâtel and Bienne (Biel).
The linguistic boundary between French and German is known as Röstigraben (lit. "rösti ditch", adopted in Swiss French as fossé de rösti). The term is humorous in origin and refers both to the geographic division and to perceived cultural differences between the Romandie and the German-speaking Swiss majority. The term can be traced to the WWI period, but it entered mainstream usage in the 1970s in the context of the Jurassic separatism virulent at the time.
The linguistic boundary cuts across Switzerland north-to-south, forming the eastern boundary of the canton of Jura and then encompassing the Bernese Jura, where the boundary frays to include a number of bilingual communities, the largest of which is Biel/Bienne. It then follows the border between Neuchâtel and Bern and turns south towards Morat, again traversing an areal of traditional bilinguism including the communities of Morat and Fribourg. It divides the canton of Fribourg into a western French-speaking majority and an eastern German-speaking minority and then follows the eastern boundary of Vaud with the upper Saane valley of the Bernese Oberland. Cutting across the High Alps at Les Diablerets, the boundary then separates the French-speaking Lower Valais from the Alemannic-speaking Upper Valais, traditionally at Sierre/Siders (although this town now has a predominant French-speaking majority). It then cuts southwards into the High Alps again, separating the Val d'Anniviers from the Mattertal.
Historically, the linguistic boundary in the Swiss Plateau would have more or less followed the Aar during the early medieval period, separating Burgundy (where the Burgundians did not impose their Germanic language on the Gallo-Roman population) from Alemannia; in the High Middle Ages, the boundary gradually shifted westward and now more or less corresponds to the western boundary of the Zähringer possessions, which fell under Bernese rule in the late medieval period, and does not follow any obvious topographical features. The Valais has a separate linguistic history; here, the entire valley, as far as it was settled, would have been Gallo-Roman speaking until its upper parts were settled by Highest Alemannic speakers entering from the Bernese Oberland in the high medieval period (see Walser).
Today, the differences between Swiss French and Parisian French are minor and mostly lexical, although in rural speakers, remnants of dialectal lexicon or phonology may remain more pronounced. In particular, some parts of the Swiss Jura participate in the Frainc-Comtou dialect spoken in the Franche-Comté region of France.
Since the 1970s, there has been a limited amount of linguistic revivalism. In this context, the Franco-Provençal dialects are called Arpitan (a 1980s neologism derived from the dialectal form of the word alpine), and their historical areal Arpitania.
Historically, most of Romandie has been strongly Protestant, especially Calvinist; Geneva was one of the earliest and most important Calvinist centers. However, Roman Catholicism continued to predominate in Jura, Valais, and Fribourg. In recent decades, due to significant immigration from France and other Southern European countries, Catholics can now be found throughout the region.
Notes and references
- Before 1914 (and the first world war), the term "Suisse française" was also used (reference: http://www.rts.ch/emissions/geopolitis/5334328-suisse-francaise-suisse-romande-le-virage-de-14-18.html).
- Statistique suisse, Bilan de la population résidante permanente (total) selon les districts et les communes, retrieved 2010-12-21
- Languages of Switzerland
- Swiss French
- Jurassic separatism
- Bernese Jura
- Lake Geneva region
- Rhodanic Republic
- Organisation internationale de la Francophonie