Swiss Standard German
Swiss Standard German (SSG), referred to by the Swiss as Schriftdeutsch, or Hochdeutsch, is one of four official languages in Switzerland, besides French, Italian and Romansh. It is a variety of Standard German, used in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, mainly written, and rather less often spoken.
German is a pluricentric language. In contrast with other local varieties of German, Swiss Standard German has distinctive features in all linguistic domains: not only in phonology, but also in vocabulary, syntax, morphology and orthography. These characteristics of Swiss Standard German are called helvetisms.
Written Swiss Standard German
Swiss Standard German is the official written language in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. It is used in books, all official publications (including all laws and regulations), in newspapers, printed notices, most advertising and in other printed matter. Authors write literature in Swiss Standard German, although some specific dialect literature exists. SSG is similar in most respects to the Standard German in Germany and Austria, although there are a few differences in spelling, most notably the replacing of the German ligature ß with ss. For example:
- Strasse = Straße (Germany) = street
In some cases different words are used, for example:
- Tram = Straßenbahn (Germany)
- Billet = Fahrkarte (Germany) = ticket (for bus/tram/train etc.)
- Führerausweis = Führerschein (Germany) = driving licence
- Velo = Fahrrad (Germany) = bicycle
- Natel = Handy/Mobiltelefon (Germany) = mobile phone
However, the Swiss use the Swiss Standard German word "Lernfahrausweis" for a learner's driving permit (note how it differs from the SSG word for a "regular" driving license: Führerausweis).
The Swiss sometimes use a different Standard German word from their neighbours from Germany to say the same thing, and an example of this is: "Spital" (hospital). "Spital", being Standard German, is found in most large volumes of Standard German language dictionaries. However, the Germans prefer to use "Krankenhaus".
Differences in grammar are apparent, as Swiss have different genders for some nouns:
- Swiss das Tram, Germany die Tram (English: tram, although except for Bavarian and Franconian regions in the South, "Straßenbahn" is mostly used in Germany)
- Swiss das E-Mail, Germany die E-Mail (English: e-mail)
Some expressions are more akin to a translation from the French, and differ from usage in Germany, such as
- Swiss ich habe kalt (literally "I have cold"), Germany mir ist [es] kalt (literally "[it] is cold to me")
- Swiss das geht dir gut, Germany das passt dir gut (it suits you)
The Swiss keyboard layout has no ß key, nor does it have the capital Umlaut keys Ä, Ö and Ü. This dates back to mechanical typewriters that had the French diacritical marks letters on these keys to allow the Swiss to write French on a Swiss German QWERTZ keyboard (and vice versa). Thus a Swiss German VSM keyboard has an ä key that prints an à (a-grave) when shifted. Although it is possible to write upper Umlauts by use of caps lock or by using the ¨ dead key, the Swiss are traditionally accustomed to names not being written with a starting capital umlaut, but instead with Ae, Oe and Ue, such as the Zürich suburb Oerlikon.
Spoken Swiss Standard German
The normal spoken language in the German-speaking part of Switzerland is the local dialects. Outside of any educational setting, Swiss Standard German is only spoken in very few specific situations in news broadcasts and serious programmes of the public media channels; in the parliaments of certain German-speaking cantons; in the national parliament (unless another official language of Switzerland is used), although dialect is certainly encroaching on this domain; in loudspeaker announcements in public places such as railway stations, etc. Church services, including the sermon and prayers are usually in Standard German. Generally in any educational setting Swiss Standard German is used (during lessons, lectures or tutorials). However outside of lessons Swiss German dialects are used, even when, for example, talking to a teacher about the class. The situations when Swiss Standard German is spoken are characteristically formal and public, and they are situations where written communication is also important.
In informal situations, Swiss Standard German is only used with people who don't understand the dialects. Among each other, the German-speaking Swiss use their respective Swiss German dialects, irrespective of social class, education or topic.
Unlike in other regions where High German varieties are spoken, there is no continuum between Swiss Standard German and the Swiss German dialects. The speakers speak either Swiss Standard German or a Swiss German dialect, and they are conscious about this choice.
The concurrent usage of Swiss Standard German and Swiss German dialects has been called a typical case of diglossia. This claim has been debated, because the typical diglossia situation assumes that the standard variety has high prestige, whereas the informal variety has low prestige. In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, however, the Swiss German dialects do not have a low prestige.
Since Swiss Standard German is the usual written language and the Swiss German dialects are the usual spoken language, their interrelation has been called a medial diglossia.
Attitude to spoken Swiss Standard German
Most Swiss Germans speak fluent Swiss Standard German, and are happy to use it where necessary. When they compare their Swiss Standard German to the way people from Germany speak, they think their own proficiency is inferior because it is studied and slower. Most Swiss Germans think that the majority speak a rather poor Swiss Standard German; however, when asked about their personal proficiency, a majority will answer that they speak quite well.
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (June 2009)|
- "Diversité des langues et compétences linguistiques en Suisse". Retrieved 2009-04-30.
- Swiss standard, former VSM standard SN 074021
- Ferguson, C. A. (1972) [orig. 1959-60) 'Diglossia', in Giglioli, P. P. (ed.) (1972) Language and Social Context. Harmondsworth: Penguin, pp. 232-51.
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