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Languages of Switzerland

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Languages of Switzerland
OfficialGerman, French, Italian, Romansh
  •   German 62.6%
  •   French 22.9%
  •   Italian 8.2%
  •   Romansh 0.5%
VernacularSwiss German, Swiss Standard German, Swiss French, Swiss Italian, Franco-Provençal, Lombard, Walser German, Frainc-Comtou, Bavarian
SignedSwiss German Sign Language, French Sign Language, Italian Sign Language[1]
Keyboard layout

The four national languages of Switzerland are German, French, Italian, and Romansh.[3] German, French, and Italian maintain equal status as official languages at the national level within the Federal Administration of the Swiss Confederation, while Romansh is used in dealings with people who speak it.[4] Latin is occasionally used in some formal contexts, particularly to denote the country (Confoederatio Helvetica).[5]

In 2020, 62.3% of the population of Switzerland were native speakers of German (either Swiss or Standard German) at home; 22.8% French (mostly Swiss French, but including some Franco-Provençal dialects); 8% Italian (mostly Swiss Italian, but including Lombard); and 0.5% Romansh.[6] The German region (Deutschschweiz) is roughly in the east, north, and centre; the French part (la Romandie) in the west; and the Italian area (Svizzera italiana) in the south. There remains a small Romansh-speaking native population in Grisons in the east. The cantons of Freiburg, Bern, and Valais are officially bilingual; Grisons is officially trilingual.


The main languages of Swiss residents from 1950 to 2015, in percentages, were as follows:[7]

Overview of the native language of Swiss
Year German French Italian Romansh Other
2015 63.7 22.7 8.4 0.6 5.3
2000 63.7 20.4 6.5 0.5 9.0
1990 63.6 19.2 7.6 0.6 8.9
1980 65.0 18.4 9.8 0.8 6.0
1970 64.9 18.1 11.9 0.8 4.3
1960 69.4 18.9 9.5 0.9 1.4
1950 72.1 20.3 5.9 1.0 0.7

In the 2012 survey, for the first time, respondents could indicate more than one language, causing the percentages to exceed 100%.[7]

Federal authorities[edit]

While the National Council offers simultaneous translation to and from German, French and Italian, the Council of States does not translate debates – its members are expected to understand at least German and French.

Employees of the federal government are expected to write documents in their native tongue. 77% of the original official documents were edited in German, 20% in French, and 1.98% in Italian. More than half of the Italian speakers employed by the federal government are translators.[8]

The Federal Supreme Court publishes its decisions only in one language, usually in the language used in the earlier instance. The so-called regest – a summary of the decision – will be offered in German, French and Italian, but only in important and influential cases (German "Leitentscheide").[9]

National languages and linguistic regions[edit]


Distribution of High Alemannic dialects. Marked in red is the Brünig-Napf-Reuss line.
Distribution of Highest Alemannic dialects.

The German-speaking part of Switzerland (German: Deutschschweiz, French: Suisse alémanique, Italian: Svizzera tedesca, Romansh: Svizra tudestga) constitutes about 65% of Switzerland (North Western Switzerland, Eastern Switzerland, Central Switzerland, most of the Swiss Plateau and the greater part of the Swiss Alps).

In seventeen of the Swiss cantons, German is the only official language (Aargau, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Appenzell Innerrhoden, Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft, Glarus, Luzern, Nidwalden, Obwalden, Schaffhausen, Schwyz, Solothurn, St. Gallen, Thurgau, Uri, Zug, and Zürich).[10]

In the cantons of Bern, Fribourg and Valais, French is co-official; in the trilingual canton of Graubünden, more than half of the population speaks German, while the rest speak Romansh or Italian. In each case, all languages are official languages of the respective canton.

While the French-speaking Swiss prefer to call themselves Romands and their part of the country is Romandy, the German-speaking Swiss used to (and, colloquially, still do) refer to the French-speaking Swiss as "Welsche", and to their area as Welschland, which has the same etymology as the English Welsh (see Walha).[11] Research shows that individuals with a French-sounding name in the German-speaking part suffer from social discrimination.[12][13]

Nevertheless, in 2017, 11.1%, or about 920,600 of the Swiss residents speak Standard German ("Hochdeutsch") at home, but this figure likely includes numerous German (and Austrian) immigrants.[14]

Geography of languages in Switzerland in the early 20th century. Page from a school atlas, in the Jewish Museum of Switzerland's collection.

By the Middle Ages, a marked difference had developed within the German-speaking part of Switzerland between the rural cantons (Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Glarus, Zug, Appenzell, Schaffhausen) and the city cantons (Lucerne, Berne, Zurich, Solothurn, Fribourg, Basel, St. Gallen), divided by views about trade and commerce. After the Reformation, all cantons were either Catholic or Protestant, and the denominational influences on culture added to the differences. Even today, when all cantons are somewhat denominationally mixed, the different historical denominations can be seen in the mountain villages, where Roman Catholic Central Switzerland abounds with chapels and statues of saints, and the farmhouses in the very similar landscape of the Protestant Bernese Oberland show Bible verses carved on the housefronts instead.

In addition to this more widespread notion of Swiss German dialect, there is also Walser German, another Highest Alemannic speech brought by Walser emigrants from Valais.

Because the largest part of Switzerland is German-speaking, many French, Italian, and Romansh speakers migrate to the rest of Switzerland, and the children of those non-German-speaking Swiss-born within the rest of Switzerland speak German.


Arpitan language area map with place names in Arpitan and historic political divisions.

Romandy (French: Romandie, la Suisse romande, German: Romandie, Welschland, Welschschweiz, or in some contexts: Westschweiz,[a] Italian: Svizzera romanda) is the French-speaking part of Switzerland. It covers the area of the cantons of Geneva, Vaud, Neuchâtel, and Jura as well as the French-speaking parts of the cantons of Bern (German-speaking majority), Valais (French-speaking majority), and Fribourg (French-speaking majority). 1.9 million people (or 24.4% of the Swiss population) live in Romandy.[15]

Standard Swiss French and the French of France are highly mutually intelligible, though some differences exist. For example, like most Francophone Belgians, speakers of Swiss French use septante (seventy) instead of soixante-dix (literally, "sixty ten") and nonante (ninety) instead of "quatre-vingt-dix" ("four twenty ten"). In the cantons of Vaud, Valais and Fribourg, speakers use huitante (eighty) instead of "quatre-vingts" (four twenties) used in the rest of the French-speaking world; the cantons of Geneva, Bern and Jura use "quatre-vingts".[16][17][18] "Sou" is used throughout Romandy for a 5-centime coin, as is "tune" (or "thune") when referring to a 5-Swiss-franc piece. Swiss French also uses "déjeuner, dîner, souper" for breakfast, lunch and dinner instead of "petit-déjeuner, déjeuner, dîner" used in France.

Historically, the vernacular language used by inhabitants of most parts of Romandy was Franco-Provençal. Franco-Provençal (also called Arpitan) is a language sometimes considered to be halfway between the langue d'oïl (the historical language of northern France and ancestor of French) and Occitan (the langue d'oc, spoken in southern France). Standard French and Franco-Provençal/Arpitan, linguistically, are distinct and mutual intelligibility is limited. Increasingly, Franco-Provençal/Arpitan is used only by members of the older generations.[19] In parts of Jura Franc-Comtois dialects are also spoken; these belong to the same Oïl bloc as Standard French.

The term Romandy does not formally exist in the political system, but is used to distinguish and unify the French-speaking population of Switzerland. The television channel Télévision Suisse Romande (TSR) served the Romande community across Switzerland and worldwide through TV5Monde until it was merged with the Radio Suisse Romande (RSR) and renamed RTS (Radio Télévision Suisse) in 2010.


Italian language in Switzerland

Italian Switzerland (Italian: Svizzera italiana, Romansh: Svizra taliana, French: Suisse italienne, German: italienische Schweiz) is the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, which includes the canton of Ticino and the southern part of Grisons. Italian is also spoken in the Gondo Valley (leading to the Simplon Pass, on the southern part of the watershed) in Valais. The traditional vernacular of this region is the Lombard language, specifically its Ticinese dialect.

The linguistic region covers an area of about 3,500 km2 and has a total population of around 350,000,[20] with the number of Italophones residing in Switzerland being 545,274 (about 7% of the Swiss population).[21]

The proportion of Italian-speaking inhabitants had been decreasing since the 1970s, after reaching a high of 12% of the population during the same decade. This was entirely because of the reduced number of immigrants from Italy to Switzerland. However it has increased again during the last decade.[when?][7]


Languages of instruction in the traditionally Romansh-speaking areas of Grisons as of 2003
  Romansh school
  Bilingual Romansh-German school
  German school, Romansh as a subject
  German schooling only

Romansh is an official language in the trilingual Canton of Grisons, where the municipalities in turn are free to specify their own official languages. Romansh has been recognized as one of four "national languages" by the Swiss Federal Constitution since 1938. It was also declared an "official language" of the Confederation in 1996, meaning that Romansh speakers may use their language for correspondence with the federal government and expect to receive a Romansh response. Although Romansh is split into several dialects, the federal and cantonal authorities use the standardized version (Romansh Grischun) exclusively.

Romansh speakers remain predominant in the Surselva, the Albula Region, and the Engiadina Bassa/Val Müstair Region.


While learning one of the other national languages at school is important, many Swiss nowadays find it easier to use English as a lingua franca with other Swiss people of different linguistic backgrounds.[22] In 2022, Switzerland ranked 23rd in Europe in the English Proficiency Index of EF language school.[23]

Swissinfo, a multilingual outlet of Swiss Radio and Television, reported in 2021 that interview subjects are often asked technical questions in English, given that interviewers are often not proficient enough to do so in the local language. The interviewees then answer in their own local language. The interviews are later translated and dubbed over at the studio. A 2003 study on the online communication behavior of Swiss medical students showed that they quickly changed to English as soon as students from other languages were involved. The main drivers behind using English were the Italian-speaking students from Ticino, as students from other parts of the country rarely understood their messages.[24]

Inhabitants who mainly speak English in everyday life
Area Percentage
Canton of Zug 14.1
Walchwil, village in the Canton of Zug 27.3
City of Zug 20.0
Canton of Basel-City 12.5
Canton of Geneva 11.8
Canton of Zurich 10.8
Residents aged 15 or above; according to 2022 census data[25]

In advertising and sports, English slogans and labels are frequently used, as it reduces the need for regional branding. For example, Swiss railways sell tourism offers through the "RailAway" label since 1999, and many national sport federations have English names (e.g. Swiss Olympic), with their German or French names almost never being used.

Other languages[edit]

Franco-Provençal and Lombard

Besides the national languages and the many varieties of Swiss German, several regional Romance languages are spoken natively in Switzerland: Franco-Provençal and Lombard.


About 20,000 Romani speak Sinte, an Indic language.

The logo of the Swiss Federal administration, in the four national languages of Switzerland
Sign languages

Five sign languages are used: Swiss-German, French, Italian, Austrian, and German.[26]

Language in Switzerland[b]
Language 2000[28]
Mother tongue
2015[citation needed]
Main language
Main language
Main language
Number % Number % Number % Number %
German 4,639,762 63.7% 4,424,150 64% 4,458,156 62.9% 4,477,946 62.3%
French 1,484,411 20.4% 1,567,197 22.7% 1,619,708 22.9% 1,624,424 22.6%
Italian 470,961 6.5% 581,381 8.4% 593,646 8.4% 575,017 8%
Romansch 35,072 0.5% 40,299 0.6% 36,709 0.5% 35,938 0.5%
English 73,422 1% 374,642 5.4% 471,056 5.9% 416,887 5.8%
Portuguese 89,527 1.2% 256,560 3.7% 251,570 3.5%
Albanian 94,937 1.3% 188,125 2.7% 230,007 3.2%
Serbo-Croatian 103,350 1.4% 161,882 2.3% 165,317 2.3%
Spanish 76,750 1.1% 159,859 2.3% 172,505 2.4%
Turkish 44,523 0.6% 78,015 1.1%
Arabic 14,345 0.2% 36,857 0.5%
Russian 8,570 0.1% 32,244 0.5%
Tamil 21,816 0.3% 31,145 0.5%
Polish 5,206 0.1% 24,881 0.4%
Dutch 11,840 0.2% 22,357 0.3%
Hungarian 6,194 0.1% 20,597 0.3%
Kurdish 7,531 0.1% 19,401 0.3%
Thai 7,569 0.1% 14,528 0.2%
Greek 4,792 0.1% 13,763 0.2%
Czech 5,444 0.1% 13,433 0.2%
Romanian 3,397 0% 12,738 0.2%
Chinese 8,279 0.1% 12,324 0.2%
Slovak 2,018 0% 12,072 0.2%
Persian 3,467 0% 11,108 0.2%
Macedonian 6,415 0.1% 10,698 0.2%
Swedish 5,560 0.1% 8,771 0.1%
Vietnamese 4,226 0.1% 6,720 0.1%
Tagalog 3,019 0% 6,275 0.1%
Japanese 4,100 0.1% 6,001 0.1%
Danish 2,739 0% 5,272 0.1%
Tibetan 1,108 0% 5,219 0.1%
Bulgarian 1,579 0% 4,583 0.1%
Finnish 2,628 0% 4,299 0.1%
Hindi-Urdu 1,407 0% 3,846 0.1%
Slovene 1,601 0% 3,690 0.1%
Somali 2,661 0% 3,607 0.1%
Aramaic 1,333 0% 2,465 0%
Hebrew 1,176 0% 2,159 0%
Norwegian 1,361 0% 2,108 0%
Korean 1,202 0% 1,816 0%
Other languages 77,751 1.1% 1,255,656 17.7% 589,393 8.2%


A Swiss five-franc coin with the Latin inscription Confoederatio Helvetica.
The Federal Palace of Switzerland, with the Latin inscription Curia Confoederationis Helveticae.

To avoid having to translate the name of Switzerland into the four national languages,[c] Latin is used on the coins of the Swiss franc (Helvetia or Confoederatio Helvetica) and on Swiss stamps (Helvetia). The country code top-level domain for Switzerland on the internet is .ch, the abbreviation of the Latin name, Confoederatio Helvetica (Swiss Confederation); similarly, the International vehicle registration code for Swiss automobiles is "CH". The Federal Palace of Switzerland bears the inscription Curia Confoederationis Helveticae.[31]

To have a unique name across the country (without favoring German, French or any other language), several Swiss foundations and associations have Latin names, such as Pro Helvetia, Pro Infirmis, Pro Juventute, Pro Natura, Pro Patria, Pro Senectute, Pro Specie Rara, Helvetia Nostra, and many more.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Welsch" is an old German word for "Foreign" and is the same word the Anglo-Saxons used for the original British inhabitants which today are the Welsh people.[citation needed]
  2. ^ Since 2010, statistics of languages in Switzerland provided by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office are based on a national structural survey of 200,000 people aged 15 years and older (corresponding to 2.5% of the total resident population). Data are extrapolated to obtain statistical results for the whole population (aged 15 years and older). These results are estimates subject to some degree of uncertainty indicated by a confidence interval. Therefore, the figures of the structural survey may not be entirely comparable to data collection before 2010 based on census figures (counting every person living in Switzerland).[27]
  3. ^ When there is no room to use the four official languages, unlike on the banknotes of the Swiss franc, on the logo of the Federal administration of Switzerland and on the Swiss passport.


  1. ^ [1] Archived 10 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Sprachen 2015" (in German, French, and Italian). Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Federal Statistical Office FSO. 31 January 2017. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  3. ^ "SR 101 The Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation of 18 April 1999 (Status as of 12 February 2017): Art. 4 National languages". The portal of the Swiss government (Federal Law collection). Berne, Switzerland: The Federal Council. 12 February 2017. Archived from the original on 23 October 2014. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  4. ^ "SR 441.1 Bundesgesetz über die Landessprachen und die Verständigung zwischen den Sprachgemeinschaften [Federal Act on the National Languages and Understanding between the Linguistic Communities] (Sprachengesetz, SpG) vom 5. Oktober 2007 (Stand am 1. Januar 2017): Art. 5 Amtssprachen". The portal of the Swiss government (Federal Law collection) (in German, French, Italian, and Romansh). Berne, Switzerland: The Federal Council. 1 January 2017. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  5. ^ "Languages of instruction in Switzerland - Daily Research". www.dailyresearch.co.uk. Daily Research. Archived from the original on 21 May 2022. Retrieved 20 January 2022.
  6. ^ a b "Languages". Office Federal Statistical. Retrieved 7 July 2022.
  7. ^ a b c "Die zehn häufigsten Hauptsprachen der ständigen Wohnbevölkerung" (official website) (in German, French, and Italian). Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Swiss Federal Statistical Office FSO. 28 February 2018. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  8. ^ "Bundesverwaltung ist eigentlich zweisprachig". Swissinfo. 1 March 2009. Retrieved 17 March 2024.
  9. ^ "Werden die Urteile des Bundesgerichts übersetzt?" [Are the decisions of the Federal Court translated?] (in German). Supreme Federal Court of Switzerland. Retrieved 17 March 2024.
  10. ^ "SR 101 The Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation of 18 April 1999 (Status as of 12 February 2017): Art. 1: The Swiss Confederation". The portal of the Swiss government (Federal Law collection). Berne, Switzerland: The Federal Council. 12 February 2017. Archived from the original on 4 October 2014. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  11. ^ "TIL". Reddit. 29 February 2016. Retrieved 7 March 2024.
  12. ^ Nesseler, Cornel; Carlos, Gomez-Gonzalez; Dietl, Helmut (2019). "What's in a name? Measuring access to social activities with a field experiment". Palgrave Communications. 5: 1–7. doi:10.1057/s41599-019-0372-0. hdl:11250/2635691.
  13. ^ Dietl, Helmut; Carlos, Gomez-Gonzalez; Moretti, Paolo; Nesseler, Cornel (2020). "Does persistence pay off? Accessing social activities with a foreign-sounding name". Applied Economic Letters. 28 (10): 881–885. doi:10.1080/13504851.2020.1784381. hdl:11250/2659779.
  14. ^ Statistik, Bundesamt für (29 January 2019). "Ständige Wohnbevölkerung ab 15 Jahren nach zuhause gesprochenen Sprachen - 2017 | Tabelle". Bundesamt für Statistik (in German). Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  15. ^ "Bilan de la population résidante permanente (total) selon les districts et les communes". Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Swiss Federal Statistical Office. 2 January 2015. Archived from the original (XLS) on 6 August 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  16. ^ Dominique Didier. "Septante, octante ou huitante, nonante". Monsu.desiderio.free.fr. Retrieved 22 October 2015.
  17. ^ Avanzi, Mathieu (26 March 2017). "Comment dit-on 80 en Belgique et en Suisse ?". francaisdenosregions.com. Retrieved 12 October 2021.
  18. ^ Thibault, André (2004). "huitante". Dictionnaire suisse romand : particularités lexicales du français contemporain [Swiss French Dictionary: lexical particularities of contemporary French] (in French). Pierre Knecht (Nouvelle éd. revue et augmentée ed.). Carouge (Geneva): Zoé. p. 457. ISBN 978-2-88182-870-6. OCLC 828226325. Local. VD, VS, FR ; les autres cantons emploient quatre-vingt(s), comme en français de référence. [Local. VD, VS, FR; the other cantons use quatre-vingt(s) like in Standard French.]
  19. ^ Meune, Manuel (18 December 2018). "From Little Fatherlands to Imagined Protonation: The Discourse on Francoprovençal in the Journal de Genève and the Gazette de Lausanne (1826–1998)". Advances in Discourse Analysis. doi:10.5772/intechopen.81502. ISBN 978-1-78985-757-3. Retrieved 7 March 2024.
  20. ^ (in French) Bilan de la population résidante permanente selon les cantons Archived 20 September 2009 at the Wayback Machine; calculated adding up the inhabitants in Ticino and 11% of the inhabitants of Grigioni, Swiss Federal Statistical Office
  21. ^ "Bevölkerung, Strukturerhebung der eidgenössischen Volkszählung 2011: Bevölkerung nach Sprache und Religion, Ständige Wohnbevölkerung ab 15 Jahren nach zuhause gesprochenen Sprachen, 2011" (Statistics) (in German, French, and Italian). Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Swiss Federal Statistical Office. 30 May 2013. Archived from the original (XLS) on 14 November 2013. Retrieved 22 December 2013.
  22. ^ English as a common language in Switzerland: a positive or a problem? from Swissinfo.ch
  23. ^ "Swiss are not as good at English as they might think, study finds". SWI swissinfo.ch. 16 July 2023. Retrieved 18 August 2023.
  24. ^ Stephens, Thomas (7 April 2021). "Englisch als Landessprache: Go oder No-Go?" [English as a national language: Go or no go?] (in German). Swissinfo. Retrieved 17 March 2024.
  25. ^ "In Walchwil und Zug spricht man hauptsächlich Englisch – im Arbeitsleben ist die Sprache nicht mehr wegzudenken" [In Walchwil and Zug people mainly seak English - in the working life, English is indispensable]. Zuger Zeitung (in German). 26 January 2024. Retrieved 9 April 2024.
  26. ^ Wittmann, Henri (1991). "Classification linguistique des langues signées non vocalement" (PDF) (in French). Revue québécoise de linguistique théorique et appliquée 10:1.215–88. Retrieved 22 October 2015.
  27. ^ "Methodological basis for research and regional partners [Accuracy of results; Cumulated data-pooling]". Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Swiss Federal Statistical Office.
  28. ^ "Tableau 7: Population résidante selon la langue principale avec au moins 600 locuteurs, en nombres absolus, en 2000". Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Swiss Federal Statistical Office. according to the 2000 census (over 1,000 speakers) {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |url= (help)
  29. ^ "Population résidante permanente de 15 ans et plus, selon les langues principales, en 2018" (XLS) (in French). Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Federal Statistical Office - FSO. 29 January 2020. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  30. ^ "Langues principales depuis 1910: Population résidante permanente âgée de 15 ans ou plus" (XLS) (in French). Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Federal Statistical Office - FSO. 24 January 2022. Retrieved 14 July 2022.
  31. ^ Tschentscher, Axel (14 September 2019). "File:Bern Parliament Pediment Inscription 2019-09-14 00-09.jpg". commons.wikimedia.org. Retrieved 22 March 2020.

External links[edit]