Sursilvan dialects (Romansh)

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Historical distribution of the dialects of Romansh, German, and Italian in Grisons:

Sursilvan (About this sound [suʁsilˈvan]  or romontsch sursilvan [ʁoˈmɔntʃ suʁsilˈvan]) is a group of dialects of the Romansh language spoken in the Swiss district of Surselva. It is the most widely spoken variety of Romansh with 17,897 people within the Surselva District (54.8%) naming Romansh as a habitually spoken language in the Swiss census of 2000.[1] The most closely related variety is Sutsilvan, which is spoken in the area located to the east of the district.

The name of the dialect and the Surselva District is derived from sur 'above' and selva 'forest', with the forest in question being the Uaul Grond in the area affected by the Flims Rockslide. The word selva itself has fallen out of use in modern Sursilvan, with the most common word for forest being About this sound uaul , an Old High German loanword. Selva is only used for in a few more recent terms such as selvicultura 'forestry', selvicultur 'forest officer', or cavrer selvadi 'Long-eared owl'.

A Sursilvan inscription on a house in Waltensburg/Vuorz.


a Sursilvan traffic sign

Sursilvan is used across most of the Surselva District, with the exception of the Walser villages of Obersaxen, Vals, St. Martin and Safiental. Outside of the Surselva District, Flims is also part of the Sursilvan dialect area. In addition, Sursilvan was previously used as the written Romansh language of parts of the Sutsilvan dialect area. When a separate Sutsilvan written language was introduced in 1944, the villages of Bonaduz, Rhäzün s, Domat/Ems and Trin retained Sursilvan as their written language. In addition, Sursilvan was previously used in the Surmiran dialect area as the language of church, but has now been replaced by Standard Surmiran and Rumantsch Grischun.

Most municipalities in which Sursilvan is the traditional language still have a Romansh-speaking majority today. The exceptions are Flims, Laax, Schnaus, Ilanz, Castrisch, Surcuolm, and Duvin. In all of these, except for Flims, however, a majority of people reported in the 2000 Swiss census to use Romansh daily, even if only a minority named it as their language of best command. In about half of the Sursilvan villages, Romansh is the language of best command of over 70% or 80%. The highest percentage is found in Vrin with over 95%. As a daily language, it is used in nearly all municipalities by at least 70%, in about half by more than 80%, and in a third by over 90%. Overall across the Sursilvan dialect area, in the census of 2000, 70.1% named Romansh as a habitually used language, while 58.3% named it as their language of best command.[2]


Sursilvan spelling mostly follows a phonemic system.

Orthography IPA Example
а [a] About this sound clav  ‚key‘
аi [aɪ̯] About this sound grusaida  ‚Rhododendron‘
аu [aʊ̯] About this sound paun  ‚bread‘
b [b] About this sound bogn  ‚bath‘
c in front of a, o, u as [k]
in front of i and e as [ts]
About this sound canzun  ‚song‘
About this sound december  ‚December‘
ch [k] (only occurs in front of i and e) About this sound zucher  ‚sugar‘
d [d] About this sound dir  ‚hard‘
e [e]
About this sound tegia  ‚hut‘
About this sound lev  ‚light‘
è [ɛ] About this sound pèr  ‚pair‘
é [e] About this sound pér  ‚pear‘
ei depending on the region as [ɛɪ̯] (Gruob), [aɪ̯] (Cadi) or [ɔɪ̯] (Breil/Brigels) About this sound treis  ‚three‘
eu [ɛʊ̯] About this sound glieud  ‚people‘
f [f] About this sound fil  ‚thread‘
g as [g]
in front ofi and e as [] (i is silent)
About this sound grischun  ‚Grisons‘
About this sound baselgia  ‚church‘
gh [g] (only occurs in front of i and e) About this sound schenghegiar  ‚give a gift‘
gl At the end of a word and in front of i as [ʎ] (i is silent)
in front of a, u, o, e and some loanwords as [gl]
About this sound egl  ‚eye‘
About this sound Glaruna Glarus
gn [ɲ] About this sound signun  ‚shepherd‘
h usually silent
[h] in loanwords
About this sound habitaziun  ‚habitation‘
About this sound haluncs  ‚crooks‘
i [i] About this sound ti  ‚you‘
ia [ɪ̯a] About this sound siat  ‚seven‘
ie [ɪə̯] About this sound caschiel  ‚cheese‘
iu [ɪʊ̯] About this sound vendiu  ‚sold‘
iau [ɪ̯aʊ̯] About this sound cumiau  ‚farewell‘
j [j] About this sound jamna  ‚week‘
l [l] About this sound legums  ‚vegetables‘
m [m] About this sound mir  ‚wall‘
n [n] About this sound neiv  ‚snow‘
o [ɔ] About this sound comba  ‚leg‘
p [p] About this sound pur  ‚farmer‘
r generally a Uvular r About this sound raps  - ‚money‘
s [s]
in front of c, p, t, tg, n, m [ʃ]
in front of g, b, d, v [ʒ]
About this sound sulegl  ‚son‘
About this sound casa  ‚house‘
About this sound finiastra  ‚window‘
About this sound sbagl  ‚mistake‘
sch [ʃ]
About this sound cudisch  ‚book‘
About this sound pischada  - ‚butter‘
t [t] About this sound turitg  ‚Zurich‘
tsch [] About this sound tschiel  ‚sky‘
tg [] About this sound tgaun  ‚dog‘
u [u] About this sound tut  ‚everything‘
ua [ʊ̯a] About this sound qual  ‚which one‘
ue [ʊ̯ɛ] About this sound quel  ‚this one‘
uo [ʊə̯] About this sound buob  ‚boy‘
uei [ʊ̯ɛɪ̯] About this sound quei  ‚this‘
uau [ʊ̯aʊ̯] About this sound uaul  ‚forest‘
v [v] About this sound luvrar  ‚to work‘
z [ts] About this sound Svizra  ‚Switzerland‘



Sursilvan nouns distinguish two genders (masculine and feminine) and two numbers (singular and plural).

Nouns in -a are overwhelmingly feminine (with few exceptions such as duca 'duke'). Nouns in consonants or other vowels can be either masculine or feminine.

Plurals are formed with the suffix -s. Nouns already ending in -s do not add this plural ending, but nouns in -z and -sch follow the general rule. Nominalised past participles in -au have a plural in -ai. In addition, nouns may show vowel alternations or other irregularities:

Type Sg Pl Meaning (gender)
Regular + -s frar frars brother (m.)
sora soras sister (f.)
esch eschs door (m.)
péz pézs summit (m.)
-s > -s nas nas nose (m.)
-(t)schi > -(t)schals purschi purschals piglet (m.)
utschi utschals bird (m.)
-i > -ials marti martials hammer (m.)
-agl > -als cavagl cavals horse (m.)
-egl > -els cavegl cavels hair (m.)
-iel > -euls migiel migeuls glass (m.)
-al > -auls armal armauls ox (m.)
-au > -ai delegau delegai delegate (m.)
-ie- > -o- + -s iev ovs egg (m.)
tgiern corns horn (m.)
ies oss bone (m.)
tgaubriechel tgaubrochels somersault (m.)
-ie- > -o- + -s (with irreg.) piertg pors pig (m.)
bov bos ox (m.)
-ie- > -ia- + -s vierm viarms worm (m.)
-ie- > -ia- (no -s) viers viars animal noise (m.)
-ie- > -a- + -s tschierv tscharvs stag (m.)
Irregular um umens man (m.)
dunna dunnauns (also: dunnas) woman (f.)
matta mattauns (also: mattas) girl (f.)
liug loghens (also: logs) place (m.)

Collective plurals[edit]

In addition to the normal plural in -s many nouns also show a collective plural in -a. These forms typically occur with natural substances (rocks, wood, plants etc.) and human body parts. Syntactically these collective plurals behave like feminine singular nouns: La crappa ei dira. 'The rocks are hard. / The rock (= material) is hard.' (with dira 'hard' agreeing with the subject la crappa 'the rock(s)') and may best be considered as an intermediate formation between inflection and derivation (Liver 1999:132).


Sursilvan has both a definite and an indefinite article. These are preposed and agree with their noun in gender and number. (The indefinite article only has singular forms.) Forms may differ depending on whether the following word starts with a vowel or a consonant:

Indefinite Article[edit]

masc. in fegl 'son'
in amitg 'male friend'
fem. before cons. ina feglia 'daughter'
fem. before vowel in'amitga 'female friend'

Definite Article[edit]

Sg Pl
masc. before cons. il bab ils babs 'father'
before vowel igl aug ils augs 'uncle'
fem. before cons. la mumma las mummas 'mother'
before vowel l'onda las ondas 'aunt'

The definite article contracts with a number of prepositions:

il igl la l' ils las
a 'to' al agl alla all' als allas
cun 'with' cul cugl culla cull' culs cullas
da 'of, by' dil digl dalla dall' dils dallas
en 'in(to)' el egl ella ell' els ellas
per 'for' pil pigl pella pell' pils pellas
sin 'on (to)' sil sigl silla sill' sils sillas
sper 'beside' spel spegl spella spell' spels spellas
tier 'to, at' tiel tiegl tiella tiell' tiels tiellas


The adjective agrees with its noun in gender and number and (as in other Romance languages) usually follows it.

A peculiarity of Sursilvan is that the adjective distinguishes an attributive and a predicative form in the masculine singular:

in um vegl 'an old man'
igl um ei vegls 'the man is old'

The predicative masculine singular form is morphologically identical with the masculine plural.

The ending of the masculine plural is -s. Feminine adjectives suffix -a in the singular and -as in the plural. The attributive masculine singular often differs from the other forms in its vocalism.

M.Sg.Attr. M.Sg.Pred/M.Pl. F.Sg. F.Pl.
Regular grond gronds gronda grondas 'big'
-gl > -gli- vegl vegls veglia veglias 'old'
-tg > -gi- lartg lartgs largia largias 'wide, broad'
-C > -CC met mets metta mettas 'dumb'
-el > -l- fideivel fideivels fideivla fideivlas 'faithful'
-en > -n- giuven giuvens giuvna giuvnas 'young'
-er > -r- pauper paupers paupra paupras 'poor'
Irreg. pign pigns pintga pintgas 'small'
agen agens atgna atgnas 'own'
-i > -ial- bi bials biala bialas 'beautiful'
-ie- > -ia- aviert aviarts aviarta aviartas 'open(ed)'
-(t)schie- > -(t)scha- detschiert detscharts detscharta detschartas 'resolute'
-ie- > -ia- + -er > -r- siniester siniasters siniastra siniastras 'left'
-ie- > -o- niev novs nova novas 'new'
gries gross grossa grossas 'thick'
tgietschen cotschens cotschna cotschnas 'red'
-ie- > -u- bien buns buna bunas 'good'
Irreg. bia biars biara biaras 'much'


Personal Pronouns[edit]

Subject Object
1 Sg jeu mei (but: a mi)
2 Sg ti tei (but: a ti)
3 Sg masc el
3 Sg fem ella
1 Pl nus
2 Pl vus
3 Pl masc els
3 Pl fem ellas
  • Modern Sursilvan has no unstressed proclitic personal pronouns appearing in preverbal position (as in French je l'ai vu 'I have seen him') and only uses the (historically) stressed forms, which appear in the same position as nouns: jeu hai viu el 'I have seen him'.
  • In the 1Sg and 2Sg the special dative forms mi and ti exist, which are used after the preposition a(d) 'to'. In the 3Sg agli is occasionally used instead of ad el.
  • In the 3rd person Sursilvan has a neuter pronoun ei (igl before ei 'is'): ei plova 'it rains', igl ei tard 'it is late'. This pronoun is also used as an expletive pronoun in sentences like ei vegn ora in drag cun siat tgaus 'there emerges [lit: it comes out] a dragon with seven heads'. The same form can be used with 3Pl verb forms as a gender-neutral 'they/people' (French on, German man): ei dian 'they/people say'.

Demonstrative pronouns[edit]

Neuter Masc Fem
Sg Sg Pl Sg Pl
Pron. quei 'this' quel quels quella quellas
Adj. - quei quels quella quellas
Pron. tschei 'that' tschel tschels tschella tschellas
Adj. - tschei tschels tschella tschellas
Pron. & Adj. quest 'this' quest quests questa questas
  • The proximal pronoun quel 'this' and the distal pronoun tschel 'that' have different forms in the masc. sg. depending on whether they are used adjectivally with a noun or pronominally on their own (referring to a masculine noun): El va vitier quei um vegl, e quel gi,... 'he goes to this old man, and this one says...'.
  • Quel and tschel have pronominal neuter forms quei and tschei (formally identical with the adjectival masculine forms).
  • Quest, which in other Rhetoromance dialects serves as proximal demonstrative, is in modern Sursilvan limited to fixed expression such quest onn 'this year', questa sera 'this evening'.


  • Bernardi, Rut, & H. Stricker, & Società Retorumantscha, & Verein für Bündner Kulturforschung (1994), Handwörterbuch des Rätoromanischen : Wortschatz aller Schriftsprachen, einschliesslich Rumantsch Grischun, mit Angaben zur Verbreitung und Herkunft; erarbeitet auf Initiative von Hans Stricker ; herausgegeben von der Società Retorumantscha und dem Verein für Bündner Kulturforschung. Zürich: Offizin.
  • Cahannes, Gion, & Ligia romontscha (1924), Grammatica romontscha per Surselva e Sutselva, Ediziun della Ligia romontscha. Mustér: Stampa da G. Condrau.
  • Da Sale, Flaminio (1729), Fundamenti principali della lingua retica, o griggiona, con le regole del declinare i nomi, e congiugare i verbi, all'uso di due delle principali valli della Rezia, cioe di Sopraselva e di Sorset che può servire alli italiani per imparare [...], Disentis : Francesco Antonio Binn. [Online: copy (1), copy (2).]
  • Decurtins, Alexis (2001), Niev vocabulari romontsch sursilvan - tudestg / Neues rätoromanisches Wörterbuch surselvisch-deutsch, Chur. ISBN 3-03900-999-0.
  • Eichenhofer, Wolfgang (1999), Historische Lautlehre des Bünderromanischen. Tübingen: Francke.
  • Gartner, Theodor (1883), Raetoromanische Grammatik. (Sammlung romanischer Grammatiken.) Heilbronn: Gebr. Henninger. [Online: copy (1), copy (2), copy (3).]
  • Gregor, D.B. (1982), Romontsch : Language and literature : The sursilvan Raeto-Romance of Switzerland. (Oleander language and literature ; 11). Cambridge: Oleander.
  • Janzing, Gereon (2006), Rätoromanisch Wort für Wort, Reise Know-How Verlag Rump. ISBN 3-89416-365-8 (Deals in spite of its title only with Sursilvan).
  • Liver, Ricarda (1982). Manuel pratique de romanche : Sursilvan-vallader : Précis de grammaire suivi d'un choix de textes. (Romanica Raetica ; t. 4). Chur: Ligia Romontscha.
  • Liver, Ricarda (1999), Rätoromanisch : Eine Einführung in das Bündnerromanische. (Narr Studienbücher). Tübingen: G. Narr.
  • Lutz, Florentin, & Dieter Strehle (1988), Rückläufiges Wörterbuch des Surselvischen = Dicziunari invers dil romontsch sursilvan. (Romanica Monacensia ; 29). Tübingen: Narr.
  • Nay, Sep Modest, & Ramun Vieli, & Ligia romontscha (1948), Lehrbuch der rätoromanischen Sprache (deutsch-surselvisch). (2. Aufl. / im Auftrage der Ligia Romontscha besorgt von Ramun Vieli. ed.). [Chur]: Ligia Romontscha.
  • Spescha, Arnold (1989), Grammatica sursilvana, Lehrmittelverlag Graubünden, Chur. (This grammar is entirely written in Romansh.)
  • Vieli, Ramun (1938), Vocabulari scursaniu romontsch-tudestg, redigius da dr. Ramun Vieli. Ediziun della Ligia romontscha 1938. Mustér: G. Condrau.
  • Vieli/Decurtins (1994), Vocabulari tudestg - romontsch sursilvan, Lia Rumantscha.

Sursilvan literature is published among others by the Lia Rumantscha in Chur.

External Links[edit]


The fable The Fox and the Crow by Jean de La Fontaine in Sursilvan, as well as a translation into English, the similar-looking but noticeably different-sounding dialect Sutsilvan, and Rumantsch Grischun.[3]

About this sound audio 
Rumantsch Grischun
About this sound audio 
L'uolp era puspei inagada fomentada.
Cheu ha ella viu sin in pegn in tgaper che teneva in toc caschiel en siu bec.
Quei gustass a mi, ha ella tertgau, ed ha clamau al tgaper: «Tgei bi che ti eis! Sche tiu cant ei aschi bials sco tia cumparsa, lu eis ti il pli bi utschi da tuts».
La gualp eara puspe egn'eada fumantada.
Qua â ella vieu sen egn pegn egn corv ca taneva egn toc caschiel ainten sieus pecel.
Quegl gustass a mei, â ella tartgieu, ed ha clamo agli corv: «Tge beal ca tei es! Scha tieus tgànt e aschi beal sco tia pareta, alura es tei igl ple beal utschi da tuts».
La vulp era puspè ina giada fomentada.
Qua ha ella vis sin in pign in corv che tegneva in toc chaschiel en ses pichel.
Quai ma gustass, ha ella pensà, ed ha clamà al corv: «Tge bel che ti es! Sche tes chant è uschè bel sco tia parita, lur es ti il pli bel utschè da tuts».
The fox was hungry yet again. There he saw a raven upon a fir holding a piece of cheese in its beak. This I would like, he thought, and shouted at the raven: "You are so beautiful! If your singing is as beautiful as your looks, then you are the most beautiful of all birds.".


  1. ^ Gross (2004). p. 31[dead link]
  2. ^ Cathomas (2008). pp. 19
  3. ^ Gross, Manfred (2004), Rumantsch – Facts & Figures. (PDF) . Retrieved on 2012-02-28. Archived April 18, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.