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Swiss French (French: français de Suisse) is the variety of French spoken in the French-speaking area of Switzerland known as Romandy. French is one of the four official languages of Switzerland, the others being German, Italian, and Romansch. As of 2015, around 2 million people in the country (24.4% of the population) spoke French as their primary language and around 29.1% of the population has working knowledge of French.
The French language spoken in Switzerland differs very little from that of France or Belgium, with minor and mostly lexical differences. This is in contrast to differences between Standard German and Swiss German, in which differences create mutual unintelligibility between speakers of the two forms to the point that they are considered different languages.
The Swiss variant of French is characterized by some terms adopted from Franco-Provençal, a language formerly spoken largely across the alpine communities of Romandie and maintained by a minority today, as well as expressions borrowed from Swiss and Standard German. While Standard French is taught in schools and used in government, media, and business, there is no uniform vernacular form of French among the different cantons of Switzerland. This is exemplified by the usage of borrowed terms from German in regions bordering German-speaking communities to their complete absence by the French border area around Geneva.
Differences between Swiss French and standard French
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Many differences between Swiss French and French are due to the different administrative and political systems between Switzerland and France. Some of its distinctive lexical features are shared with Belgian French (and some also with Quebec French), such as:
- The use of the word septante for seventy and nonante for ninety as opposed to soixante-dix (literally 'sixty-ten') and quatre-vingt-dix (literally 'four twenties-ten') of the "vigesimal" French counting system.
- The use of the word déjeuner for "breakfast" ("lunch" in France, which uses petit déjeuner for "breakfast"), and of the words le dîner and le souper for "lunch" and "dinner" respectively (in French of France, déjeuner and dîner respectively), much like the varying uses of dinner and supper throughout the English-speaking world.
Other examples which are not shared with other varieties of French:
- The word huitante is sometimes used for eighty instead of quatre-vingts (literally 'four twenties'), especially in the cantons of Vaud, Valais and Fribourg; the term octante (from the Latin octaginta) is now considered defunct.
- The word canton has a different meaning in each country; in Switzerland, a canton is a constituent state of the Confederation, whereas in France, it is a grouping of communes; in Belgium, it is a group of municipalities, while in Quebec, it is a township municipality.
- In France, a post office box is called a boite postale (BP), whereas in Switzerland (as in French Canada), it is called a case postale (CP).
- In colloquial Swiss French, the word natel is used for "mobile phone". So, "I didn't take my phone" becomes Je n'ai pas pris mon natel. French people use the word portable or simply téléphone.
Examples of words that differ between Swiss French and Standard French
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|Swiss French||Standard French||English||Notes|
|adieu||salut||hello/goodbye||In French, "adieu" means "farewell" and is generally never used except in cases where the people concerned will not meet again. In Switzerland it is used as an informal general form of greeting when people meet or leave each other.|
|attique||dernier étage||top floor|
|bancomat||Distributeur automatique de billets||ATM|
|biffer||rayer/barrer quelque chose d'écrit||(to) scratch/delete|
|bobet||crétin (noun) or bête/stupide (adjective)||idiot (noun) or stupid (adjective)|
|bonnard||sympa or bien||nice|
|bonne-main||pourboire||tip (gratuity)||Literally "good-hand".|
|borne hydrante||bouche d'incendie||fire hydrant|
|bourbine||suisse-allemand||Swiss-German||This word is considered pejorative.|
|mascogner||tricher aux examens||cheat during exams|
|carnotzet||cave à vin/cellier/fumoir||Wine cellar||This expression can sometimes be found in France, at places close to Switzerland.|
|collège (Genève, Valais, Fribourg) or gymnase (Vaud)||lycée||high school|
|cornet||sac en plastique||plastic bag||In France, "cornet" would typically designate an ice cream cone.|
|cutips||coton-tige||cotton bud/swab||Antonomasia from the brand Q-tips which phonetically becomes "cutips" when pronounced in French.|
|cycle (Genève, Fribourg, Valais)||collège||middle school|
|déjeuner||petit-déjeuner||breakfast||Meal names are shifted in Swiss French, meaning that the name for lunch is used for breakfast, the one for dinner is used for lunch and the French equivalent of the word "supper" is used for dinner.|
|dent de lion||pissenlit||dandelion|
|dîner||déjeuner||lunch||Meal names are shifted in Swiss French, meaning that the name for lunch is used for breakfast, the one for dinner is used for lunch and the French equivalent of the word "supper" is used for dinner.|
|duvet||couette||comforter||"Duvet" comes from the fact that comforters used to be filled with down feather (duvet). "Duvet" in France means sleeping bag, for similar reasons.|
|s'encoubler||se prendre les pieds dans quelque chose/trébucher||to trip over|
|s'énuquer||se briser la nuque||to break a neck|
|étude d'avocats||cabinet d'avocats||law firm|
|faire la noce||faire la fête||to party||This expression can also be found in Standard French even though it is probably less used or used predominantly by old people.|
|fœhn||sèche-cheveux||hairdryer||The name "fœhn" comes from the Foehn wind.|
|frouz||les Français||people from France - French||This word is considered pejorative.|
|fonds||terrain or champs||field|
|fourre||dossier/housse||folder||In French, "fourrer" means "to stuff".|
|galetas||grenier||attic||Also used in Alpine regions of France, down to Dauphiné.|
|giratoire||rond-point, giratoire||roundabout||Comes from "carrefour à sens giratoire" which would translate to "circular crossroads".|
|huitante||quatre-vingts||eighty||In Swiss French, as opposed to French, the words for seventy, eighty and ninety are similar in construction to the ones used for thirty up to sixty.|
|linge||serviette||towel||In French, "linge" is a generic word that refers to clothing, bed sheets and towels.|
|maman de jour||assistante maternelle||day care assistant|
|maturité||baccalauréat||high-school final examination|
|natel||(téléphone) portable||mobile phone|
|mutr||mère||mother||Comes from the German word for "Mother", "Mutter".|
|nom de bleu !||nom de dieu !||in the name of god!/god dammit!|
|nonante||quatre-vingts-dix||ninety||In Swiss French, as opposed to French, the words for seventy, eighty and ninety are similar in construction to the ones used for thirty up to sixty.|
|panosse||serpillière||floorcloth or mop|
|papier ménage||papier essuie-tout||paper towel|
|pive||pomme de pin||conifer cone|
|poutzer||nettoyer||to clean||Comes from the German word "putzen" which means "to clean".|
|Procès verbal d'examen (PV)||bulletin de note||report card|
|réclame||publicité||advertisement||"Réclame" is an older disused word for advertising in French.|
|régie||agence immobilière||real estate agent|
|sans autre||sans plus attendre||without delay|
|santé||à tes/vos souhaits||bless you (when someone sneezes)|
|septante||soixante-dix||seventy||In Swiss French, as opposed to French, the words for seventy, eighty and ninety are similar in construction to the ones used for thirty up to sixty.|
|service||je t'en/vous en prie||you're welcome||From "à votre service" meaning "at your service".|
|signofile/indicateur||clignotant||indicator/turn signal (motor vehicle)|
|souper||dîner||dinner||Meal names are shifted in Swiss French, meaning that the name for lunch is used for breakfast, the one for dinner is used for lunch and the French equivalent of the word "supper" is used for dinner.|
|uni (short word for université)||fac (short word for faculté)||university|
|vatr||père||father||Comes from the German word for "Father", "Vater".|