Swiss French

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The French-speaking part of Switzerland is shown in green on this map.
Map of the Arpitan language area, historical language spoken in Romandie, with place names in arpitan and historic political divisions.

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 2012, around 1.8 million people in the country (22.6% of the population) spoke French as their primary language and around 29.1% of the population has working knowledge of French.[1]

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.[2]

Differences between Swiss French and standard French[edit]

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 Belgian 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 France, a post office box is called a boite postale (BP), whereas in Switzerland, it is called a case postale (CP).

Examples of words that differ between Swiss French and Standard French[edit]

Swiss French Standard French Translation
action promotion Special Offer
attique dernier étage last floor
bancomat guichet automatique bancaire ATM
biffer rayer/barrer quelque chose d'écrit to scratch/delete
bobet bête or stupide stupid
boguet mobylette moped
bonnard sympa or bien nice
bonne-main pourboire tip (gratuity)
borne hydrante bouche d'incendie fire hydrant
bourbine suisse-allemand Swiss-German
mascogner tricher aux examens cheat during exams
carnotzet cave à vin/cellier/fumoir Wine cellar; however these expression can seldomly be found in French places close to Switzerland.
chenis désordre mess
chiquelette/chewing-gum chewing-gum chewing-gum
gymnase (Vaud) or collège (Genève) lycée high-school
crousille tirelire money
cornet sac en plastique plastic bag
cycle collège middle-school
déjeuner petit-déjeuner breakfast
dent de lion pissenlit dandelion
dîner déjeuner lunch
s'encoubler se prendre les pieds dans quelque chose/trébucher to trip over
s'énuquer se briser la nuque to break one's neck
étude d'avocats cabinet d'avocats law firm
faire la noce faire la fête to party; however these 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
frouz les Français people from France - French
un fonds un terrain or un champs a field
fourre dossier folder
galetas grenier attic
giratoire rond-point roundabout
gouille flaque puddle
huitante quatre-vingts eighty
linge serviette towel
lolette tétine pacifier/teat
maman de jour assistante maternelle day care assistant
maturité baccalauréat high-school final examination
natel (téléphone) portable mobile phone
mutr mère mother
nom de bleu! nom de dieu! in the name of god!/god dammit!
nonante quatre-vingts-dix ninety
panosse serpillière floorcloth
pive pomme de pin conifer cone
poutzer nettoyer to clean
Procès verbal d'examen (PV) bulletin de note report card
régie agence immobilière real estate agent
royer pleuvoir to rain
septante soixante-dix seventy
services couverts cutlery
signofile/indicateur clignotant turn signal
souper dîner dinner
tablard étagère shelf
talus pente slope
uni (short word for université) fac (short word for faculté) university
votations scrutin voting
vatr père father

See also[edit]