The Swiss Language That Few Know

The Sarine River skirts the edge of Basse-Ville (lower town), dividing both the canton of Fribourg and the city of Fribourg into two sectors: German-speaking and French-speaking. The city of around 40,000 people is clearly one of duality: street signs are all in two languages; residents can choose whether their children will use French or German in primary school; and the university even offers a bilingual curriculum.

However, head to medieval Basse-Ville, caught between the German- and French-speaking divisions of Fribourg, and you’ll find yourself in a no-man’s land where the two languages have become one: le Bolze.

Speak to any Swiss national, and you’ll likely find them enthralled with the topic of communication, probably because languages are so incredibly diverse within this small country. The nation can be geographically divided into three major language groups. The south, which shares in the famous lakes of the Swiss-Italian lake region, is Italian-speaking. To the west near Geneva is French-speaking; while central and eastern parts of the country, such as Zurich and St Moritz, rely on German (and the south-eastern canton of Graubünden even includes Romansh speakers).

It gets even more confusing when you throw in the various dialects, such as Franc Comtois, a French dialect spoken in Switzerland’s Jura and Bern cantons; and Swiss German, which is learned at home and only used conversationally (as opposed to ‘proper’ German, which is both written and spoken, and taught at school).

Among all this linguistic complexity, the city of Fribourg/Freiburg (as it’s known in French/German) has the added challenge of lying on the language borders between French- and German-speaking cantons – Vaud and Bern – which is perhaps why it’s home to a people who decided to develop their own language.

Read more: Pocket

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