Swiss German

From Academic Kids

Swiss German (Schwyzerdütsch)
Spoken in: Switzerland
Region: Europe
Total speakers: 4,500,000
Genetic classification: Indo-European
  West Germanic
   High German
    Upper German
Official status
Official language of:
Regulated by:
Language codes
ISO 639-1
ISO 639-2collective language code gem — Germanic (Others)
SILGSW and WAE (as far as spoken in Switzerland)
See also: LanguageList of languages

Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch, Schwyzerdütsch, Schwiizerdütsch, Schwyzertütsch, Schwizertitsch) is any of the Alemannic dialects spoken in Switzerland. Occasionally, the Alemannic dialects spoken in other countries are called Swiss German as well, especially the dialects of Liechtenstein which is closely associated to Switzerland.



Unlike most dialects in modern Europe, Swiss German is the spoken everyday language of all social levels in industrial cities as well as in the countryside. Using dialect conveys no social or educational inferiority. There are only a few specific settings where speaking Standard German is demanded or polite, e.g. in education (but not during breaks), in parliament, in the main TV news, in the presence of German-speaking foreigners. This situation has been called a medial diglossia since the spoken language is mainly the dialect whereas the written language is mainly Standard German.

Swiss German is intelligible to speakers of other Alemannic dialects, but usually not intelligible to speakers of Standard German (which includes French- or Italian-speaking Swiss who learn Standard German at school). Swiss German speakers on TV or in movies are thus usually dubbed or subtitled if shown in Germany.

Dialect rock is a music genre using the language.


The Swiss dialects do have marked regional differences in pronunciation and vocabulary, but are mutually understandable — with a few exceptions, e.g., in the German-speaking part of Valais. Swiss dialects are an essential part of the local cultural identity, which goes in some places down to the local village or cultural subgroup level (the upper class of Basel has their special dialect as well as the farmers of Adelboden). In some regions a politician who does not speak the local idiom has lower chances in elections.

It expresses strong regional, cantonal and national Swiss separateness, setting Swiss residents apart from those living in "the big canton" (Germany).


Template:IPA notice As Alemannic dialects, Swiss German dialects did not participate in the second German vowel shift during medieval times - they use mostly the same vowels as Middle High German. As such, even though the Alemannic dialects belong to High German, their vowels are closer to Low German than other High German dialects or standard German. An exception are certain central Swiss dialects, e.g. the Uri dialect.


Zürich dialect Uri dialect Standard German translation

Most Swiss German dialects, being High-Alemannic dialects, have completed the High German consonant shift, that is, they have not only changed t to or and p to or but also k to or . Most Swiss dialects have initial or instead of k; there are however exceptions, namely the idioms of Chur and Basel. Basel German is a Low Alemannic dialect (like most, but not all, Alemannic dialects spoken in Germany), and Chur German is basically High Alemannic without initial or .


High Alemannic Low Alemannic Standard German translation



Like in all Southern German dialects, Swiss German dialects have no voiced obstruents. Instead, there is a length distinction.

Swiss German are not aspirated. Aspirated have (in most dialects) secondarily developed by contractions or by borrowings from other languages (mainly standard German), e.g. 'keep' (standard German behalten); 'tea' (standard German Tee ); 'salary' (standard German Gehalt).

In the dialects of Basel and Chur, aspirated /k/ is also present in native words.

Swiss German only has one allophone, namely . Standard German , on the other hand, has two allophones, namely and .

Final hardening (Auslautverhärtung) is not present in Swiss German dialects. Since there are no voiced plosives, foreigners may get impressions similar to Standard German, however. Also, very often, long consonants are preceded by short vowels.


Most Swiss German dialects have rounded front vowels, unlike many German dialects. Only in the Low Alemannic dialects of northwest Switzerland (mainly Basel) and in the Walliser dialects, these have been unrounded. Due to influence from other Swiss German dialects, the roundening is spreading.

Like Bavarian dialects, Swiss German dialects have preserved the opening diphthongs of Middle High German: , e.g. in 'lovely' (standard German lieb, but pronounced ); 'hat' (standard German Hut ); 'cool' (standard German kühl ). Note that some of those diphthongs have been unrounded in several dialects.

Like Low German dialects, Swiss German dialects have preserved the old monophthongs , e.g. 'arrow' (standard German Pfeil ); 'belly' (standard German Bauch ); 'pillar' (standard German Säule ).

Western Swiss German dialects (e.g. Bernese German) have preserved the old diphthongs , whereas the other dialects have like Standard German.


In many Swiss German dialects, consonant length and vowel length are independent from each other, whereas they interdepend in the other Germanic languages. Examples from Bernese German:

short long
short 'bowl' 'the honest ones'
long 'apes' 'to sleep'

Stress is more often on the first syllable than in standard German (even in French loans such as or "thanks" - note that French stress itself is sentence-based rather than word-based; hence, Swiss German speakers see their own pronunciation as superior to pronunciations with final stress.) Note that there are many different stress patterns even within dialects. Bernese German is one of the dialects where many words are stressed on the first syllable, e.g. 'casino', whereas standard German has . However, there seem to be no dialects that are as consistent as the Icelandic language in this respect.


The grammar of Swiss dialects has some specialties compared to German:

  • In most dialects, there is no genitive.
  • The order within verb groups may vary, e.g. wil du bisch cho/wil du cho bisch vs. standard German weil du gekommen bist "because you have come/came (literally: are come)".
  • All relative clauses are introduced by the relative particle wo 'where', never by the demonstrative particles der, die, das, welcher, welches as in Standard German, e.g. ds Bispil, wo si schrybt vs. Standard German das Beispiel, das sie schreibt 'the example that she writes'; ds Bispil, wo si dra dänkt vs. Standard German das Beispiel, an das sie denkt 'the example that she thinks of'.
  • In combinations with other verbs, the verbs gah or goh "go", cho "come", la or lo "let" and aafa or aafo "begin" reduplicate, prefixed to the main verb.
example: Si chunt üse Chrischtboum cho schmücke.
literal translation: she comes our Christmas tree come adorn
translation She comes to adorn our Christmas tree.
example: Si lat ne nid la schlafe.
literal translation: she lets him not let sleep
translation: She doesn't let him sleep.
This is probably a generalization of a close association of these verbs with the following verb in perfect tense or modal verb constructions:
perfect tense: Si het ne nid la schlafe.
literal translation: she has him not let sleep
translation: She hasn't let/didn't let him sleep.
modal verb: Si wot ne nid la schlafe.
literal translation: she wants him not let sleep
translation: She doesn't want to let him sleep.


Swiss German dialects are usually not written, but only spoken. All formal writing, newspapers, books and much of informal writing is done in Standard German, which is usually called Schriftdeutsch (written German). Certain dialectal words are accepted regionalisms in Swiss Standard German and are also sanctioned by the Duden, e.g. Zvieri (afternoon snack).

There exist relatively few written works in Swiss dialects. Today especially young people use the dialect more and more in informal written communication (e.g. e-mail or SMS). However, most write standard German more fluently than their dialect.

There is no standard language, so the writers use the dialect of the region they come from.

There are no official rules about writing Swiss German. The orthographies used in the Swiss German literature can be roughly divided in two systems: Those that try to stay as close to standard German spelling as possible and those that try to represent the sounds as well as possible.

Two letters are used differently from the Standard German rules:

  • The letter <k> (and <ck>) is used for the affricate .
  • The letter <gg> is used for the fortis .
  • <y> (and sometimes <yy>) traditionally stands for the that corresponds to Standard German , e.g. in Rys 'rice' (Standard German ) vs. Ri(i)s 'giant' (Standard German ). Many writers, however, don't use <y>, but <i(i)>, especially in those dialects where there's no distinction between these sounds, compare Zürich German Riis 'rice' or 'giant' to Bernese German Rys 'rice' vs. Ri(i)s 'giant'. Some use even <ie>, influenced by Standard German spelling, which leads to confusion with <ie> for .


The vocabulary is rather rich - especially in rural areas there are many special terms retained, e.g. regarding cattle or weather. In the cities, much of the rural vocabulary has been lost.

Most borrowings come from Standard German. Many of these are now so common that they have totally replace the original Swiss German words, e.g. the words Hügel 'hill' (instead of Egg, Bühl), Lippe 'lip' (instead of Lefzge). Others have replaced the original words only in parts of Switzerland, e.g. Butter 'butter' (usually called Anken in southwestern Switzerland), Kopf 'head' (usually called Grind in southwestern Switzerland). Virtually any Swiss Standard German word can be borrowed into Swiss German, always adapted to Swiss German phonology. However, many Standard German words are never used in Swiss German because they feel "wrong", e.g. nieseln 'mizzle/drizzle'.

Swiss dialects have quite a few words from French, which are perfectly assimilated. Glace (ice cream) for example is pronounced in French but or in many Swiss German dialects. The French word for 'thank you', merci, is also used as in merci vilmal, literally "thanks many times". Maybe these words aren't direct borrowings from French but survivors of the once numerous French loans in Standard German, many of which have fallen out of use in Germany.

In recent years, Swiss dialects have also borrowed some English words which already sound very Swiss, e.g. (to eat, from "food"), (to play computer games) or or - (boarding, from "snowboard"). While most of those loanwords are of recent origin, some have been in use for decades, e.g. (to play football, from "shoot").

Interestingly, there are also a few English words which are modern borrowings from the Swiss German languages. The dishes muesli and rösti have become English words, as did loess (fine grain), flysch (sandstone formation), and the act of putsching in a political sense.

Distribution of dialects

Missing image
Distribution of Dialects

Distribution of Swiss German dialects

There are a number of distinct dialects in Swiss German (yellow). Although dialects of some regions are generally differentiated, it is possible to hear which town somebody comes from merely by listening to a person's speech. As people move around more in recent years, this distinction has weakened. The regional dialects, however, remain strong.

The main dialects are of the German-speaking parts of Graubünden (GR), of St. Gallen (SG), Appenzell (AP), Thurgau (TG), Glarus (GL), Schaffhausen (SH), Zürich (ZH), Zug (Z), Schwyz (SZ), Lucerne (LU), Uri (UR), Unterwalden (UW), the German-speaking parts of Valais (VS), Aargau (AG), the German-speaking parts of Bern (BE), Basel (BS), Solothurn (SO) and the German-speaking parts of Fribourg (FR). Swiss German is also spoken in the north of Italy (P) and in the north west of Ticino (T).


  • Schweizerisches Idiotikon ( Comprehensive 17-volume Dictionary of Swiss Dialects (in university libraries)

External link

de:Schweizerdeutsch zh-min-nan:Sūi-se Tek-gí nl:Zwitserduits pl:Język schwyzertuutsch pt:Suíço-alemão


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