By discovering Switzerland I discovered suprising inaccuracy in the Old Testament. For the past thousands of years we were fed with lie that I just brought into light so I merit a Nobel prize, at least. Well, the biblical Babel Tower was not destroyed at all. God just moved it to Switzerland.
In a lost-between-the-lines translation, today’s lesson is: Do you speak Swiss? And here comes the never-ending phrase, imputting the wheather change, mental disorder and diversity of Switzerland: IT DEPENDS. It depends in what cantone. This naive question of foreigners with little knowledge of Swiss linguistic reality is not out of common sense; most people simply presume that one speaks the language most approximate to the name of a country (then, in fact, it should be Helvetic, not Swiss). Poland – Polish. Germany- German. Italy – Italian. Australia – kiwi, etc. In Switzerland life is simple and out of this simple rule there are four official languages. English, German and…? Missed! In the central part one speaks German schwitzer dutch, in the west – French frenchi, and in the south – Italian ticinese. How do you know which part is which part? Central part with so-called German is the one closer to Germany, west part with French is closer to France, and south part closer to Italy is Italian. That was simple. The easiest way to find borders between languages is by playing a car- blind’s man buff. You enter a tunnel and hop out– on the other side there are already traffic signs in other language.
If anyone thinks that if he speaks German he will easily communicate in the central part – he is mistaken. Muuuch mistaken. Only the name itself, schwitzer dutch, leaves no doubt of its bitter, pity smile to the real schwiezer deutch. As a happy non-fluent-speaker of German I can not distinguish straight what’s the difference between German in Germany and German in Switzerland. I guess, the rule is the same like with Ireland: If someone speaks English and you have know clue what he says – it means that he is from Ireland.
The Swiss French is more close to the original one although I’ve got the feeling that is more hardened and spoken with open mouth. It doesn’t come from nowhere, after all Geneve is a headquarter to 22 international organisations and more than 250 non-governmental ones, so they have to speak in a transparent way, not like tight-lips French.
The canton Ticino is cut off the rest of a wrist watch world by the Alps, so it decided to make a fuss and speak Italian. After all, it didn’t end up that bad, at least it’s easy to jump out to Milan for a coffee and understand everything. Does Italian ticinese differ from Italian italiano? I guess it does, because everytime I go “abroad” with my lingustic Swiss half, the waiters pay him compliments on his perfect Italian. So they know, he is a stranger. Meanwhile, it doesn’t bother him to say “thank you” with an innocent smile. I keep patiently waiting for the day when he admits that Italian is his mother tongue. Nevertheless, I understand ticinese with my italiano learned in Poland*.
1,2,3,4. I promised four.
The fourth language is a retoroman rumansch. In the most easiest way to explain it, it’s an Italian-German mixture that Grigionia princesses had to bite**, far, far away, over hill, over dale, somewhere in the high borderland between Switzerland and Italy. Cut-of-the-world princesses had to gossip a lot, because 90 years ago retorumansh was proclaimed the fourth national language.
Now, the question: How all those people communicate? Basing on my observation it seems that most of the Swiss speak fluently at least two languages. What languages, IT DEPENDS on the canton, cause every canton sets up its own rules of educational system. In Ticino, the “second” one is French. Frenchi learn rather German. And the German majority? They are left with English to be a least a bit original. Actually, following clockwise they should learn Italian, but instead they chose capitalism. Nevertheless, in Zurich it’s quite common to speak English.
Polish Me and my linguistic half faced one day a dillema: what language should we use while speaking to our child? The fact that he will be bilingual is beyond question. Polish mummy will tell Polish fairytales (she doesn’t know any others), besides in everyday life we speak only Polish. Polish – Done. 1-0. But what about the Swiss one? It turned out that Swiss daddy will have to speak Italian – cause summer holidays at grandma’s and grandpa’s in Ticino and what a shame if a descendant speaks no Italian?
Only that one pretty day it will be the day when our bilingual citizen will join kindergarten or creche. The German one, since we live in germanolinguo part. Everybody keeps telling me not to worry – kids catch languages very fast and inside the group he will learn easily the third one. I’m not worrying about him, a little cute smarty will manage with such genes. I’m worrying about myself! I’m scared of an idea that one day after asking him: How was your day at kindergarten? I will hear:
And that means it’s high time to learn German.
*with warm greetings to my Fellowship of the Ring in Universitalis school of Italian in Warsaw.
**No doubt the name of suisse canton Grigioni derives from Polish word “gryźć” which means “to bite”. Possibly also “gryzonie” meaning “rodens”. Then the German part mixed everything up and called the canton Graubunden. Either way, we named it.
***I can’t guarantee that a three-year-old will fluently describe in German all his adventures with eating red dinosaur and Matthias’poo in a flowerpot, so I assume he made some lapses in this sentence.