Swiss German

Infobox Language
name=Swiss German
pronunciation= [ʃvitsəɾd̥ytʃ]
states=Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria (Vorarlberg)
fam3=West Germanic
fam5=Upper German

"Swiss German" ("Schweizerdeutsch", "Schwyzerdütsch", "Schwiizertüütsch", "Schwizertitsch") is any of the Alemannic dialects spoken in Switzerland and in some Alpine communities in Northern Italy. Occasionally, the Alemannic dialects spoken in other countries are called Swiss German as well, especially the dialects of Liechtenstein and Austrian Vorarlberg which are closely associated to Switzerland's.

Linguistically, Swiss German forms no unity. The linguistic division of Alemannic is rather into Low, High and Highest Alemannic, varieties of all of which are spoken both inside and outside of Switzerland. The reason "Swiss German" dialects constitute a special group is their almost unrestricted use as a spoken language in practically all situations of daily life, whereas the use of the Alemannic dialects in the other countries is restricted or even endangered.

The dialects of Swiss German must not be confused with Swiss Standard German, the variety of Standard German used in Switzerland. Even though Swiss Standard German is influenced by the Swiss German dialects to a certain degree, it is a variety of the Standard German language and very distinct from Swiss German proper. Any native speaker will immediately note the difference.

There are quite a number of practical books and small dictionaries with direct English to Swiss German references, which can occasionally be found in bookstores in Switzerland. There also are a few comprehensive books and dictionaries that translate some of the major Swiss dialects into Standard German. To most Germans the Swiss dialects are as incomprehensible as the Dutch language. There is hardly any example of dialects in the English language that might illustrate the situation. However, almost any Swiss German speaker will be able to speak Standard German or even some English when necessary. Most conversations between native Swiss German speakers will be in Swiss German unless there are Germans or Austrians involved in the conversation, in which case the Swiss will usually switch to accommodate them.


Unlike most regional 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 nor educational inferiority and is spoken with pride [See for instance an [ Examination of Swiss German in and around Zürich] , a paper that presents the differences between Swiss German and High-German.] . There are only a few specific settings where speaking Standard German is demanded or polite, e.g., in education (but not during breaks in school lessons, where the teachers will speak in dialect with students), in multilingual parliaments (the federal parliaments and a few cantonal and municipal ones), in the main news broadcast or 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 is usually not intelligible to speakers of Standard German, including 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; many Swiss rock bands, however, sing in English.

Variation and distribution

Swiss German is a regional or political umbrella term, not a linguistic unity. For all dialects, there are idioms spoken outside Switzerland that are more closely related to them than some Swiss German dialects. The main linguistic divisions within Swiss German are those of Low, High and Highest Alemannic. Low Alemannic is only spoken in the northernmost parts of Switzerland, in Basel and around Lake Constance. High Alemannic is spoken in most of the Swiss plateau, and is divided in an eastern and a western group. Highest Alemannic is spoken in the Alps.

*Low Alemannic
**Basel German in Basel (BS), closely related to Alsatian
*High Alemannic
***Bernese German, in the Swiss plateau parts of Bern (BE)
***dialects of Solothurn (SO)
***dialects of Aargau (AG)
***dialects of Lucerne (LU)
***dialects of Zug (ZG)
**in a middle position of eastern and western is
***Zürich German, in Zürich (ZH)
***dialects of St. Gallen (SG)
***dialects of Appenzell (AP)
***dialects of Thurgau (TG)
***dialects of Schaffhausen (SH)
***dialects of parts of Graubünden (GR)
*Highest Alemannic
**dialects of the German-speaking parts of Fribourg (FR).
**dialects of the Bernese Oberland (BE)
**dialects of Unterwalden (UW) and Uri (UR)
**dialects of Schwyz (SZ)
**dialects of Glarus (GL)
**Walliser German in parts of the Valais (VS)
**Walser German: Via the medieval migration of the Walser, Highest Alemannic was spread to pockets of what are now parts of northern Italy (P), the north west of Ticino (T), parts of Graubünden (GR), Liechtenstein and Vorarlberg.

Each dialect is separable in numerous local sub-dialects, sometimes down to a resolution of individual villages. Speaking the dialect is an important part of regional, cantonal and national identity. In the more urban areas of the Swiss plateau, regional differences are fading due to increasing mobility, and a growing population of non-Alemannic descent. Despite the varied dialects, the Swiss can still understand one another (although on occasion just barely) but may particularly have trouble understanding Walliser dialects.


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 Saxon than other High German dialects or standard German. An exception are certain central Swiss and Walser dialects, e.g. some dialects of Unterwalden, of the Schanfigg Valley (Graubünden) and that of Issime (Piedmont).


Stress is more often on the first syllable than in standard German, even in French loans such as IPA| [ˈmɛrsːi] or IPA| [ˈmersːi] "thanks". 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. IPA| [ˈkaz̥ino] 'casino', whereas standard German has IPA| [kʰaˈziːno] . However, no Swiss German dialect is as consistent as the Icelandic language in this respect.


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

*There is no preterite indicative (yet there is a preterite subjunctive).

*There is no genitive case, though certain dialects have preserved a possessive genitive (for instance in rural Bernese German).

*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".

*All relative clauses are introduced by the relative particle "wo" (‘where’), never by the relative pronouns "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, woran 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.::


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 replaced 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' (originally called "Anken" in most parts of Switzerland). Virtually any Swiss Standard German word can be borrowed into Swiss German, always adapted to Swiss German phonology. However, certain Standard German words are never used in Swiss German, for instance "Frühstück" 'breakfast', "niedlich" 'cute' or "zu hause" 'at home'; instead, the native words "Zmorge", "härzig" and "dehei" are used.

Swiss dialects have quite a few words from French, which are perfectly assimilated. "Glace" (ice cream) for example is pronounced IPA|/glas/ in French but IPA| [ˈɡ̊lasːeː] or IPA| [ˈɡ̊lasːə] 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 more 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., IPA| [ˈfuːd̥ə] ('to eat', from "food"), IPA| [ɡ̊ei̯mə] ('to play computer games', from "game") or IPA| [ˈz̥nœːb̥ə] or IPA| [ˈb̥oːrd̥ə] - ('to snowboard', from "snowboard"). These words are probably not direct loans from English, but have been adopted through standard German intermediation. While most of those loanwords are of recent origin, some have been in use for decades, e.g. IPA| [ˈʃutːə] (to play football, from "shoot").

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), bivouac, kepi, landamman, kilch, schiffli, and the act of putsching in a political sense.


Written forms that were mostly based on the local Alemannic varieties, thus similar to Middle High German, were only gradually replaced by the forms of New High German. This replacement took from the 15th to the 18th century to be completed. In the 16th century, the Alemannic forms of writing were considered to be the original, truly Swiss forms, whereas the New High German forms were perceived as foreign innovations. The innovations were brought about by the printing press and were also associated with Lutheranism. An example of the language shift is the Froschauer Bible: Its first impressions after 1524 were largely written in an Alemannic language, but since 1527, the New High German forms were gradually adopted. The Alemannic forms were longest preserved in the chancelleries, with the chancellery of Berne being the last to adopt New High German in the second half of the 18th century. [ [ Entry "Deutsch" ('German')] in the Historical Dictionary of Switzerland]

Today all formal writing, newspapers, books and much informal writing is done in Swiss 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). Note that Swiss Standard German is virtually identical to Standard German as used in Germany, with most differences in pronunciation, vocabulary and orthography. For example Swiss Standard German always uses a double s ("ss") instead of the eszett ("ß").

Today especially young people use the dialect more and more in informal written communication (e.g., e-mail or text messaging). However, most write standard German more fluently than their dialect.

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. The so-called "Schwyzertütschi Dialäktschrift"was developped by the famous Swiss anglist and phonologist Eugen Dieth, but nearly only language experts know about these guidelines. Furthermore, Dieth's originally proposed spelling proposed some special signs not found on a normal keyboard, such as 〈ʃ〉 instead of 〈sch〉 for IPA| [ʃ] or 〈ǜ〉 instead of 〈ü〉 for IPA| [ʏ] . Later on there was evolved a more simplified version, which can be written with "a normal typewriter" [Dieth, Eugen: "Schwyzertütschi Dialäktschrift. Dieth-Schreibung". 2nd ed. revised and edited by Christian Schmid-Cadalbert, Aarau: Sauerländer, 1986. ISBN 379412832X (in German)] , and this one has found a good reception by dialect writing authors, dialectologists and, to a certain degree, also other users.

A few letters are used differently from the Standard German rules:

*The letter (and ) is used for the affricate IPA|/kx/.

*The letter is used for the fortis IPA|/k/.

* (and sometimes ) traditionally stands for the IPA|/iː/ that corresponds to Standard German IPA|/aɪ̯/, e.g. in "Rys" ‘rice’ (standard German "Reis" IPA|/raɪ̯s/) vs. "Ris" ‘giant’ (standard German IPA|/riːzə/). This usage goes back to an old ij-ligature. Many writers, however, don't use , but Zürich German "Riis" IPA|/riːz̥/ ‘rice’ or 'giant' to Bernese German "Rys" IPA|/riːz̥/ 'rice' vs. "Ris" IPA|/rɪːz̥/ (‘giant’). Some use even , influenced by Standard German spelling, which leads to confusion with for IPA|/iə̯/.

Since the 19th century, a (more quantitatively than qualitatively) quite considerable body of Swiss German literature has accumulated. The earliest works were in Zurich German (Johann Martin Usteri, Jakob Stutz); strong Bernese influence show the works of Jeremias Gotthelf which were published at the same time. Some of the more important dialect writing authors and their works are:

*Anna Maria Bacher (born 19..), "Z Kschpel fam Tzit; Litteri un Schattä; Z Tzit fam Schnee" (South Walser German of Formazza/Pomatt)
*Albert Bächtold (1891-1981), "De goldig Schmid; Wält uhni Liecht; De Studänt Räbme; Pjotr Ivanowitsch" (Schaffhausen dialect of Klettgau)
*Ernst Burren (born 1944), "Dr Schtammgascht; Näschtwermi" (Solothurn dialect)
*August Corrodi (1826-1885), "De Herr Professer; De Herr Vikari; De Herr Dokter", translation of Plautus's "Mostellaria" (Zurich dialect)
*Barbara Egli (1918-2005), "Wildi Chriesi" (Zurich Oberland dialect)
*Fritz Enderlin (1883-1971), "De Sonderbunds-Chrieg," translated from C. F. Ramuz's French poem La Grande Guerre du Sondrebond (Upper Thurgovian dialect)
*Martin Frank (born 1950), "Ter Fögi ische Souhung; La Mort de Chevrolet" (Bernese dialect with Zurich interferences)
*Simon Gfeller (1868-1943), "Ämmegrund; Drätti, Müetti u der Chlyn; Seminarzyt" (Bernese dialect of Emmental)
*Jeremias Gotthelf (1797-1854), only parts of his works are written in dialect (Bernese dialect)
*Paul Haller (1882-1920), "Maria und Robert" (Western Aargau dialect)
*Frida Hilty-Gröbli (1893-1957), "Am aalte Maartplatz z Sant Galle; De hölzig Matroos" (St Gall dialect)
*Josef Hug (1903-1985), "S Gmaiguet; Dunggli Wolgga ob Salaz" (Graubünden Rhine Valley dialect)
*Thomas Hürlimann (born 1950), "Dr Franzos im Ybrig", loosely based on Morel's play
*Michael Kuoni (1838-1891), "Bilder aus dem Volksleben des Vorder-Prättigau's" (Graubünden Walser dialect of Prättigau)
*Maria Lauber (1891-1973), "Chüngold; Bletter im Luft; Der jung Schuelmiischter" (Bernese Oberland dialect)
*Meinrad Lienert (1865-1933), "Flüeblüemli; 's Mireli; Der Waldvogel" (Schwyz dialect of Einsiedeln)
*Carl Albert Loosli (1877-1959), "Mys Dörfli; Mys Ämmitaw; Wi's öppe geit!" (Bernese dialect of Emmental)
*Kurt Marti (born 1921), "Vierzg Gedicht ir Bärner Umgangssprache; Rosa Loui" (Bernese dialect)
*Mani Matter (1936-1972), songwriter (Bernese dialect)
*Traugott Meyer (1895-1959), "'s Tunnälldorf; Der Gänneral Sutter" (Basel-Landschaft dialect)
*Gall Morel (1803-1872), "Dr Franzos im Ybrig" (Schwyz German of Iberg)
*Viktor Schobinger (born 1934), "Der Ääschme trifft simpatisch lüüt" and a lot of other "Züri Krimi" (Zurich dialect)
*Caspar Streiff (1853-1917), "Der Heiri Jenni im Sunnebärg" (Glarus dialect)
*Jakob Stutz (1801-1877), "Gemälde aus dem Volksleben; Ernste und heitere Bilder aus dem Leben unseres Volkes" (Zurich Oberland dialect)
*Rudolf von Tavel (1866-1934), "Ring i der Chetti; Gueti Gschpane; Meischter und Ritter; Der Stärn vo Buebebärg; D’Frou Kätheli und ihri Buebe; Der Frondeur; Ds velorene Lied; D’Haselmuus; Unspunne; Jä gäl, so geit’s!; Der Houpme Lombach; Götti und Gotteli; Der Donnergueg; Veteranezyt; Heinz Tillman; Die heilige Flamme; Am Kaminfüür; Bernbiet; Schweizer daheim und draußen; Simeon und Eisi; Geschichten aus dem Bernerland" (Bernese dialect) []
*Alfred Tobler (1845-1923), "Näbes oß mine Buebejohre" (Appenzell dialect)
*Johann Martin Usteri (1763-1827), "Dichtungen in Versen und Prosa" (Zurich German)
*Hans Valär (1871-1947), "Dr Türligiiger" (Graubünden Walser dialect of Davos)
*Bernhard Wyss (1833-1889), "Schwizerdütsch. Bilder aus dem Stilleben unseres Volkes" (Solothurn dialect)

See also

*Swiss French
*Swiss Italian


*Verein für das Schweizerdeutsche Wörterbuch (ed.): "Schweizerisches Idiotikon: Wörterbuch der schweizerdeutschen Sprache". Frauenfeld : Huber, 17 vols. (15 complete), 1881- , ISBN 978-3719304133. [ ] )
*Albert Bachmann (ed.), "Beiträge zur schweizerdeutschen Grammatik" (BSG), 20 vols., Frauenfeld : Huber, 1919-1941.
*Rudolf Hotzenköcherle (ed.), "Beiträge zur schweizerdeutschen Mundartforschung" (BSM), 24 vols., Frauenfeld : Huber, 1949-1982.

External links

* [ Chochichästli-Orakel] - choose the Swiss German words you would normally use and see how well this matches the dialect of your area. (German only)
* [] a site with sound samples from different dialects. (German only)
* [ Schweizerisches Idiotikon] The homepage of the Swiss national dictionary.
* [ The Alternative Swiss German Dictionary] A site with all the words you will not find elsewhere.
* [ One Poem in 29 Swiss dialects (and English)]
* [ Swiss German Morphology and Lexicon]

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