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Switzerland's so-called mother tongues
Thread poster: R. A. Stegemann

R. A. Stegemann
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Mar 11, 2004

BACKGROUND: There are twelve languages spoken in Switzerland but only four are taught in primary and secondary schools including German, French, Italian, and English. Typically one studies the national language of his own Canton and another national language. In the German cantons one can study English as an option to another national language. Although Switzerland has four national languages, Romansch is apparently not taught.

It is my understanding that Alemannisch is spoken by 65% of all Swiss, but what is taught in school as a so-called mother tongue is not Alemannisch at all; rather, it is Standard German. I also understand that Lombard is the mother tongue of 4.7% of all Swiss, and that Lombard-speakers outnumber native speakers of Italian by nearly two percentage points. Nevertheless, Italian is taught as the "mother tongue" for both groups.

QUESTIONS:
1) Is the information provided under the heading BACKGROUND correct? If not, please provide what you believe to be a more correct description of Switzerland's education system.

2) If Standard German, French, Italian, and English are what is taught in one's language classses, then what is the medium of instruction in other classes such as mathematics and history? Is it Alemannisch in German Cantons and Lombard in Italian Cantons, or is it Standard German and Italian? How about in those Cantons where Romansch is the dominant mother tongue?

3) How about at the university level? What are the typical language requirement for entering into a Swiss university. Can language ever get in the way of entry?


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Lorenzo Lilli  Identity Verified
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AFAIK, the Italian language spoken in Switzerland is not so different from standard Italian (there was a thread about this in the Italian forum some months ago). That is, Swiss-Italian and standard Italian are not as different as Swiss-German and standard German. There are occasionally single words that an Italian wouldn't say (quite often with a German or French influence), but all in all there's not such a huge difference. As far as the "Lombard language" is concerned: as a Lombard myself, I can tell you that actually there's not really a Lombard language, and probably not even a Lombard dialect (that is: not a single dialect but many different dialects). However, there are similarities between Swiss Italian and the regional variety of Italian spoken in Lombardy.

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R. A. Stegemann
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The Lombards, La Touraine, Switzerland, and Italy Mar 13, 2004

Lorenzo Lilli wrote:

As far as the "Lombard language" is concerned: as a Lombard myself, I can tell you that actually there's not really a Lombard language, and probably not even a Lombard dialect (that is: not a single dialect but many different dialects). However, there are similarities between Swiss Italian and the regional variety of Italian spoken in Lombardy.


You have stated that the Italian spoken in Switzerland differs little from the Italian spoken in Italy. This would make good sense in so far as there are more Lombard Swiss than there are Italian Swiss, and standard Italian appears to be what both Lombardy Swiss and Italian Swiss learn in school.

What I am confused about is the nature of the Lombardy language and its proximity to Italian. Consider the French language for example. It is said that the French spoken in La Touraine (the region surrounding the French city of Tours) is the dialect of French closest to what might be called standard (national media and textbook) French.

According to Ethnologue.com there are about 10,000,000 speakers of Lombardy in the world, most of whom are located in Northern Italy. Just under a million inhabit Switzerland. If I have understood you correctly, one cannot speak of a "La Touraine" for the Lombards.

Certainly two French speaking their native dialects have difficulty understanding each other, if they do not make use of standard French. Are the Lombardy dialects equally different?

Because of national language programs in both Italy and Switzerland, there are probably few Lombards that cannot understand standard Italian. Without recourse to standard Italian, however, can a Lombard understand a Italian or Swiss Italian?


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Mario Marcolin  Identity Verified
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Northern Italy is one dialect area Mar 13, 2004

Hamo wrote:
According to Ethnologue.com there are about 10,000,000 speakers of Lombardy in the world, most of whom are located in Northern Italy...

Because of national language programs in both Italy and Switzerland, there are probably few Lombards that cannot understand standard Italian. Without recourse to standard Italian, however, can a Lombard understand a Italian or Swiss Italian?


Present-days Italians and Swiss-Italians share a sort of standard language available in print, television and other in mass-media. And standard Italian with regional accents is spoken next to local/regional dialects.
Language understanding would not be a problem between someone from Lombardy and someone from Ticino.

When it comes to local dialects I would very much doubt that the border between Ticino and Lombardia is also a lingustic border - cf http://www.italica.rai.it/principali/lingua/bruni/mappe/mappe/f_dialetti.htm
(Note that this map like most dialect maps of Europe is based on material from the 1920's/1930's.)


But on the other hand the major traditional dialect border in Northern Italy is between the West - the "Gallo-Italian", including e.g. the dialects of Lombardy - and the East - The "Venetian" group; the next major division is between those two dialect groups
and the South:
cf the simplified map on http://www.smpe.it/folklore/mappa.asp

But still, this makes most sense on a *local* dialect level - a division of languages according to Ethnologue.com would make much more sense in Italy before Unfication, say of the mid 1800s.



mario
da venexia








[Edited at 2004-03-13 08:54]

[Edited at 2004-03-13 12:49]


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R. A. Stegemann
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Firenzia is the Touraine of Italy Mar 13, 2004

Mario Marcolin wrote: Present-days Italians and Swiss-Italians share a sort of standard language available in print, television and other in mass-media. And standard Italian with regional accents is spoken next to local/regional dialects. [Edited at 2004-03-13 08:54]


Thank you for the very nice links to maps of Italy's linguistic geography. It is far more complex than I originally thought. Though I have never been trained in Italian, because of my training in both French and Spanish I was able to understand that Firenzia (Florence) is the "Touraine" of Italy. I guess there is no "Firenzia" of the language/dialect of the Lombards.

Unfortunately the latter of the two map links you provided refers to everything spoken in Italy as dialect. Can someone from the South of Italy really understand someone from the North without the help of standard Italian? I wonder. It does appear, however, that Lombards would have little trouble with standard Italian even without formal or informal training.


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Lorenzo Lilli  Identity Verified
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Lombardy etc. Mar 13, 2004

Hamo wrote:

You have stated that the Italian spoken in Switzerland differs little from the Italian spoken in Italy. This would make good sense in so far as there are more Lombard Swiss than there are Italian Swiss, and standard Italian appears to be what both Lombardy Swiss and Italian Swiss learn in school.

What I am confused about is the nature of the Lombardy language and its proximity to Italian. Consider the French language for example. It is said that the French spoken in La Touraine (the region surrounding the French city of Tours) is the dialect of French closest to what might be called standard (national media and textbook) French.

According to Ethnologue.com there are about 10,000,000 speakers of Lombardy in the world, most of whom are located in Northern Italy. Just under a million inhabit Switzerland. If I have understood you correctly, one cannot speak of a "La Touraine" for the Lombards.

Certainly two French speaking their native dialects have difficulty understanding each other, if they do not make use of standard French. Are the Lombardy dialects equally different?

Because of national language programs in both Italy and Switzerland, there are probably few Lombards that cannot understand standard Italian. Without recourse to standard Italian, however, can a Lombard understand a Italian or Swiss Italian?


I cannot but agree with Marco. I would say that nowadays just very few Lombards (and in general very few people in Italy) do not understand standard Italian, or maybe no one at all. Everybody has a tv set and watches programs in standard Italian, which is also taught in schools throughout Italy, and probably in Ticino as well. I'm sure that a Lombard and an Italian Swiss can understand each other even without speaking standard Italian. I wouldn't say there's a La Tourraine for Lombards, as there's no such thing as a Lombard language. People within Lombardy usually can understand each other if they speak their own dialect. For example I can understand Milanese although I'm not from Milan.


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R. A. Stegemann
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Swiss and Italian Lombards and Standard Italian Mar 13, 2004

Lorenzo Lilli wrote: I'm sure that a Lombard and an Italian Swiss can understand each other even without speaking standard Italian. I wouldn't say there's a La Tourraine for Lombards, as there's no such thing as a Lombard language. People within Lombardy usually can understand each other if they speak their own dialect. For example I can understand Milanese although I'm not from Milan.


So, if I have understood correctly, Lombards from both Switzerland and Italy -- without formal or informal training in standard Italian -- would have little trouble communicating in the absence of standard Italian. Thus, standard Italian is for all practical purposes a mother tongue for Lombards living in both Switzerland and Italy. Would you agree to this?


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Mario Marcolin  Identity Verified
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Standard language, not mother tongue Mar 13, 2004

Hamo wrote:
Thus, standard Italian is for all practical purposes a mother tongue for Lombards living in both Switzerland and Italy. Would you agree to this?


No, I would not say mother tongue, but standard (or reference) language, i.e. the language you speak with people who do not belong to your immediate community.

Because the standard is something you learn in school and something you are exposed to in every-day media..

In my part of Italy you may speak more or less local dialect with members of the local community - friends, family, neighbours, in commerce etc, or some more regional dialect when understanding is crucial. But "Italian" you will speak with people from far away (Firenze, Rome whatever).
On the other hand people may well use dialect, e.g. Venetian, when they don't want the "Italians" to understand. I imagine it's the same e.g. in Sicily, the language/dialect you choose to speak in any given circumstance indicates formality, familiarity etc.

And yes the linguistic outline of especially northern Italy is far from simple, but you have to remember that this has for centuries been a heavily populated area, with many city-states, republics and other political entities.
I agree with Lorenzo that we're talking about groups of dialects, some perhaps more tightly knit than other
But if the Venetian republic and other states in the region had survived there is *no doubt* in my mind that we would instead have talked of a Venetian language, a Lombard language etc, or perhaps Venetian Italian and Lombard Italian in the same way as we speak of Austrian German and Swiss German...

mario



[Edited at 2004-03-13 18:39]

[Edited at 2004-03-13 20:29]


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R. A. Stegemann
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Is a group of dialects not a language in its own right? Mar 14, 2004

Mario Marcolin wrote:

Hamo wrote:
Thus, standard Italian is for all practical purposes a mother tongue for Lombards living in both Switzerland and Italy. Would you agree to this?


No, I would not say mother tongue, but standard (or reference) language, i.e. the language you speak with people who do not belong to your immediate community.

Because the standard is something you learn in school and something you are exposed to in every-day media.


[Edited at 2004-03-13 20:29][/quote]

Certainly you and Lorenzo have clarified a very important point: the Italian that is learned in school and heard in the media is not considered a mother tongue by you. A person working for the Singaporean Ministry of Education would likely disagree with you, however. I do not.

Moving on.

The notion of a group of dialects also suggests a language separate and distinct from another group of dialects. Although there may not be a "Firenzia" or "Touraine" of the Lombard language, might we still not call it a language in so far as any of the dialects are not understandable by other Italians living outside the region defined by the Gallo-Italici?


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Lorenzo Lilli  Identity Verified
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another explanation Mar 15, 2004

Hamo wrote:

Certainly you and Lorenzo have clarified a very important point: the Italian that is learned in school and heard in the media is not considered a mother tongue by you. A person working for the Singaporean Ministry of Education would likely disagree with you, however. I do not.

Moving on.

The notion of a group of dialects also suggests a language separate and distinct from another group of dialects. Although there may not be a "Firenzia" or "Touraine" of the Lombard language, might we still not call it a language in so far as any of the dialects are not understandable by other Italians living outside the region defined by the Gallo-Italici?



Perhaps I haven't made myself clear: as far as I am concerned, standard Italian IS my mother tongue, although my oral Italian is slightly influenced by the regional variety of Italian spoken in Lombardy. I do understand the various Lombard dialects, but I'm not a native speaker, not even of Bergomask (spoken in my home town), which is kind of a second language for me. A few people instead (especially older, not-so-educated people) are native speakers of their dialect and Italian is kind of a foreing language for them. And some people are "bilingual" in their dialect and standard Italian.
I think it's a bit different in Venice, where (if I'm not wrong) Mario was born, and maybe in the rest of Veneto too. AFAIK, for educated people in Venice (who are fluent in standard Italian), speaking dialect is much more "acceptable" from a social point of view than in other Italian cities.


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R. A. Stegemann
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Two trends and many incentives Mar 15, 2004

Lorenzo Lilli wrote: Perhaps I haven't made myself clear: as far as I am concerned, standard Italian IS my mother tongue,


May I presume then that you have been brought up the way so many children are brought up by parents who want to see their children excel in school, but value their own linguistic bringing of little value with regard to their children's future?

In other words, the reason you understand Bergomask is because you heard it from your parents when you were young, but they did not encourage you to speak it -- not even in the home.

Based on what you have told me I observe two simultaneous trends: one, the development of regional dialects of standard Italian that are intelligble across Italy and Switzerland; and two, the maintenance, perhaps even erosion, of groups of dialects that when viewed together represent a different languages only intelligible to others who speak one of the dialects of a particular language group. Is this correct?

Surely if this is what is happening in Italy, it is also what is happening in Switzerland.

Additonal questions:

1) Besides doing well in school and a general desire to want to speak the language of your countrymen, are there any other incentives for wanting to learn standard Italian. Does it mean better job opportunity, entry into Italy's top universities, for example?

2) In contrast what is the incentive for maintaining one's mother tongue that is different from the standard Italian spoken in one's region. Is it only historical? For example, is there a body of literature that would be closed to you, if you did not maintain literacy in the dialect of your own language group?


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Mario Marcolin  Identity Verified
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language and local language Mar 16, 2004

Yes, there are few people in Italy who do not speak or understand the standard Italian, but dialect – or local language – remains very much a part of everyday life, at least in some parts of the country.

The Italian bureaux of statistics, ISTAT regularly conducts surveys on the use of Italian and dialects. The most recent one is from year 2000 (http://www.istat.it/Comunicati/Fuori-cale/allegati/Lingua-ita/ver3.doc) and may add a relevant dimension to this thread.

This survey reports on the use of language in three spheres of private life, in the family, with friends, and with "outsiders" (neither family nor friends); for each sphere people where asked whether they mainly used Italian or dialect or both.

For the country as a whole:
44,1% used mainly Italian within the family
32,9% used Italian and dialect, and
19,1% used mainly dialect;

71,4% used mainly Italian with "outsiders"
18,5% used Italian and dialect, and
6,9% used mainly dialect;


In Tuscany well over 80% said they used mostly Italian in all three spheres of private life, while less than 5% used dialect. Obviously, this is not surprising since Italian is mainly derived from Tuscan dialects.

According to the survey of the people in Lombardy, some 58% used mainly Italian in the family, 27,9% Italian/dialect and 10,7% mainly dialect.

In Veneto, however, only 22,6% preferred Italian inside the family, while 42,6% preferred dialect and 29,8% used both equally, i.e. over 70% did not use mainly Italian. Even with people outside the circle of friends and family only 52% used mainly Italian (compared to 89,1% in Tuscany and 86,7% in Lombardy), while some 15% would use dialect (compared to less than 3% in both Tuscany and Lombardy).

So why is Veneto different? Perhaps because Venetian was indeed once an official language - for centuries a modified Venetian dialect served as lingua franca all over the Republic; it was used in administration, in daily papers, in literature and on the stages(think Goldoni).

That is to say Venetian served the same purpose as Italian does in Italy today.....

Dialect – or local language - has also remained relatively strong because local communities have remained strong – almost half of the people in Veneto still live in communities not larger than 10.000 inhabitants..

And yes, in Venice Venetian is indeed socially respectable, even more so because there is more than one way to speak Venetian..

mario


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ingo_h
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just another part of your question Mar 16, 2004

I don`t want to disturb your dialogue about Italian dialects, it is very interesting and I saw and printed the maps.
But there is another point in your question regarding the Swiss-German dialect.
I think this is a very complicated matter.
I think that standard German is no more an official language in Switzerland.
I have often heard that they try to make Swiss-German (Schwizerdütsch or Alemannisch)an official language (more than standard German or Hochdeutsch). Would you like to learn "Alemannisch" if you want to live in Switzerland only for some years? What about the other Swiss people from French, Italian or Romande cantons?
To give an example: I have a "sister-in-law" (a sister-in-law of my ex-wife). She has a sister living in Switzerland. The husband of this sister is from Hungary, he came in the 50s as a refugee. He wanted to get the nationality of Switzerland. Of course he was perfect in standard Geman. But to be naturalized he had to learn Swiss-German! And I have often heard of such cases!
I understand the problems resulting of the defence of identity and I think that you have a personal interest in these questions, but I think that there are compulsions and realities. You can't study medicine with Rumauntsch as first language, if you live in Graubünden, you have to choose between f
French and German and Italian.
You can't write a book in Welsh about nuclear physics, but you can write poems in these languages. (I know some people who try to speak only Welsh, not English, so it is not easy to communicat with them. Some people in GB speak Cornish, which is a language forgotten since decades). There are some interesting aspects in your questions but I think it is a sea of more problems an qestions included in this question.


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R. A. Stegemann
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Italy - a nation with a complex local history and many languages Mar 17, 2004

Mario Marcolin wrote:

Yes, there are few people in Italy who do not speak or understand the standard Italian, but dialect – or local language – remains very much a part of everyday life, at least in some parts of the country.

The Italian bureaux of statistics, ISTAT regularly conducts surveys on the use of Italian and dialects. The most recent one is from year 2000 (http://www.istat.it/Comunicati/Fuori-cale/allegati/Lingua-ita/ver3.doc) and may add a relevant dimension to this thread.

This survey reports on the use of language in three spheres of private life, in the family, with friends, and with "outsiders" (neither family nor friends); for each sphere people where asked whether they mainly used Italian or dialect or both.


This was an excellent find, and I thank you very much for presenting it. Perhaps I should try to find something similar to it in Switzerland whose languages I better understand.

Certainly your summary provided me with convincing evidence about the limitations of imposing universal language requirements on a nation whose local history is so long and complex. I also found the study's approach very anthropological and therefore useful in understanding the social interplay between local and national languages.

Still I wonder about the use of the word dialect, where from a linguistic point of view, language would often be the far more appropriate term. When one speaks of the Lombardy dialects, one does not mean Italian dialects of the region of Lombardy, rather one means the dialects of a language very different from spoken and written Italian.

It is, as if the government were saying, everything spoken in Italian is derived from the same language, when in fact things are quite the opposite. Italian is a language that has been superimposed on a nation of people with a long and complex local history. Well, this is how it appears to an outsider with many years of experience in East Asia, anyway.

I thank you very much for your contribution.


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