I had a very painful lesson about my limited language skills yesterday. I went for a Haarschnitt ( I love that word, it sounds like exactly what it is). My regular barber was booked solid, so I got the 2nd chair. I think this is a training thing, because it is always a different young man every time I go in. So as he was finishing off the hair cut, he said something but the only words I really understood were wachs oder lotion (wax or lotion). I thought he was talking about putting something in my hair, so I answered wax, because that is what they always use. The next thing I know there is green goop all over my ears. I realized a little late what he was talking about. So needless to say I got the first wax treatment in my life. Thank goodness it was above the belt!! Continuing on with the language thread.
One thing that I believe sets Switzerland apart from most countries is the number of official languages the country has. You have to remember that there are only about 8.5 million people in the entire country, and size wise… Well you could put 4 Switzerlands inside Wisconsin (Switzerland is a little over 41,000 KM sq and Wisconsin is almost 170,000 KM sq). So in this really small country there are four official languages. I know I have talked about this before, but for those just tuning in…. The four languages are German, French, Italian, and Romansh. If you really want to get technical, there are even more languages, because each of the German speaking cantons have their own dialect of German, but this post is going to be about Romansh.
Romansh is really only spoken in one canton, Graubünden. Graubünden is in the eastern portion of Switzerland. The two two cities that people know about are Davos and St Moritz. Only about 60,000 people speak the language. The public schools in the Canton use Romansh until 6th grade. After that all instruction is in German. Even though, Romansh is the official language of the canton the students need to learn German so they are employable after school. Romansh is similar to Italian.
Because Romansh is an official language, it means the government must ensure that all communication is made available in the language. Can you imagine the US mandating all documents be printed in a language that less than 1% of the population speaks or reads? It gets even stranger. There are four major dialects in Romansh. The canton is responsible for publishing each school book in the four dialects. When the cantons became responsible for education, Graubünden tried to only print the books in the most popular dialect, but the other citizens made such a fuss that the canton had to eventually give in. About a hundred years ago, the language almost died out because so many german speakers moved into the area. In the early 1900’s the push was made to save the language. It was officially recognized by Switzerland in the 1930’s, but did not become one of the national languages until the 1990’s.
I found this list of words and phrases online; so I am blantantly copying and pasting them. As you read through the list notice the familiarity with some Italian words that you may know, but also French and Portugese.
allegra hello. buna notg good night. bain finebun di good morning
buna saira good evening buna notg good night a pli tard see you
latera revair good bye grazia thanks. perstgisai! excuse me!
bun viadi have a good trip. Tge bel di! What a beautiful day!