There are 26 cantons in Switzerland. 20 of them in German-speaking Switzerland, including the half cantons. Each canton has its own dialect, which results in quite a variety. To help you keep track, here are the dialects based on their most important characteristics.
The Aargauer are the ones with the white socks and the bad driving skills. The dialect is relatively neutral, but there are also very specific terms. For example “Bungert” for orchard, “Röiel” for hangover and “Weifäcke” for dandelion.
The “Appenzöller”, as they are called in their dialect, speak their very own dialect. When they really get going in their slang, it becomes difficult even for the other Swiss people. These are a few typical expressions, more you find here.
|Swiss German||Appenzeller dialect||English|
“He joderno” is the most typical Basel expression and means “definitely / for sure”. The doll’s house is called “Dittistùùbe” in northern Switzerland and the garbage becomes a “Mischtkübel”. In general, the rest of the Swiss don’t like the dialect of the Rhine city very much, especially in Zurich people like to mock it.
The people of Bern have a reputation for being a little slow. The Bernese dialect is accordingly very easy going. Everything sounds a bit elongated and cumbersome. The best known expressions are sounds like “iu” or “gäng”, and the milk becomes the “Miuch”. The finest Bernese dialect is best read in Franz Hohler’s story “Totermügerli”. If you understand any of it, you are a real pro!
The Glarner dialect can be heard well because the “ck” becomes a “gg”. For example, in most Swiss cantons “thank you” means “dankä”. In Glarus, on the other hand, they say “tang-ge”. The blanket becomes “Teggi” and “thick” becomes “tigg”.
For many, by far the most beautiful dialect in the country. It exudes a certain charm and casualness that can also be found in the good-looking ski instructors of the canton. Skiing in Graubünden is pronounced “Schkifahre”. And “machen” becomes “mahen”.
Lucerne and Zug
Do you know what a “dilli” is? No? That’s the ceiling. That’s what it’s called in Zug and Lucerne. Another typical word is “blubbe” (stayed). Only in Central Switzerland do people say “blubbe”, in the rest of German-speaking Switzerland it is “blibbe”.
Obwalden and Nidwalden
In the heart of Switzerland lie the cantons of Obwalden and Nidwalden, whose dialect is the same. Guess how much it costs when the cashier says: “Neyn-feyfeneynzg”? Exactly, that’s 9.95 francs. If you want to rest, in Ob- or Nidwalden you say “es schutzili ghirme”. Quite simple, isn’t it?
Not much is said about the Schaffhausen dialect, it simply exists. It can best be described as a mixture of Züridütsch and the dialect from Eastern Switzerland. Do you know what a “Wurmbaasle” is? That’s what they call an ant in Schaffhausen. And the ladder becomes the “Laatere”.
For untrained ears, the Solothurn dialect sounds like Berndütsch. Both the people of Bern and the people of Solothurn would, of course, vehemently disagree. Typical characteristics for the Solothurn dialect are the stretching in open syllable (like Naase instead of Nase). A typical Solothurn expression is “Düudäppeli” which means “fool”.
St. Gallen and Thurgau
Just as unpopular as the Zurich dialect is the dialect from Eastern Switzerland. There is no big difference between St. Gallen and Thurgau. For many Swiss it is the least attractive dialect because it sounds quitish. The most common expression is “än art”, which is often inserted into the sentences in an inflationary manner. Which leads to eye rolling for the rest of the Swiss. And “Wa machemo” means nothing other than “what do we do?
The dialect in Canton Schwyz is rather moderate, with the big exception of the valley called “Muotathal”. The dialect of this remote valley enriches the cultural language landscape of Canton Schwyz. The “Muätitaler-Tütsch” online dictionary contains around 11,000 words. Have a look.
The differences from the Urner dialect to other dialects are less in the vocabulary than much more in the pronunciation. The “Ürnerditsch” is characterized by the frequent use of open “ü” and “ä”. The sentence “The mouse runs under the wall” is a good example:
- “D Müüs läift under dr Müürä durä.” (Urner German)
- «D Muus lauft under de Muur dure.» (Züridütsch)
Here it gets complicated even for native Swiss-Germans. As a non-native, it is simply impossible to understand the people of Valais. “Sie” (she) becomes “schii”, “uns” (us) becomes “iisch”. “Embri” means as much as “down”, and the counterpart is “embrüf”, which means “up”. And those who want to give themselves the full dose should try to read this article.
“Zürischnurre”. This is not a very nice way to call a person speaking the Zurich dialect. Since the people of Zurich are the most unpopular in the country, of course nobody likes Züridütsch. Typical expressions are “Bagaasch” for “luggage” and “Fisimatänte” for nonsense, empty fuss, excuses, stupidity.
The most neutral Swiss German dialect
Don’t worry, nobody expects you to speak the dialects of 20 cantons. In general it is said that Swiss German spoken in Olten is the most neutral one. It is understood everywhere and no one has anything against it. Speakers for television or radio commercials often come from Olten.
Which dialect do I learn?
As a foreigner who wants to learn Swiss German, you don’t need to move to Olten though. Get acquainted with the dialect of your place of residence, that makes the most sense because you hear it every day. It’s a good idea to listen to a lot of local radio to get your ear used to the most common expressions. And, of course, learning Swiss German helps enormously. For example with our online course. Good luck!