One country, four languages

8.42 million people live in Switzerland in an area of 41,285 km². Despite its small size, Switzerland has four official languages. In addition to High German, French, Italian and Romansh are spoken. And what about Swiss German?

Four official languages make Switzerland quiet unique
Four official languages make Switzerland quiet unique

Swiss German is not an official language

Swiss German of course also exists, but not as an official language. Swiss German is not a coded language, but refers to all possible Alemannic dialects spoken in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. The word Alemannic refers to German or West Germanic dialects. Thus, Swiss German is nothing other than the collective term for German dialects in Switzerland. And that is why it cannot count as an official language in Switzerland.

Swiss High German – the same as Swiss German?

In addition to Swiss German, there is also so-called Swiss High German in Switzerland. However, this is a standard variety – just like the Austrian High German. This means that it is a variant of the German language with certain rules that are recorded in writing and clearly define what is right and what is wrong. By the way, these rules are defined and maintained by the Swiss Association for the German Language. To avoid confusion, the German Hochdeutsch spoken in Germany is also a standard variety and is on the same level as the Swiss Hochdeutsch. Therefore, Swiss German and Swiss High German are not the same!

Helvetisms – Inherited words

As in most standard varieties, there are also differences in Swiss High German in various linguistic areas, for example in grammar, pronunciation or vocabulary. Words or expressions recorded by the Swiss Duden Committee are called Helvetisms. Some of these Helvetisms can be understood quite well with High German as the mother tongue, while others are more difficult. Helvetisms are only used in Switzerland and are not known in High German in Germany.

A few examples:

  • After getting up, many Swiss eat a “Morgenessen”. In High German, “Frühstück”
  • In the evening the Swiss have “Abendessen”. In High German it is called “Abendbrot”
  • The so popular “Hacktätschli”in Switzerland are called in Germany “Frikadelle/Bulette”
  • And while in Switzerland you drink “Hahnenwasser”, in Germany you drink “Leitungswasser”
Breakfast in Germany is not called the same as in Switzerland
Breakfast in Germany is not called the same as in Switzerland

We love our “Velo”

Another big difference between Swiss High German and German High German are the Helvetisms, which have their origin in French. This is due to the geographical proximity to France.

Swiss High German High German English
Velo Fahrrad Biciycle
Billett Fahrkarte Ticket
Merci Danke Thanks

A few rules that will make your life easier

There is no official grammar for Swiss German, but there are a few rules that you can follow and that make learning Swiss German a little easier. Here are the most important differences between Swiss German an High German:

The German “au” becomes “uu” / “u” in Swiss German

As you can see, we have usually determined that it can also become a “u”. Whether you write the word with one or two u is a matter of taste.

Schweizerdeutsch «u» Hochdeutsch «au» English
lut laut loud
ful faul lazy
ruch rau rough
Fust Faust fist
Usgang Ausgang exit
Uftritt Auftritt gig

The German “K” becomes a “ch” in Swiss German

And that’s what you’ve been waiting for, right? The famous “ch” that makes Swiss German so unique worldwide.

Schweizerdeutsch «ch» Hochdeutsch «k» English
Channe Kanne pot
Choch Koch chef
Chralle Kralle claw
Chind Kind kid
chaufe kaufen to buy
cho kommen o come

The German “st” becomes the “scht” in Swiss German

Schweizerdeutsch «scht» Hochdeutsch «st» English
fascht fast almost
isch ist to be
ernscht ernst serious
Mascht Mast pole
Lascht Last burden
Frischt Frist deadline

Small differences in everyday life

If you want to order a “Radler” (beer mixed with limonade) in Switzerland, you order a “Panche”. In Switzerland to grill is “grillieren”, in Germany you call it “grillen”. “Parkieren” is another typical Swiss High German word, that in Germany is called “parken” (to park). You got it?

A grill party is lot's of fun, regardless how you call it
A grill party is lot’s of fun, regardless how you call it

Swiss German has not established itself in Germany

While the Swiss are familiar with German terms, none of the Swiss German expressions have made it into the Germanic vocabulary. As open to integration as the language of the French once was and the American language today is shown in Germany, so much is the opposition to Swiss German.

Swiss German can be learned

With the language rules mentioned you have already taken a big step forward. If you want to learn even more Swiss German, sign up for our online course and become a professional!

The brutal key difference between Swiss German and German
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One thought on “The brutal key difference between Swiss German and German

  • August 7, 2019 at 11:09 pm
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    Loved these explanations! You’re clearing up a lot of mysteries for me!

    Reply

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