The Romansh Language
The Romansh language is a Romance language that’s predominantly spoken in the south-eastern Swiss canton of Grisons (Graubünden).
The Romansh language is a Romance language that’s predominantly spoken in the south-eastern Swiss canton of Grisons (Graubünden). Romansh has official status, together with Italian and German – it’s also used as an instruction medium in educational institutions in Romansh-speaking areas. The Romansh language has also been recognised as Switzerland’s national language since 1938: then, along with Italian, French and German, it’s been an official language since the year 1996. It’s often been grouped with Friulian and Ladin as a Rhaeto-Romance language, but this has not been confirmed.
The Romansh language descends from the spoken Latin language of the Roman Empire. It replaced the Raetic and Celtic languages which were previously spoken in the area, although the Romansh language still retains a small number of words from these languages. The Romansh language has been greatly influenced by German in both morphosyntax and vocabulary. Over the centuries the language gradually withdrew to its current area, becoming replaced by the Bavarian and Alemannic dialects.
The History of the Romansh Language
It was in the 10th or 11th century when Romansh was actually identified; however, it wasn’t until the 16th century when various regional varieties began to develop and major works started appearing. Then, in the 19th century, we saw a further reduction of the language area, but there was also a literary revival and the beginning of a language movement which was dedicated to stopping the decline of this language.
The year 2000 Swiss census indicated that more than 35,000 people declared Romansh as the language of ‘best command’ (more than 27,000 of these people live in the canton of Grisons); with almost 62,000 identifying Romansh as a ‘regularly spoken’ language.
Of Switzerland’s 7.7 million inhabitants, Romansh is spoken by around 0.9% of the people. In terms of the number of speakers it’s Switzerland’s least-used national language, and overall it’s the 11th most spoken language in Switzerland. Even though the use of the Romansh language is very strong in certain regions, the number of speakers and the language area has been continually shrinking.
Various Dialects of Romansh
There are five different regional dialects of Romansh – Sutsilvan, Sursilvan, Surmiran, Vallader, and Putèr. Each of these dialects has its own standardised written language; and since the year 1982 a pan-region variety known as Rumantsch Grischun has also been introduced. This has become a controversial issue among romantic speakers.
Speakers of the Romansh language have been in close proximity with speakers of the Bavarian and Alemannic dialects for many centuries, and this has had a strong influence on Romansh. It’s in the vocabulary where the influence is the strongest, while the German influence on syntax and morphology is very limited. The result is that in its core structure the Romansh language has remained a Romance language.
The great Romansh linguist, Ricarda Liver, noted that there’s an obvious intonation of Swiss German, particularly in the Sursilvan dialect. Generally, the influence of German is strongest in the Rhenish varieties Sutsilvan and Sursilvan, and weakest in the Engadine dialects where the Italian influence is stronger.
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