Switzerland is divided into different regions for different languages and officially the country has four different languages.
Switzerland is one of the most amazing countries in Europe and sits at the crossroads of the French, German and Italian speaking regions of Europe. It is a mountainous country and with very different regions where different regions have their own traditions and atmosphere. Officially there is four official languages in Switzerland – German, French, Italian and Romansh.
Switzerland is at the junction of Germanic and Roman Europe (languages based on Latin such as Italian and French). The linguistic divide in Switzerland is not only linguistic, it is also a cultural divide. Switzerland is a confederation made up of 26 cantons – these are like states and have enormous autonomy.
The German part of Switzerland
The German part of Switzerland is by far the largest – although the dialect of German spoken natively in Switzerland is very different from that spoken in Germany. They speak varieties of “Swiss German” that are significantly different from the standard High German dialect.
German (or Swiss German) is spoken by nearly two-thirds of the population (about 62.8%). German-speaking cities include the capital, Bern, the largest city of Zurich, as well as Basel.
- German (Swiss German): Spoken by 62.8% of the population
- Notable German-speaking cities: Bern, Zurich, Basel
- Zurich: The largest city is German-speaking
- Bern: The capital is German-speaking
The German part includes most of the north, center and east of the country – the largest part of the country. Switzerland borders Germany, France, Italy, Austria and the microstate of Liechtenstein. Three of them – Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein speak German
German is the only official language of 17 of the 26 Swiss cantons and co-official in three others with French. In the trilingual canton of Grisons (or Grisons), it is also the dominant language.
The German part of Switzerland includes most of the most famous attractions and the Swiss-German culture is the most known to the outside world.
When traveling in Switzerland, one will sometimes find unofficial “borders” between the linguistic parts and the change is brutal.
The French part is the second largest and represents almost a quarter of the population (about 22.9%) and is mainly found in the western part of the country close to France. French-speaking cities include Geneva and Lausanne.
- French: Spoken by 22.9% of the population
- Notable French-speaking cities: Geneva and Lausanne
- Romandie: The name of the French speakers of Switzerland
- Geneva: A city of international importance – It is French-speaking
The name of the French part is Romandie which has about a quarter of the Swiss population. The population is particularly concentrated around the Lake Geneva region bordering Lake Geneva, which connects Geneva, Vaud and Bas-Valais.
French is the sole official language of four of the cantons – Geneva, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Jura. Also has co-official status in three other cantons – Fribourg/Fribourg, Valais/Wallis and Berne/Bern.
The Italian part of Switzerland
The Italian part is mainly made up of a few valleys in the southern part of the country close to Italy. Italian speakers make up about 8.2% of the population.
The main Italian-speaking part of Switzerland is in the canton of Ticino, on the Italian border. It is the southernmost canton of Switzerland and is geographically almost entirely south of the Alps.
- Italian: Spoken by 8.2% of the population
- Cantons spoken: Ticino (mainly), southern part of Graubünden and part of Graubünden
- Separate: The Italian part is known to be quite distinct from the rest of the country
The canton has a population of approximately 350,000 and its largest city is Lugano, other notable cities being Bellinzona and Locarno. The canton is a major tourist destination for Switzerland and is famous for its warm climate, southern culture and gastronomy – setting it apart from the rest of the country.
Switzerland’s Romansh Park
The fourth and by far the smallest part is that of Romansh. They make up only about 0.5% of the population and are found in the sparsely populated canton of Graubünden. Graubünden is a trilingual canton in the southeast of the country where German, Italian and Romansh are spoken. German is dominant in the canton with around 74% of the population speaking German.
Romansh speakers make up around 14% of the canton of Graubünden and number around 40,000 speakers.
- Romansh: Spoken by 0.5% of the population
- Or: In the southeast Caton of Graubünden (about 14% of the local population)
- Number of speakers: About 40,000 speakers
Romansh is a language derived from Latin at the time of the Roman Empire.
If you go to Switzerland, there are a number of phrases you should always know in any language. But don’t stress too much. Most people in Switzerland speak very good English.
Next: Essential tips for visiting Switzerland for the first time
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