Languages and dialects

The Federal Constitution recognises four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh.

A restaurant advertising its fare in Swiss-German dialect
A restaurant advertising its fare in Swiss-German dialect, Rapperswil-Jona. © Mundartbeiz

Swiss German

Swiss German is the most widely spoken language in Switzerland. However, Swiss German is not a single language but a collection of distinct Alemmanic dialects. Most people living in German-speaking Switzerland speak a Swiss-German dialect. Swiss German is the default language of everyday life and is spoken by all, regardless of their social class.

Dialects vary considerably from one region to the next; for example, the Swiss German spoken in Basel is not the same as the Swiss German spoken in Zurich or Bern. There are also variations in the dialect spoken within a large language region. Generally, though, they are not so different as to be incomprehensible to other Swiss-German speakers.

Certain dialects are renowned for their highly specific regional character or particular accent, such as the Swiss German spoken in the remote valleys of Upper Valais, or Seislertütsch, the dialect spoken in the German-speaking part of the canton of Fribourg.

Swiss German is not a written language, although it is used sometimes in personal correspondence. Standard German is used for all formal, written communication.

French

French is the official language of French-speaking Switzerland. Every region has its own idiosyncrasies and accents, but the French that is spoken and written in Switzerland is largely the same as standard French.

Franco-Provençal dialects (patois) were still widely spoken right up until the mid-20th century, but they have all but died out today. Nonetheless, patois is still spoken - mostly by members of the older generation - in some parts of Valais, the Jura and the canton of Fribourg.

Italian

Italian is the official language of Ticino and the southern valleys of Graubünden. Lombard dialects are also still widely spoken today.

Romansh

Although Romansh is spoken by only some 10,000 people in certain parts of Graubünden, it has five distinct dialects: Sursilvan, Sutsilvan, Surmiran, Puter and Vallader.