SWISS DIALECT EXHIBITION.

From the Swiss Review (thanks, Paul!), a report by Miriam Hutter (English, French, German) on a National Library exhibition on the country’s dialects; it’s superficial but has interesting bits:

In Grisons, for example, 40 years after its introduction as a common written language for the five Romansh dialects, Rumantsch Grischun is still not accepted as such by everyone. Dialects attempt to outdo one another in ­German-speaking Switzerland. The most beautiful, popular or attractive Mundart is chosen using surveys that are not always very well-founded. […] Hardly anyone now speaks dialects in French-speaking Switzerland but that does not mean that the French-speaking Swiss do not have anything to contribute to the debate on dialects. Many of them find it disappointing and frustrating that their knowledge of German acquired at school can barely be used in conversation with their compatriots in German-speaking Switzerland. The calls by politicians from French-speaking Switzerland for the use of more standard language in public life and in particular in German-language national television and radio programmes were buried without a trace this spring – by the mainly German-speaking parliament.

Don’t miss the links at the bottom right, where you can hear samples, and for heaven’s sake don’t miss the translation (click on the display between the introduction and the start of the article proper) of some dialogue from Some Like It Hot into Italian dialect (“Ho cambia nom, a ma ciamávi «Zúcchero. Kandinski»./ Polacca?/ Sí! Sum nassüda in una famiglia da sonadò”)!

Comments

  1. Bathrobe says:

    Many of them find it disappointing and frustrating that their knowledge of German acquired at school can barely be used in conversation with their compatriots in German-speaking Switzerland
    If they want to communicate with their compatriots, why would they learn a foreign language and then demand that their compatriots should speak it? There is nothing wrong with learning foreign languages or standard languages, but there is something topsy turvy about this whole thing. If they love their Swiss German compatriots, they would love their language, too, wouldn’t they? But I guess it’s unheard of to learn a mere dialect of limited usefulness when you can ‘the real thing’.

  2. Bathrobe says:

    I guess it also illustrates that when people throw away their own dialect they expect other people to throw away theirs, too. Nothing like a homogenised world…

  3. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe, if I understand correctly, it isn’t that the Swiss outside of the German-speaking area “demand” Standard German from their compatriots, but that Standard German is what’s being taught in schools, while the German speakers speak Swiss German. It seems that it is the politicians who are in favour of Standard German, not necessarily the ordinary Swiss people. This is reminiscent of Canadian anglophones being taught (an approximation of) “Parisian French”, which was not of much use in understanding street French in Montreal (current Canadian French has since moved closer to “metropolitan” or “international” French). On the other hand, since regional dialects are alive and well in (at least most of) Germany, there does not seem to be as much of a push among German speakers in general for giving up those dialects, the standard being just one more variety of German.

  4. On the other hand, since regional dialects are alive and well in (at least most of) Germany, there does not seem to be as much of a push among German speakers in general for giving up those dialects, the standard being just one more variety of German.
    This is an accurate description of the current situation here. The Swiss have their own problems to contend with.

  5. And while I don’t know for sure, I strongly suspect that the Alemannic-speaking Swiss do not want their non-German compatriots to learn their local dialects.

  6. If they love their Swiss German compatriots, they would love their language, too, wouldn’t they?
    Which language? There is no single “Swiss German”, that’s the issue. Should they learn Zurich dialect? Bern? For the most part Swiss Germans can speak acceptable, if highly accented, standard German if they have to, and every Swiss German can understand, read, and write (?) standard German. In general it makes more sense for Swiss French to learn that particular “dialect” rather than any of the others.

  7. This is reminiscent of Canadian anglophones being taught (an approximation of) “Parisian French”, which was not of much use in understanding street French in Montreal (current Canadian French has since moved closer to “metropolitan” or “international” French).
    Somewhat, except that the differences between Alemannic dialects are greater, I think, than the differences between different regional dialects of Quebecois. And Montreal arguably provides more of a “capital city” standard than anything you would find in Switzerland. I think John Cowan is also correct that many Swiss Germans are perfectly happy with the fact that outsiders don’t speak their particular dialect.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    To be precise, Quebecois is not the only variety of Canadian French. Acadian French (spoken by fewer people) is divided into several dialects. But it does not have a “capital city” providing a regional standard, like Quebec City and Montreal.

  9. This is reminiscent of Canadian anglophones being taught (an approximation of) “Parisian French”, which was not of much use in understanding street French in Montreal (current Canadian French has since moved closer to “metropolitan” or “international” French)
    After studying French for six years in the Toronto school system, I couldn’t understand a word of French heard on a Montreal street. I did much better in Paris.
    Many decades later I retain good reading comprehension, likely because of continuing exposure to the mandatory French on all Canadian consumer packaging and in all product user guides.
    m-l: I recall a short novel we studied called Le Petit Poule d’Eau, set in northern Manitoba. Have you ever run across it? (Amazon doesn’t list it.)

  10. Amazon doesn’t list it.
    Here.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    PO, you mean La petite poule d’eau, by Gabrielle Roy, who grew up in a French-speaking community in Manitoba and taught there for a while. I have read some of her works, but not this one.
    The first time I went to Montreal (in the late 60’s) I could not understand people either! Things are quite different nowadays.

  12. Christopher Burd says:

    The first time I went to Montreal (in the late 60’s) I could not understand people either! Things are quite different nowadays.
    Has the spoken language really changed so much in 50 years? How? Is it due to education, so that new generations speak differently than their parents? Or is it immigration, both from other areas of Quebec and outside Canada. One might expect the influx to overwhelm the original Montreal dialect and permit a dialect closer to international French to establish itself as a norm.

  13. As far as I can see from my limited exposure to Swiss TV, there’s not only Standard German and local Alemannic dialects. but als some kind of “Schwyzerdütsch” koine that is used in advertisements and also spoken by people on TV outside of formal situations (like news bulletins etc.) I assume that the problem of the Swiss French are with this koine – nobody teaches it at school, but Swiss Germans speak either this or their local dialect, not Standard German.

  14. Here’s Nick Nicholas’s piece “Joual 4, Nicholas 1” about his experiences trying to speak French which he describes as “wretched, but it’s not Anglo-wretched: it’s Greek-wretched” (and therefore did not provoke le switch) in Montreal in 2009. From the perspective of an L2 speaker, there is still clearly a divide between native Montrealers’ speech and that of the francophone immigrants, who are much closer to international French. But by the same token, it’s become more difficult for natives not to understand the standard (or pretend not to). Between the immigrants and the TV, it’s everywhere.

  15. Gabrielle Roy! Yes! That’s the author.
    La petite poule d’eau. {blush} No wonder I couldn’t find it on Amazon . . .

  16. Etienne says:

    John Cowan: thanks for Nick’s piece, it gave me a chuckle. Christopher Burd: the changes that have taken place, linguistically, in Montreal French over the past two generations or so have little to do with immigration and much to do with increased education, causing Montreal French to move much closer to the standard.
    Unlike what is found in Italian- and German-speaking Switzerland, however, there is no diglossic relationship between Quebec and Standard French: more of a continuum, not least because the linguistic distance between Quebec and Standard French is quite limited by comparison (as Vanya quite correctly pointed out).
    The features that make Quebec French impenetrable to newcomers largely revolve around surface phonology, and indeed French-speaking immigrants quickly learn to understand our accent, which their children as a rule will acquire from their peers at school.
    Québec is indeed an oddity in the French-speaking world, inasmuch as the local variety enjoys real local prestige, whereas in the French-speaking world generally non-standard linguistic features are strongly stigmatized. In this the French-speaking Swiss are unlike their German-, Italian and Romantsch-speaking fellow citizens. That is to say, over the past couple of centuries they have shifted away from their (very distinctive) dialects (some of which, such as Genevan, were used in writing) to French. Such a shift to the standard is excentric from a Swiss point of view, but normal from the French-speaking world’s point of view.

  17. Many decades later I retain good reading comprehension, likely because of continuing exposure to the mandatory French on all Canadian consumer packaging and in all product user guides.
    I should have added that all federal government materials also appear in both languages, as does much, perhaps all, of what Ontario and New Brunswick produce.
    There’s a Waterhen Lake in Manitoba. I don’t know whether its naming preceded publication of the book; note that Gabrielle Roy is one of Canada’s most celebrated authors.
    The features that make Quebec French impenetrable to newcomers largely revolve around surface phonology
    You bet. Though conversation was impossible, I recall having little trouble reading Le journal de Montréal, or even La Presse, but a meaty article in Le Devoir was beyond me.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    I agree with Etienne. Surface phonology accounts for most of the differences, so the initial difficulties quickly disappear with increased exposure. I also agree that the considerable efforts made by successive Quebec governments to improve the education of francophones have also played a very important role in acquainting the bulk of the population not just with different phonology but also with the different registers available in the standard.

  19. marie-lucie says:

    the mandatory French on all Canadian consumer packaging and in all product user guides.
    Unfortunately, not all such documents (let alone more informal ones, especially if short) are prepared by qualified translators or even bilingual people! But things have generally improved in this respect since I first came to Canada.

  20. Jeffry House says:

    When I first came to Canada in 1970, I was surprised to see that the food know as “Wong Wing Bo-Bo Balls” was represented on the package as “Les Balls de Bo-Bo de Wong Wing.” And this was before google translate!

  21. Instead of, I suppose, “les balles de Bo-bo de Wong Wing”? (Wong Wing is the company name.)

    ‘Do you know Languages? What’s the French for fiddle-de-dee?’

    ‘Fiddle-de-dee’s not English,’ Alice replied gravely.

    ‘Who ever said it was?’ said the Red Queen.

    Alice thought she saw a way out of the difficulty this time. ‘If you’ll tell me what language “fiddle-de-dee” is, I’ll tell you the French for it!’ she exclaimed triumphantly.

    But the Red Queen drew herself up rather stiffly, and said ‘Queens never make bargains.’

    ‘I wish Queens never asked questions,’ Alice thought to herself.

    What’s the French for “fiddle-de-dee”?
    But “fiddle-de-dee’s not English” (we
    Learn from Alice, and must agree).
    The “Fiddle” we know, but what’s from “Dee”?
    Le chat assis in an English tree?
    —Well, what’s the French for “fiddle-de-dench”?
    (That is to say, for “monkey wrench”)
    —Once in the works, it produced a stench
    What’s the Greek for “fiddle-de-dex”?
    (That is to say, for “Brekekekex”)
    —The frog-prince turned out to be great at sex.
    What’s the Erse for “fiddle-de-derse”?
    (That is to say, for “violent curse”?)
    —Bad cess to you for your English verse!
    What’s the Malay for “fiddle-de-day”?
    (That is to say, for “That is to say …”)
    —…[There are no true synonyms, anyway …]
    What’s the Pali for “fiddle-de-dally”?
    (That is to say, for “Silicon Valley”)
    —Maya deceives you: the Nasdaq won’t rally.
    What’s the Norwegian for “fiddle-de-degian”?
    (That is to say, for “His name is Legion”)
    —This aquavit’s known in every region.
    What’s the Punjabi for “fiddle-de-dabi”?
    (That is to say, for “crucifer lobby”)
    —They asked for dall but were sent kohl-rabi.
    What’s the Dutch for “fiddle-de-Dutch”?
    (That is to say, for “overmuch”)
    —Pea-soup and burghers and tulips and such.
    What’s the Farsi for “fiddle-de-darsi?”
    (That is to say for “devote yourself”—“darsi”
    In Italian—the Irish would spell it “D’Arcy”)
    Well, what’s the Italian for “fiddle-de-dallion”?
    (That is to say, for “spotted stallion”)
    —It makes him more randy to munch on a scallion.
    Having made so free with “fiddle-de-dee,”
    What’s to become now of “fiddle-de-dum”?
    —I think I know. But the word’s still mum.
         —John Hollander, “For ‘Fiddle-de-dee'”

  22. Bathrobe says:

    I don’t quite agree with Alice’s native speaker intuition that ‘fiddle-de-dee’ isn’t English 🙂

  23. marie-lucie says:

    Alice was only seven years old.

  24. Bathrobe says:

    But Charles Dodgson wasn’t.

  25. That is to say, over the past couple of centuries they have shifted away from their (very distinctive) dialects (some of which, such as Genevan, were used in writing) to French.
    I wasn’t exposed to Genevan, but when I lived there in around 1960, there was a very distinctive “sing-song” rythym to their speech, which was also very slow – which made it much easier to learn French there than in e.g. Paris. Now I don’t hear either of those characteristics in Geneva, though I am told they still exist somewhat in the countryside. I presume this is the result of the influx of foreigners (now some 20% of the Swiss population).
    As for joual, I remember watching a TV discussion in Montreal between two men, where I could follow one speaker perfectly, while the other was incomprehensible to me. It was clearly perfectly normal.

  26. Bill Walderman says:

    With apologies to Marie-Lucie, Swiss francophones have actually improved standard French. Instead of the impenetrable numerals of standard French 10069, soixante-dix, soixante et onze . . . quatre-vingt . . . quatre-vingt dix, quatre-vingt et onze, which require the speaker to mentally perform complex mathematical computations in the course of trivial activities like purchasing small items, the Vaudois say simply septante, huitante, nonante etc.
    I have to concede, however, that standard French numerals are far more transparent than Danish numerals, beginning with 40, which are so complex that the Danes can’t bring themselves to use ordinals between 40 and 100.
    http://blogs.denmark.dk/peterandreas/2009/04/19/numbers/

  27. Alice might have conceded that fiddle-de-dee is in the English lexicon, even if it’s not quite English.

  28. Garrigus Carraig says:

    The Belgians too say septante and nonante (but not, apparently, huitante). These words were used in France until the 16th century, says Wikipedia. I wonder how those odd composite numbers won out.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    Garrigus: Your source does not say that these words were used “exclusively”. The two systems were probably used alongside each other in some regions or in different contexts. That the -ante words remained in Belgium and Switzerland probably means that they were also used in Eastern France (a region of stronger Germanic influence in post-Roman times), while the vigesimal system typical of the Celts was used in other regions, including the capital.
    In older French there were other multiples of twenty in use, the best known of which are six-vingts ‘120’ (a coin at one time) and quinze-vingts ‘300’. In Paris there is l’hôpital des Quinze-Vingts, a hospital specializing in ophthalmology which succeeded a hospice for three hundred blind men founded by King Louis IX (Saint Louis) in the 13th century.

  30. Etienne says:

    Paul: if you lived in Geneva in 1960 you wouldn’t have been exposed to Genevan proper, as I believe it was extinct by then.
    As for your being able only to understand one of the two men on television: I’m not surprised. Quebec French is a continuum between more standard and more local phonologies/other features, but a very fluid one, with individual idiosyncracies and attitudes playing a major role. It is difficult even for us natives to “place” someone socially on the basis of that person’s speech.
    (A true story, to illustrate: at my first apartment my flatmates, who were studying engineering at Polytechnique, left me speechless when they told me that their mathematics tutor was the building superintendant’s wife, who had a doctorate in mathematics. I was speechless because on the basis of her speech I had assumed that she had never studied beyond the high school level).
    Marie-Lucie: you are quite right, the -ANTE forms are more typical of Eastern than Western France, but there isn’t a shred of evidence that the (innovative) vigesimal system in French is of Celtic origin. Indeed a much better case has been made for an English origin (via Anglo-Normand, with subsequent diffusion into Western France and thence into Paris), I believe by W. Von Wartburg (I might be able to dig up a useful reference or two, if anyone is interested).
    (Incidentally, I heard a story once, which may of course be an urban legend, that during World War II the Swiss army mandated the use of Swiss French forms (SEPTANTE, HUITANTE, NONANTE) in army communications for the sake of clarity. Apparently, in the context of giving a position or the like, the ambiguity of SOIXANTE-DIX (70 or 60-10?) was judged intolerable. If true, it is a nice counter to the myth that standard forms are always more “accurate” than non-standard forms).
    When I taught my first French linguistics class in the Southern United States I told my students about this theory and pointed out that the parallel between Abraham Lincoln’s “Four score and seven years ago” and French “Il y a quatre-vingt-sept ans” was still quite visible.
    Alas, none of my students had the foggiest notion what “score” meant, so I refrained from quoting that factoid in class again. Nor was their knowledge of American history good enough to make an educated guess, as a majority were quite uncertain as to whether Abraham Lincoln was president before or after the American Revolution (no, I don’t think the statement makes sense either. INSERT RANT ABOUT DECLINING STANDARDS IN EDUCATION HERE, FOLLOWED BY A WRY OBSERVATION ABOUT A SENSE OF ABSURDIST HUMOR BEING IMPORTANT TO A TEACHER).

  31. marie-lucie says:

    Merci, Etienne. I have always heard that the vigesimal system was Celtic! If the origin is English, why isn’t it in the English language? Did it survive in some English dialects? in Jerriais? By all means, let me know the reference to von Wartburg.
    If “soixante-dix” was ambiguous, I wonder what the Swiss army thought of “quatre-vingt-dix-neuf” (99)! Of course such numbers are daunting for those not used to them, but not particularly so if that’s what you grew up with. As people advance in age, it seems natural that the numbers for their ages should become longer and more complex. The sheer length of “quatre-vingt-dix-neuf” gives a satisfying sense of its magnitude, just before switching to the next scale (?) of numbers with the plain “cent” (100).

  32. A translator, I forget who, discussed how to capture the unusual feel of “fourscore and seven years” in a French translation. I believe his solution was “quatre vingtaines d’années et dix”, or something close to that.
    Southerners don’t, as a rule, think much of Lincoln (his birthday was never a holiday there, as it was in much of the U.S.), so it doesn’t surprise me that students don’t come away with many details about him.

  33. I wonder how many people, on learning that “four score and seven years” means 87 years, conclude that a score is 20 years (as opposed to 20 anything). I think that as a child I believed that at one point.

  34. Bathrobe says:

    True. But how many people know what four crore is?

  35. marie-lucie says:

    JC: A translator, I forget who, discussed how to capture the unusual feel of “fourscore and seven years” in a French translation. I believe his solution was “quatre vingtaines d’années et dix”, or something close to that.
    This phrase sounds totally foreign and totally ridiculous. Lincoln’s choice of “four score and seven years ago” is unusual in modern English but must be a deliberate echo of the KJV Old Testament’s “three score and ten” as the number of years of a man’s life. The translator in question does not seem to have made the connection, which should have sent him to consult French translations of the OT. I doubt that the number of years of a human life would be expressed there as other than soixante-dix.
    The old-fashioned, solemn feel of the phrase should be expressed by something else in the sentence than a word for word translation which makes no sense in French. I am not sure how I would do it, but for a start I would use années for ‘years’, rather than ans, suggesting periods filled with events rather than just counting units appropriate to stating a person’s exact age.
    In France the word vingtaine does not mean “score” (= ‘exactly twenty’) but ‘approximately twenty’, give or take one or two units either way (and similarly with other derivatives from some numbers, like quarantaine ‘approximately forty’). In Canada, these words are also used to translate English twenties (etc) meaning ‘age range for which the numbers start with “twenty”‘ (etc). Douzaine (the original of ‘dozen’) means ‘exactly twelve’ in talking about a traditional number of eggs, but in estimating the age of a child, une douzaine d’années means ‘around twelve’ years of age.
    Such words are formed on (some, not all) one-word numbers, not on the complex ones starting with soixante-dix ‘seventy’. If you want to say “My father is in his nineties” you have to say Mon père a plus de quatre-vingt-dix ans.

  36. It just hit me that quarantaine must be related to “quarantine”. The OED confirms this: it means a period of 40 days in various contexts. In medieval Latin, Quarantena was “the name given to the desert where Christ fasted for forty days”.
    I can’t believe I had to check MW for the spelling of “medieval” just now. “Mittelalterlich” is so much easier. There is a “mediäval” form in German, according to Duden, but only a knowledgeable twit would use it (according to me).

  37. I had a high school teacher who carefully pronounced “medieval” with four syllables. He had many opportunities, because no matter what the subject was he would sooner or later tell us again about the medieval theory of the four bodily humors. Before him I had always heard it as three (syllables, not humors). I suppose some people say four, but they hurry through the middle of the word so that it sounds more like three. Not him, though.
    His way struck me as a bit affected, but it does help with remembering the spelling.

  38. But how many people know what four crore is?
    A billion! (Well, not quite: in some languages Prakrit kroti surfaces as koṭi rather than karor. But it sounds good.) I see that Hindi has the monosyllabic word śiṣṭ (anglicized shisht) for 10^33, or one lakh crore crore crore. That must be the largest monosyllabic number anywhere.
    French translations of the OT
    I do remember the KJV allusion being discussed (I must have read this article 20 years ago or more), but rejected because “biblical” and “old-fashioned” don’t go together in French[*], and the latter seemed more important. I may well have misremembered vingtaine as the relevant word, however, and I almost certainly have the syntax wrong. Sorry to be so vague.
    [*] As in the famous rendering of Job 40:15, which in the KJV is “Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox” as “Voici l’hippopotame, à qui j’ai donné la vie comme à toi ! Il mange de l’herbe comme le bœuf.” You can hardly get less biblical than “Voici l’hippopotame”; if the translators couldn’t bring themselves to use béhémoth, what’s wrong with some less specific noun based on hugeness? And as for Leviathan, poor fellow, he is reduced from a whale (or something very like a whale) to a crocodile!

  39. Bathrobe says:

    @ John Cowan: I shudder to think: is that where T S Eliot got his hippopotamus from?
    @ Empty: But I always pronounce it ‘medi-eval’. Is there some other way to pronounce it?

  40. Probably he did. Another C. of E. poet gave us this:
    He thought he saw a Banker’s Clerk
          Descending from the bus:
    He looked again, and found it was
         A Hippopotamus.
    ‘If this should stay to dine,’ he said,
         ‘There won’t be much for us!’
    I always write mediaeval myself, thinking medium aevum as I type, despite being a firm adherent of most AmE spellings.

  41. I grew up hearing it as ‘medeval’. Obviously “wrong”, but that what I heard. I’m not sure whether the people I heard saying it were also hearing it as ‘medeval’ or whether they were hearing it as ‘medi-eval’ and saying it fast enough that I never noticed the difference.

  42. As opposed to an adhaerent of them, that is.

  43. marie-lucie says:

    Gumbly: quarantaine – quarantine
    Yes, quarantaine also means quarantine in French. The English word is probably borrowed from Italian rather than French.
    With reference to age, there is a well-known French phrase: friser la quarantaine. Friser here has nothing to do with ‘curling’ hair, it means ‘to come very close to’ (almost like frôler, but only in an abstract or metaphorical context). So friser la quarantaine means ‘to be almost forty years old’. Of course you could friser other ages too, but the word is used mostly with la quarantaine, a traditional milestone in one’s life.

  44. John Emerson says:

    Danish numerals, beginning with 40, … are so complex that the Danes can’t bring themselves to use ordinals between 40 and 100.
    A Danish Monty Python could do a lot with that.

  45. As in the famous rendering of Job 40:15, which in the KJV is “Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox” as “Voici l’hippopotame, à qui j’ai donné la vie comme à toi ! Il mange de l’herbe comme le bœuf.”
    André Chouraqui renders the passage:
    Voici donc Ḇehémot, l’hippopotame, que j’ai fait avec toi. Il mange de l’herbe comme un bovin.

  46. Bathrobe says:

    Empty, I checked and found that there are actually a lot of people (Americans? Not sure) who pronounce it as ‘medeval’. I guess I always heard it as a very rapidly pronounced medi-eval (which I also spell ‘mediaeval’, just to be smug 🙂 ).

  47. Then there’s the question of which vowel to use in the first syllable. Could be reduced, or schwa, or whatever you call it, in “medeval”, but in “medi-eval” the first syllable gets some stress, and I think one hears both “meedy-eval” and “meddy-eval”. I honestly can’t remember what Mr Whatsisname used for a first-syllable vowel when droning on about black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe: ‘mediaeval’ could be interpreted as “media-eval”, which is not far from “media-evil”!

  49. Sounds to me like the problem is that they were taught traditional German in school instead of Swissy-deutsch (colloquial name for the Swiss dialect of German). The fault lies with their schools, not with the German-speaking Swiss for not speaking traditional German.
    Cheers,
    Andrew

  50. I myself say “meedy-eval”; I don’t know whether I picked that up from a teacher or from a dictionary.

  51. For me it’s meddy-evil (the Weak Vowel Merger has merged away my weak vowels).

  52. H Klang says:

    Re “they ought to be teaching Swiss German”:
    But the whole written culture of eastern Switzerland is already conducted in more-or-less regular German, so that’s what they need from a practical point of view in schools. National pride seems to be fully satisfied by political sovereignty and an Armee (if not Flotte) and doesn’t seem to need support from heroic language construction in the late 20th century. How this split came to be is a good question.
    The struggle to adapt (starting in 1st grade) from the intimate spoken Schwiizerdüütsch to the cold, scissorlike Hochdeutsch seems to leave even many PhD Swiss with a sense of alienation against their own written language, expressed by various jokes and apologies in public speeches.
    It’s a fascinating disjunction between the status of spoken and written language that really educates me about the varieties of this relationship. Of course, there are other major examples, but I don’t have a feel for them.

  53. The struggle to adapt (starting in 1st grade) from the intimate spoken Schwiizerdüütsch to the cold, scissorlike Hochdeutsch
    Here be fantasies of Nationalgemütlichkeit. If you’re going to apply terms like “cold” and “scissorlike” to Hochdeutsch, then it would be only consistent to match them with “hot” and “blunt” for Schwiizerdüütsch, not “intimate”. In that way the absurdity of the conceit becomes apparent.
    Languages do not have such properties, but those who speak them more or less willingly may well feel hot, cold, scissorlike and blunt by turns when they do so. That is caused by what your parents and your social milieu expose you to as you grow up, and particularly by how they do it.

  54. Stu, it may be absurd, and it may also be unfair, but I think lots of people have that view of Hochdeutsch.
    By the way, is the assertion that the Swiss-deutsch speakers feel scissorlike when they speak Hochdeutsch? Or that Hochdeutsch sounds scissorlike to them? Not quite the same, I think.
    In any case I’d like to try out Stu’s reasoning in a Scandinavian setting. I understand that Norwegians have been known to say that Danish sounds as if the speaker has potatoes in his mouth. To illustrate the absurdity of this conceit we could try asserting that Norwegian sounds as if the speaker has the opposite of potatoes in his mouth, or perhaps potatoes in the opposite of his mouth. Not sure where I’m going with this …

  55. H Klang,
    Thank you, I had no idea that the Swiss wrote in Hochdeutsch but spoke a completely different dialect, Schwiizerdüütsch, that’s very interesting…and weird.
    So, is there actually a written form of Schwiizerdüütsch? Is it ever used? It would seem not.
    Seems to me that the thing for them to do would be to pick one dialect of German to speak and write with and then teach that dialect in school. It would make more sense to go with Hochdeutsch since it would allow them to communicate with people outside of Switzerland whereas Schwiizerdüütsch is mostly only spoken in Switzerland. The schools should teach and require fluency in Hochdeutsch–you’re welcome to teach your child Schwiizerdüütsch at home if you like, of course. This way everyone is fluent in the same form of spoken and written German, the people from French-speaking Switzerland who had to learn Hochdeutsch can now communicate with their German-speaking fellow citizens (because those people had to learn Hochdeutsch in school) plus they can all communicate with the rest of the Hochdeutsch-speaking world (Germany, Austria, etc.).
    Cheers,
    Andrew

  56. I don’t think Danes sound as if they’re talking Norwegian with a potato in the mouth. To me they sound as if they’re talking Norwegian backwards, sort of like on an old Beatles’ record. Here once again is Sili’s explanation of Danish ordinals:

    As touched upon in the old “I have three cows to feed” post, Danish counting is vigesimal in nature:
    ten – ti
    
twenty – tyve from “two tens”

    thirty – tredive /’trɑðvə/ from “three tens”

    forty – fyrre(tyve) this is complicated because the spelling implies “four twenties” but does in fact come from “four tens”

    fifty – halvtreds(indstyve) now we’re getting to the fun: “half-third times twenty”. “Halvtredje” meaning two-and-a-half is pretty much obsolete today, but “halvanden” meaning “one-and-a-half” is ubiquitous (as in Demotic)

    sixty – tres(indstyve) “three times twenty”

    seventy – halvfjerds(indstyve) “half-fourth times twenty”
    
eighty – Firs(indstyve) “four times twenty”

    ninety – halvfems(indstyve)
    It’s pretty rare to see the whole “times twenty” bit used today, unless someone wants to emphasise. It’s still the proper form to use to form the ordinals from the numerals, though. So 57th is “syvoghalvtredsindstyvende” (or “57.”). It’s becoming increasingly common to hear “syvoghalvtredsinde” instead though (beware the frequency and recency illusions, though!)
    Notice the ‘odd’ ds in 50 and 70, but not in 60. Those are obvious when one notices the pattern for the half counts: one, half-second, two, half-third, three, half-fourth, four, half-fifth, five, … They come from using the ordinal with the “half” bit.

  57. Andrew, what you describe is what the Swiss school system already does in German-speaking cantons. It’s just that once out of school, most German Swiss don’t keep up their Standard German (which is mostly useful for speaking to foreigners), so they get rusty, and in any case they have only learned the styles and registers suitable for school, not the full range.
    The main use of Swiss German orthography is to write down poetry, as is the case for many small languages (or even large ones — consider Cantopop) whose written forms aren’t much used.

  58. Bathrobe says:

    Thank you for that, AJP. Now I know what it means when people say “Danish numerals, beginning with 40, … are so complex that the Danes can’t bring themselves to use ordinals between 40 and 100.” As usual, I was thinking it can’t be that difficult.

  59. John,
    Ah ok, thank you, I understand.
    Cheers,
    Andrew

  60. empty: it may be absurd, and it may also be unfair, but I think lots of people have that view of Hochdeutsch.
    It is misleading to suggest someone “has a view” about something he wouldn’t recognize if it landed on his nose. I suspect that with “lots of people” you are referring to Americans who have seen film clips of Hitler or Goebbels ranting at rallies, and read comic books about Nazis and seen the Cabaret film, but rarely if ever have heard ordinary German being spoken. There is likely to be considerable overlap between this group of Americans, and those groups who imagine that French sounds romantic, or that God created the world 5000-6000 years ago.
    It is neither absurd nor unfair, but just plain ignernt to imagine that German sounds cold and scissorlike. If anything, Hitler and Goebbels performing in Nürnberg sound “hot and blunt”, as well as hysterical – that was the reason I brought up these complementary adjectives. The “views” of Americans about languages other than English are, for the most part, apparently the result of exposure to cliché and parody on TV and radio, and in Monty Python films.
    Over the years, my sister and her husband have gradually stopped using that clipped, thumpedy-thump comic-book Nazi pronunciation for the few German words they pick up from me in phone conversations. My sister’s pronunciation in particular has become pretty good. They’re making an honest effort, you see. Honesty is the best Polizei.

  61. most German Swiss don’t keep up their Standard German (which is mostly useful for speaking to foreigners), so they get rusty, and in any case they have only learned the styles and registers suitable for school, not the full range.
    Yes, that’s all it amounts to. No point in getting ideologico-gemütlich about it.
    It is instructive to watch the Swiss news and interview programs that are available on German TV. Sometimes a farmer is heard complaining in Swiss German that his cows don’t get enough to eat because of the government’s agricultural policies. A northern German speaker may initially react like this: “just another rude dialect like the Bavarians”.
    But the program then moves to in-studio interviews with bankers, lawyers and politicians who all speak Swiss German. The TV producers have added subtitles in Hochdeutsch for the German audience because it is very difficult to understand what is being said.
    These prominent interviewees probably speak a more refined form of Swiss German that the farmer. All I can say is that they are all equally unintelligible to your average German speaker like myself.
    I suppose a linguist might be able to adjust quicker, because one can hear that Swiss German is clearly related in systematic ways to Hochdeutsch. In particular there is a kind of regular “remapping” of vowels (seen from a Hochdeutsch point of view) that one knows from German dialects.

  62. Okay, I was being provocative. But I wasn’t thinking of people who have never heard the real thing.
    On the other hand, I was influenced somewhat by my own experience of hearing German-accented English (in real life, not the movies), which really can come across (to me) as cold and scissorlike. I do recognize that German-accented English is not the same as German. And come to think of it, many of these people have been mathematicians. So there may be a combined effect of (a) Germans making sounds that strike an English-speaker as cold and scissorlike, (b) people talking in a slightly stilted rhythm when using a language not their native tongue, (c) mathematicians as a group being a bit cold and scissorlike.
    Sorry, I just can’t seem to stop typing that word. Scissorlike. I’ll try to stop now.

  63. Best do it gently, in stages. Instead of scissors (Schere) you could move to “shear”, as in “shear force” (Scherkraft) or “sheer” as in Glanzstrumpfhose. On the evidence I’ve seen up to now, I bet you would find the word Strumpf especially to your liking.

  64. I got to wondering about my claim that Standard German is mostly useful to German Swiss people for speaking to foreigners. So I went to another place and asked “What language (besides English) do francophone and germanophone Swiss usually use to communicate?”
    Unfortunately, the only person who responded was a North German — so far north, indeed, that he considers Hamburg to be the upper limit of Southern Germany — and his reply was “They speak?”
    So I still don’t know.

  65. John: I got to wondering about my claim that Standard German is mostly useful to German Swiss people for speaking to foreigners.
    I had taken that to be a sarcastic comment on the fact that Schweizer Hochdeutsch is used in parlament “out of consideration for French, Italian and Romansch speakers”, as the German WiPe on Schweizer Hochdeutsch und Schweizerdeutsch puts it. “Out of consideration” (aus Rücksicht auf): that’s rich. But it is a pragmatic arrangement, given the economic and political preponderance of the German-speaking part (64% of the population).
    Things are apparently more complex than I suspected. The article linked above describes aspects of Schweizer Hochdeutsch about which I already knew a teeny bit (from those Swiss news programms, and from reading the NZZ occasionally), but much more – for instance that it was after the end of WW1 (1, not 2 !) that the dialects gained their ascendancy:

    Hochdeutsch wird seit dem Ersten Weltkrieg wenig geschätzt und als fremd empfunden. Andererseits klingt Schweizer Hochdeutsch auch für viele Schweizer selbst schwerfällig und ungelenk. Hinzu kommen auch aufgrund geschichtlicher Ereignisse vorhandene Vorbehalte und Vorurteile gegenüber den Deutschen und den Österreichern und damit verbunden oft auch eine ablehnende Haltung gegen das Hochdeutsche. Dialektsprache wird somit auch bewusst als Abgrenzung benutzt, wobei es nach einer Eingewöhnungszeit des guten Zuhörens auch von anderen deutschsprachigen Menschen, von ausserhalb der Schweiz, einigermassen gut zu verstehen ist.

    As I wrote recently in the Lithuanian thread, I have come to see that I have absolutely no “apriori” sense of what is involved in these linguistic conflicts in other countries. Germany has its dialects, but nothing comparable to the situation in Switzerland.

  66. Thanks for the suggestion, Stu. I’ll work on beating my scissors into plowshares.

  67. Strumpf
    Yes. Whatever else they may say about the language, nobody can deny that it has -umpf.

  68. One of my partners when I worked in Hamburg was (German) Swiss. She was – is – unusually good at languages: she spoke almost perfect Hochdeutsch & perfect British English (from her mother, though she’d spent many years in New York), as well as Swiss German. She used to slip the odd phrase of Schwyzerdütsch into her Hamburg conversations for fun. No one ever had any difficulty understanding (except me, of course). Her biggest problem was that she forgot to capitalise nouns, so to disguise it she wrote absolutely everything in capital letters. Maybe this was a result of living in the USA and having forgotten the German custom; I don’t know what the normal Swiss convention is with German nouns.

  69. to disguise it she wrote absolutely everything in capital letters
    DO YOU MEAN LIKE THIS, Or Do You Mean Like This ? Schweizer Hochdeutsch doesn’t differ from German Hochdeutsch in respect of noun capitalization. The English WiPe on Swiss German puts it a bit strangely:

    Note that Swiss Standard German is virtually identical to Standard German as used in Germany, with most differences in pronunciation, vocabulary and orthography.

    Virtually identical, except with respect to virtually everything ?? The section on vocabulary gives more virtual examples:

    Virtually any Swiss Standard German word can be borrowed into Swiss German, always adapted to Swiss German phonology. However, certain Standard German words are never used in Swiss German, for instance Frühstück ‘breakfast’, niedlich ‘cute’ or zu hause ‘at home’; instead, the native words Zmorge, härzig and dehei are used.

  70. NO, I MEAN LIKE THIS. EVEN TYPING. Like This Would Be Weird, Like A Very Long Book Title.
    I didn’t know about Zmorge, härzig and dehei. By the way, isn’t there a Swiss dialectal version of Wikipedia? I don’t see it listed.

  71. michael farris says:

    It’s here (at least Alemannic is)
    http://als.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houptsyte

  72. Being at the German Wikipedia in my browser, I changed de.wikipedia.org to ch.wikipedia.org in the expectation that I would get to a Swiss version if it existed.
    What I got was the Chamorro WiPe: “an Austronesian language spoken on Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands”.

  73. I was once in a New Haven cab perusing a Chamorro grammar I’d just bought when the cabbie said “You know Chamorro?” Turned out he’d been on Guam as a Marine and picked up some of the lingo. Small world, we agreed.

  74. dehei is just Swiss phonology for daheim, which is perfectly standard German, at least in Bavaria and Franconia.

  75. Garrigus Carraig says:

    Belated thanks, marie-lucie, for your clarification with respect to nonante.

  76. I suppose there must be some connection between herzlich & härzig.

  77. Grumbly:
    You have to keep firmly in mind the difference between Swiss German and Swiss Standard German. As your first quotation says, the Standard German of Switzerland differs from the Standard German of other countries in (a) pronunciation — for example final voiced consonants remain voiced, (b) vocabulary — some Standard German words are not used in Switzerland for various reasons, and (c) orthography — specifically no ß. None of that has anything to do with Swiss German.
    The second quotation says that most Swiss Standard German words can be borrowed into Swiss German but some cannot. This is quite different from point (b), that some Standard German words are never used in Swiss Standard German.
    As for ch.wikipedia.org, that can’t be expected to work for Swiss German. The ‘de’ in de.wikipedia.org represents German, not Germany. The proper code for Swiss German is ‘gsw’, but the Swiss German / Alemannic Wikipedia unfortunately uses ‘als’ instead — which in turn is the proper code for Tosk Albanian.

  78. Bathrobe says:

    I was once in a New Haven cab perusing a Chamorro grammar
    Let’s face it, Hat, how many people actually sit in cabs perusing Chamorro grammars?

  79. Bathrobe says:

    In sinem Buech Was isch eigentli Schwyzerdütsch? (Originaltitel: Was ist eigentlich Schweizerdeutsch?)
    This seems a rather odd way of doing it. Surely the book’s title is actually Was ist eigentlich Schweizerdeutsch?, which, if rendered into Schwyzerdütsch, would be Was isch eigentli Schwyzerdütsch.

  80. marie-lucie says:

    B: Let’s face it, Hat, how many people actually sit in cabs perusing Chamorro grammars?
    Apart from the few who are obliged to get one for their course or their work, only those who have just bought one for the fun of it and can’t wait to get home to start studying it. I understand perfectly.

  81. John: Grumbly: You have to keep firmly in mind the difference between Swiss German and Swiss Standard German.
    I have no difficulty with the differences. That’s why in each case I have written Schweizerdeutsch or Schweizer Hochdeutsch, depending on what I meant. For me at least these differences are not phenomena requiring mental firmness, but are simply what a German speaker hears when he encounters them.
    vanya: dehei is just Swiss phonology for daheim, which is perfectly standard German, at least in Bavaria and Franconia.
    I hear daheim in Munich all the time, but rarely in the Rhineland – and when I do, it may be coming from an Immi. The article claims: “certain Standard German words are never used in Swiss German, for instance … zu hause ‘at home'”. But then zuhause is rarely used in Bavaria either !
    In identifying areas of linguistic commonality, political boundaries are an adventitious help, but it appears that they also are apt to introduce confusion.

  82. Bathrobe. Well, just so. It’s like referring to Remembrance Of Things Past (original title: À la recherche du temps perdu). It’s a matter of convention whether we refer to a book originally written in language X (Standard German, French) in a language-Y context (Swiss German, English) using its original X title (Les très riches heures [du Duc de Berry]), an adaptation of the title into Y (The Odyssey), a translation into Y (Crime and Punishment), or something completely different (The Necronomicon).
    When I was reading Douglas Hofstadter’s book Le Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language, I was constantly being addressed in French by people who caught sight of the cover, and I had to keep explaining in English that only the title was French. (His antipodal counterpart, Egbert B. Gebstadter, wrote a somewhat similar book called The Graced Tone of Clément: A la louange de la mélodie des mots, presumably in French — at least it was published not by his usual Australian publisher Acidic Books but by Éditions Noitide, Cahors.)

  83. Marie-Lucie and others: I seem to be growing senile, since A) I had real trouble finding even a single good reference, and B) It looks like Von Wartburg never wrote anything about it.
    Anyway: the argument for an English (originally Norse) origin of the French vigesimal system was given by Margarete Rosler, in two articles:
    1-1909, “Das Vigesimalsystem im Romanischen”, ZEITSCHRIFT FUR ROMANISCHE PHILOLOGIE 26: 187-205
    2-1929 “Auf welchem Wege kam das vigesimalsystem nach Frankreich?” ZEITSCHRIFT FUR ROMANISCHE PHILOLOGIE 49: 273-286
    A good discussion, with references (including the above), is in Glanville Price’s “Romance”, in Jadranka Gvozdanovic’s INDO-EUROPEAN NUMERALS (Mouton De Gruyter, Berlin & New York, 1992), from pages 466 to 469. He himself is agnostic but if anything seems disinclined to accept any substrate influence, and points to instances of the rise of a vigesimal system in some Romance varieties where outside influence can be excluded.
    Stu: the dialect situation of German-speaking Switzerland, as I understand it, is very much like the dialect situation in most of pre-World War II Germany: from what I’ve read the post-war re-settlement of refugees on a massive scale is what made so many Germans shift to (some form of) the standard.
    And as Marie-Lucie said, French “quarantaine” can mean “quarantine” as well as “forty-ish”. The ambiguity is nicely played in a Tintin story, LE TEMPLE DU SOLEIL (page 5) where the captain sees a ship flying “Le signal de la quarantaine”, leading one of the Thompson/Thompsen brothers to ask if its purpose is to celebrate the captain’s birthday (that must have given the translators some problems, now that I think about it).
    As for our cyber-host perusing a Chamorro grammar in a cab, and Marie-Lucie saying she understands perfectly…believe me: I do too.

  84. I meant to point out (but perhaps it is superfluous for this audience!) the correspondence between ton beau/tombeau and graced tone/gravestone. Hofstadter’s pun is better, but then he’s real and Gebstadter isn’t.

  85. Etienne: In English, Dupond and Dupont are called Thompson and Thomson, both < Tom’s son, but both now pronounced with intrusive /p/, like Simpson < Sim’s son < Simon’s son and Sam(p)son < Sam’s son (with influence from the Latin form Sampson of the biblical hero Σαμψών (LXX) < Hebrew Shimshon; now spelled and often pronounced without /p/).

  86. SWISS DIALECT EXHIBITION
    I’d be very shy to exhibit my dialect in front of everybody.

  87. Bathrobe says:

    @JC Most of the titles you present have been translated into English. This is quite different from presenting a Hochdeutsch book as though it were a Swiss German title (unless the book actually was published in Swiss German, which seems unlikely). Since readers of Swiss German can read Hochdeutsch, this is quite a forced way of doing things. It’s like saying, ‘Hey, we’re writing in Swiss German here, so let’s be real thorough and put everything into Swiss German, even Hochdeutsch book titles that have never actually been published in Swiss German’. They are far too self-conscious in using Swiss German.

  88. marie-lucie says:

    the Latin form Sampson of the biblical hero Σαμψών (LXX)
    Interesting about the Greek ψ. In French the name of the biblical hero is
    Samson (pronounced like Sanson, a last name which is probably a popular spelling of the same name, or the Spanish equivalent). I have never seen a p in the French name.

  89. Marie-Lucie, the first and only time I went to Montreal (in the early 90s) I could not understand people either! It was quite a scary experience. But I wonder if things are really different today.
    Regarding the fact that those who speak a dialect having few speakers do not like outsiders to understand it, I would tend to agree on this point with John Cowan and Vanya. How delightful it was, at school, to speak a brand of French our few French comrades could hardly understand! As Martian students in France, we found that pleasure even more thrilling. I suspect that not only German-speaking Swiss do not want their French-speaking countrymen to understand their dialect: they probably prefer other German-speaking people from other places not to understand it either. It brings closeness between people when you are a few surrounded by many, and it can be a pleasant feeling — albeit a dangerous one.

  90. They are far too self-conscious in using Swiss German.
    That’s what happens when you are trying to extend a language that is spoken in only a few domains, and written in even fewer, to be used in all domains. You must be self-conscious, because at every turn you are making choices that, if you are writing in Standard German or English or Tamil, have been made for you long ago (not that you can’t rebel against them, but then that’s self-conscious rebellion). My impression is that when writing in French, the title of a book would always be given in French and footnoted to the original, whether it had been translated into French or not (is that right?). Not so in English, where it depends on the book.
    m-l: I was a bit terse. I think the hero’s name is spelled Samson in all languages with a Western Christian tradition.

  91. marie-lucie says:

    JC, I looked up the name of the biblical hero in all the articles about him on Wikipedia, at least those written in Roman and Cyrillic alphabets. The Greek version is the only one with intrusive p. All the others are compatible with an original Samson or less often S(h)ims(h)on. Minor differences in the Romance names result from well-attested phonological changes affecting many other words in the developments from Latin to these languages. Of course, not all European languages are attested in the WiPe articles. For instance, there are no South Slavic ones.

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