This week, parliament rejected a motion put forward by Lukas Reimann, a member of the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP) from St. Gallen, to allow the use of Swiss-German in official federal political debates, reported RTS.
Switzerland has four national languages, however, many Swiss tend to fluently speak only one of them, although among federal politicians the rate of multilingualism is probably higher than among the general public. In addition to speaking standard German, the majority of German speakers speak a Swiss dialect of German as a mother tongue.
This week, the National Council, Switzerland’s parliament, voted 164 votes to 20 against against Lukas Reimann’s idea of allowing Swiss-German to be used in official debates alongside standard German, French, Italian and Romanche despite an argument by Reimann that the move would help to safeguard and value Swiss-German.
At a cantonal level the use Swiss-German in official political settings is on the rise. In many cantonal parliaments politicians can use standard German or dialect. In the cantons of Aargau, Basel-Landschaft, Solothurn and Schwyz dialect has become the norm.
Arguments against the idea included, difficulties with translation – translators would need to learn numerous Swiss-German dialects, challenges understanding each other, and potential gaps between what was said and what was recorded in written form – Swiss-German can be written, however, its written form is not as standardised as standard German.
To illustrate the challenge of mutual understanding, Philip Bregy, a Centre Party member from Valais, spoke to the chamber in the Swiss-German dialect of his region. Few appeared to understand him. We cannot function like this, he said. We need a common language.
Language is a complex element of Switzerland’s political landscape. According to Polyglot journalist Christophe Büchi, who has studied the linguistic politics of Switzerland over the years, Swiss identity is not based on linguistic unity, nor is it ethnic, religious or a vision of a monolithic nation. If it exists “Swissness” resides in the acceptance of our diversity. This diversity includes the multilingual character of the country, he says. Multilingualism is the ultimate symbol of “Swissness”. He thinks that if Switzerland has a national language it is reconciliation – read interview of Büchi on the subject.