Period IV newsletter

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Multilingual Switzerland

Switzerland has four official languages (French, German, Romansh and Italian). The canton of Graubünden is the only trilingual canton (German, Romansh, and Italian). Four cantons (Geneva, Vaud, Neuchâtel, and Jura) are French-speaking, three cantons (Bern, Fribourg, and Wallis) are bilingual (German and French), and Italian is spoken in the canton of Ticino. German is the only official language in the other seventeen cantons. About 65% of the Swiss population speaks German, 23% speaks French, 6% Italian, 0.5% Romansh and 6% other languages.

The Federal Law on National Languages of 5 October 2007 strengthens multilingualism to strengthen national cohesion and to promote individual and institutional multilingualism in practice. The principles are the equal treatment of the four national languages, freedom of language in all areas of State activity and its implementation, territorial distribution of languages and understanding between language communities.

The official languages apply to the federal authorities, and they use the official languages in standard French, German, Italian and Rumantsch Grischun (not in Schwyzerdütsch for example). Anyone addressing the federal authorities may do so in the official language of their choice. The federal authorities reply in the official language of choice. They may reply with his or her consent in another official language. Romansh speakers can turn to the federal government in one of their languages or Rumantsch Grischun. The authorities react in Rumantsch Grischun (The Romansh language used at the federal level, but not spoken).

Federal authorities shall endeavour to use adequate, clear and comprehensible language to prevent the use of dialects that are incomprehensible to other Swiss people. During the deliberations of the parliamentary committees of Parliament, members are allowed to speak in the language of the canton of their choice. Notices, reports, drafts and proposals shall, as a general rule, be available in German, French and Italian. Federal legislative acts and other texts are published in German, French and Italian unless the law provides otherwise. Particularly essential texts and documentation on federal elections and referendums are also published in the Romansh language. Multilingual Switzerland remains the subject of discussion because language is more than the law or a document; it is an expression of identity, culture, and way of life.