The Fourth Minority
Switzerland is known to be a quadrilingual country (Italian, German, French and Romansh) with three minorities: French-, Italian- and Romansh-speaking citizens. The vast majority are German-speakers. However, there is another minority, the fourth minority. These are the Italian-speaking people in the canton of Grisons, which is officially trilingual (Romansh, German and Italian). The German-speaking inhabitants are also in the majority here (around 110 000). Today, Romansh has about 60,000 active speakers (out of 190,000 inhabitants of the canton) in an area that stretches from the middle, to the south and southeast of the canton. The Italian minority of 20 000 people is spread over four separated valleys (Val Poschiavo/Puschlav, Val Bregaglia/Bergell, Val Mesolcina/Misox and Val Calanca).
The Italian speakers in these valleys see themselves as an Italian minority of the Italian minority in Ticino. The German language in the cantonal administration predominates and Romansh has more status in German-speaking regions. The Italian interest group in Graubünden (Pro Grigioni Italiano) states that the Italian speakers are also at a disadvantage at the federal level, compared to Ticino, even if they speak the other languages. Moreover, there is no solidarity between the Italian speakers in Ticino (352 000 inhabitants) and Grisons, a Ticinocentrismo. The solidarity between the French and Italian speakers, la solidarité latine, is also limited, however.
The guiding principle at federal level remains the mastery of the German language. The debate is topical at a time when the Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgericht) is dealing with the issue of only one foreign language in primary education (in addition to German, Romansh or Italian, depending on the commune in which the language is spoken). Most German-speaking schools opt for English, but most Italian-speaking schools opt for German rather than English. The language issue is a cultural one and a small country like Switzerland shows the limits of European integration from this perspective as well.