Period IV newsletter

Chur, Hotel Stern. Photo: TES.

The Romansh Language

The Romansh language (Romontsch or Rumantsch in Grisons, Romanisch in the rest of German-speaking Switzerland) is only spoken in the canton of Graubünden. That is the reason why the expression Bündnerromanisch is often used. The language originates from Latin, the (Celtic) Rhaetian language (as spoken before and at the time of Roman rule), French and Italian influences, Lombardian dialects and by the imposition of the Aleman language and immigration of Walser people. The language has almost disappeared in the north of Grisons. Tourism, railways, motorways and the media made German the language of communication in other regions of the canton. Romansh was recognised as the official fourth language of Switzerland in 1938. The threat and intimidation by Germany and Italy was the immediate reason. The Swiss government and citizens made it clear that Switzerland was one and indivisible, regardless of language, and that there was no room for the annexation of German or Italian Switzerland or a legitimation for German ‘Heim ins Reich’ or Italian ‘irredentismo italiano’. Today, Romansh is used by about 60,000 inhabitants as the first language. German and Italian are the other two official languages, the only trilingual canton in the country.

Romansh has a long oral tradition, dating back to the early Middle Ages, but the first written (religious) sources, just fragments, are from the 10th or 11th century. The first known poem in Romansh was written in 1527. One of the most famous poems is the Al pievel romontsch (to the Romansh people) by Giachen Caspar Muoth (1844-1906): Stai si, defenda Romontsch, tiu vegl lungatg, Risguard pretenda, Per tiu patratg! Stand on Reto-Romans, defend your old language, demand respect for your heritage.

The language is diveded into five main dialects. Surselvan in the Vorderrheintal, Sutselvan in the area of the Hinterrhein, Surmeiran in the Albula Valley, Vaz/Obervaz and Val Ferrera, Putér in Upper Engadin (Oberengadin) and Bergün and Vallader in Lower Engadin (Unterengadin) and the Münstertal Valley.

One unifying initiative is the so-called rumantsch grisun, a single Romansh language for the administration for all five dialects. The language is also a global player. The word glacier is derived from the Romansh glatscher, glatsch means ice. Several organisations are committed to the Romansh language and culture. Further information: www.romontsch.ch and www.liarumantscha.ch