Minority languages

 

However, until 1996, the government had, for practical reasons, used only the written languages of the dialects “Surselvisch” and “Vallader”. In July 1996, it was decided that in future, these two variants would be replaced by the in 1982 artificially created Rhaeto-Romanic language “Romansh Grishun5”. 4. The decay of Romansh to its present status Before the decay of Romansh can be dealt with in terms of statistics, it is important to have a closer look at the geography of the Canton of Graubi?? nden and the local distribution of its three official languages German, Italian and Romansh.

According to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office (www. admin. ch/bfs), in 1880, Romansh was the majority language in 121 communities (of a total of 213) in the Canton of Graubi?? nden. In 1990, Romansh still was the majority-language of 72 communities only. In all other communities, the majority-language is either German or Italian. Therefore, in order to facilitate references, the term “Romansh-region” will in the following be used to refer to these parts of the Canton of Graubi?? nden, where the Romansh majority-language communities lie (respectively lied in 1880).

In this sense, looking at the following statistics makes the understanding of the situation of Romansh a little bit easier. As the Swiss Federal Statistical Office (www. admin. ch/bfs) explains, in 1880, 35’742 inhabitants of the Romansh-Region declared Romansh to be their best mastered language. Another 2’963 people, whose first language was Romansh, lived elsewhere in Switzerland. In 1990, Romansh was the best mastered language of 25’894 people in the Romansh-Region, whereas the number of people with Romansh as their first language, who lived elsewhere in Switzerland, was 13’738.

Accordingly, two major facts can be revealed from this statistics: 1) Whereas in 1880, only 7. 6 percent of all Romansh first language speakers in Switzerland were not living in the Romansh-Region, this number grew to 34. 6 percent until 1990. 2) Considering the fact that the population of Switzerland had almost doubled from 1880 – 1990, the number of all people living in Switzerland, who had Romansh as their first language, decreased from 1. 36 percent in 1880 to 0. 58 percent in 1990 (and, as it was revealed earlier in this assignment, to 0. 5 percent in 2002). The reasons which lead to this situation are various.

The main reason surely is directly related to the geography and the economy of Switzerland. The canton of Graubi?? nden, and in particular the Romansh-Region, is situated in a very mountainous region, which can be reached with difficulty only. Due to this factor, the industrialisation in the 19th and 20th century was almost not taking place there. These unfriendly conditions, which also include for example the very long distance to the next harbour or international airport, lead to the situation that this region was almost always over gone, when a new factory was built.

Accordingly, nowadays, the Romansh-Region finds itself crucially dependent on the German and the French part, where the industrial revolution was taking place in the first place. As a consequence, as the statistics makes it quite clear, lots of people have moved from the Romansh-Region to another part of Switzerland, where the professional perspectives are better. Nevertheless, the shift from the first (agriculture) to the third (services) economical sector was also taking place in the Romansh-Region. This meant, that in order to survive, the Romansh started to specialise in tourism.

Therefore, they have built up numerous hotels and restaurants in order to accommodate the tourists, which have mainly come from the German part of Switzerland. In the last few years, many rich Swiss-Germans have bought holiday houses and flats in the Romansh-Region and some of them even moved there forever. Unfortunately, these permanent residents and all the tourists are often not willing at all to integrate in the culture of the Romansh-Region and to learn a Romansh dialect. Consequently, the use of Romansh has decreased step by step in the regions where it is traditionally spoken.

Considering the internal, linguistic factors of Romansh, it can be argued that the mutually hardly comprehensibility of the five dialects also is a factor which has contributed to the present situation of Romansh. As it was said earlier, however, by creating the artificial dialect “Romansh Grishun” in 1982, the government surely made the right decision in order to give the five Romansh dialects a common base. A further factor, which has lead to a less frequent use of Romansh, is the fact that the Romansh-Region doesn’t have a university and can offer only limited access for any kind of higher education.

If a Romansh speaker wants to study, he or she has to go to a University in either the German-, French- or Italian part. This means, that in order to do so, he or she must at least speak one of these languages. Therefore, it is not uncommon, in the Romansh-Region, that people are functional bilingual or even trilingual in Swiss languages. 5. The battle against the disappearance of Romansh In order to frame the ideas, which the government provides to maintain the vitality of Romansh, it will in a first step be shown, where Romansh is mainly used today.

On the federal- and the cantonal level, Romansh is mainly used for documentations and partially for military-, legal- and administrative purposes. Furthermore, the language is partially used in education, as the “Lia Rumantscha” (www. liarumantscha. ch) explains. They go on by explaining that most frequently, Romansh is spoken on the regional level at school, amongst friends, in the church or in clubs. Thus, certain villages in the Romansh-region use their dialect as the only official language of administration. As the “Lia Rumantscha” (www.

liarumantscha. ch) explains, the use of Romansh at school is quite widespread in the Romansh region. Traditionally, in the Canton of Graubi?? nden, the villages have been autonomous in running their schools according to their own wishes. Of the 121 villages in the Romansh Region, 86 run their primary school in Romansh, 16 in German whereby Romansh is a subject and 18 in German only. One village, which is very close to the Italian border, runs its primary school in Italian, whereby German is the main focus of the first foreign language.

In Samedan, a city with a considerable number of people who moved there from the German part, a trial according to a Canadian early immersion programme has been run since 1995 with early Romansh. The “Lia Rumantscha” (www. liarumantscha. ch) mentions four main measures and things which must be taken or not neglected in order to guarantee the survival of Romansh. Above all, they find it very important that the bilingualism in the Romansh-Region is maintained at all costs. They see the only possibility to achieve that aim in consequently releasing the artificial dialect “Romansh Grischun” in as many domains of daily life as possible.

Thirdly, the Radio- and Television programmes in Romansh must be expanded. This is an area, where the Swiss federal government has, since the official recognition of Romansh in 1995, spent a lot of money on. In the last seven years, a daily newspaper, a regional newspaper which appears two times a week and a youth-magazine, which appears once a month, have been released. Furthermore, there are three regional radio stations, a regional TV-station and a nationally broadcasted Romansh-window of 20 minutes a day, which appears on the national Swiss-German television.

Fourthly, the “Lia Rumantscha” (www. liarumantscha.ch) points out that the most important factor to guarantee the survival of Romansh is to take measures which prevent the young people from moving away. This can only be done by consequently strengthen the regional economy. 6. Conclusion In this assignment, I showed that despite its constant decay, Romansh is quite a healthy language. As it was argued, it is very important for the Romansh Region to strengthen its economy in order to prevent young people from moving away.

It was shown that Romansh flourishes mainly in everyday family interaction. According to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office (www.admin. ch/bfs), the transmission of Romansh to the next generation through the family is guaranteed at the moment. They say very clearly, however, that it can not be estimated at all what the future will bring. Conclusively they bring to the point that everything will depend on the measures which will be taken in order to strengthen the position of Romansh. Nevertheless, considering the money which is spent every year to “maintain” the Romansh language and the media which have been sponsored in this language, the federal government has made prove of its will to keep Romansh alive.

Especially the presence of the mass-media in Romansh is absolutely crucial for the survival of this language. According to the explanations of a minority language such as given earlier in this assignment, Romansh must be considered as a minority language, as it corresponds exactly to the definitions. Nevertheless, the circumstances in Switzerland are somewhat special. Unlike the inhabitants of certain other countries, the Swiss have always been very proud of their quadrilingual country.

This is in fact a starting point to measure the vitality of a language in the sense of Giles and Coupland (1991:137). It means that Romansh in Switzerland has a high sociohistorical status. On the other hand, the economic status is pretty low, whereas the social status within and without the community is quite high. In terms of demography, the national distribution is huge (emigration). Nonetheless, the actual use of the language in everyday life is more or less restricted to the areas where Romansh has traditionally been spoken.

Concerning the demographic numbers, it can be revealed that there is a high immigration-rate of people who are not willing to learn the language on the one side and a high-emigration-rate of Romansh speakers on the other side. Furthermore, the birth-rate is not increasing whereas mixed marriages become more popular (linked to the emigration-rate). Finally, in terms of institutional support, it was argued that Romansh is highly present in the mass-media, in education, in the government and in services.

Thus, it is also very frequently in use in the industry, in the liturgy and of course in the local culture. Conclusively, considering all these facts, it can be said that the vitality of Romansh has recently been strengthened enormously. It is not a highly vital language, according to Giles and Coupland (1991:137), but the government is taking all possible measures to maintain the present, vital status. It could be argued that the status which the English language has gained in Switzerland poses a real threat to the language situation in Switzerland.

According to Cheshire and Moser (1994 as cited by Cheshire in Gubbins and Holt 2002: 31), English in Switzerland has lost its association with an English speaking country. Indeed, some people see in the English language a tool to facilitate the interlanguage- and cultural discourse in Switzerland by using it as a Lingua Franca. Unfortunately, this aspect could not be dealt with in greater detail in this assignment.

7. Bibliography Baker, Colin and Prys Jones, Sylvia 1992 Encyclopaedia of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. China: Imago Cheshire, Jenny 2002 Who we are and where we’re going: Language and Identities in the New Europe. In Gubbins, Paul and Holt, Mike (ed. ), Language and Identities in Contemporary Europe. Great Britain: Cromwell Press Ltd. Council of Europe 1996 European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. http://www. riga. lv/minelres/coe/RML_exr. htm visited: October 4 – 2002 Giles, Howard and Coupland, Nikolas 1991 Language: Contexts and Consequences.

Milton Keynes: Open University Press. Lia Rumantscha Die aktuelle Lage des Ri?? toromanischen. http://www. liarumantscha.ch. visited: October 4 – 2002 Swiss Federal Statistical Office 2002 Eine von zwei Personen im ri?? toromanischen Sprachgebiet spricht zuhause ri?? toroma- nisch. http://www. admin. ch/bfs visited: October 4 – 2002 Trask, R. L 1999 Key Concepts in Language and Linguistics. London: Routledge. Number of Words: 3050 1 The expression ‘prestige language’ refers to the national- or the official language of a country. 2In 1995, this new status of Romansh was written in the federal constitution of Switzerland.

The constitution of the Canton of Graubi??nden, in which Romansh is spoken, had recognised, apart from German and Italian, Romansh as an official language of this Canton in 1892 already. 3 This number contains all people residing in 2002 Switzerland, regardless of their nationality and status. 4 On the linguistic side, there were some more events in-between, which had an influence on the Romansh language, as for example the arrival of the Alamance after the collapse of the Roman Empire in 5 AD, the incorporation of the region in the empire of the Franks in 536 AD or the arrival of members of the German speaking tribe of the “Walser” in 13 / 14 AD.

Since this is not directly related to the topic, these factors will not be dealt with in greater detail in this assignment. 5 “Romansh Grishun” is a written language only. It was created for practical reasons by taking into full consideration the five existing dialects, on which it is based.