How was this language adapted from German?

Several languages are spoken in Switzerland, making it a multilingual country. One of these languages is Swiss German, a language that combines the various dialects of German. This specificity is found in other regions of the world, for example in countries where Arabic is spoken. The «original» Arabic is nowadays mainly known as Literary Arabic, and in some countries (e.g. the Maghreb) dialects of Literary Arabic are spoken. Understanding between speakers of these different variants of Arabic can therefore become difficult. But is this also the case with Swiss German?

In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, people do not speak German, but Swiss German. How has the language evolved and what are its characteristics? Why is it that French-speaking Switzerland does not speak a language like «French Swiss»?

Historically, it was the Alamans who introduced the Germanic language to Switzerland. This language gradually developed into what we know as Swiss German. This language grew steadily over the years and was spoken more and more. From the 1980s onwards, it became increasingly important and is now one of Switzerland’s four national languages (along with French, Italian and Romansh).

Swiss German is very close to German, as the two languages are similar in many ways, but this does not mean that understanding it is child’s play for everyone. In fact, a Swiss German speaker will be able to understand what the German speaker is saying with greater ease than the other way round. This can be explained by the fact that Swiss Germans often have a better overall understanding of the German language because they have learned it at school, which is not necessarily the case for a German.

Here are some examples to illustrate the differences between these two languages:

German Swiss German (Zurich) French


Today, Swiss German is spoken throughout German-speaking Switzerland, but the relationship with German is «complicated»; not everyone understands it within Switzerland itself.

Indeed, Swiss Germans generally have an excellent knowledge of the German language, whereas in French-speaking Switzerland, it is German that pupils learn at school. As a result, they may have a lot of trouble with Swiss German, as they are not very familiar with the language.

This close relationship between the two languages is also felt in the field of translation. The differences can be complex and these 2 languages are obviously considered as 2 different languages, as for one sentence the translation into German or Swiss German can be very different. These are not mistakes, of course, but a wrong choice of target language can lead to misunderstanding by the target audience.

It is therefore important to know the target audience for your translation in order to know which German you want to use.

This post is also available in: Chino simplificado Inglés Francés Alemán Italiano Árabe Ruso Portugués, Portugal