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Swiss Standard German

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Swiss Standard German

Swiss Standard German (SSG), referred to by the Swiss as Schriftdeutsch, or Hochdeutsch, is one of four official languages in Switzerland, besides French, Italian and Romansh.[1] It is a variety of Standard German, used in the German-speaking part of Switzerland mainly written, and rather less often spoken.

Spoken Swiss Standard German must not be confused with Swiss German, an umbrella term for the various different Alemannic dialects that are the default everyday languages in German-speaking Switzerland.

German is a pluricentric language. In contrast with other local varieties of German, Swiss Standard German has distinctive features in all linguistic domains: not only in phonology, but also in vocabulary, syntax, morphology and orthography. These characteristics of Swiss Standard German are called Helvetisms.

Written Swiss Standard German

Swiss Standard German is the official written language in German-speaking Switzerland. It is used in books, all official publications (including all laws and regulations), in newspapers, printed notices, most advertising and in other printed matter. Authors write literature in Swiss Standard German, although some specific dialect literature exists. SSG is similar in most respects to the Standard German in Germany and Austria, although there are a few differences in spelling, most notably the replacing of the German ligature ß with ss. For example:

  • Strasse = Straße (Germany) = street

In some cases different words are used, in some cases using a loanword from another language. For example:

  • Tram (from English) = Straßenbahn (Germany)
  • Billett = Fahrkarte (Germany) = ticket (for bus/tram/train etc.)
  • Führerausweis or Billet (colloquial) = Führerschein (Germany) = driving licence
  • Velo (from French) = Fahrrad (Germany) = bicycle
  • Natel or Handy = Handy/Mobiltelefon (Germany) = mobile phone
  • parkieren = parken (Germany) = to park

In addition, SSG uses different orthography within letter writing and the salutations used for same also differ from Standard German.

The Swiss use the Swiss Standard German word "Lernfahrausweis" for a learner's driving permit (note how it differs from the SSG word for a "regular" driving license: "Führerausweis").

The Swiss sometimes use a different Standard German word from that used in northern Germany to say the same thing, and an example of this is "Spital" (hospital). "Spital" is found in volumes of Standard German language dictionaries. However, Germans from northern Germany prefer to use "Krankenhaus", whereby "Spital" will also be heard in areas of southern Germany, as well as in German-speaking Switzerland and, of course, Austria, not to mention Liechtenstein.

Differences in grammar are apparent, as Swiss have different genders for some nouns:

  • Swiss das Tram, Germany die Tram (English: tram, although except for Bavarian and Franconian regions in the South, "Straßenbahn" is mostly used in Germany)
  • Swiss das E-Mail, Germany die E-Mail (English: e-mail)

Some expressions are borrowed from French and thus differ from usage in Germany, such as

  • Swiss ich habe kalt (literally "I have cold"), Germany mir ist [es] kalt (literally "[it] is cold to me")
  • Swiss das geht dir gut, Germany das passt dir gut (it suits you)

The Swiss keyboard layout has no ß key, nor does it have the capital Umlaut keys Ä, Ö and Ü. This dates back to mechanical typewriters that had the French diacritical marks letters on these keys to allow the Swiss to write French on a Swiss German QWERTZ keyboard (and vice versa). Thus a Swiss German VSM keyboard has an ä key that prints an à (a-grave) when shifted.[2] However, it is possible to write upper Umlauts by use of caps lock or by using the ¨ dead key. The names of municipalities, towns, stations, and streets are usually not written with a starting capital Umlaut, but instead with Ae, Oe and Ue, such as the Zürich suburb Oerlikon, or the hamlet Aetzikofen, or the Bernese municipality Uebeschi.[3] However, other field names, such as Äbenegg, Ötikon (next to Stäfa) or Überthal, and any other word, such as Ärzte (English: physicians), usually start with capital Umlauts.[4]

As for the various dialects of Swiss German, they are occasionally written, but their written usage is mostly restricted to informal situations such as private text messages, e-mails, letters, notes, or within social media such as Facebook. The ability of Swiss Germans to transliterate their language into writing is an integral and important part of the identity and culture of German-speaking Switzerland.

Spoken Swiss Standard German

The default spoken language in German-speaking Switzerland is the respective local dialect. Due to a rather large inter-cantonal migration rate (about 5% p.a.) within modern Switzerland for decades, a lot of different Swiss German dialects are spoken in any one place, especially in urban areas (for example, in the city of Zurich (end of 2013): of the 272,700 Swiss (total: 400,000) living in Zurich, only 40% (28%) are from Zurich itself with 51% (36%) from the entire canton of Zurich).[5]Outside of any educational setting, Swiss Standard German is only spoken in very few specific formal situations, such as in news broadcasts and reputable programmes of the public media channels; in the parliaments of German-speaking cantons; in the national (Federal) parliament in Berne (unless another official language of Switzerland is used), although dialect is certainly encroaching on this domain; in loudspeaker announcements in public places such as railway stations, etc. Church services, including the sermon and prayers, are usually in Swiss Standard German. Generally in any educational setting Swiss Standard German is used (during lessons, lectures or tutorials). However, outside of lessons Swiss-German dialects are used, even when, for example, talking to a teacher about the class. The situations in which Swiss Standard German is spoken are characteristically formal and public, and there are situations where written communication is also important.

In informal situations, Swiss Standard German is only used whenever a Swiss German is communicating with a non-Swiss and it is assumed that this person does not understand the respective dialect. Among each other, the German-speaking Swiss use their respective Swiss German dialect, irrespective of social class, education or topic.

Unlike in other regions where German varieties are spoken, there is no continuum between Swiss Standard German and the Swiss German dialects. The speakers speak either Swiss Standard German, or a Swiss German dialect, and they are conscious about this choice.


The concurrent usage of Swiss Standard German and Swiss German dialects has been called a typical case of diglossia.[6] This claim has been debated because the typical diglossia situation assumes that the standard variety has high prestige, whereas the informal variety has low prestige.[7] In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, however, the Swiss German dialects do not have a low prestige and permeate every socio-economic class of society.

Since Swiss Standard German is the usual written language and the Swiss German dialects are the usual spoken language, their interrelation has been called a medial diglossia.[8]

Attitude to spoken Swiss Standard German

Most Swiss Germans speak fluent Swiss Standard German, and are happy to use it where necessary. When they compare their Swiss Standard German to the way people from Germany speak, they think their own proficiency is inferior because it is studied and slower. Most Swiss Germans think that the majority speak rather poor Swiss Standard German; however, when asked about their personal proficiency, a majority will answer that they speak quite well.[9]


  1. ^ "Diversité des langues et compétences linguistiques en Suisse". Retrieved 2009-04-30. 
  2. ^ Swiss standard, former VSM standard SN 074021
  3. ^ "Empfehlungen zur Schreibweise der Gemeinde- und Ortschaftsnamen, Richtlinien zur Schreibweise der Stationsnamen" (PDF) (Federal Recommendation) (in German). Bundesamt für Landestopografie, Bundesamt für Verkehr, Bundesamt für Statistik. Version 1.0, 20. January 2010. p. 20. Retrieved 2014-05-16. In der Schweiz sind auf historischen Karten grosse Umlaute mit Ae, Oe und Ue bereits vor der Einführung der Schreibmaschine um ca. 1880 zu finden. Der Umstand, dass später auf der Schweizer Schreibmaschinentastatur keine Ä, Ö, Ü existierten, dürfte diese Schreibtradition gefördert haben. Heute wo die Schreibung Ä, Ö und Ü ohne weiteres möglich wäre, wurden wegen der einheitlichen Schreibweise in Verzeichnissen die grossen Umlaute von Gemeinde-, Ortschafts- und Stationsnamen konsequent als Ae, Oe und Ue geschrieben. ... Umlaute von A, O, U am Anfang von Flurnamen schreibt man gewöhnlich als Ä, Ö, Ü. Falls entsprechende Namen als Gemeinde oder Ortschaft existieren oder falls es sich um öffentliche Bauwerke handelt, werden die Umlaute häufig als Ae, Oe, Ue geschrieben 
  4. ^ "Empfehlung: Gebäudeadressierung und Schreibweise von Strassennamen für die deutschsprachige Schweiz, Mai 2005" (MS Word) (Federal Recommendation) (in German). Eidgenössische Vermessungsdirektion, Bundesamt für Landestopografie. Version 1.6, 3 May 2005. p. 19. Retrieved 2014-05-16. Die Schreibweise Ae, Oe, Ue am Anfang von Strassennamen ist weit verbreitet, ebenso bei Orts- und Stationsnamen. Die Weisung über die Erhebung und Schreibweise der Lokalnamen sieht für Lokalnamen Ä, Ö, Ü vor. Die Meinungen, welche Schreibweise für Strassennamen gewählt werden soll, sind recht unterschiedlich. Das Eidg. Gebäude- und Wohnungsregister macht zu einer allfälligen Umstellung keine Vorschläge, empfiehlt jedoch, sich innerhalb einer Gemeinde für die eine oder andere Variante zu entscheiden. Bei einer Schreibweise bestehender Namen mit Ae, Oe, Ue wird abgeraten, Ä, Ö und Ü für neue Strassennamen zu verwenden. 
  5. ^ "Bevölkerung Stadt Zürich" (PDF) (Publication) (in German) (Ausgabe 4/2013 ed.). Zürich: Statistik, Stadt Zürich. 17 April 2014. p. 5. Retrieved 2014-05-15. 
  6. ^ Ferguson, C. A. (1972) [orig. 1959-60) 'Diglossia', in Giglioli, P. P. (ed.) (1972) Language and Social Context. Harmondsworth: Penguin, pp. 232-51.
  7. ^ Barbour, S., and Stevenson, P. (1990) Variation in German. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 212.
  8. ^ Barbour, S., and Stevenson, P. (1990) Variation in German. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 213.
  9. ^ (German) Ist der Dialekt an allem schuld?, Martin Heule's 2006-09-19 Kontext programme on the SRG SSR idée suisse radio broadcast (retrieved on 2009-12-15)


  • (German) Hans Bickel, Christoph Landolt: Duden. Schweizerhochdeutsch. Wörterbuch der Standardsprache in der deutschen Schweiz, ed. by Schweizerischer Verein für die deutsche Sprache. Mannheim/Zürich 2012. Print version: ISBN 978-3-411-70417-0, E-book: ISBN 978-3-411-90268-2.
  • (German) Meyer, Kurt: Schweizer Wörterbuch. So sagen wir in der Schweiz. Frauenfeld 2006. ISBN 3-7193-1382-4.
  • (German) Variantenwörterbuch des Deutschen. Die Standardsprache in Österreich, der Schweiz und Deutschland [...], ed. by Ulrich Ammon et al. Berlin/New York 2004. ISBN 3-11-016575-9.
  • (German) . In: Muttersprache (Wiesbaden) 112 (2002) 3, S. 225-239Deutsch als Sprache mit mehrfacher Regionalität: Die diatopische VariationsbreiteFöldes, Csaba:
  • (German) Hägi, Sara: Nationale Varietäten im Unterricht Deutsch als Fremdsprache. Frankfurt am Main u. a. 2006. ISBN 3-631-54796-X.
  • (German) Ist Standarddeutsch für Deutschschweizer eine Fremdsprache?Hägi, Sara und Joachim Scharloth (2005):
  • (German) Peter von Matt: Deutsch in der Deutschen Schweiz. In: Peter von Matt: Das Kalb vor der Gotthardpost. Zur Literatur und Politik in der Schweiz. Carl Hanser Verlag, München, 2012, ISBN 978-3-446-23880-0, S. 127–138.
  • (German) Zwischen Fremdsprache und nationaler Varietät: Untersuchungen zum Plurizentrizitätsbewusstsein der Deutschschweizer.Scharloth, Joachim (2004):
  • (German) Dialekt und Hochsprache in der deutschsprachigen Schweiz.Siebenhaar, Beat und Alfred Wyler (1997):
  • (German) Das Verhältnis von Mundarten und Standardsprache in der deutschen Schweiz.Siebenhaar, Beat:
  • (German) Schweizer Standarddeutsch: Beiträge zur Varietätenlinguistik. Ed. by Christa Dürscheid and Martin Businger. Tübingen 2006. ISBN 978-3-8233-6225-8.
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