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Schweizer Wörter : Mundart und Mentalität…
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Schweizer Wörter : Mundart und Mentalität : ein Brevier (1998)

by Christian Scholz

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Recently added byWidsith, Ralle, hundegatt

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It's sometimes difficult learning German in Switzerland: no one really speaks it. In fact it has sometimes been confided to me that many Swiss would rather speak English than so-called ‘Hochdeutsch’, which, despite its official status, is purely a language of written communication here and which not everyone even speaks all that well. Max Frisch went as far as to label it a Halbfremdsprache, a semi-foreign language. Even in environments where it is traditionally used, speakers code-switch compulsively – a weather presenter might begin a forecast in Standard German and drop into Swiss German halfway through a sentence.

It's an interesting linguistic tension which is well captured in this book of brief, dilettantish essays from a German journalist living in Zurich. German speakers have their own unique problems in Germanophone Switzerland – not just the usual confusions between words (Stolz highlights Müesli/Müüsli (muesli/little mouse), höi/hoi (hay/hi) and Tüür/tüür (door/expensive)), but also the social implications, confessing, for instance, that he and his German friends would never dare to complain in Standard German in a Swiss restaurant for fear that the whole room would instantly be against them. Comparable, perhaps, to the way a complaint from BBC-accented English tourists would irritate a waiter in a Glasgow restaurant more than complaints from any French or German visitors?

Some of the oddities Scholz talks about apply equally or primarily to Swiss Standard German (like als auch schon, or the Swiss conversational tag im Fall which, in its semantic slipperiness, reminds me of comparably hazy terms in French like par contre or quand même), but others are pure Schwiitzertüütsch, like the phrase Mitenand mängisch öppis mischle!, or constructions like en Termin aatäigge.

Some of these are things that I knew nothing about, or things that an English-speaker would not find particularly remarkable. Others, though, are very clear even to someone like me whose German is still pretty rubbish. The amount of foreign borrowings in everyday life here is crazy – I say hallo when I meet someone, sorry if I bump into them, merci to thank them and ciao when I leave! Equally omnipresent – and adorable – in German-speaking Switzerland are the affectionate diminutives in -i. Towns like Wädenswil or Winterthur get turned in conversation into Wädi and Winti, the airport is the Flugi and kindergarten is the Chindsgi. Those I knew already, but from this book I have also learned Pischi for pyjamas and, best of all, Migi for the supermarket Migros! (This reminds me of Australia, and all their talk of garbos and bottle-os.)

Of course you have to be a little careful taking advice on Swiss language from a non-native, but still, from my point of view as someone trying to learn both languages, it was all pretty helpful even if it wouldn't be wholly convincing for a local. It's motivated by a lot of affection for how folks talk round here, but it also reinforces the general point that whenever you're saying anything, as a foreigner, getting the right tone really requires you to pay a great deal of attention. Or as the Swiss say, to uufpasse wie-n en Häftlimacher – whatever the hell one of them is. ( )
2 vote Widsith | May 30, 2016 |
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