Romantsch Speakers of Switzerland

Alternative names: also spelt Romansh, Romanche
Location: Graubunden/Grisons canton
Population: about 50,000 speakers
% of population: 0.8% of Swiss population
Religion: Catholic
Language: Romantsch/Swiss German

Romantsch-speakers are the smallest linguistic minority in Switzerland, comprising about 50,000 speakers or less than 1% of the population. Switzerland as a state is characterized by linguistic diversity and a federated and decentralized administrative system. There are four national languages: German (more accurately Swiss-German) spoken as a first language by about 70% of the population, French by just under 20%, Italian by 10%, and Romantsch.

Romantsch is a Rhaeto-Romanche language derived from Latin and which has affinities with Ladin and Friulian. All the Romantsch language communities are contained in the tri-lingual canton of Graubunden/Grisons (Grischun in Romanche) in the east of Switzerland. The language has had official recognition since 1938 and was given further federal protection in 1983 when the federal parliament passed a law for the protection of the Rhaeto-Romanche language and culture. Federal funds are channelled through a local body and a chair in Romantsch literature has been established at Zurich University. Unlike the other three languages it does not appear on state or official documents, regulations or monuments.

The number of Romantsch speakers has declined this century, mainly for economic reasons, since Romantsch speakers lived in high, economically poor, valleys and emigrated to the lowlands for work. Tourism has promoted the use of Swiss-German and today Romantsch speakers comprise fewer than 50% of the population in their own territory; many of these do not speak the language regularly. A further problem is posed by the language itself, as Romantsch has three main written forms and seven spoken dialects. Attempts are presently being made to evolve a standard language (Romantsch grischun) with an extended vocabulary.

(See also Friulians; Ladins of Italy)