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Do you speak Rumantsch?

I've been writing about the four official languages of Switzerland, especially Swiss German, quite a bit. It is high time that I introduce the least known language of Switzerland: Rumantsch (ling. "Romansh").
"I speak Rumantsch" (Engadiner Post)
Rumantsch is spoken mainly in the Swiss canton of Grisons which is located on the south-eastern side of Switzerland next to Italy and Austria. According to a census taken in 1990, roughly 65'000 people were speaking Rumantsch regularly, of which 40'000 used Rumantsch as their main language of communication. In in 2000 this number shrunk to only 35'000 people. Not much if you consider the 7 million inhabitants of Switzerland. 

Despite the small number of native speakers, have the mountainous and secluded areas of Grisons produced several different dialects of Rumantsch:
  • Sursilvan
  • Sutsilvan
  • Surmiran
  • Puter
  • Vallader
In the 70ies and 80ies Swiss linguist Heinrich Schmid developed a written version of Rumantsch that united all the different dialects. This new written Rumantsch is called Rumantsch Grischun (lit.: Grisonian Romansh) and recognized as an official Swiss language by the Swiss government and the canton of Grisons. However, the local dialects may be used for official business in several communities.

Having grown up in the flat parts of Switzerland around Zurich, I don't speak Rumantsch myself. A few words here and there are all I can manage. There is an excellent online dictionary for German - Rumantsch called Pledariground and I'll share some of the basics of Rumantsch with you:
  • Bun di! (Good day!)
  • Allegra! (Greetings!)
  • Adia! (Goodbye)
  • Co vai con tai? (How are you?)
  • bun, bain (good)
  • nausch (bad)
  • Grazia! (thank you!)
  • Anzi! (You're welcome!)
  • Svizra (Switzerland)
What I really love is that Rumantsch has several different words for mountain. In Swiss German or English we would simply call all of them "mountain" or "hill" but Rumantsch makes other differences:
  • muntogna (mountain)
  • munt (hill)
  • culm (hilltop)
  • piz (mountain peak)
  • mantun (used in sentences like "a mountain of work")
  • pluna (mountain)
Listen to Rumantsch in this commercial of the Grisonian tourist office. The first ibex is speaking Rumantsch, the second speaks Swiss German:

Sources: and



  1. Regarding the commercial movie:

    Another interesting aspect is, that the second ibex speaks a Grisonian-specific Swiss German dialect, very easily detectable for a Swiss German ear. And by the way, to be percieved by the mass as one of the most sexy Swiss German dialects.
    All these ibex-based commercials play with an humoresque approach. In this one the second ibex pretends not to understand Rumantsch very well, or he is at least a bit lazy in translating the over-seriously stated comments about the beautiness of the Grisons by the first ibex.
    The ibex is seen as a synonym of the canton of Grison (German: Graub√ľnden), since the ibex appears in its flag.


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