Swiss German: How Europeans treat their Creoles

The relevance of Swiss German, a European Creole to debates about Caribbean Creoles is highlighted.


In the comments in reaction to The Power of Creole, the Boston Globe article I quoted from in my last post a HughMann makes the following points:


In the German part of Switzerland (72%), people speak Swiss German dialect in everyday speech, although literary German is the official language and is the language of the newspapers and formal life. The children enter first grade speaking the dialect and make the transition to German by the end of the year. All instruction from then on is in German, and, if a student has difficulty in understanding, the teacher may switch to dialect momentarily to clarify it. This has not impeded the children’s education. Why is it different in Haiti and Jamaica? Just as we in the U.S. maintain that everyone should speak English to succeed in commerce and business, literary French and English are needed in Haiti and Jamaica for the same reason. By all means, Creole should not be denigrated, but neither should French. Mais, oui!

Why is it different in Haiti and Jamaica indeed? While one appreciates the overall point being made Mann ends up cautioning against the denigration of French as if valorizing Creole automatically means a turning away from European language! To point out the power of Creole is not to diss English, French or German Herr Mann! In fact it is a Jamaican who uses the example of Swiss German to better effect in the blogpost by Flagitious Offscourings quoted below:

Swiss German is spoken in all but a few contexts – the classroom (though not the playground – not only do the schoolkids use Swiss German on the playground, but so do the teachers); in multi-lingual parliamentary sessions; on the main news broadcast; and in the presence of German-speaking foreigners. There are many formal contexts in which Swiss German is the norm, such as business meetings, and court testimony.

He didn’t say this (it would have been un-Swiss to say it out loud) but it seemed clear to me that the use of Swiss German was a matter of pride, and perhaps an important differentiator for the Swiss people.

Somehow it didn’t seem important that his native language was not a written language. Nor that, as he admitted, Swiss German speakers are usually far less fluent in High German. Nor that their language was not intelligible to German-speaking foreigners.

It hasn’t crippled their economy to have a native language that is unknown outside their borders. There is no social stigma associated with the use of Swiss German.

It has its place, and High German has its place, and that’s all there is to it.

Hallelujah mi seh!

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