Swiss Standard German

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Swiss Standard German
Swiss High German[note 1]
Schweizer Standarddeutsch
Schweizer Hochdeutsch
RegionSwitzerland, Liechtenstein
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Swiss Standard German[1][2][3] (German: Schweizer Standarddeutsch),[4] or Swiss High German[5][6][7][note 1] (German: Schweizer Hochdeutsch[8] or Schweizerhochdeutsch),[9] referred to by the Swiss as Schriftdeutsch, or Hochdeutsch, is the written and spoken[10] form of one of four official languages in Switzerland, besides French, Italian and Romansh.[11] It is a variety of Standard German, used in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. It is mainly written, and rather less often spoken.

Swiss Standard German is not a German dialect, but a variety of standard German. It is not to be confused with Swiss German, an umbrella term for the various Alemannic German dialects (in the sense of "traditional regional varieties") that are the default everyday languages for the majority of the population 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. Besides influences from Alemannic German, those characteristics include extensive use of loan words from Romance languages, especially French.

Written Swiss Standard German[edit]

Swiss Standard German (SSG) 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 mainly using Swiss Standard German; some dialect literature exists. SSG is similar in most respects to the Standard German in Germany and Austria; there are a few differences in spelling, most notably the replacing of the German ligature ß with ss. For example:

  • Strasse = Straße (Germany) = street

There are some differences in vocabulary, including, for instance, using a loanword from another language. For example:

  • Billett (from French) = 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
  • Poulet (from French) = Hähnchen (Germany) = chicken

In addition, SSG uses different orthography in letter writing, and the salutations used for the 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 use the Standard German word Spital (hospital). Spital is also found in volumes of Standard German language dictionaries; however, Germans from northern Germany prefer to use Krankenhaus, whereas Spital is also used in areas of southern Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein.

There are differences in gender for some nouns:

  • de-ch: das Tram (neuter); de: die Tram (feminine) (Straßenbahn is used more frequently in Germany); en: tram
  • de-ch: das E-Mail (neuter); de: die E-Mail (feminine); en: e-mail

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

  • de-ch: ich habe kalt (literally "I have cold"), de: mir ist [es] kalt (literally "[it] is cold to me")
  • de-ch: das geht dir gut, de: 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.[12] However, it is possible to write uppercase umlauts by use of caps lock or by using the ¨ dead key.

The names of municipalities, towns, stations, and streets are often 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.[13] However, field names, such as Äbenegg, Ötikon (near Stäfa), or Überthal, and any other word, such as Ärzte (English: physicians), usually start with capital umlauts.[14]

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 German Swiss to transliterate their language into writing is an integral and important part of the identity and culture of German-speaking Switzerland.[15]

Spoken Swiss Standard German[edit]

The default spoken language in German-speaking Switzerland is mostly the respective local dialect. Due to a rather large inter-cantonal migration rate (about 5% p.a.) within modern Switzerland for decades, many 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.[16]

Outside of any educational setting, Swiss Standard German is 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 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 used whenever a German Swiss is communicating with a non-German Swiss and it is assumed that this person does not understand the respective dialect. It is also often used when only one person can speak Swiss German while the other person can understand dialect but cannot speak dialect. Among each other, the German-speaking Swiss mostly 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.[15]

Nevertheless, about 11%, or 871,800, of Swiss residents speak High German (also called Standard German) at home, but mainly due to the presence of German immigrants.[17] Furthermore, about 46% of foreign nationals living in German-speaking Switzerland do not use Swiss German at all, but instead (Swiss) Standard German or other languages.[18]


The concurrent usage of Swiss Standard German and Swiss German dialects has been called a typical case of diglossia.[19] 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.[20] 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. Although, dialect is more often used in rural than urban areas.[18]

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.[20]

Attitude to spoken Swiss Standard German[edit]

Most German Swiss can speak fluent Swiss Standard German, but may or may not like doing so, as it feels stilted and unnatural to many. 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 German Swiss 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.[21]


  1. ^ a b The usage of the literal translation High German in order to refer to the German dachsprache should be avoided, since a regional variety group is referred to with the same name.


  1. ^ Russ (1994), p. 7.
  2. ^ Sanders, Ruth H. (2010), German: Biography of a Language, New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., p. 200, ISBN 978-0-19-538845-9
  3. ^ Horvath, Barbara M.; Vaughan, Paul (1991), Community languages: a handbook, Multilingual Matters, Multilingual Matters, p. 101, ISBN 978-1853590917
  4. ^ Dürscheid & Businger (2006).
  5. ^ Russ (1994), pp. 55–56, 73–80, 84–87, 89–92, 96, 100 and 114.
  6. ^ "The problems of Austrian German in Europe". euro|topics. 16 March 2006. Retrieved 2015-05-13.
  7. ^ Leeman, Adrian (2012), Swiss German Intonation Pattern, Studies in language variation, 10, John Benjamins, ISBN 9789027234902
  8. ^ Hove (2007).
  9. ^ Hove (2007), pp. 2 and 4.
  10. ^ Statistik, Bundesamt für. "Die am häufigsten üblicherweise zu Hause gesprochenen Sprachen der ständigen Wohnbevölkerung ab 15 Jahren - 2012-2014, 2013-2015, 2014-2016 | Tabelle". Bundesamt für Statistik (in German). Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  11. ^ "Programme national de recherche PNR 56: Diversité des langues et compétences linguistiques en Suisse" (in French, German, and Italian). Berne, Switzerland: Fonds National Suisse. 2009. Retrieved 2015-05-10.
  12. ^ "Swiss standard: former VSM standard SN 07402". Winterhur. Switzerland: Schweizerische Normen-Vereinigung (SNV).
  13. ^ "Empfehlungen zur Schreibweise der Gemeinde- und Ortschaftsnamen, Richtlinien zur Schreibweise der Stationsnamen" (PDF) (Federal Recommendation) (in German) (Version 1.0 ed.). Bundesamt für Landestopografie, Bundesamt für Verkehr, Bundesamt für Statistik. 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
  14. ^ "Empfehlung: Gebäudeadressierung und Schreibweise von Strassennamen für die deutschsprachige Schweiz, Mai 2005" (PDF) (Federal Recommendation) (in German) (Version 1.6 ed.). Eidgenössische Vermessungsdirektion, Bundesamt für Landestopografie. 3 May 2005. p. 19. Archived from the original (MS Word) on 17 May 2014. 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.
  15. ^ a b von Matt (2012).
  16. ^ "Bevölkerung Stadt Zürich" (PDF) (Publication) (in German) (Ausgabe 4/2013 ed.). Zürich: Statistik, Stadt Zürich. 17 April 2014. p. 5. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  17. ^ "Die am häufigsten üblicherweise zu Hause gesprochenen Sprachen der ständigen Wohnbevölkerung ab 15 Jahren" (official site) (in German, French, and Italian). Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Swiss Federal Statistical Office. 2016. Retrieved 2018-11-18.
  18. ^ a b Statistik, Bundesamt für. "Schweizerdeutsch und Hochdeutsch in der Schweiz - Analyse von Daten aus der Erhebung zur Sprache, Religion und Kultur 2014 | Publikation". Bundesamt für Statistik (in German). Retrieved 2018-12-01.
  19. ^ Ferguson, C. A. (1972) [orig. 1959-60], "Diglossia", in Giglioli, P. P., Language and Social Context, Harmondsworth: Penguin, pp. 232–251
  20. ^ a b Barbour, S.; Stevenson, P. (1990), Variation in German, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 212–213
  21. ^ Heule (2006).