What is Swiss German even?
Swiss German is a very broad term. It encompasses all Alemannic dialects of German spoken within the political borders of Switzerland. As such it’s not a very linguisticly rigorous term. Swiss German derives from Middle High German, and is closely related especially to the Austro-Bavarian dialects of southern Germany and Austria. It is broadly divided into three dialect groups:
- Low Alemannic: Of the Swiss Dialects, Low Alemannic is spoken only around the city of Basel. Most German Alemannic dialects fall into this group, but are not considered Swiss German.
- High Alemannic: Most Swiss German dialects fall into this group. It is often subdivided into western and eastern dialects according to criteria I don’t actually know. My dialect falls into the eastern group here.
- Highest Alemannic: In many ways the most conservative dialect group, Highest Alemannic sounds weird to many. It is quite distinct from the rest and many claim they cannot even understand it (I disagree with that statement). Mostly spoken in the southern mountains of Switzerland and in isolated pockets.
My dialect is spoken in and around the town Chur, in southeastern Switzerland. It is unique among Swiss Dialects for not undergoing the k > kx > x shift, rather strongly aspirating intitial velars (Thus my town's name is natively pronounced [kʰuːr]) and for a strong lowering of word-final schwas towards [ä] (the actual pronunciation is closer to ɐ at around 650 Hz for the F1 value as opposed to around 800 for a long, stressed /a/. Values evaluated in praat from recordings of my own speech). Phonologically, it is otherwise pretty normal among eastern Swiss dialects, and I cannot think of any grammatical oddity that distinctly sets it apart from other dialects, but this may be mostly due to my lack of experience outside of my bubble.
The phonology of Sw.G. features a very large vowel inventory distinguishing tenseness and length independently from each other. However, length is, as fsr as I can tell, not as imporant and seems to be indetermined for many words (free variation).
Consonants are distinguished not by voicing or aspiration, but rather by gemination. Voicing may still occur allophonically, I have not done or found any research on this. The only consonant where vocing is phonemic is /v/ which is distinct from /f fː/. It corresponds to a labiodental approximant in other dialects.
- m mː n nː ŋ ŋg1
- p pː t tː k kː2
- p͡f t͡s t͡ʃ
- f fː s sː ʃ ʃː x xː3 h
- ʋ j
- r rː 4
- l lː
2: Initially realized as [kʰ]
3: In free variation with hː, especially intervocalically
4: Although a trill is the most common pronunciation, my (idiolectal) realisation of both short and long r is actually a non-sibilant voiced alveolar fricative. Other possibilities are a uvular trill or fricative or even non-rhotic variants. I will transcribe them with r.
Long r and l are marginal at best. I may be making them up. Needs research.
Code: Select all
i y u ɪ ʏ ʊ e ø o ə ɛ œ ɔ a
Diphthongs that I am aware of (semivowel is always the second one):
aʊ aɪ ɛɪ ɔɪ ɪa ʏa ʊa
As well as marginally ei ou
Sequences of schwa followed by n, m, l, r are usually realized as syllabic consonants unless spoken carefully.
Word-finally, schwa and short a are realized as [ɐ]. I'll be transcribing it with /a/ in that position, since the pronunciation is closer to that and I don't care enough to write it as /ɐ/ every time.
There is an intrusive n between vowels at word boundaries. It doesn't always occur and I haven't been able to figure out when exactly it is applicable. It seems to be most common around a and least around i.
Additionally, Umaut exists and works essentially identical to Standard German:
a > ɛ
ɔ > œ
o > ø
ʊ > ʏ
u > y
aʊ > ɔɪ
Writing all of this
I don't think it is possible to come up with a way to write everything phonemically without either being unweildy or strange to native speakers. I won't even attempt to use any kind of "Standardized Orthography". Instead, I'll write as it comes to me naturally (how I'd use it in to communicate with friends) and provide IPA. Some distincitive features that are very Swiss I can list though:
- Short (lenis) stops are usually written with the symbols for voiced consonants everywhere ‹b d g›
- Long (fortis) stops are often written as doubled lenis consonants ‹bb dd gg› medially and finally or as single ‹p t k› (initially always, medially and finally sometimes)
- Fortis nasals are doubled. ŋ is ‹ng›, ŋg can be anything
- x and ∫ as ch and sch/sh no matter the length.
- Often spellings are copied from Standard German, such as the inconsistent use of f and v, doubled consonants when they have no reason to be doubled, random h, marking vowel length in various, random ways or not at all.
- Vowels are spelled however, but usually close to how they would be spelled in German. aɪ is usually spelled ‹ai› though. If ‹y› occurs, it usually indicates a tense i, long or short. I don't use this though.
- Long vowels are often marked by doubling, but it's inconsistent at best.
Swiss German has three cases: Nominative, Accusative and Dative. Genitive occurs marginally for proper nouns as -s only and may actually be a recent borrowing from English.
In most pronouns, cases are distinct. In nouns, they are only marked on the article as well as by adjective agreement. Nominative and Accusative merge in non-masculine articles, Dative is always distinct.
There are three grammatical genders, Masculine, Feminine and Neuter. They almost fully overlap with Standard German and are usually almost the same across all Germanic languages that retain gender. There is no gender distinction in the plural.
Looking at the verb, there are three finite forms that are conjugated without auxilaries: Present Indicative, Subjunctive and Irrealis (the latter two are commonly called Konjunktiv I and II in analogy to Standard German). However, once you include periphrastic constructions, the verbal morphology gets a lot richer:
- Infinitive - laufa (to walk)
- Present - i laufa
- Past - i bin gloffa
- Immediate Future - i goon go laufa
- Future - i werda laufa
- Past Perfect - i bin gloffa gsi
- Future Perfect - i werda gloffa si
- Present Subjunctive - i laufi
- Past Subjunctive - i sigi gloffa
- Present Irrealis - i laufti
- Past Irrealis - i wäri gloffa
Additionally to tense, verbs have distinct forms for three present persons, and one for all plural persons. Ablaut occurs in a lot of verbs when conjugating.
The word order is very similar to Standard German: V2, with parts of the verb getting moved to the end. I will talk about all of this in later lessons.
Pronouns exist in three forms: Stressed, Unstressed and Clitic. The most common form is unstressed. Clitic pronouns only occur directly after the verb and merge with the verbal suffix.
I don't want to go in-depth into anything here yet, but I must hint at the fact that the most common use of the Subjunctive mood is marking hear-say. This means, yes, evidentality exists in a Germanic language :)
Now for the important part: Do you wish that I actually make this series a thing? If so, please reply and mention what you would like me to tackle first or what you want to know most.
1. Simple sentences and verbs
2. The Swiss German his possessions