Romansh language

Romansh (also spelled Romansch, Rumants(c)h, or Romanche) is one of the four official languages of Switzerland, along with German, Italian and French. It is one of the Rhaeto-Romance languages, believed to have descended from the Vulgar Latin variety spoken by Roman era occupiers of the region, and, as such, is closely related to French, Occitan and North Italian, as well as other Romance languages to a lesser extent. As of the 2000 Swiss Census, it is spoken by 35,095 residents of the canton of Graubünden (Grisons) as the language of "best command", and 60,815 in the "best command" plus "most spoken" categories. Spoken now by around 0.9% of Switzerland's 7.5 million inhabitants, it is Switzerland's least-used national language in terms of number of speakers.


Romansh is an umbrella term covering a group of closely-related dialects, spoken in southern Switzerland and all belonging to the Rhaeto-Romance language family. The other members of this language family are from northern Italy: Ladin, with which Romansh is more closely related, is spoken by some 22,550 in the Dolomite mountains of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, and Friulian is spoken by around 550,000–595,000 people in northeastern Italy.

The five largest dialects in the Romansh family are:

Puter and Vallader are sometimes referred to as one specific variety known as ladin, as they have retained this word to mean Romansh. However, ladin is primarily associated with the closely related language in Italy's Dolomite mountains also known as Ladin. The ISO 639 language codes are rm and roh.

Romansh is spoken in the Swiss canton of Grisons or Graubünden, "the Grey League", which preserves the name of the self-defense organization of Romance speakers set up in the 15th century. It became part of Switzerland in 1803. Germans once called this language Chur-Wälsch, "foreign speech of Chur", for Chur was once the center of Romansh. This is cited as one possible explanation of the origin of the modern term "Kauderwelsch" meaning gibberish. However, most of Grisons, including Chur and even its cross-river suburb of Wälschdorfli ("little foreign-language-speaking village"), now speak German; Romansh survives only in the upper valleys of the Rhine and the Inn.


Romansh was nationally standardised in 1982 by Zürich-based linguist Heinrich Schmid. The standardised language, called Rumantsch Grischun, has been slowly accepted. On the orthographic level, Schmid sought to avoid all "odd-looking" spellings, in order to increase general acceptability of the new idiom and its spelling. Therefore, words with /tɕ/ followed by /a/, /o/, /u/ have (for example chalanda) as both speakers of Engadin (chalanda) and the Rhine territory (calanda) expect a spelling with . However, and are pronounced /ke/ and /ki/, being a grapheme deemed unfit for a Romance language such as Romansh; therefore, words with /tɕ/ plus /e/ or /i/ have (for example tgirar) instead of . The use of for both /ʃ/ and /ʒ/, and of for /tʃ/ is taken over from German, making Romansh spelling a compromise between Romance (Italian, French) and German spelling.

The Lia Rumantscha is the umbrella organization for all Romansh associations.

Official status in Switzerland

Romansh has been recognised as one of four "national languages" by the Swiss Federal Constitution since 1938. It was also declared an "official language" of the Confederation in 1996, meaning that Romansh speakers may use their Romansh idiom for correspondence with the federal government and expect to receive a Romansh response – in Rumantsch Grischun, because the federal authorities use the standardised idiom exclusively. However, the Constitution specifies that only native Romansh speakers can claim this privilege.

In what the Federal Culture Office itself admits is "more a placatory and symbolic use of Romansh, the federal authorities occasionally translate some official texts into Romansh. In general, though, demand for Romansh-language services is low, because according to the Federal Culture Office, Romansh speakers may either dislike the official Rumantsch Grischun idiom or prefer to use German in the first place, as most are perfectly bilingual.

On the cantonal level, Romansh is an official language only in the trilingual canton of Graubünden, where the municipalities in turn are free to specify their own official languages.


The emergence of Romansh as a literary language is generally dated to the mid-16th century. The Engadine dialect was first printed as early as 1552 in Jacob Bifrun's Christiauna fuorma, a catechism; a translation of the New Testament followed in 1560.

The first verse of three verse poem by Peider Lansel (1863-1943), translated by M.E. Maxfield:

O sblacha fluoretta, (O, pale little flow'ret,)
tu vainsch massa bod ! (Too soon thou art here !)
amo be suletta (Alone in the wildwood)
at dervasch nil god. (And full of vague fear.)

First Printed Romanscha Bible

by Jacobo N. Gadina, translated by Jacobo M. Wilhelm Rauch

La Sacra Biblia, quai ais tuot la Sonchia Scrittura:
dal Velg et Nouf Testamaint: cun l'agiunta dall' : Apocrifa
Vertida e stampada avant temp in Lingua Romanscha
d'Engadina Bassa tras comun cuost e` lavur da Jacobo :
Antonio Vulpio ... Jacobo Dorta a´ Vulpera ...
...La II. editiun ...
''...cun bleras novas declaranzas sur amaduos Testamaints,
una nova Prefatiun & un Register ...
...da Nott Da Porta,
published and printed in Scuol in Engadina Bassa (Lower Engadine),
Alta Rhaetia, 1743.



The consonant phonemes of Romansh (Rumantsch Grischun) are set out in the following chart:

  Bilabial Labio-
Dental and
Palatal Velar
Stop p  b   t  d       k  g
Affricate     ts tɕ  dʑ    
Nasal m   n     ɲ ŋ
Fricative   f  v s  z   ʃ  ʒ    
Approximant     r     j  
Lateral approximant     l     ʎ  


The vowel phonemes of Romansh are shown in the table below:

Monophthongs Front Back
Close i u
Mid ə
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a

Diphthongs Closer component
is front
Closer component
is back
Closing ai au
Opening ie  

Schwa /ə/ occurs only in unstressed syllables. Vowel length is predictable:

  • Unstressed vowels are short.
  • Stressed vowels in closed syllables (those with a coda) are:
  • :long before /r/
  • :short elsewhere
  • Stressed vowels in open syllables are:
  • :short before voiceless consonants
  • :long elsewhere


Examples of Common Vocabulary:

English Surselvisch Sutselvisch Surmeirisch Puter Vallader Rumantsch Grischun Latin Romanian
gold aur or or or or,aur,ar aur aurum aur
hard dir dir deir dür dür dir dūrus dur
eye egl îl îgl ögl ögl egl oculus ochi
light, easy lev leav lev liger leiv lev levis leger
three treis tres treis trais trais trais trēs trei
snow neiv nev neiv naiv naiv naiv nive- nea
wheel roda roda roda rouda rouda roda rota roată
cheese caschiel caschiel caschiel chaschöl chaschöl chaschiel caseolus caş
house casa tgeasa tgesa chesa chasa chasa casa casă
dog tgaun tgàn tgang chaun chan chaun canis câine
leg comba tgomba tgomma chamma chomma chomma camba picior, gambă
hen gaglina gagliegna gagligna gillina giallina giaglina gallīna găină
cat gat giat giat giat giat giat cattus pisică
all tut tut tot tuot tuot tut tōtus tot
shape fuorma furma furma fuorma fuorma furma fōrma formă
I jeu jou ja eau eu jau ego eu

Writing system

Romansh alphabet

L'alfabet rumantsch

Majuscule Forms (also called uppercase or capital letters)
Minuscule Forms (also called lowercase or small letters)
a b c d e f g h i j l m n o p q r s t u v x z
a be tse de e ef ghe ha i jot/i lung el em en o pe ku er es te u ve iks tset

The letters k (ka), w (ve dubel), and y (ipsilon or i grec) are used only in words borrowed from foreign languages — for example: kilogram, ski, kino, kiosc, kilo, kilowat, Washington, western, stewardess, whisky, hockey, happy end.

Because most Romansh-speaking people are familiar with German spelling, Romansh orthography borrows from that language, rather than Italian: The "sh" sound, for example, is written in the Germanic fashion, "sch" (see "rumantsch"), not "sc" as in Italian, and one will find ä, ö and ü in Romansh words. This practice, however, does not work in all cases, so other forms are used; for example, tsega,


Consonants Vowels

Some common expressions

  • Allegra. - Hello or welcome
  • Co vai? - How are you?
  • Fa plaschair. - Pleased to meet you.
  • Bun di. - Good morning.
  • Buna saira. - Good evening.
  • Buna notg. - Good night.
  • A revair. - Goodbye.
  • A pli tard. - See you later.
  • Perstgisai. - I beg your pardon.
  • I ma displascha. - I'm sorry.
  • Perdunai. - Excuse me.
  • Per plaschair. - Please.
  • Grazia fitg. - Thank you very much.
  • Anzi. - You're welcome.
  • Gratulazions. - Congratulations.
  • Bun cletg. - Good luck.
  • Ils quants è oz? - What's the date today?
  • Quants onns has ti? - How old are you?
  • Viva! - Cheers!

See also

  • Heinrich Schmid, the linguist whose work on standardization of the language resulted in Rumantsch Grischun.


External links

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