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.
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
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.
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:
|Stop||p b||t d||k g|
|Fricative||f v||s z||ʃ ʒ|
|Diphthongs|| Closer component|
| Closer component|
Examples of Common Vocabulary:
|Majuscule Forms (also called uppercase or capital letters)|
|Minuscule Forms (also called lowercase or small letters)|
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,