PDA

View Full Version : When Swiss Forbid "Bad French"



JackKnightstick
2010-10-21, 03:55
This is an interesting article about a dying "language"


Time takes its toll on old Swiss language
Evolène is the only village in Switzerland where all generations speak patois.
Image Caption: Evolène is the only village in Switzerland where all generations speak patois.

by Julia Slater, swissinfo.ch
French is today Switzerland’s second language, but until about 200 years ago most people in western Switzerland spoke something quite different.

They used dialects of the language group now known as Franco-Provençal, which today have all but disappeared. Scholars are working against the clock to gather information about them, while enthusiasts are doing their best to keep the flame alive.

Traditionally there has been something of the idea that these dialects, commonly referred to as patois, are “bad French” – a notion which Andres Kristol, director of the dialectology centre at Neuchâtel University, describes as “evidently absurd”.

“Our old language is as interesting and as well formed as Romansh in Graubünden, for example,” he told swissinfo.ch - adding that it is also as different from French as Romansh is.

Although, like modern French, Franco-Provençal derives ultimately from Latin, it belongs to a different sub-family. The only French-related dialect spoken in Switzerland is that of canton Jura (see box).

Prohibition

The first attempts to ban dialect speaking were made in Jura – at that time part of the bishopric of Basel - in the second half of the 18th century, and other cantons forbade its use in schools during the course of the 19th century. But the rate at which it declined varied considerably.

“People became ashamed of speaking patois. It was a kind of sub-language,” Jean-François Gottraux, who helps edit the Patois Vaudois website, told swissinfo.ch. In his canton, the language has died out almost completely.

Placide Meyer, who lives in the Gruyère region of canton Fribourg, a dialect stronghold, downplays the ban.

“Sixty years ago, when I was at school, everyone, without exception, spoke patois,” he said. “People didn’t have complexes about it.”

It is no coincidence that the Roman Catholic cantons - Fribourg and Valais – kept their patois for an extra two generations, he says. They remained agricultural for much longer, with people isolated in the mountains from outside influences.

Industrialisation in the Protestant cantons – Vaud, Neuchâtel and Geneva – brought in outsiders.

Kristol explained just how the massive influx of Swiss German speakers from about 1815 boosted the French takeover.

“The idea was that to assimilate them better, it was desirable to switch to French. And it seems that these Swiss Germans wanted to learn French, because at the time French was an international language.”

Another economic factor was at play too, as many young people started going abroad as tutors of French.

“Good knowledge of French became an export item,” he said.

Dialect today

But it was only when the dialects appeared to be in real danger from the end of the 19th century that enthusiasts started to write grammars and note dialect words, and write down songs and stories.

Now the vast majority of native dialect speakers – those who learned it as children from their parents – are aged at least 60.

The only exception is the village of Evolène in canton Valais, where it is the mother tongue of much of the population – although even there people will switch to French out of politeness if a non-dialect speaker wants to join in.

Elsewhere, the remaining dialect speakers, and some younger enthusiasts, are keeping patois alive. Meyer presents a weekly dialect programme on Fribourg’s local radio station – usually speakers, aged 60 and over, talking about their memories – and teaches an evening course.

Although few people still speak dialect, many understand it, he says, so his programme has a body of potential listeners.

Anne-Marie Yerly is helping to compile a dictionary of the Gruyère dialect and writes a weekly column in it in the local paper.

She has run into an unexpected difficulty in collecting words. “All the people who started writing in patois in the 1920s were old priests, old men, old peasants. They described rural life, agricultural and craft tools. There’s plenty of stuff in those areas. But when it comes to the family and women, there’s hardly anything.”

And in her weekly column she has to find a way of talking about things that didn’t exist in her parents’ day. She tries to turn phrases so as to avoid adapting French words. Rather than talking about emails, she will use mèchôdzo – a message; the dialect equivalent of “I called you” is a way of avoiding a neologism like “phoned”.

Gottraux in canton Vaud sees the same trend. Instead of adapting the French “voiture”, some people talk of a “petrol cart” - “tsè à petrole” - he told swissinfo.ch.

But although he has seen an upsurge in curiosity, and says people are proud of knowing a few words, for most this is where it stops.

“People have a lot of other things to do, and learning patois takes a lot of time.”

Heritage

Gottraux is unusual in that he learned his dialect as an adult out of interest – but at least there was still a dialect for him to learn.

Joël Rilliot is more unusual still: the last dialect speaker in his canton of Neuchâtel died in 1920. But, in a search for his roots, he decided to try to resurrect it. His family has always known he is “a bit crazy”, he admitted.

“I speak only patois to my children. Never French.”

Learning patois has opened his eyes to the history of ordinary people in the canton and helped him understand his cultural heritage, he told swissinfo.ch.

As academic linguists working on dialects, Kristol and his team can only use the information of people who learned the language naturally as children.

“Amateurs who are trying to revive the language have little to teach us, unfortunately.”

“It’s very praiseworthy that people should try to preserve their heritage – through plays and songs, for example – but when I speak to them, I find all these people have stopped speaking the language to their own children.”

“So it’s no longer being transmitted. And that is the end of a language’s life.”

Julia Slater, swissinfo.ch


http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/culture/Time_takes_its_toll_on_old_Swiss_language.html?cid =28504690

JackKnightstick
2010-10-21, 15:09
It was interesting to me the difference in attitude. Swiss German speakers are proud as hell of their dialects. My theory is because it makes them feel different from Germans, and Canton identity is so important, it is also a symbol of your "Canton" which most Swiss identify with more than the nation as a whole (at least inside Switzerland).

The French speakers think more like Metropolitan France..."dialect" is "bad French" and should be eliminated.

They article says the average speaker of French dialect are 60 years old!! Wow.

In the German speaking region, they speak their dialect as a "first language" and speak it all the time outside of school, church, or some other very formal situation.

OldPretan
2010-10-21, 17:17
It was interesting to me the difference in attitude. Swiss German speakers are proud as hell of their dialects. My theory is because it makes them feel different from Germans, and Canton identity is so important, it is also a symbol of your "Canton" which most Swiss identify with more than the nation as a whole (at least inside Switzerland).

The French speakers think more like Metropolitan France..."dialect" is "bad French" and should be eliminated.

They article says the average speaker of French dialect are 60 years old!! Wow.

In the German speaking region, they speak their dialect as a "first language" and speak it all the time outside of school, church, or some other very formal situation.

I think you'll find that's true in echt Deutschland auch. Hochdeutsch is for intertribal communication and putting the Platties in their place much like RP English in UK.
Swiss have confederation, Deutsch are federal, but the French have long been centralising and banning other languages by law.

Bittereinder
2010-10-21, 17:43
The French speakers think more like Metropolitan France..."dialect" is "bad French" and should be eliminated.

It's the French-speaking linguistic hive mind and no, it's not limited to France. For example, a 150 years ago, nearly everyone in Wallonia that didn't belong to the cultural elite spoke one of the local dialects (Walloon, Picard, etc). Nowadays they practically all speak standard French. The designation of anything that deviates from the norm as backwards 'patois' is very typical for the francophone mindset. The Belgian elite tried to destroy Flemish dialects in much the same way, but this blew up in their faces as we simply started adopting standard Dutch as a countermeasure, completely eliminating the progress French had made in Flanders.

M16
2010-10-21, 17:49
It was interesting to me the difference in attitude. Swiss German speakers are proud as hell of their dialects. My theory is because it makes them feel different from Germans, and Canton identity is so important, it is also a symbol of your "Canton" which most Swiss identify with more than the nation as a whole (at least inside Switzerland).
[...]
In the German speaking region, they speak their dialect as a "first language" and speak it all the time outside of school, church, or some other very formal situation.

The same happens in Germany. Sometimes people get subtitles on TV when they are speaking Bavarian. But mass media is destroying the dialects