English makes strides in the workplace

English continues to make headway in Switzerland Keystone

English, the bête noire of Switzerland’s four national languages, is now used by more than one in five Swiss workers.

This content was published on April 12, 2005 - 22:04

Outside the office, German and French are managing to hold their own against foreign invaders but Italian and Romansh are on the retreat.

The Federal Statistics Office revealed on Tuesday that English was used by 21.7 per cent of professionals in 2000 – up from 15.9 per cent in 1990.

The creeping spread of English has prompted widespread protests and even drew a government response earlier this month.

The cabinet decided to outlaw the use of English-sounding names by government departments, following criticism that Swiss culture was being undermined.

It is not just English that is making its presence felt. The Statistics Office said 16.6 per cent of the population speak a foreign – non-Swiss – language at home, with Serbo-Croat leading the pack, followed by Albanian, Portuguese and Spanish.

But standard-bearers of Switzerland’s cultural values will no doubt be buoyed by the news that the number of people speaking German (63.7 per cent) and French (20.4 per cent) as their first language is slightly up.

This is mainly due to the fact that the country’s foreigners, who make up just over a fifth of the population, are picking up these languages.

Almost a third of foreigners cite German as their language of choice, with a fifth plumping for French.

Italian and Romansh

But defenders of the country’s national languages will be dismayed to hear that Italian and Romansh are on the slide.

The number of people using Italian as their first language fell by almost 15 per cent between 1990 and 2000.

Romansh suffered a similar fate over the same period, with the number of speakers dropping from 66,082 to 60,561.

The government scrapped a law last year aimed at protecting the four national languages, claiming it would cost too much.

In November the then Swiss president, Joseph Deiss, told representatives from the four language regions that he was in favour of legislation limiting the use of English, but said the drafting of any new law was out of his hands.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

German 63.7%
French 20.4%
Italian 6.5%
Romansh 0.5%
Others 8.9%

German 63.6%
French 19.2%
Italian 7.6%
Romansh 0.6%
Others 9.0%

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