Switzerland urged to promote minority languages

Romansh is used in private television and radio programmes, but no private radio station broadcasts exclusively in Romansh © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

The Council of Europe says the Swiss authorities should adopt, as a priority, cantonal and/or local legislation on the use of French and German in public life in the municipalities where they are non-official minority or majority languages.

This content was published on September 28, 2022 minutes

In a report published on Wednesday, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts under the European Charter for Regional or Minority LanguagesExternal link (ECRML) also recommended Switzerland take additional measures promoting the use of Italian and Romansh in economic and social life.

+ Languages in Switzerland

On a general note, the report by the Council of Europe – which is not connected to the European Union – welcomed the financial assistance provided by the federal authorities to the cantons of Bern, Fribourg, Graubünden and Valais for their efforts to promote multilingualism. It also underlined that Switzerland complied with all of the Charter undertakings regarding Italian in canton Ticino.

While Italian and Romansh are used at all levels of education, the report noted that delays occurred in the publication of educational materials. It acknowledged, however, that new educational materials for Italian were being developed.

Italian and, to a limited extent, Romansh are used in court. While the use of Italian by the cantonal administration of Graubünden – Switzerland’s only officially trilingual canton – has improved, “shortcomings persist in using this language on institutional websites”, the authors said.

Positive developments covered by the report include a new coordination unit set up to support the cantonal administration and municipalities and an action plan to promote Italian and Romansh.

Romansh radio

What’s more, Italian and Romansh are used on public radio and television as well as in the press. Romansh is also used in private television and radio programmes, but there is no private radio station broadcasting exclusively in Romansh.

The report welcomed the creation in 2020 of the state-funded Fundaziun Medias Rumantschas, whose task is to provide the Romansh media with journalistic content in Romansh. The report suggests the creation of a private radio station in Romansh and measures encouraging Romansh speakers to use their language before judicial authorities.

The report also recommends making available German language education from pre-school to secondary levels – and the adoption of cantonal and/or local legislation on the use of German – for those municipalities where German is a non-official minority or majority language.

European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages

The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages entered into force in Switzerland in 1998 and applies to Italian and Romansh as less widely used official languages. Furthermore, it applies to French and German in territories where they are traditional minority languages, as well as to Yenish as a non-territorial language.

This eighth evaluation report by the Committee of Experts is based on the political and legal situation prevailing at the time of the Committee of Experts’ on-the-spot visit to Switzerland in May 2022.

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