|An Examination of Swiss German in and around Zürich|
(Focusing Primarily on Morpholgy and Lexicon)
|The designation Schwyzertütsch, or Swiss German, includes a number of different dialects spoken both within Switzerland and in some areas of the surrounding countries, such as Liechtenstein, southern Alsace, the Italian Alps, and the Austrian province of Vorarlberg. Almost all of the dialects grouped under the heading of Swiss German are of the High Alemannic variety of German, although the dialect in the city of Basel is generally considered to be Low Alemannic. The general distinction between these two is marked off by the isogloss in which the NHG Kind appears as Chind, for instance in Switzerland. Thus the High Alemannic dialects have a rather homogeneous phonology as compared to the rest of the German language. Even within this fairly specified category, however, there is extensive variation both in linguistic and social-pragmatic features. Keller notes that "although the great majority of the Schwyzertütsch speakers have no difficulty in understanding each other there is a good deal of mocking and ridiculing of each other's dialectical idiosyncrasies."  He also mentions that, in accord with this great diversity, there are some dialects, notably the "most archaic dialects of the highest Alpine valleys," where a standard Swiss German speaker would have great difficulty in communicating with the majority of the populace.|
The Swiss German language does have a so-called "standard," although this is defined not by any particular dialect but is dependent on cooperation between speakers; Schwyzertütsch is not so much an independent language, then, as "a pluricentric national dialect" since "communication at the interregional level is based on slightly adapting your own regional (rather than local) dialect (e.g. Zürich, Basel, Bern German) to that of your speech partner, often by taking over lexemes and other features" that may arise in conversation.  This also means, in effect, that most Swiss, especially those outside of the main commercial centers, are capable of speaking in more than one dialect when the need arises. The study of 'Swiss German' in general therefore must be defined in a more narrow fashion; as Professor Miller commented when he heard that I intended to write on Schwyzertütsch, "Oh really," he asked, "which valley?" Thus this paper will concentrate primarily on the aspects of the High Alemannic dialect spoken in and around Zürich, which, as Keller notes, he has phonetically transcribed in his own dialect of Winterthur, a small town about fifteen miles from the city of Zürich proper. Morphologically and syntactically, however, there are virtually no differences between this and the Zürich standard dialect, which is one of the largest in Switzerland. 
In general, then, the Swiss dialects are by far more widely accepted by the German speakers there as valid forms of communication, even of literature. There is, however, an interesting phenomenon that occurs in Switzerland as regards Standard High German. Since Switzerland is a multilingual nation, with both German-, Italian-, and French-speaking citizens (as well as the Romansch speakers), the political and economic affairs of the country must be accessible to all concerned. This has in some ways led to the standardization of a High German usage, often in somewhat stilted but and formal situations, but in a Standard German that varies slightly from the one used in Germany and Austria. This situation, in which the Swiss dialects fulfill most functions of daily life, but High German may be of a certain usefulness, is termed a diglossia: "a language situation in which two different languages or varieties are functionally complementary."  Diglossia in Switzerland is a particularly powerful phenomenon, for not only is there wide acceptance of both forms of German in different situations, but the boundaries themselves seem to be in a state of flux as well. As the Swiss term for High German (Schriftsprache or Schriftdeutsch) suggests, the Swiss Standard High German is primarily a literary and written language. Almost all court and political matters are carried out in this form of German, as is most in-school secondary and higher education, much of the media (the press as well as some radio and television programs), and the most serious and formal church services. In addition, most non-fiction literature is written in Standard German, as is some fiction literature, especially of the type often designed for a more international audience. Dialect, in contrast, is used occasionally in small local and regional parliaments, as well as in early primary education, and in some fiction literature; it is also, of course, the primary means of everyday communication between citizens of all classes. It is interesting to note that while in Germany itself, the use of dialect may be diminishing with the ever-expanding influence of radio and television, the place of dialect in Switzerland is on the whole increasing. Thus, local dialects are now frequently being used in the extracurricular activities of higher education, in some informal church and even military activities, increasingly in radio, television, and especially advertising, and even, Clyne claims, in some formal speeches. This also leads to the need for an expanded vocabulary in the dialect forms; this need is mainly fulfilled by adapting Standard German words into dialectic-acceptable forms, such as NHG Raumfahrt -- Swiss Rûmfôrt, NHG Marktforschung -- Swiss Marktforschig. 
This usage of dialect in areas once reserved for Standard German is contrasted with the increasing independence of the Swiss Standard German lexicon from that of the Standard German spoken in the Federal Republic. Keller notes that these differences should be expected, given the present state of affairs as well as the historical developments in the areas outside of Germany; taking a very German-centric view of development, he states the following reasons for lexical divergence: 
It is unquestionably true that the lexicon of Swiss Standard German exhibits traits of all of these developments, however biased the phrasing may be. There are a number of specifically Swiss constructions, both in terms of new words, new usages of older words, and of reformed words using Swiss morphological constructions. Some of the most interesting words occur in the category of words that have more than one meaning to the Swiss; these include, for example: 
Other interesting lexical features of Swiss Standard German the specific formations used to combine words; in some cases, words are simply put together in ways that would be considered sub-standard in the Federal Republic, while in other cases, the constructions, such as the infixed -s- or -en- in compounds, may be used irregularly. Thus we see words such as the following: 
Swiss Standard German also has several characteristic formations that mark its uniqueness among the German dialects. The -ung suffix is particularly common in Swiss German, as in such words as die Gastung, which means the accommodation of guests, or die Hirtung, meaning the watching over livestock. Another extremely productive suffix in Schwyzertütsch is seen is words like der Pöstler (postal employee), der Übernächtler (an overnight lodger), and der Spörtler (sportsman). It is also quite common in Swiss Standard German to see a different gender assignment given to certain words, seemingly for no particular reason, other than, as Clyne points out, a transference of gender from French, with which the Swiss have much more contact. From this gender switching arise the following: 
As Keller notes, foreign influences can play a very large role on the development and differentiation of dialect lexicons. This has been especially true in Switzerland due to its proximity, both geographic and cultural, to France and French speakers. Although approximately 74% of Swiss citizens are German-speaking, Clyne writes that "the German-language part of Switzerland has never imposed its 'germanness' on anyone else, the way Prussia (Germany) and Austria did on their non-German colonial populations."  In fact, even in the German parts of Switzerland, French is often seen as a more prestigious and 'nicer' language than even Standard High German. Clyne also claims that the German words used in the Federal Republic in place of French ones (such as Anschrift for Adresse or Bahnsteig for Perron), often have a distinctly "Prussian" feel about them in Switzerland. Instead, then, of using loan-translations or new creations, the Swiss are likely to simply adopt a given word from the French when necessary; thence come the following French words, used often in Swiss Standard German: 
Necessary to a thorough understanding of the Schwyzertütsch phenomenon is a general knowledge of the phonology, which, although quite different from that of Standard NHG, is nevertheless fairly basic; once again, however, in order to be precise, the area of study must be limited. In this case, the dialect in question is, as stated, Keller's, from Winterthur-Zürich. The consonantal system is for all intents and purposes the same as that of NHG: 
Several interesting phonological features occur in Schwyzertütsch, and are in many ways characteristic of the Alemannic dialects in general. The NHG and Gmc phoneme [k] is almost always shifted to [x], and often written as ch. Thus the consonant cluster [nk] usually appears as [nkx]. There is no counterpart, at least in the Winterthur region, to the velar fricative [x]; this means that the suffix -ig is not pronounced as [iç], but rather as [ix] or, in some cases, [ig].  Also significant is that even intervocalically and within morphemes, all forms of the clusters -st- and -sp- are heard as [sp] and [st].
Swiss vowels are much more complicated than the consonantal system, due mostly to an important differentiation between long and short vowels. Thus, in contrast to NHG Standard, short vowels may be heard in the following words:
Long vowels, on the other hand, can be heard in such examples as:
There is also a definite distinction made between the close [ ] and the more open [ ]; this can be seen when a speaker pronounces the pairs Esche / Wäsche, wetten / hätten, and Held / hält. 
As far as morphology is concerned, Schwyzertütsch presents some very interesting problems and phenomena; most of these appear in the Zürittüütsch dialect that Keller describes. Many of the declensions and inflections in the different areas of speech are quite distinct from those of Standard NHG. In some cases they have been simplified (for example in the case declension of articles) but in other cases the overall system seems to have become more complex. A note on the rather spurious inclusion of a parenthesized (n) after many occurrences of a final -e: although Keller does not make this very clear, it appears to occur in instances very similar to the English "a / an" distinction, i.e. when followed by a vowel, the -e suffix will usually take an -n to aid in pronunciation, Also, in some cases, this -n is actually a historical part of the word, and has simply been dropped in modern usage; Keller is very inconsistent when it comes to the retention or exclusion of this -n.
The formation and declension of nouns and articles in Schwyzertütsch is rather significant in terms of a broader understanding. Keller has described four different "classes", as it were, of nouns, based according to how they form their plurals, as well as some semantic and syntactical criteria. These classes can be summarized as follows: 
Class A: Forms the plural without any special ending or mutation (umlaut)
Another noteworthy feature of the nouns in Zürittüütsch, which Keller says stands in "contradistinction [!] to many other Swiss German dialects,"  is the special case form of dative plural, which is used for all nouns except Class C and those that in the singular end in -e (mainly the ones in A(c) and B(a)). This dative plural ending is an -e; thus, although Keller does not point this out, it seems likely that even those verbs he says do not take this ending may very well do so, since the ending simply would already be there. Most nouns in the dative plural then resemble types like Hände, Schirme, or Büechere. Some nouns, however, mostly those that end in a stressed vowel, but also some purely irregular types, may take an -en ending rather than the -e; thus we see also: 
The articles in the Zürich dialect of Swiss German have in general been simplified from OHG and MHG, so that only two case forms still exist. The nominative case, called in Schwyzertütsch the common case, accounts for both the subject and the direct object in normal sentences. The dative case, correspondingly, handles both the indirect objects and any relics of genitive cases that may exist, such as in the periphrastic construction "em Mäischter sys Huus" ('dem Meister sein Haus' -- the master's house). For the definite article, the declension is as follows: 
The declension of the indefinite article is in most ways similar:
There are some aspects of grammar dealing with these articles that differ slightly from Standard NHG, especially in the area of contractions between prepositions and articles. Swiss German does utilize the contractions common in NHG, such as in dem -- im and von dem -- vom, but Zürittüütsch goes a few steps farther: here, it is interesting to note, the original MHG cases seem to have been preserved, for in some of the fusions, there appear remnants of the articles that still exist in NHG, for example NHG "an den Hals" is in Schwyzertütsch: a + de + Hals -- "an Hals," even though the masculine plural article shows no 'n' in modern Swiss. There are also contractions that occur where they would not normally in NHG Standard, for instance with the indefinite articles, such as: 
The adjective system for the Swiss German dialects seems to exhibit wide variation, at least in certain aspects. As Keller states, "Zürittüütsch belongs to those Swiss German dialects where the adjectives are inflected for gender, number, and case only when they precede the noun or are used as nouns."  This does not on the whole seem to differ from the usage in NHG, then, although the forms and endings of the adjectives are very different. Once again, as for the articles, the only cases that now exist are the common and the dative cases. Keller mentions only two declensions, the strong and the weak, but says nothing about the mixed declension; however, in a footnote is written the following: "Strong declension: adjective stands alone or is preceded, in the common case only, by the indefinite article or the m. poss. pron. Weak declension: adjective is preceded by the definite article or a demonstrative pronoun or the dative of the indefinite article or the possessive pronoun."  This would seem to indicate the usage of the declensions varies quite significantly from that in NHG, a point he does not discuss; instead, he claims that "the weak and strong declensions are used on the whole as in NHG." In any case, the adjective endings in the strong declension do bear a strong resemblance to those of the definite articles, as is also true in NHG:
Keller notes that this table is actually in a state of flux at the moment, as the plural -i ending for all forms is only a recent development, and used to be instead -i for the neuter plurals but -ø for both masculine and feminine plurals. The weak declension for adjectives also is rather different from Standard NHG; here, no distinction whatsoever is made for gender, but only for number, thus:
There are several salient features of Swiss German adjective formation that are foreign to NHG, such as, for instance, the reintroduction of the root -n on some adjectives when vocalic suffixes are added; thus, the word 'chly' (NHG 'klein', little) becomes, in its various declensions chlyne, chlyni, but chlys or even chlyses. Because this reintroduction of the -n is such a common occurrence, in fact, it is often attached by analogy in places where historically it does not belong, such as the Swiss 'frei' -- freine, freini, but freis, as well as früe (NHG 'früh', early) -- früene, früeni, but frües. A similar phenomenon occurs in the case of adjectives ending in -li, which is the Swiss form of the NHG -lich; here, as in the previous examples, the historical ending is brought back for use between vowels: nützli ('nützlich', useful) -- nützlichi, nützlichem. 
Keller devotes a small section in his morphological description to the declining of numerals in Zürittüütsch, but does not succeed in clearly explaining what seems to be a very interesting occurrence. The number one, 'äin', according to this description, is fairly regular and is declined like the personal pronoun myn, which will be discussed next. For the other numbers, however, there is some confusion, since "the numerals zwäi '2' and drüü '3' distinguish three genders and two cases, a common case and a dative, when used as nouns," but nothing is said about the higher numbers. In any case, Keller says, "in the speech of the younger generation there is a good deal of confusion between the genders." Thus the forms for two and three are more like the weak declension of adjectives, and are as such: 
The forms of the personal and possessive pronouns in Swiss German, although very different at the first appearance from their counterparts in NHG, in fact do not depart greatly, at least not in any unexpected ways. The main difference, it seems, which can account for the external differences, is the question of stress: "stress usually produces a lengthened vowel, lack of stress causes a reduction of the vowel."  The question of stress thus produces three distinct forms for each pronoun -- a stressed form, used mostly for contrasting and clarifying; a semi-stressed form used in everyday conversation; and an unstressed form, which can appear enclitically, used before other pronouns and between stressed words. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the pronouns in Swiss German, however, is that, unlike all the other articles and determiners, they are indeed marked for three different cases: the nominative, accusative, and the dative. On the whole, this is not surprising (a similar situation occurs in English as well), but it is nonetheless important. The table that Keller lays out, then, is the following: 
The possessive pronouns are in general also much like the forms in NHG; once again, they are not marked for accusative-nominative distinction, and their endings follow much the same pattern as did the adjective endings, thus: 
Demonstrative pronouns in Zürittüütsch are only slightly varied from Standard NHG: they do not show case differentiation except between the common and dative cases, and the words themselves look a little "strange" to the modern German's eyes: the Swiss equivalent of NHG dieser 'this' is dëë, while the word for dieser 'that' is desäb. Keller notes that all the following forms are spoken with strong emphasis, which is only natural since they are demonstrative pronouns. The paradigm is then this: 
By far the most detailed and interesting feature of Schwyzertütsch morphology is the verbal structures it uses. Keller divides the verbs in his dialects up into three main categories, based mostly off of the way in which they form their past participle (although this classification does not correspond precisely to the traditional categorization of NHG verbs).
The first type of verbs are the ones that form their past participle in -e(n), and are much like the typical strong verbs in Standard NHG. Thus all these verbs undergo a vowel alternation from the present to the past participle (there is no form of the simple preterite past in the Swiss German dialects); for the most part these alternations occur in fairly predictable ways, which Keller separates into eleven classes, which for the most part exhibit the same characteristics of their Standard NHG counterparts. The second type of verbs in Keller's classification are the continuation from OHG and MHG -jan verbs, thus they form their past participle in -t, and include verbs like the extremely common -ieren verbs and normal weak verbs, as well as some of what are in NHG considered mixed verbs, like wüsse(n) -- gewüsst and setze(n) -- gsetzt. The third class of verbs is summarily described by Keller thus: "By and large, this type continues the OHG weak -en and -on classes, i.e. mainly verbs derived from adjectives and nouns with inchoative meaning. Further, all verbs in -le, -ere, -ne, -me belong to Type C." Examples of these types are lose(n) -- gloset ('to listen') and waarme(n) -- gwaarmet ('to become warm'). 
The Swiss German dialects, as stated before, do not make use of the simple past or preterite form. However, they do have all of the other tenses of Standard NHG: present (in both indicative and subjunctive moods), the conditional, the compound past tenses (perfect and pluperfect), and a passive construction. In general, all these tenses are formed as they are in NHG, adding the following endings:
The future and passive constructions seem for Zürittüütsch to be exactly like those of NHG; the passive is formed with a form of the verb wëërde(n), while the future can also be formed with the wëërde(n) construction, but the Swiss tend to prefer using the present tense with an adverb of time as the future indicator. 
Modal auxiliaries in Schwyzertütsch, although somewhat different in appearance from the NHG norms, are still fairly regular, and can be summarized in the following table: 
There are naturally a few exceptions to the rules for verbs laid out above, but it is interesting to note that most of these exceptions do in and of themselves have a pattern as well: almost all the exceptions are monosyllabic verbs, and they follow a similar process of declension. A few examples of these kinds of verbs are: 
As can clearly be seen by the length and detailed explanation required for some of the morphological features of Schwyzertütsch, this is a rather complicated dialect, at least in certain areas. As opposed to some of the northern German dialects where simplification of grammatical and morphological forms has occurred, in many cases Swiss German has taken the opposite direction. Sadly, there does not seem to be much literature available on this subject; although many books have been published on "deutsche Mundartforschung," the accessibility of these books is extremely limited. Hopefully this problem can be remedied if linguists began to concentrate on areas in the field that need expansion. It seems that the case of Swiss German would be a good choice.
Written and © Nancy Thuleen in 1991 for Linguistics 130 at Pomona College.
If needed, cite using something like the following:
Thuleen, Nancy. "An Examination of Swiss German in and around Zürich." Website Article. 20 December 1991. <http://www.nthuleen.com/papers/130paper2.html>.