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Switzerland/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.5 Language issues and policies

Language policy is an important issue in the Swiss political debate surrounding social / national cohesion. Switzerland has four national and three official languages: German (spoken by 63.7% of the population in 2000), French (20.4%), Italian (6.5%), Romansh (0.5%). 9% are other languages than the official ones. See chapter 4.2.4, chapter 5.1.1 and chapter 5.1.9 for more information. An interesting source of information on Swiss language policy is the fifth report (2012) of the Federal Council for the attention of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe on the application of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

The new Languages Act (2010) calls for the implementation of the following key tasks:

  • to form guidelines on the use of the official languages in the federal administration;
  • to support student exchanges;
  • to establish a scientific institution for the study of multilingualism;
  • to support multilingual cantons; and
  • to promote the Romansh and Italian languages in Switzerland.

The Federal Office of Culture is responsible for adopting measures designed to promote multilingualism in society, specifically those areas concerning the promotion of mutual understanding and exchange between the various language communities, lending support to multilingual cantons, and safeguarding and fostering the Italian and Romansh languages and cultures.

Specific measures include a federal government programme to support the preservation and promotion of the Romansh and Italian languages and cultures in the Cantons of Graubünden and Ticino.

Pro Helvetia and other organisations (e.g. the CH Series of the CH Foundation for Federal Cooperation) support the translation of literary and other works from one national language into another (see chapter 8.1.4). At the international level, Pro Helvetia is actively engaged in the European program "Traduki", which focuses on translations from, to and within South Eastern Europe. Pro Helvetia has launched a project entitled "Moving Words", which ran from 2009 to 2012 and focuses on translation and related projects.

Furthermore, there are also various private initiatives, like "TransHelvetia", which organise cooperation and exchanges between theatre companies in the German and French-speaking parts of Switzerland. TransHelvetia is financed by a private foundation.

Chapter published: 12-11-2014

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