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2 ECMI Brief 1 (1998)

handle is hein.ecmi/ecmiibrf0002 and id is 1 raw text is: Language Policy in Multilingual Switzerland:
Overview and Recent Developments
Paper presented at the
Cicle de conftrencies sobre politica lingiiistica
Direcci6 general de politica lingiiistica
Barcelona, 4 December 1998
Franqois Grin1
1. Introduction
Switzerland is often quoted as a success story for its handling of linguistic and cultural
diversity. In this presentation, I will try to assess this success: to what extent is this reputation
justified? What are the conditions that have resulted in this very particular way of dealing
with diversity in a multilingual state? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Swiss
Since time and space are too limited to engage in a full-fledged historical, political, socio-
linguistic and economic assessment of Swiss quadrilingualism, let alone in a comparative
discussion, I will eschew the usual presentation of demo- and sociolinguistic data in favour of
a more interpretative approach, with the aim to provide the reader with an analytical, rather
than descriptive perspective on Swiss multilingualism today. Much relevant detail will have to
be omitted, meaning that this text will concentrate on what I consider to be the essential di-
mensions of the problem. However, additional information (including an array of relevant
figures) can be found in the references listed at the end of this paper.
This paper is organised as follows. In Section 2, I review the historical foundations of Swiss
multilingualism; the corresponding institutional arrangements are presented in Section 3;
Section 4 is devoted to a discussion of the current challenges that Switzerland is confronted
with in its handling of linguistic diversity.
2. The roots of Swiss multilingualism: an overview
Despite a small population of barely over 7 million, Switzerland has four national languages,
namely German (declared as their main language, in the standard or dialectal form, by
63,6% of the resident population), French (19,2%), Italian (7,6%) and Romanche (0,6%),
according to 1990 Federal Census returns. Accordingly, 9% of the resident population claims
a non-national language as their main language, which is a very high percentage in
international comparison.
A vast array of figures could be presented to give a fuller socio- and demolinguistic portrait of
Switzerland. However, these can easily be retrieved from a variety of sources (e.g. Schldpfer,
1982; D6partement f6d6ral de l'int6rieur, 1989; Liidi, Werlen and Bianconi, 1997; Matthey
and De Pietro, 1997), and I wish to stress other, possibly less known dimensions. More
precisely, before discussing the institutional aspects which are a necessary part of any
description of the Swiss language situation, it is interesting to discuss the history which has
resulted in what is present-day Switzerland, because historical factors go a long way towards
explaining the strengths and weaknesses of Swiss quadrilingualism.
1 Deputy Director, European Centre for Minority Issues, Flensburg, Germany, and Maitre
d enseignement et de recherche, Department of Economics, University of Geneva, Switzerland.

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