The other day I came across an interesting article on efforts to keep the Romansh language alive. Romansh or Romansch, which you can hear in last week’s language quiz, is a Romance language spoken mainly in the Swiss Canton of Graubuenden (Grischun/Grigione/Grissons) by about 60,000 people.
There appears to be mixed views on the language – some people are very enthusiastic about the language and do everything they can to encourage its use, others see the language as a handicap.
One significant problem is that Romansh speakers can’t agree which of the five varieties of Romansh should be taught in schools. Lia Rumantscha, the organisation that promotes the language, would like to see Rumantsch Grischun, a standard written form of the language, used in all schools by next year. Other people would prefer to continue using their local varieties of Romansh in schools.
According to a book I was reading yesterday, Sustaining linguistic diversity: endangered and minority languages and language varieties, there have been similar problems in Ireland with the government wanting a standard form of Irish taught in schools, while people in Irish-speaking areas (gealtachtaí) would prefer to use their local varieties of the language.
4 thoughts on “Romansh”
From what I’ve read, 2 of the 5 main dialects are in extremis and of the other three one is leaps and bounds ahead of the other 2. Apparently nobody but Lia Rumantscha likes Grischun, so much so that interdialect conversation will happen in German.
I really think the “best” thing will be to wait till Surselvian (the largest dialect) is the only one left, but by that time it will probably be too late.
Interestingly, Occitan is in much the same boat: 6 divergent dialects (some, e.g. Gascon, the most divergent) each being clung to so that the only common communication tool is French. Occitan, though, has one advantage: One dialect (Aranese) is official (though in Spain) but it’s got only about 4000 speakers.
From my experience of Irish, I think the best is to teach the standard written form, because once that is mastered, if interested, the person can easily start using vocabulary, pronunciation and idioms of any of the dialects. Not only that, but there is a better chance of understanding the dialects if you learn the “standard” first, and then study the dialects.
The situation you describe (authorities wanting a ‘standard’ and speakers wanting to use their own forms) is pretty much the standard one in minority language situations, especially when there is no established written form (or the only written standard is unpopular for whatever reason).
The usual result is the increased decimation of the minority language and accelerated shift to the majority standard.
It’s too bad Radio Rumantsch’s streaming audio is only available as RealAudio- The only streaming format that I have yet to find an app for on my iPod touch… 😛