Fourth language stands up to be heard

The Romansh radio studios are part of the new offices in Chur Keystone

Switzerland's fourth national language, Romansh, has gained greater recognition with the opening of a new radio and television broadcast centre.

This content was published on June 6, 2006 - 20:51

The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) inaugurated the facilities on Tuesday in Chur the capital of Graubünden, the canton where Romansh is spoken alongside German and Italian.

The SBC (swissinfo's parent company) invested SFr26 million ($21 million) in the new centre, which not only brings together the radio and television units under one roof, but provides the minority language broadcaster with its own television studios for the first time.

Radio and Television Romansh serves less than one per cent of the Swiss population – about 60,000 people - who speak the Latin language. It does not have its own television channel, but has programme slots throughout the week on German-language television.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, SBC director-general Armin Walpen said the new centre was "concrete evidence" that Switzerland's public broadcaster was doing everything in its power to preserve the language.

Swiss justice minister Christoph Blocher told the hundreds of invited guests that the opening of the new studios showed that the SBC was taking the country's diversity seriously.

A Romansh television official, Chasper Pult, told swissinfo: "With this media centre, Romansh gains visibility in the capital of the trilingual canton of Graubünden."

The prominence of the new building in the centre of Chur would help promote understanding for the language in Graubünden since, Pult said, Romansh is often ignored in the only Swiss canton where it is spoken.

The SBC finances Radio and Television Romansh to the tune of SFr22.5 million a year, which is about 1.5 per cent of the SBC's revenues from licensing fees. The federal government and canton Graubünden contribute roughly SFr5 million annually to support the Romansh community.

Many dialects

The language survives in the form of several dialects, five written variants and a standardised composite: the controversial Rumantsch Grischun, which is only starting to make inroads.

In 2004, the cantonal government approved a plan to introduce Rumantsch Grischun into schools as the formal written language.

But many speakers do not want to give up their own dialects, arguing that they can get by in German in formal situations, such as law courts.


Key facts

In 2000, 60,651 people (0.8 per cent of the population) speak Romansh as their main language in Switzerland.
The 1990 figure was 66,082, or one per cent.
35,095 (0.5 per cent) claim Romansh as the language of which they have the best command.
Since 1983, a super-regional written language, Rumantsch Grischun, has existed alongside the five older written variants of Romansh.

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