Romansh speakers learn to love Zurich

Zurich holds many attractions for Romansh expats. ST/swiss-image

Zurich is home to the largest group of Romansh-speakers living outside Graubünden, with many having moved there for economic reasons.

This content was published on August 8, 2006 minutes

Anton Killias, president of Quarta Lingua, a Romansh language association in Zurich, tells swissinfo about his experiences as an expat.

Killias's association was founded in 1972 and has about 400 members, not all of whom are native Romansh speakers.

There are also numerous other Romansh associations in Zurich, as well as a mixed Romansh-German choir. However, there are no places yet where children can learn Romansh.

swissinfo: How big is the Zurich Romansh community?

Anton Killias: We don't know exactly how big the community is because it's not in the census, but it is the biggest. It also has to do with German and Romansh bilingualism. When I went to school we didn't speak a word of German, now the children grow up practically bilingual. Then comes the question which one do you speak more. If someone asks me that, then I have to say German because I live in Zurich. But in the family and with Romansh- speaking friends one speaks Romansh, of course.

swissinfo: Why do Romansh-speakers leave Graubünden for Zurich?

A.K.: In my days we had big families, we were eight siblings. Only one could take over the farm so the others had to train in something else and in the village there were few possibilities. Zurich is the biggest Swiss economic metropolis, so it's very attractive. To go to university you have to go away and Zurich is the closest. Many simply stayed afterwards.

swissinfo: Are there any disadvantages to living in Zurich?

A. K.: We were homesick and we had to switch to another language. At that time, it was a bit of a culture shock for those of us who had grown up in the mountains. I remember as a young man I was not sure how to use the trams properly. I missed my family too as in the mountains family life was much more intense.

swissinfo: Do many Romansh expats go back to Graubünden when they retire?

A. K.: Many have a residence there, often a holiday home, like me in Andiast, the village where I grew up [near Flims], which has 240 inhabitants... we come in the winter and in summer. But to move back for good would be hard after 40 years in Zurich, where I have friends and where I was politically active.

swissinfo-interview: Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Key facts

Anton Killias was born in 1930 in Andiast, a village in the Surselva, where Sursilvan is spoken.
He has spent most of his life in Zurich, where he worked in insurance and was politically active.
He is now president of Quarta Lingua, a Romansh association which is affiliated to the umbrella Romansh promotion organisation, Lia Rumantscha.

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