Swiss German - History


Most Swiss German dialects, being High Alemannic dialects, have completed the High German consonant shift (synonyms: Second Germanic consonant shift, or High German vowel shift), that is, they have not only changed t to or and p to or, but also k to or . But, for example, most Swiss dialects have initial or instead of k; there are, however, exceptions, namely the idioms of Chur and Basel. Basel German is a Low Alemannic dialect (mostly spoken those days in the northern border to Switzerland in Germany), and Chur German is basically High Alemannic without initial or .


High Alemannic Low Alemannic Standard German translation

However, some Highest Alemannic dialects, such as the Unterwalden dialect to some extent, but especially the dialect spoken in the German part of the valley of Valais (south-western Switzerland, German: Wallis), did not participate in the Second Germanic consonant shift (synonym, but not quite correctly named: High German vowel shift) happening between 4th and 9th century south of the so-called Benrather Line in the German world, actually in the High German world, while high refers to the geographically higher regions of the German spoken world of those days (combining Upper German and Middle German languages/dialects - also referring to their geographical locations). North of the Benrather line up to the North Sea this consonant shift had not been happening. Therefore, it is not so surprising that you will find similarieties among the Highest Alemannic dialects in Switzerland and Low German dialects in the north of Germany.

The same phenomena you also find at different, distributed places in the Alps, mainly east of the Valais, e.g. also in the valley of Schanfigg (south-eastern Switzerland in the canton of Graubünden (engl.: Grisons), where you also find the resort Arosa).

By the way, the reason, why you find this kind of characteristics in the Schanfigg valley as well, even though the German spoken part of the canton of Graubünden belongs to the High Alemannic dialect regions (and they did actually take part in this mentioned consonant shift), that there was a migration going on between the 12th and 13th century, from the upper Wallis to more eastern Alps (but also south) into Grisons and even further to western Austria and northern Italy. Therefore, the fact, that you find linguistic specialities in this valley is based on two aspects: First, the missing of the Second Germanic consonant shift in the Wallis valley (4th-9th century AD) and, secondly, because of the migration (12th and 13th century AD) of Walliser to this Grisonian valley.

Informally, you make a distinction between the German speaking people living in the canton of Valais, the Walliser, and the migrated ones, the Walsers (to be found mainly in: Grisons, Vorarlberg in West-Austria, Ticino in South-Switzerland, south of the Monte Rosa mountain chain in Italy (e.g. in Issime in the Aosta valley), Tirol in North-Italy, and Allgäu in Bavaria).

You will generally find the Walser communities situated on higher alpine regions, because that way they were able to stay independent of the reigning forces of those days, who did not or were not able to follow and monitor them all the time necessary at these hostile and hard to survive areas. So therefore, you can call the Walser pioneers of the liberalisation from Serfdom and Feudalism! And Walser villages are easily distinguishable from Grisonian ones, since Walser houses are made of wood instead of stone.


Zürich dialect Unterwalden dialect Schanfigg and Issime dialects Standard German translation

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