Swiss German - Vocabulary

Vocabulary

The vocabulary is rather rich, especially in rural areas: many specialised terms have been retained, e.g., regarding cattle or weather. In the cities, much of the rural vocabulary has been lost.

Most word adoptions come from Standard German. Many of these are now so common that they have totally replaced the original Swiss German words, e.g. the words Hügel 'hill' (instead of Egg, Bühl), Lippe 'lip' (instead of Lefzge). Others have replaced the original words only in parts of Switzerland, e.g., Butter 'butter' (originally called Anken in most of Switzerland). Virtually any Swiss Standard German word can be borrowed into Swiss German, always adapted to Swiss German phonology. However, certain Standard German words are never used in Swiss German, for instance Frühstück 'breakfast', niedlich 'cute' or zu hause 'at home'; instead, the native words Zmorge, härzig and dehei are used.

Swiss dialects have quite a few words from French, which are perfectly assimilated. Glace (ice cream) for example is pronounced /ɡlas/ in French but or in many Swiss German dialects. The French word for 'thank you', merci, is also used as in merci vilmal, literally "thanks many times". Possibly, these words are not direct adoptions from French but survivors of the once more numerous French loanwords in Standard German, many of which have fallen out of use in Germany.

In recent years, Swiss dialects have also taken some English words which already sound very Swiss, e.g., ('to eat', from "food"), ('to play computer games', from "game") or or – ('to snowboard', from "snowboard"). These words are probably not direct loanwords from English, but have been adopted through standard German intermediation. While most of those loanwords are of recent origin, some have been in use for decades, e.g. (to play football, from "shoot").

There are also a few English words which are modern adoptions from Swiss German. The dishes müesli, and rösti have become English words, as did loess (fine grain), flysch (sandstone formation), kepi, landamman, kilch, schiffli, and putsch in a political sense. The term bivouac is sometimes explained as originating from Swiss German, while printed etymological dictionaries (e.g. the German Kluge or Knaurs Etymological Dictionary) derive it from Low German instead.

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