Romansh people

Last updated
Romanisch als bestbeherschte Sprache 2000.PNG
Proportion of people declaring Romansh as their "language of best command" in Grisons (municipalities with more than 10% are shown), as of 2000.
Total population
c. 45,000
Regions with significant populations
Flag of Canton of Graubunden.svg  Grisons c. 30,000 (2017) [1]
Flag of Canton of Zurich.svg  Zürich c. 5,000 (2017) [1]
Romansh, Swiss German
Christianity (majority Roman Catholic, Swiss Reformed)
Related ethnic groups
other Swiss; Friulians, Ladin people, Lombards

The Romansh people (also spelled Romansch, Rumantsch, or Romanche; Romansh: rumantschs, rumàntschs, romauntschs or romontschs) are a Romance [2] [3] ethnic group, the speakers of the Romansh language, native to the Swiss canton of Grisons (Graubünden).


The Romansh speaking population is collectively known as Rumantschia in Romansh (alternatively rumantschadad, Vallader: rumantschità, Sursilvan: romontschadad) . This term has come to replace the German official legal term of "Gemeinschaft der Bündner Romanen" introduced in 1982. [4]

As of 2017, they make up close to 45,000 inhabitants of Switzerland, or 0.85% of its population, and close to 30,000 inhabitants of the canton of Grisons (or 14.7% of Grisons' population). [5] [1]


Approximate extent of Raetia Curiensis in the 10th century. Churraetien.png
Approximate extent of Raetia Curiensis in the 10th century.

The territory of Switzerland was Romanized in the 1st to 3rd centuries AD, and its population spoke a form of Vulgar Latin by the time of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century. The province of Raetia prima, established c. 300 (under Diocletian) became known as Raetia Curiensis, ruled by the bishops of Chur throughout the 5th to 12th centuries (albeit nominally part of the Duchy of Swabia from the 10th century). This included Sarganserland (now Canton of St. Gallen), as far as Lake Walen and the Linth River, the Ill basin in what is now Vorarlberg, and the upper Vinschgau in what is now South Tyrol.

Rhaeto-Romance linguistic unity broke down from the end of the Carolingian period, with the establishment of the imperial counties of Werdenberg and Tyrol to the north and east, and the March of Verona to the south. Nominally under Frankish rule from the 6th century, the local bishops of Chur still retained de facto control. In the mid-8th century a surviving Lex Romana Curiensis , a "Roman Law of Chur", was an abbreviated epitome of the Breviary of Alaric. After the death of the last Victorid bishop Tello of Chur in 765, King Charlemagne took the occasion to issue a document of protection declaring Tello's successors his vassals. From the 770s onwards, Charlemagne appointed the bishops of Chur himself, increasing Frankish control over the territory. Upon the death of Bishop Remedius in 806/7 he legislated a division between episcopal and comital property, ending the de facto secular rule of the Chur bishops. He appointed Hunfriding counts, but the ecclesiastical and secular claims to power remained a source of contention. The Hunfriding count Burchard II was able to proclaim himself a duke of Swabia in 917.

In the high medieval period, with the advance of Alemannic Germans, the linguistic boundary of Latin (Romance) speakers was pushed back to what would become Grisons (the Three Leagues). Sargans was part of the county of Werdenberg from the 12th century. The territory of Grisons, the southern part of Raetia Curiensis (in the medieval period known as Upper Raetia, Raetia superior, Oberrätien) [6] remained predominantly Latin-speaking throughout the early modern period (with the exception of the high pastures settled by the Walser).

Loss of Romansh-speaking majority since 1860 by municipality (municipalities retaining a Romansh-speaking majority as of the 2000 census are shown in blue) Ruckgang des Bundnerromanischen Neuzeit.PNG
Loss of Romansh-speaking majority since 1860 by municipality (municipalities retaining a Romansh-speaking majority as of the 2000 census are shown in blue)

When Grisons became part of Switzerland in 1803, it had a population of roughly 73,000, of whom around 36,600 were Romansh speakers—many of them monolingual—living mostly within the Romansh-speaking valleys. [7] The number of Romansh speakers has remained roughly constant since that time (while, in the same period, the population of Switzerland has nearly quintupled).

The language border with German, which had mostly been stable since the 16th century, now began moving again as more and more villages shifted to German. One cause was the admission of Grisons as a Swiss canton, which brought Romansh-speakers into more frequent contact with German-speakers. Another factor was the increased power of the central government of Grisons, which used German as its administrative language. [8] Some people even welcomed the disappearance of Romansh, in particular among progressives. In their eyes, Romansh was an obstacle to the economic and intellectual development of the Romansh people. [9]

Around 1880, the entire Romansh-speaking area still formed a single continuous geographical unit. But by the end of the century, the so-called "Central-Grisons language bridge" began to disappear. [10] Rumantschia lost its contiguity in the early 20th century, with the weakening of Sutsilvan in the Posterior Rhine valley.

Sutsilvan is now limited to some 1,000 speakers concentrated in a language island on the left bank of the Posterior Rhine, centered on Casti-Wergenstein (the former Schams subdistrict).

Starting in the mid-to-late 19th century, a revival movement began, often called the "Rhaeto-Romansh renaissance". In 1919, the Lia Rumantscha was founded to serve as an umbrella organization for the various regional language societies. In 1937, the Swiss government proposed the recognition of the Romansh language as Switzerland's fourth national language (alongside German, French and Italian). The political background for this was the irredentist propaganda by Fascist Italy, which claimed Grisons along with the Ticino as ethnically Italian territory. In a popular vote on 20 February 1938, a majority of 91.6% voted for the recognition of Romansh as an official language for use within the canton of Grisons.

Contemporary situation

Chalandamarz is a traditional festival in the Engadin, Val Mustair, Surmeir/Albula and formerly the Posterior Rhine valley region, as well as in the Italian-speaking parts of Grisons (Poschiavo, Bregaglia, Mesolcina); it is not known in the Surselva region. Chalandamarz Guarda 2017 3.jpeg
Chalandamarz is a traditional festival in the Engadin, Val Mustair, Surmeir/Albula and formerly the Posterior Rhine valley region, as well as in the Italian-speaking parts of Grisons (Poschiavo, Bregaglia, Mesolcina); it is not known in the Surselva region.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, debate about the future role of Switzerland within what was going to become the European Union prompted a reawakening of "the long-dormant Romansh national movement". Elements within this movement advocated an ultimate transfer of sovereignty from the Swiss Confederation to a future Federal Europe. A 1996 referendum strengthened the status of Romansh in Switzerland, permitting its use at the federal level. [11]

There is no general sense of unity within "Rumantschia" due to regional separation and dialectal variations. Rumantsch Grischun was an attempt launched in the 1980s to introduce an artificial standard version of Rumantsch; but acceptance of this standard has been limited. There are instead five written dialects, each with its own orthography: Sursilvan, Sutsilvan, Surmiran, Putèr and Vallader.

As of 2000, areas with a majority of native Rumantsch speakers were separated into four disconnected parts: Surselva (Sursilvan, Tuatschin), Schams (Sutsilvan), Albula/Surmeir (Surmiran) and Engadin with Val Mustair (Putèr, Vallader, Jauer).

A renewed effort to introduce course material in Rumantsch Grischun for primary education was started in 2006. [4] A cantonal law of 2006 aims to preserve the trilingual (Romansh, Italian, German) character of Grisons. It prescribes that primary schools, public signage and correspondence by the municipal authorities are to be exclusively in the historically predominant language as long as this language is spoken by at least 40% of the population.

In cases where the population speaking the historically predominant language numbers between 20% and 40%, municipal authorities are obliged to offer official communication and primary education in this language alongside the majority language.

In cases where the fraction of Romansh or Italian speakers is between 10% and 20%, authorities are obliged as a minimum to offer Romansh or Italian as a subject in primary education. [12]

Notable people

See also

Related Research Articles

Romansh language Gallo-Romance language of southeast Switzerland

Romansh is a Romance language spoken predominantly in the Swiss canton of the Grisons (Graubünden). Romansh has been recognized as a national language of Switzerland since 1938, and as an official language in correspondence with Romansh-speaking citizens since 1996, along with German, French, and Italian. It also has official status in the canton of the Grisons alongside German and Italian and is used as the medium of instruction in schools in Romansh-speaking areas. It is sometimes grouped by linguists with Ladin and Friulian as the Rhaeto-Romance languages, though this is disputed.

Languages of Switzerland Overview of the languages spoken in Switzerland

The four national languages of Switzerland are German, French, Italian and Romansh. German, French and Italian maintain equal status as official languages at the national level within the Federal Administration of the Swiss Confederation, while Romansh is used in dealings with people who speak it. In some situations, Latin is used, particularly as a single language to denote the country.

Grisons Largest and easternmost canton of Switzerland

The Grisons or Graubünden, more formally the canton of the Grisons or the canton of Graubünden, is one of the twenty-six cantons of Switzerland. It has eleven regions, and its capital is Chur. The German name of the canton, Graubünden, translates as the "Grey Leagues", referring to the canton's origin in three local alliances, the Three Leagues. The other native names also refer to the Grey League. The Alpine ibex is the canton's heraldic symbol.

Chur Capital of the Grisons, Switzerland

Chur is the capital and largest town of the Swiss canton of the Grisons and lies in the Grisonian Rhine Valley, where the Rhine turns towards the north, in the northern part of the canton. The city, which is located on the right bank of the Rhine, is reputedly the oldest town of Switzerland.

Engadin Valley in the Swiss Alps

The Engadin or Engadine is a long high Alpine valley region in the eastern Swiss Alps in the canton of Graubünden in southeasternmost Switzerland with about 25,000 inhabitants. It follows the route of the Inn from its headwaters at Maloja Pass in the southwest running roughly northeast until the Inn flows into Austria, little less than one hundred kilometers downstream. The En/Inn subsequently flows at Passau into the Danube, making it the only Swiss river to drain into the Black Sea. The Engadine is protected by high mountain ranges on all sides and is famous for its sunny climate, beautiful landscapes and outdoor activities.

Rhaeto-Romance languages Proposed Romance subfamily of northeast Italy and Switzerland

Rhaeto-Romance, Rheto-Romance, or Rhaetian, is a purported subfamily of the Romance languages that is spoken in south-eastern Switzerland and north-eastern Italy. The name "Rhaeto-Romance" refers to the former Roman province of Raetia. The question of whether these languages actually form a subfamily is called the Questione Ladina. The Italian linguist Graziadio Ascoli, writing in 1873, found them to share a number of intricacies and believed they formed a linguistic group. What distinguishes the Rhaeto-Romance languages from Italian are their phonemic vowel length, consonant formation, and a central rounded vowel series. If the subfamily is genuine, three languages would belong to it: Romansh in Switzerland, and Ladin and Friulian in Italy. Their combined number of speakers is about 660,000; the large majority of these speak Friulian.

As there is no dominant national language, the four main languages of French, Italian, German and Romansch form the four branches which make up a literature of Switzerland. The original Swiss Confederation, from its foundation in 1291 up to 1798, gained only a few French-speaking districts in what is now the Canton of Fribourg, and so the German language dominated. During that period the Swiss vernacular literature was in German, although in the 18th century, French became fashionable in Bern and elsewhere. At that time, Geneva and Lausanne were not yet Swiss: Geneva was an ally and Vaud a subject land. The French branch does not really begin to qualify as Swiss writing until after 1815, when the French-speaking regions gained full status as Swiss cantons. The Italian and Romansch-Ladin branches are less prominent.

Three Leagues

The Three Leagues, sometimes referred to as Raetia, was the alliance of 1471 of the League of God's House, the League of the Ten Jurisdictions and the Grey League, leading eventually to the formation of the Swiss canton of Graubünden (Grisons).


The Vorderrhein is one of the two sources of the Rhine. Its catchment area of 1,512 square kilometres is located predominantly in the canton of Graubünden (Switzerland). The Vorderrhein is about 76 kilometres (47 mi) long, thus more than 5% longer than the Hinterrhein/Rein Posteriur. The Vorderrhein, however, has an average water flow of 53.8 m3/s (1,900 cu ft/s), which is less than the flow of the Hinterrhein. According to the Atlas of Switzerland of the Swiss Federal Office of Topography, the source of the Vorderrhein—and thus of the Rhine—is located north of the Rein da Tuma and Lake Toma.

Hinterrhein (river)

The Hinterrhein is one of the two initial tributaries of the Rhine in the canton of Graubünden in Switzerland, flowing from the village Hinterrhein near the San Bernardino Pass through the Rheinwald valley into a gorge called Roflaschlucht. In this gorge an equally sized tributary, the Avers Rhine, adds waters from the deep Val Ferrera and the very remote alp Avers and its side valley Valle di Lei on Italian territory. After the Rofla Gorge, the valley widens into a section called Schams. The Hinterrhein then reaches Andeer, before passing through another gorge, Viamala just before Thusis. Now another tributary of slightly bigger volume reaches the Hinterrhein as the Landwasser, draining a system of valleys, which is commonly known as Davos joins via the Albula coming from the Albula Pass, which is also the name of a railway line that has become a UNESCO world heritage. Another big tributary of Albula river is Gelgia from the Julier pass area. After flowing to Rothenbrunnen through a valley called Domleschg the river is again left alone from civilisation in the floodplain Isla Bella near Rhäzüns, before it joins the Anterior Rhine at Reichenau.

Lower Engadine Valley in Graubünden, Switzerland

The Lower Engadine is part of the Engadine, traversed by the river En and located at the most eastern part of Switzerland in the Canton Graubünden.


Sursilvan is a group of dialects of the Romansh language spoken in the Swiss district of Surselva. It is the most widely spoken variety of Romansh with 17,897 people within the Surselva District (54.8%) naming Romansh as a habitually spoken language in the Swiss census of 2000. The most closely related variety is Sutsilvan, which is spoken in the area located to the east of the district.

Surmiran is a dialect of the Romansh language. It is spoken in Surmeir and in the Albula Valley in the Grisons Canton, in Switzerland.

Jauer dialect (Romansh)

Jauer is a dialect of Romansh that is spoken in the Val Müstair. It is closely related to the neighboring dialect of the Lower Engadine, Vallader as well as Putèr spoken the Upper Engadine. The name of the dialect is derived from a nickname based on the personal pronoun jau [] 'I', and can be translated as 'the jau-sayers', as this contrasts with Vallader eu, pronounced [], [], [], [], or [] in the Lower Engadine.

Vallader dialect

Vallader is a variety of the Romansh language spoken in the Lower Engadine valley of southeast Switzerland, between Martina and Zernez. It is also used as a written language in the nearby community of Val Müstair, where Jauer is spoken. In 2008, schools in the Val Müstair switched from Vallader to Rumantsch Grischun as their written language, but switched back to Vallader in 2012, following a referendum.

The Dicziunari Rumantsch Grischun is the biggest dictionary of the Romansh language.

Bündner Wirren

The Bündner Wirren was a conflict that lasted between 1618 and 1639 in what is now the Swiss canton of Graubünden.

Putèr Variant of Romansh

Puter is a variety of Romansh spoken in the Engadin valley in Graubünden, which is in the southeastern part of Switzerland. It is spoken in the central northwestern end of the valley between S-chanf and St. Moritz, as well as in the region of the Bernina Pass. Romansh was named by 5,497 people within the upper Engadine valley (30%) as a habitually spoken language in the census of 2000, which probably corresponds roughly to the total number of speakers. The term is probably originally a nickname derived from put 'porridge', meaning 'porridge-eaters'.

Raetia Curiensis

Raetia Curiensis was an early medieval province in Central Europe, named after the preceding Roman province of Raetia prima which retained its Romansh culture during the Migration Period, while the adjacent territories in the north were largely settled by Alemannic tribes. The administrative capital was Chur in the present Swiss canton of Grisons.

Surselva Region is one of the eleven administrative districts in the canton of Graubünden in Switzerland. It was created on 1 January 2017 as part of a reorganization of the canton.


  1. 1 2 3 "Ständige Wohnbevölkerung nach Hauptsprachen und Kanton" (XLS) (official site) (in German, French, and Italian). Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Federal Statistical Office. 21 February 2019. Retrieved 2019-07-11. 28,699 ± 4.9% (27,30030,100). The largest community of speakers outside of Grisons, some 5,000 people, is in the canton of Zürich (cited as 5,265 ± 12.6%).
  2. Minahan, James (2000). One Europe, Many Nations: A Historical Dictionary of European National Groups. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 776. ISBN   0313309841. Romance (Latin) nations... Romansh
  3. Rhaeto-Romance can be classified as either Gallo-Romance, or as a separate branch within the Western Romance languages. Rhaeto-Romance is a diverse group, with the Italian varieties influenced by Venetian and Italian and Romansh by Franco-Provençal.
  4. 1 2 Lexicon istoric retic s.v. Rumantschia
  5. "Ständige Wohnbevölkerung nach Hauptsprachen in der Schweiz" (XLS) (official site) (in German, French, and Italian). Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Federal Statistical Office. 21 February 2019. Retrieved 2019-07-11. cited as 44,354 ± 4.0%. This amounts to a confidence interval of 42,50046,200.
  6. deinde [appellantur] Raetia Prima et Raetia Secunda, necnon Raetia Alpestria et Raetia Plana vel Campestris, vel Raetia Cana seu Grisaea et Raetia Nova, mox Raetia Superior et Raetia Inferior: atque Alemannia denique et Raetia Curiensis Ulrich Campell (d. 1582), De Raetia ac Raetis liber posterior, ed. P. Plattner, Quellen zur Schweizer Geschichte (1877), p. 58.
  7. Furer (2005). p. 9
  8. Furer, Jean-Jacques (2005), Eidgenössische Volkszählung 2000 – Die aktuelle Lage des Romanischen, Neuchâtel: Bundesamt für Statistik, ISBN   978-3-303-01202-4, pp. 9, 23
  9. Coray, Renata (2008), Von der Mumma Romontscha zum Retortenbaby Rumantsch Grischun: Rätoromanische Sprachmythen, p. 96
  10. Kraas, Frauke (1992), Die Rätoromanen Graubündens: Peripherisierung einer Minderheit, p. 151
  11. James Minahan (1 January 2002). Encyclopedia of the stateless nations. 3. L – R. Greenwood. p. 1602. ISBN   978-0-313-32111-5 . Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  12. Sprachengesetz des Kantons Graubünden (SpG; 2006), Art. 16–20 / S. 5 f.