Romansh (/rˈmænʃ, rˈmɑːnʃ/; sometimes also spelled Romansch and Rumantsch; Romansh: rumantsch, rumàntsch, romauntsch or romontsch) is a Romance language spoken predominantly in the southeastern Swiss canton of 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.[7] It also has official status in the canton of 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 a Rhaeto-Romance language (retorumantsch), though this is disputed.[citation needed]

Romansh is one of the descendant languages of the spoken Latin language of the Roman Empire, which by the 5th century AD replaced the Celtic and Raetic languages previously spoken in the area. Romansh retains a small number of words from these languages. Romansh has also been strongly influenced by German in vocabulary and morphosyntax. The language gradually retreated to its current area over the centuries, being replaced in other areas by Alemannic and Bavarian dialects. The earliest writing identified as Romansh dates from the 10th or 11th century, although major works did not appear until the 16th century, when several regional written varieties began to develop. During the 19th century the area where the language was spoken declined, but the Romansh speakers had a literary revival and started a language movement dedicated to halting the decline of the language.[citation needed]

In the 2000 Swiss census, 35,095 people (of whom 27,038 live in the canton of Grisons) indicated Romansh as the language of "best command", and 61,815 as a "regularly spoken" language.[8] In 2010, Switzerland switched to a yearly system of assessment that uses a combination of municipal citizen records and a limited number of surveys.[9]

As of 2017, Romansh speakers make up 44,354 inhabitants of Switzerland, or 0.85% of its population, and 28,698 inhabitants of the canton of Grisons, or 14.7% of Grisons' population.[1][10]

Romansh is divided into five different regional dialects (Sursilvan, Sutsilvan, Surmiran, Putèr, and Vallader), each with its own standardized written language. In addition, a pan-regional variety called Rumantsch Grischun was introduced in 1982, which is controversial among Romansh speakers.

Overall, Jean-Jacques Furer concludes that the shrinkage of the Romansh-speaking areas is continuing, though at different rates depending on the region. At the same time, he notes that Romansh is still very much alive, a fact that is obvious in those areas where it retains a strong presence, such as most parts of the Surselva and the Lower Engadine. It is also assured that Romansh will continue to be transmitted for several more generations, even though each succeeding generation will be more and more rooted in German as well as Romansh. As a result, if the overall linguistic situation does not change, speakers will slowly become fewer and fewer with each generation. He also concludes however, that there are still enough speakers to ensure that Romansh will survive in the long term at least in certain regions.

Overall, Jean-Jacques Furer concludes that the shrinkage of the Romansh-speaking areas is continuing, though at different rates depending on the region. At the same time, he notes that Romansh is still very much alive, a fact that is obvious in those areas where it retains a strong presence, such as most parts of the Surselva and the Lower Engadine. It is also assured that Romansh will continue to be transmitted for several more generations, even though each succeeding generation will be more and more rooted in German as well as Romansh. As a result, if the overall linguistic situation does not change, speakers will slowly become fewer and fewer with each generation. He also concludes however, that there are still enough speakers to ensure that Romansh will survive in the long term at least in certain regions. He considers the Romansh-language school system to be the single most crucial factor in this.[129]

Romansh has up to 26 consonant phonemes. Two are only found in some varieties, and one is found only in loanwords borrowed from German.


The syntax of Romansh has not been thoroughly investigated so far. Regular word order is subject–verb–object, but subject-auxiliary inversion occurs in several cases, placing the verb at the beginning of a sentence:

  • To form a question: Eis el aunc cheu? – "Is he still there?".
  • In declarative sentences: Damaun mein nus en vacanzas – "Tomorrow, we go on vacation".
  • When an independent clause is placed after the dependent clause: Cura ch'el ei entraus, ein tuts stai sin peis – "When he entered, everyone stood up".
  • As well as in other, stylistic variations.

This feature might be a result of contact with German, or it might be an archaic feature no longer found in other Romance languages.

A sentence is negated by adding a negative particle. In Sursilvan, this is buc, placed after the verb, while in other dialects such as Putèr and Vallader, it is nu, placed before the verb:

  • Sursilvan: Jeu hai buc fatg quei – "I didn't do that".
  • Putèr: La vschinauncha nu vegn isoleda da la naiv – "The village does not get cut off by snow".

A feature found only in Putèr and Vallader (as it is in Castilian Spanish) is the preposition of a direct object, when that direct object is a person or an animal, with a, as in test vis a Peider? "did you see Peter?", eau d'he mno a spass al chaun "I took the dog out for a walk", but hest vis la baselgia? "did you see the church?".


No systematic synchronic description of Romansh vocabulary has been carried out so far.[131] Existing studies usually approach the subject from a historical perspective, taking particular interest in pre-Roman substratum, archaic words preserved only in Romansh, or in loan words from German. A project to compile together all known historic and modern Romansh vocabulary is the Dicziunari Rumantsch Grischun, first published in 1904, with the 13th edition currently in preparation.

Raetic and Celtic

The influence of the languages (Raetic and Celtic) spoken in Grisons before the arrival of the Romans is most obvious in placenames, which are often pre-Roman. Since very little is known about the Celtic language once spoken in Grisons, and almost nothing about Raetic, words or placenames thought to come from them are usually simply referred to as "pre-Roman". Apart from placenames, such words are found in landscape features, plant and animal names unique to the Alps, and tools and methods related to alpine transhumance.[132] Such words include:

  • Raetic: gnieu (Surs. igniv; Suts. (a)gnieu, ugnieu; Surm. nia; Put., Val. gnieu; Jauer agnieu) 'nest, eyrie',[133] ampauna (Surs. puauna; Suts. omgia, ontga; Surm. omgia; Puter ampa; Val. amp(u)a) 'raspberry', izun (Surs. izun; Suts. (n)izùn; Surm. izung; Put., Val. uzun; Jauer anzola) 'bilberry',[134] chamutsch (Surs. camutsch; Suts., Surm. tgamutsch; Put., Val. chamuotsch) 'chamois', crap (all dialects) 'rock', gonda (Val.) 'scree slope', grip (Surs., Suts. grep; Surm. crepel, crap; Put., Val. grip) 'cliff', grusaida (Surs. About this soundgrusaida ; Put., Val. grusaida) 'snow rose', panaglia (Surs. About this soundpanaglia ; Val. panaglia) 'butter churn', schember (Surs. schiember; Suts., Surm. schember; Put., Val. dschember) 'Swiss pine' (< *gimberu < Raetic[135] *𐌊𐌉𐌌𐌓𐌖 (*kimru, *gimru).[136]), signun (Surs. About this soundsignun ; Val. signun, Put. signun, sain) 'chief herder on a seasonal pasture' (cf. German Senn), tschess (Surs. tschéss; Surm. tschess, tschissùn) '(golden) eagle', urlaun (Surs.) 'ptarmigan';
  • Celtic: carmun (Surs. carmun) 'weasel', dischariel (Surs. derschalet; Surm. darschalet, ischier; Put., Val. dischöl) 'goblin, nightmare',[137] draig 'sieve', glitta (Surs. gliet(ta)) 'silt, mud', grava (Surs. About this soundgrava ; Val. grava) 'scree',[138] mat 'boy' ~ matta (Surs., Surm., Put., Val. matta; Suts. mata) 'girl', mellen (Surs. About this soundmellen ; Surm., Put. mellen; Suts. melen) 'yellow', tegia (Surs. About this soundtegia ; Suts., Surm. tigia; Put. tegia; Val. teja) 'alpine hut', trutg (Surs., Suts. trutg; Surm. trotg; Put. truoch; Val. truoi) 'footpath, drove way', tschigrun (Surs. About this soundtschigrun ; Put., Val. tschigrun) 'whey cheese'.;;[139]
  • Other Pre-Roman words include: chalun (Surs. calun; Suts. calùn; Surm. calung; Put., Val. gialun) 'hip' (< *galon),[140] tschanc (Put., Val.) 'left (hand)' (< *čaŋk, *čamp),[141] lisüra (Put., Val.) 'joint, link' (< *lisura).[141] Some other possibly Pre-Roman origin words are: tatona (Surs., Suts. totona; Surm. tutona) 'nape of the neck, back of the neck',[142] brentina (Surs. brentina; Suts. brenta, brantgegna; Surm. brainta; Val. brenta) 'fog, mist',[142] dascha (Val.) 'twig'.

Latin stock

Like all languages, Romansh has its own archaisms, that is, words derived from Latin that in most other Romance languages have fallen out of use or taken niche meanings. Examples include baselgia 'church' (Vegliote bašalka, Romanian biserică, French basilique for a basilica), nuidis 'grudgingly, reluctantly' from Latin invitus, urar 'to pray' (Portuguese orar, Romanian a ura – to wish), aura 'weather' (Old French ore, Aromanian avrî), scheiver 'carnival',[143] cudesch 'book', the last two of which are only found in Romansh. The non-Engadinese dialects retain anceiver ~ entschaiver 'to begin', from Latin incipere, otherwise found only in Romanian începe, whereas Surmiran and Engadinese (Putèr, Vallader) and all other Romance languages retain a reflex of Latin *cuminitiāre, e.g. Engadinese (s)cumanzar, Italian cominciare, French commencer. Other examples are memia (adv.) 'too much' from Latin nimia (adj., fem.), only found in Old Occitan,[144] vess 'difficult' from Latin vix 'seldom'[145] (cf. Old Spanish abés, Romanian abia < ad vix), and Engadinese encleger 'to understand' (vs. non-Engadinese capir), also found in Romanian înțelege, Spanish entender and Albanian (n)dëgjoj, from Latin intellegere (which also gave French entendre, which now means "hear"). Some unique innovations include tedlar 'to listen' from Latin titulare and patertgar 'to think' from pertractare.[145]

Germanic loanwords

Another distinguishing characteristic of Romansh vocabulary is its numerous Germanic loanwords.

Some Germanic loan words already entered the language in Late Antiquity or the Early Middle Ages, and they are often found in other Romance languages as well. Words more particular to Romansh include Surs./ Suts. tschadun, Surm. sdom/sdong, Engad. sdun 'spoon', which is also found in Ladin as sciadon and Friaulian as sedòn and is thought to go back to Ostrogothic *skeitho, and it was once probably common throughout Northern Italy.[146] Another such early loan is bletsch 'wet', which probably goes back to Old Frankish blettjan 'to squeeze', from where French blesser 'to wound' is also derived. The change in meaning probably occurred by the way of 'bruised fruit', as is still found in French blet.[146] Early Germanic loans found more commonly in the other Romance languages includes Surs./Vall. blau, Suts. blo/blova, Surm. blo/blava, Put. blov 'blue', which is derived from Germanic blao and also found for instance in French as bleu and Italian as blu.

Others were borrowed into Romansh during the Old High German period, such as glieud 'people' from OHG liut or Surs. uaul, Suts. gòld, Surm. gôt, eng. god 'forest' from OHG wald. Surs. baul, Suts. bòld, Engad. bod 'soon, early, nearly' is likely derived from Middle High German bald, balde 'keen, fast'[147] as are Surs. nez, Engad. nüz 'use' from Middle High German nu(t)z, or losch 'proud' likely from Middle High German lôs. Other examples include Surs. schuber 'clean' from Swiss German suuber, Surs. schumber 'drum' from Swiss German or Middle High German sumber, and Surs. schufar 'to drink greedily' from Swiss German suufe.[147]

Some words were adapted into Romansh through different dialects of German, such as the word for 'farmer', borrowed as paur from Bavarian in Vallader and Putèr, but from Alemannic as pur in the other dialects.

In addition, many German words entered Romansh beginning in the 19th century, when numerous new objects and ideas were introduced. Romansh speakers often simply adopted the German words, such as il zug 'the train' or il banhof 'the train station'. Language purists attempted to coin new Romansh words instead, which were occasionally successful in entering popular usage. Whereas il tren and la staziun managed to replace il zug and il banhof, other German words have become established in Romansh usage, such as il schalter 'the switch', il hebel 'the lever', la schlagbohrmaschina 'the hammer drill', or in schluc 'a sip'.[148] Especially noticeable are interjections such as schon, aber or halt, which have become established in everyday language.

Language contact

Romansh speakers have been in close contact with speakers of German dialects such as Alemannic and Bavarian for centuries, as well as speakers of various Italian dialects and Standard German more recently. These languages have influenced Romansh, most strongly the vocabulary, whereas the German and Italian influences on morphology and syntax are much more limited. This means that despite German influence, Romansh has remained a Romance language in its core structure.[149] Romansh linguist Ricarda Liver also notes that an influence of Swiss German on intonation is obvious, in particular in the Sursilvan dialect, even though this has so far not been linguistically studied.[150] The influence of German is generally strongest in the Rhenish varieties Sursilvan, Sutsilvan, and Sursilvan, where French loanwords (frequently not borrowed directly but transmitted through German) are also more numerous. In the dialects of the Engadine, by contrast, the influence of Italian is stronger.[151]

In the Engadinese written languages, Putèr and Vallader, Italian-influenced spellings, learned words, and derivations were previously abundant, for instance in Zaccaria Pallioppi's 1895 dictionary, but came under scrutiny at the start of the 20th century and were gradually eliminated from the written language. Following reforms of the written languages of the Engadine, many of these Italian words fell out of usage (such as contadin 'farmer' instead of paur, nepotin 'nephew' rather than abiadi, ogni 'everyone' instead of inmincha, saimper 'always' instead of adüna, and abbastanza 'enough' instead of avuonda), while others persisted as synonyms of more traditional Ladin words (such as tribunal 'court' alongside drettüra, chapir alongside incleger, and testimoni 'witness' alongside perdütta).

Aside from the written language, everyday Romansh was also influenced by Italian through the large number of emigrants, especially from the Engadine, to Italy, the so-called Randulin. These emigrants often returned with their Romansh speech influenced by Italian.[152]

German loanwords

German loanwords entered Romansh as early as the Old High German period in the Early Middle Ages, and German has remained an important source of vocabulary since. Many of these words have been in use in Romansh for long enough that German speakers no longer recognize them as German, and for morphological derivations of them to have appeared, in particular through the suffix -egiar ~ iar, as in Surs. baghegiar, sut. biagear, Surm. biagier, Put. biager, Vall. bear 'to build', derived from Middle High German bûwen. Other examples include malegiar 'to paint' (← malen), schenghegiar 'to give (a present)' (← schenken), schazegiar 'to estimate' (← schätzen),[153] or Surs. betlegiar (sut. batlagear, Surm./Put. batlager, Vall. supetliar) 'to beg', derived from Swiss German bettle with the same meaning.[154] Nouns derived from these verbs include maletg 'painting', schenghetg 'gift', schazetg 'estimation', or bagetg 'building'.[154] The adjective flissi 'hard-working' has given rise to the noun flissiadad 'industriousness'. The word pur has given rise to derived words such as pura 'farmwife, female farmer' or puranchel 'small-time farmer', as has buob ‘boy’ from Swiss German bueb ‘boy’, with the derivations buoba ‘girl’ and buobanaglia ‘crowd of children’.

Italian and Gallo-italic loanwords

Common nouns of Italian origin include resposta/risposta 'answer', vista/vesta 'view', proposta 'proposal', surpresa/surpraisa 'surprise', and offaisa/offesa 'insult'. In Ladin, many such nouns are borrowed or derived from Italian and end in –a, whereas the same group of nouns in Sursilvan frequently ends in –iun and where borrowed either from French or formed through analogy with Latin. Examples include pretensiun ‘opinion, claim’ vs. pretaisa, defensiun ‘defense’ vs. defaisa, or confirmaziun ‘confirmation’ vs. conferma.[152]

Other Italian words used throughout Romansh include the words for 'nail', which are derived from Italian acuto 'sharp', which has yielded Sur. guota, Sut. guta, Surm. gotta, and Ladin guotta/aguotta, whereas the Romansh word for 'sharp' itself (Rhenish: git, Ladin agüz) is derived from the same Latin source ACUTUM. Words from various Italian dialects related to crafts include Ladin marangun 'carpenter' (← Venetian marangon), as opposed to lennari in other Romansh dialects, chazzoula 'trowel' (← Lombard cazzola), or filadè 'spinning wheel' (← Lombard filadel). Other words include culinary items such as macaruns 'macaroni' (← maccheroni); tschiculatta/tschugalata 'chocolate' (← cioccolata or Lombard ciculata/cicolata), Ladin and Surmiran limun/limung 'lemon' as opposed to Sursilvan citrona (← limone), giabus/baguos 'cabbage' (← Lombard gabüs), chanella/canella 'cinnamon' (← cannella). In Sursilvan, the word ogna 'flat cake' can be found, which is derived from Italian lasagna, with the initial las- having been mistaken for the plural article, and the vowel having been adapted to Sursilvan sound patterns through analogy with words such as muntogna 'mountain'. Others are words for animals such as lodola 'lark' (← lodola) or randulina 'swallow' (← Lombard randulina), as well as Ladin scarafagi/scarvatg 'beetle' (← scarafaggio). Other Italian words include impostas 'taxes' (← imposte; as opposed to Rhenish taglia), radunanza/radunonza 'assembly' (← radunanza), Ladin ravarenda '(Protestant) priest' (← reverendo), 'bambin 'Christmas child (giftbringer)' (← Gesù Bambino), marchadant/marcadont 'merchant' (← mercatante) or butia/buteia 'shop' (← bottega).[152]

In Ladin, Italian borrowings also include words groups not usually borrowed readily. Examples include pronouns such as qualchosa 'something' (← qualcosa), listess 'the same one' (← Lombard or Venetian l'istess), adverbs such as apunta 'exactly' (← appunto), magara/magari 'fairly/quite' (← magari), prepositions like dürant/duront 'during' (← durante) and malgrà/malgrad 'despite' (← malgrado), and conjunctions such as però 'but' (← però) and fin cha 'until' (← finché). Most of these are confined to Ladin, with some exceptions such as Sursilvan magari, duront, and malgrad.[152]

Germanic calques

Aside from outright loanwords, the German influence on Romansh often takes the form of calques, where Romanic vocabulary has taken on the meaning of German words, summed up by Italian dialectologist Graziadio Isaia Ascoli in 1880 as "materia romana e spirito tedesco" ("Roman body and German soul). The earliest examples go back to Carolingian times and show the influence of Germanic law. Such words include tschentament 'statute', a derivation of the verb tschentar (from Latin *sedentare 'to sit') as an analogy to Middle High German satzunge or Surs./sut./Surm. lètg, Put. alach, Vall. lai 'marriage', derived from Latin legem (accusative singular of lēx 'law'), with the meaning of Middle High German ê, ewe.[155] A more recent example of a loan translation is the verb tradir 'to betray', which has taken on the additional meaning of German verraten of 'to give away'[156] as in tradir in secret 'to give away a secret', originally covered by the verb revelar.

Particularly common are combinations of verbs with locative adverbs, such as vegnir cun 'to accompany' (literally 'to come with'), vegnir anavos 'to come back', far cun 'to participate' (literally 'to do with'), far giu 'to agree on' (literally 'to do down'), or grodar tras 'to fail' (literally 'to fall through'). Whereas such verbs also occur sporadically in other Romance languages as in French prendre avec 'to take along' or Italian andare via 'to go away', the large number in Romansh suggests an influence of German, where this pattern is common.[156] However, prepositional verbs are also common in the (Romance) Lombard language spoken in the bordering Swiss and Italian regions. The verbs far cun 'to participate' or grodar tras 'to fail' for example, are direct equivalents of German mitmachen (from mit 'with' and machen 'to do) and durchfallen (from durch 'through' and fallen 'to fall').

Less integrated into the Romansh verbal system are constructions following the pattern of far il ('doing the') + a German infinitive. Examples include far il löten 'to solder', far il würzen 'to season', or far il vermissen 'to miss, to feel the absence of'.

German also often serves as a model for the creation of new words. An example is Surs. tschetapuorla 'vacuum cleaner', a compound of tschitschar 'to suck' and puorla 'dust', following the model of German Staubsauger – the Italian word, aspirapolvere possibly being itself a calque on the German word. The Engadinese dialects on the other hand have adopted aspiradur from Italian aspiratore, which, however, does not mean "vacuum cleaner". The Engadinese dialects on the other hand have adopted aspiradur from Italian aspiratore. A skyscraper, which is a direct loan translation from English in many Romance languages (as in French gratte-en-ciel, Italian grattacielo), is a loan translation of German Wolkenkratzer (literally 'cloud-scraper') in Sursilvan: il sgrattaneblas (from sgrattar 'to scratch' and neblas 'clouds'). The Engadinese varieties again follow the Italian pattern of sgrattatschêl (from tschêl 'sky').[157] A more recent word is la natelnumra 'the cell phone number', which follows the word order of Swiss German Natelnummer, and is found alongside la numra da natel.

Examples of idiomatic expressions include Surs. dar in canaster, Engad. dar ün dschierl, a direct translation of German 'einen Korb geben', literally meaning 'to hand a basket', but used in the sense of 'turning down a marriage proposal' or esser ligiongia ad enzatgi, a loan translation of the German expression jemandem Wurst sein, literally meaning 'to be sausage to someone' but meaning 'not cared about, to be unimportant'.[157]


Apart from vocabulary, the influence of German is noticeable in grammatical constructions, which are sometimes closer to German than to other Romance languages.

For instance, Romansh is the only Romance language in which indirect speech is formed using the subjunctive mood, as in Sursilvan El di ch'el seigi malsauns, Putèr El disch ch'el saja amalo, 'He says that he is sick', as compared to Italian Dice che è malato or French Il dit qu'il est malade. Ricarda Liver attributes this to the influence of German.[150] Limited to Sursilvan is the insertion of entire phrases between auxiliary verbs and participles as in Cun Mariano Tschuor ha Augustin Beeli discurriu 'Mariano Tschuor has spoken with Augustin Beeli' as compared to Engadinese Cun Rudolf Gasser ha discurrü Gion Peider Mischol 'Rudolf Gasser has spoken with Gion Peider Mischol'.[158]

In contemporary spoken language, adjective forms are often not distinguished from adverbs, as in Sursilvan Jeu mon direct 'I am going directly', rather than Jeu mon directamein. This usage is rare in most other Romance languages with a few sporadic exceptions as in French parler haut or Italian vosà fort 'speak aloud', and the common usage in colloquial Romansh is likely an influence from German.[159]

Especially noticeable and often criticized by language purists are particles such as aber, schon, halt, grad, eba, or zuar, which have become an integral part of everyday Romansh speech, especially in Sursilvan.[160]

Negation was originally formed by a double negative in all Romansh dialects. Today, this usage is limited to Surmiran as in ia na sa betg 'I do not know' (it has also been included in panregional Rumantsch Grischun). While the first particle was lost in Sursilvan, where negation is now formed only with buc as in jeu sai buc, the Ladin varieties lost the second particle brich(a), apparently under the influence of Italian, as in Putér eau nu se.[161]

Romansh influences on German

The influence of Romansh on the local vernacular German has not been studied as thoroughly as vice versa. A

Nouns are not inflected for case in Romansh; the grammatical category is expressed through word order instead. As in most other Romance languages, Romansh nouns belong to two grammatical genders: masculine and feminine. A definite article (masc. il or igl before a vowel; fem. la) is distinguished from an indefinite article (masc. in, egn, en or ün, depending on the dialect; fem. ina, egna, ena or üna). The plural is usually formed by adding the suffix -s. In Sursilvan, masculine nouns are sometimes irregular, with the stem vowel alternating: