Of language tests, Piripiri and José

Migrants in Graubünden can now obtain proof of language proficiency in Romansh. For Andreas Gabriel, the deputy secretary general of the Lia Rumantscha, this is a milestone in the history of the oft-neglected national language.

LR 4784 Andreas Gabriel
Andreas Gabriel

"Romansh has been one of Switzerland’s four national languages since 1938. There are five written idioms: Sursilvan, Sutsilvan, Surmiran, Puter and Vallader. At the same time, Romansh has had a standard written language, Rumantsch Grischun, for 40 years. In Switzerland today,
around 60,000 people still speak Romansh, of whom around a third live outside the canton of Graubünden.

Switzerland’s other three national languages have far greater numbers of speakers. However, the Confederation is required and willing to promote Romansh as one of its national languages. Romansh is threatened not only by the emigration of the native population, but also by linguistic mixing in the language area. According to a 2019 study by the federal government, its existence is endangered in the medium term.

There has been little recognition as yet that linguistic internal migration is a problem – but this is the case for our language. We at the Lia Rumantscha are therefore trying to establish Romansh as a language of integration. In other words: German-speaking newcomers in Romansh communities should be encouraged to learn the language, despite the fact that all Romansh speakers understand German.

A large number of Portuguese speakers have settled in our language region in recent decades. Over ten years ago, the Lia Rumantscha launched Piripiri, a special learning programme to help Portuguese speakers gain an understanding of the Romansh language and culture. These courses have proved very successful and have helped to promote cultural integration.

The Confederation has now developed a language certificate in Romansh and this is a major milestone for our language. Romansh as a national language should be a language medium along the entire educational pathway, from pre-school to university. It also needs a strong presence in the public administration and media.

I myself grew up in a Romansh community in Surselva. José, a Portuguese who spoke fluent Romansh, worked in the Waltensburg/Vuorz village bakery. Portuguese and Romansh are related languages, and in recent years, many Portuguese speakers in Graubünden have adopted our language. Unfortunately, I have not yet learned any Portuguese. I'll make up for it when Portugal becomes the 27th canton of Switzerland, if not before ..."

Andreas Gabriel, Deputy Secretary General Lia Rumantscha

The language certificate in Romansh

Proof of language proficiency in Romansh has been discussed in the fide language support programme developed by the Confederation ever since proof of proficiency in a national language was enshrined in law as one of the integration criteria. Integration happens in everyday life. Migrants in Romansh-speaking areas of the canton of Graubünden, including many Portuguese, have learned the local language for this purpose and speak it in a work context and in their everyday lives.

SEM first launched a needs analysis for the Romansh language certificate and then brought together the various stakeholders in Graubünden. Commissioned by SEM, the fide office developed a test that can be taken in all five idioms, and is carried out in cooperation with the Lia Rumantscha. The test has been available since November 2021 and is still in the development phase.