Multilingual mindsets are good, but not enough

The failure of language revivalists to get people to accept a standard language (here the Swiss language Romansh Grischun) is the topic of a sad little article by Deborah Ball in the Wall Street Journal. (Reprinted in The Australian 3/9/2011 but without the interesting graphics). Google led me to an earlier article on the same topic by Terence MacNamee in

There are apparently five dialects of Romansh spoken in Switzerland. It is the usual insoluble problem. The number of speakers of the 5 dialects are small, so that it doesn’t seem economically viable to provide teachers and teaching materials for all 5. Not to mention the small pool of people to chat with and visit on holidays.

Solution (1) Choose 1 of the dialects and use that as the standard Romansh language – BUT no one will agree to accept someone else’s dialect.

Solution (2) Create a hybrid from all 5 – BUT everyone hates the hybrid as a bastard.

If language planners can’t keep a small language going in a country as multilingual and rich as Switzerland…


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