Feedback Swiss German dictionary

  • My apologies for writing in English. I was pleased to come across, in your website, yet another Swiss-German vocabulary list.


    I think there is a strong case for an ‘All Swiss-German Canton Embracing’ Swiss-German/German Dictionary. Forecasts were made in the second half of the last century for the imminent demise of the Swiss-German language. Clearly that didn’t happen. On the contrary, there seems to be a greater uptake of the language than heretofore. So, after ten years living in Switzerland I have to conclude, Swiss-German is not going to go away and I have to knuckle down and start learning.


    At present, foreigners have to knife and fork their way through Swiss-German text, only to find much of it indigestible. They then have to search for those Swiss-German words in each of the many popular Swiss-German dictionaries around, more often than not ending up finding no match, leaving no choice other than asking a Swiss national (of the right canton or valley!).


    The definitive Swiss work on the Swiss-German vocabulary is, one is lead to believe, ‘Das Schweizerische Idiotikon’ - (https://www.idiotikon.ch/) . A massive work produced (still being written in fact) at enormous public expense and too academic by far to be of much use in the real world, i.e. to ‘the man in the street’. A solution looking for a question in fact. Look up the words Grüezi and mitenand , neither are in there, nor are the Zurideutsch words miir and iich. Unbelievable! When one does get a ‘hit’, ‘öppis’ for example, one gets such an avalanche of information that one’s search for a simple translation is lost in the fog.


    There must be at least a dozen or so Swiss-German / German dictionaries/glossaries around. Unfortunately they are far too parochial for the Swiss and multi-national, cross canton, movers and shakers of today’s community in Switzerland. The difficulty is not only for foreigners but also for Swiss people trying to communicate outside their own cantons (valleys in some cases). It is becoming worse with the increase in SMS traffic.


    What is really needed, I feel, is a less ambitious, single, online Swiss-German / German dictionary, comprising ALL known Swiss-German words from ALL Swiss-German cantons and, as Swiss-German is a living language, maintained up-to-date. Such an online dictionary could, with the right approach, involve minimal cost and give a timely benefit. Funding from the Swiss Government for this type of project could be a possibility as such a resource is key to furthering access to the Swiss language both cross canton-wise and by the non-Swiss speaking community.


    An attempt was made in by Christoph Landolt in his 2003 dissertation ‘Eine Kurzausgabe des Schweizerdeutschen Wörterbuchs‘. However, his concept for a "Schweizerdeutsches Handwörterbuch" has possibly got bogged down due to the‘Analysis to paralysis’ Syndrome. It has not materialised as far as I am aware.


    While his proposed ‘Concise Idiotikon’ would go some way to what is needed, his five examples, see:- ( https://www.idiotikon.ch/) suffer from TMI (Too Much Information). Lay people would, for the most part, be looking simply for the meaning of a Swiss word in German and possibly an example of it in use. Those who want more information have always the Idiotikon to turn to.


    A workable approach could be for an online facility involving the creation of a dedicated website with a database comprising sub-sets all known Swiss-German dictionaries and all Swiss-German novels, fairy tales, etc.). That to be achieved by a dragnet across the entire written Swiss-German domain and a massive (blind) upload to the dedicated website. Well enunciated SRF podcasts, (RSS), political speeches, weather forecasts and so on, would be excellent input but would entail a sub-project of speech-to-text software for Swiss-German. Tidying up can be done later. Complementary to that, develop a simple search engine that does word/phrase search of the entire website. Advanced searches ( filters, Boolean, *, ?, ‘sounds like', etc) could be introduced at a later stage. When the search produces a hit, display the result(s) with an array of, say, five words or so either side of the ‘hit’ word, plus a link to the source, as appropriate. The ‘intelligence’ that one is looking for will most likely be there in the results. This would limit human intervention (costs) on the building/structure of the database. Additionally, record the results in a nascent "Schweizerdeutsches Handwörterbuch", or in the case of novels etc, store the link. As it would be reactive to demand the most used words should automatically get priority. It is important to have an (interactive) facility to allow for input on wrong/missing translations, corrections and updates controlled by, say, a voluntary ‘Experts Panel’ similar to Wikipedia. Ideally one should end up with ‘no unknowns’ in the world of the tens of thousands of Swiss-German words. (Ignoring those Swiss words and spellings that some people make up as they go along).


    On a more general point, it is clearly important that the Swiss-German language be preserved. Too many old languages are disappearing. At present the Swiss-German language seems to be running wild. Its pedigree is being undermined. Many Swiss speak a mishmash of Swiss-German and High German. This is compounded by the young with their tendency for Balkan Swiss-German and Swiss-German texting. Preserving the language needs proactive Government intervention. Intervention that combines/nurtures the very best of Swiss-German and promotes, say, a ‘Supra Cantonal Dialect’. Local dialects will continue to be used but would not need to have all the ‘bells and whistles’ (definitive spelling, conjugation tables, regular/irregular verb tables, etc.) of the main dialect. Cantons will of course fight this. Swiss-German is a child of Switzerland; even more so, a child of the cantons. It is rare for a parent to sacrifice their child for the common good. That is why the initiative must come from central Government.