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Switzerland: New Law Encourages Multilingual Culture

(Jan. 19, 2010) On January 1, 2010, a new Swiss law went into effect that aims at preserving the multilingual culture of Switzerland. (Bundesgesetz über die Landessprachen und die Verständigung zwischen den Sprachgemeinschaften (Federal Act on the National Languages), Oct. 5, 2001, Amtliche Sammlung des Bundesrechts 2007, 6605 available at The new Act implements article 70 of the Federal Constitution (Bundesverfassung der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft, Apr. 18, 1999, as amended, available at; English translation available at that requires the Swiss Confederation and the Cantons to promote understanding between the linguistic communities and to preserve Switzerland as a multilingual country. As is provided in article 4 of the Federal Constitution, the national languages of Switzerland are French, German, Italian, and Romansh, and as is stated in article 70, these are also the official languages of Switzerland.

The new Act requires the Confederation to treat French, German, and Italian equally by ensuring that all official business can be conducted in these languages and that all published governmental documents appear in all three languages. Romansh is to be used when dealing with persons who speak that language, and publications of major interest are also to be translated into Romansh. These requirements, as well as many other addressed in the new law, are already met by common practice in Switzerland.

The Act also calls for the encouragement of the minority languages among the official languages. These are Romansh, which is spoken mainly the Canton of Graubünden, and Italian, which is the local language of the Canton of Ticino. These languages are to be especially encouraged to preserve their use. In addition, the Act deals with the problems of Cantons in which two languages are spoken.

To promote intercultural understanding, school children and teachers are to be exchanged between linguistic communities. Generally, however, school children are to be instructed in their local language, and they are to be taught at least one other Swiss national language as well as one other world language. The Act does not deal with the issues relating to the languages spoken by immigrants. Instruction in the immigrant languages, however, is provided in major cities, on the theory that learning their own languages well will help immigrants to also learn a national Swiss language. (Parlamentarische Initiative Bundesgesetz über die Landessprachen , Bericht, Sept. 15, 2006, Bundesblatt 2006, 8977, 8998, available at