The Germanic Mosaic: Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Society

By Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay | Go to book overview

12
Language, Literature, and the Question of Cultural Identity: Problems of the German-Swiss

ROMEY SABALIUS

In talking about Switzerland and its literature, one is confronted with several unique problems. The Swiss Confederation is not a nation in the romantic sense of the word, with the equation one language = one people. 1 Instead, the existence of that country is the result of a conscious political act, politischer Willensakt, actually in some degree similar to that of the United States. However, unlike the United States, where one national language was established, Switzerland encompasses four national languages: German, French, Italian, and Rhaeto-Romanic. Consequently, this tiny alpine country cannot claim a Swiss literature, but four different literatures, all of which have established their individual identities 2

Specifically the multilingualism of the Swiss nation creates a problem for the establishment of a common cultural identity. The fact that the three most widespread languages of Switzerland, spoken by 98% of its citizens, 3 are also the languages of three neighboring and bigger cultures, leads to an extreme decentralization and even alienation of Swiss literature. This is especially true for the literature written in French. Since Paris is the uncontested and alldominating cultural capital, books not published in the French metropolis are suspected of being very provincial, if they receive any attention at all. Consequently, reputable authors from Romandie usually stress their belonging to the culture of France. 4 They also attempt to speak and write a "pure" French to ensure their assimilation. The same phenomenon applies to the relatively small amount of Swiss literature written in Italian. Only 10% of all people living in the country claim Italian as their native language, half of those being immigrant workers from Italy. Their cultural perspective is focused on Milan. The only language spoken in Switzerland that is not shared with a greater nation is Rhaeto-Romanic. But with its group of speakers making up less than 1% of the population, this uniquely Swiss language is not widespread

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