In France, the Franco-Provençal language is endangered. The general dialect leveling in France proper is sometimes thought to be a consequence of public policy, the French government having been known for pushing standard French to the exclusion of other languages.

However, in neighboring Switzerland, the Franco-Provençal language is also moribund, despite being the historic language of Romandy, in favor of standard French (with regional differences). Can this be explained by Swiss public policy? Note that dialect diversity is, on the contrary, very much alive in German-speaking Switzerland (where there is diglossia between standard German and the local dialect).

  • This is not a linguistic question. You are asking why certain populations might or might not prefer to speak a certain language or dialect. This is best answered by studying the people in question, by anthropologists or economists, rather than studying their language, which is what linguists do. – jlawler Jun 9 '14 at 16:04
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    @jlawler, the question is correctly tagged with sociolinguistics. – Crissov Jun 12 '14 at 12:22
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    Swiss German is actually the special case. The Swiss used to use Swiss Standard German (a very different beast with little difference to standard Standard German) about as much as Germans speak and spoke Standard German. But during the Second World War, for obvious reasons Standard German suddenly had very low prestige. The Swiss extended their dialect use enormously and even started writing it. Surely there was no such situation with standard French, and as a linguistic minority French speakers in Switzerland have an incentive to identify to some extent with French culture. – Hans Adler Jul 28 '14 at 16:25
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    @HansAdler That is a nice explanation. I think you should leave this as the answer. – hunter Jul 28 '14 at 16:50
up vote 5 down vote accepted

It is actually Swiss German that is the special case. The Swiss used to use Swiss Standard German (a very different beast with little difference to standard Standard German) about as much as Germans speak and spoke Standard German. But during the Second World War, for obvious reasons Standard German suddenly had very low prestige. The Swiss extended their dialect use enormously and even started writing in dialect. (This is still tricky even today, as there is no standard.)

Surely there was no such situation with standard French, and as a linguistic minority, French speakers in Switzerland have an incentive to identify to some extent with French culture.

Dialect leveling is of course a pretty universal phenomenon. I am sure it was accelerated by French policies, but I guess it's hard to say by how much. It certainly happens with German as well, with the notable exceptions of Swiss German and Luxembourgish, which are on the path towards full national languages for political reasons. I'm a native German speaker myself who never learned to speak a dialect.

As has always been the case, while languages and dialects disappear, new ones are formed and, initially ridiculed or marginalised. E.g. in Germany a new sociolect of urban youths is developing, in which a Turkish influence and special features of some German dialects are supporting each other.

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    German dialects are very much alive in Southern Germany (Swabia, Baden, Bavaria), and in Austria and Alsace. – fdb Jul 29 '14 at 0:05
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    Of course they are alive. It doesn't look as if German dialects are dying out in the near future. But there is a continuum between pure dialect and pure Standard German, with few pure dialect speakers left except in some rural regions. Hence leveling: The dialects become more and more similar to the standard language. It also happens in Britain, and in fact probably in all industrialised countries. – Hans Adler Jul 29 '14 at 1:32

The marginalisation of Franco-Provençal in favour of Standard French predates the modern French state. Franco-Provençal was coextensive with the Duchy of Savoy, and the Duchy adopted Standard French as its official language before France itself did, in 1536. Geneva was annexed to France in 1798, and only joined the Swiss Confederation in 1814, but Franco-Provençal was already being marginalised in Geneva in favour of French before then. And to the extent Franco-Provençal survives in the Val d'Aosta, it's via the notion that speaking Franco-Provençal makes the Valdostans French. (See my answer on Quora, based on the MA by Genevieve Czarnecki which I cosupervised.)

The hegemony of Standard French over local Romance dialects was not the work of the French states alone; it was also the work of regimes outside of France, which wished to subscribe to elite French culture. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geneva: "By the 18th century, however, Geneva had come under the influence of Catholic France, which cultivated the city as its own.") Swiss policy was never going to be nationally consistent in driving out vs preserving dialect; and in the case of Suisse Romande, it did not need to be: that was a preexisting local alignment of the Romands towards France.

  • You're right that it is not specific to French territory, eg linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/28196/…. But you must at least in passing address Hans Adler's main point: the relatively healthy demand for disassociation (sich abgrenzen) from Prussian political excesses. – A. M. Bittlingmayer Jul 9 at 11:57
  • Oh, I agree with Adler that the preservation of Swiss German is the anomaly. Then again, the cultural capitulation of Savoy and the Republic of Geneva to Paris looks anomalous by 19th century nation-state norms, too. – Nick Nicholas Jul 9 at 13:02
  • I do not know which is normal, if we count dialects that are now seen as languages then the survival case is common enough, I just know that in the Swiss case it is a major driver. – A. M. Bittlingmayer Jul 9 at 15:13

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