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Do You Speak Corona? Romansh is sparsely used in official communication in Switzerland

“Sta betg aschi datier da mei!” – this is how “Don’t stand so close to me” sounds in Rhaeto-Romanic. In the above video, well-known Romansh singer-songwriter Pascal Gamboni covered the classic by The Police. This is a nice gesture, a feel-good tune in the times of pandemic, but also a much needed message in mother language for the sixty thousand Romansh speakers of Switzerland.

Despite their language being recognised since 1938 as the fourth official regional language, in the first phase of the lockdown, the federal authorities provided information only in German, French and Italian. Political pressure was needed at the federal level (the coordinating body for the whole of Switzerland in accordance with emergency law) for information material to be published in Romansh.

Even now, the official informative website does not have a Romansh version – as Romansh is only a partial official language of the Swiss Confederation. But there is a link to downloadable informations in Romansh (as well as many foreign languages).

Generally, there is no difference in how hard the pandemic hit the Romansh speaking community compared to German, French and Italian speakers in Switzerland. But in the case of minorities, there are always special needs. Despite also consuming German-language media – especially the evening news, as there is no Romansh-language alternative – the community has the need to be informed in mother language by the authorities. Romansh language newspapers and websites do their best to provide information.

Indeed, there are positive examples, too. Radiotelevisiun Svizra Rumantscha (www.rtr.ch, the licensed radio and television offering in Romansh from the SRG) has so far produced over 20 online cultural offerings under the title “Culturadigitala”. The other language chains of the SRG (Swiss Radio and Television Company) also provide similar programs. During this time, the SRG stations played more Swiss music, including more music in Romansh.

Another positive example is that of Lia Rumantscha. The long-time FUEN member is the umbrella organisation for all persons and organisations of the Romansh language, which supports, promotes and coordinates the work of regional Romansh associations, supra-regional associations and Romansh organisations outside Grisons (Graubünden). It took them only a week to convert 20 language courses with a total of around 90 participants from face-to-face lessons to online training. The offer was well received and could influence the future offer in that a combination of face-to-face and online classes is now offered for certain courses.

There were are also painful decisions Lia Rumantscha and other course providers had to make: several summer intensive language courses in Romansh had to be canceled. A total of around 350 people were expected to take part in those courses in Samedan, Scuol and Ilanz.

Information for this article was provided by Lia Rumantscha

During April 2020 FUEN has conducted a survey entitled Do You Speak Corona? on the situation of European minorities during the pandemic. The online questionnaire focused on the availability of information related to COVID-19 in general, healthcare information related to the outbreak, the existence of an emergency hotline operated in minority language and the availability of online education in minority language. The short report on the results is here and you can download the whole report in PDF format by clicking here. This series of case studies is the continuation of the Do You Speak Corona? project.