Swiss french
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Swiss-French is much less fraught with idiosyncracies than Swiss-German. Dialect, though still used in the hinterlands of the Jura, has virtually died out. Differences do remain from standard French – principally in accent and inflection – but the Gallic aspirations of most locals mean that you can speak whatever French you know and be both understood and respected. Indeed, in sharp contrast to France, in Romandie you can even speak English with impunity. The surprising thing is that very few French Swiss speak or understand German. High German – dubbed, with a Gallic disdain for the messy patois of their compatriots, le bon allemand – is taught in some schools beyond elementary level, but generally only as an optional subject. (On the other hand, schools in German-speaking Switzerland almost always teach French as a compulsory subject until leaving age.) French Swiss have virtually no opportunity to learn anything of spoken Swiss-German without going to live and work on the other side of the language border and picking it up bit by bit.

The most noticeable differences between Swiss-French and standard French are in just a handful of words: instead of soixante-dix, quatre-vingts and quatre-vingt-dix, “seventy”, “eighty” and “ninety” are septante, huitante and nonante respectively (although in recent years the influence of international banking in Geneva has encouraged the adoption there of the orthodox French usage of quatre-vingts instead of huitante). A PO box is a boîte postale in France but a case postale, or CP, in Switzerland. And in the Fribourgeois countryside, the –ens ending of place names such as Vuadens is pronounced in full (voo-a-donce) instead of the final s remaining silent.


French pronunciation can be hard to master, not least because of the tight-lipped precision of many of the sounds compared with slack-jawed English, as well as the lack of any marked stress patterns – in French, equal stress is given to all syllables in a word.



a as in hat

au as in over

e as in get

é between get and gate

è between get and gut

eu as in hurt

i as in machine

o as in hot

ô as in over

ou as in food

u is a tight-lipped version of the English true

The following are extra-tricky nasal sounds:

in/im like anxious

an/am and en/em like Doncaster said through your nose

on/om like Doncaster said with a heavy cold

un/um like understand



Consonants at the ends of words are usually silent: pas plus tard (“not later”) is thus pronounced pa-ploo-tarr. However, when the following word begins with a vowel, you should run the consonant over: pas après (“not after”) is pazapray. There are a few differences from English:

ch is an English sh

ç is an English s

j as in pleasure: “Jura” is zhoora

h is silent

ll as in bayonet: “billet” is bee-yay

r is growled rather than trilled

th is like an English t: “thé” is tay

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