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Language distribution in Switzerland (2000). The Romandy is shown in green.

Romandy (French: la Romandie)[note 1] is the French-speaking part of western Switzerland. In 2010, about 1.9 million people, or 24.4% of the Swiss population, lived in Romandy.[1] The bulk of the romand population lives in the Arc Lémanique region along Lake Geneva, connecting Geneva, Vaud and the Lower Valais.


The adjective romand (feminine romande) is a regional dialectal variant of roman (modern French romain, i.e. "Roman"); in Old French used as a term for the Gallo-Romance vernaculars. Use of the adjective romand (with its unetymological final -d) in reference to the Franco-Provençal dialects can be traced to the 15th century; it is recorded, as rommant, in a document written in Fribourg in 1424 and becomes current in the 17th and 18th centuries in Vaud and Fribourg; it was adopted in Geneva in the 19th century, but its usage never spread outside of what is now French-speaking Switzerland.

The term Suisse romande has become widely used since World War I;[2] before World War I and during the 19th century, the term Suisse française "French Switzerland" was used, reflecting the cultural and political prestige of France (the canton of Vaud having been created by Napoleon out of former Bernese subject territories, while Geneva, Valais and Jura were even briefly joined to France, as the Léman, Simplon and Mont-Terrible départements, respectively).

Suisse romande is used in contrast to Suisse alémanique, "Alemannic Switzerland", the term for Alemannic German speaking Switzerland. Formed by analogy is Suisse italienne ("Italian Switzerland"), which is composed of Ticino and of a part of Grisons.

In Swiss German, French-speaking Switzerland is known as Welschland or Welschschweiz, and the French-speaking Swiss as Welsche, using the old Germanic term for "Celts" also used in English of Welsh (see *Walhaz). The terms Welschland and Welschschweiz are also used in written Swiss Standard German but in more formal contexts they are sometimes exchanged for französischsprachige Schweiz ("French-speaking Switzerland") or französische Schweiz ("French Switzerland"). Simple Westschweiz "western Switzerland" may also be used as a loose synonym.


French is the only official language in the following cantons:

Arms[3] Code Canton of Joined Switzerland in Capital Population

[Note 1]

GDP per

capita (2014)[4] in CHF

Area (km2) Density(per km2)[Note 2]
VD Vaud 1803 Lausanne 793,129[5] 68,084 3,212 188
GE Geneva 1815 Geneva 495,249[5] 102,113 282 1,442
NE Neuchâtel 1815/1857 Neuchâtel 177,964[5] 83,835 802 206
JU Jura 1979 Delémont 73,290[5] 64,606 839 82

In addition, three regions of French-German bilingual cantons have a French-speaking majority:

Region Joined Switzerland in Largest city Population Area (km2) Notes
Bernese Jura 1814 Moutier 53,768 542 (is an administrative division of the canton of Bern)
Canton of Fribourg 1481 Fribourg 307,697 1,795 (most of the canton, except the districts of See and Sense)
Lower Valais 1815 Martigny 122,718 1,344 (corresponding to the districts of Monthey, Saint-Maurice, Martigny, and Entremont in the canton of Valais)


"Romandy" is not an official territorial division of Switzerland any more than there is a clear linguistic boundary; substantial parts of the canton of Fribourg and the western canton of Bern are traditionally bilingual, most prominently in the Drei-Seen-Land or Pays des trois lacs surrounding the lakes of Morat, Neuchâtel, and Bienne (Biel)]].

In four Swiss cantons, French is the sole official language: Geneva, Vaud, Neuchâtel, and Jura. There are three cantons where French and German have co-official status: Bern, Fribourg, and Valais.

The linguistic boundary between French and German is known as Röstigraben (lit. "rösti ditch", adopted in Swiss French as barrière de rösti). The term is humorous in origin and refers both to the geographic division and to perceived cultural differences between the Romandy and the German-speaking Swiss majority. The term can be traced to the WWI period, but it entered mainstream usage in the 1970s in the context of the Jurassic separatism virulent at the time.

The linguistic boundary cuts across Switzerland north-to-south, forming the eastern boundary of the canton of Jura and then encompassing the Bernese Jura, where the boundary frays to include a number of bilingual communities, the largest of which is Biel/Bienne. It then follows the border between Neuchâtel and Bern and turns south towards Morat, again traversing an areal of traditional bilinguism including the communities of Morat and Fribourg. It divides the canton of Fribourg into a western French-speaking majority and an eastern German-speaking minority and then follows the eastern boundary of Vaud with the upper Saane/Sarine valley of the Bernese Oberland. Cutting across the High Alps at Les Diablerets, the boundary then separates the French-speaking Lower Valais from the Alemannic-speaking Upper Valais beyond Sierre. It then cuts southwards into the High Alps again, separating the Val d'Anniviers from the Mattertal.

Historically, the linguistic boundary in the Swiss Plateau would have more or less followed the Aare during the early medieval period, separating Burgundy (where the Burgundians did not impose their Germanic language on the Gallo-Roman population) from Alemannia; in the High Middle Ages, the boundary gradually shifted westward and now more or less corresponds to the western boundary of the Zähringer possessions, which fell under Bernese rule in the late medieval period, and does not follow any obvious topographical features. The Valais has a separate linguistic history; here, the entire valley, as far as it was settled, would have been Gallo-Roman speaking until its upper parts were settled by Highest Alemannic speakers entering from the Bernese Oberland in the high medieval period (see Walser).


A road sign in Saint-Gingolph, Valais, spelling a dialectal greeting bondzo! alongside the Standard French bienvenue (2013 photograph).

Traditionally speaking the Franco-Provençal or Patois dialects of Upper Burgundy, the romand population now speak a variety of Standard French.

Today, the differences between Swiss French and Parisian French are minor and mostly lexical, although in rural speakers, remnants of dialectal lexicon or phonology may remain more pronounced. In particular, some parts of the Swiss Jura participate in the Frainc-Comtou dialect spoken in the Franche-Comté region of France.

Since the 1970s, there has been a limited amount of linguistic revivalism. In this context, the Franco-Provençal dialects are called Arpitan (a 1980s neologism derived from the dialectal form of the word alpine) and their area Arpitania.

Cultural identity

The cultural identity of the Romandy is supported by Télévision Suisse Romande, Radio Suisse Romande and the universities of Geneva (founded by John Calvin), Fribourg, Lausanne and Neuchâtel.

Historically, most of the Romandy has been strongly Protestant, especially Calvinist; Geneva was one of the earliest and most important Calvinist centres. However, Roman Catholicism continued to predominate in Jura, Valais, and Fribourg. In recent decades, due to significant immigration from France and Southern European countries, Catholics can now be found throughout the region.

The Tour de Romandie is an annual cycling event on the UCI World Tour, often considered to be an important race in preparation for the Tour de France.

Notes and references

  1. ^ Before World War I, the term French Switzerland (French: Suisse française) was also used.
  1. ^ Bilan de la population résidante permanente (total) selon les districts et les communes, Statistique suisse, archived from the original (XLS) on 6 August 2011, retrieved 21 December 2010
  2. ^ Suisse française, Suisse romande: le virage de 14–18?. Radio Télévision Suisse. 8 December 2013.
  3. ^ Cantonal coats of arms shown with cantonal heraldic colors (Standesfarben). Standesfarben were used to identify the (historical) cantons when the full banner was not available for display, although there is overlap; Unterwalden and Solothurn share the same colours, as do Basel and Appenzell, and with the accession of the modern cantons, Valais and Basel-City, and St. Gallen and Thurgau. Louis, Mühlemann, Wappen und Fahnen der Schweiz, 700 Jahre Confoederatio Helvetica, Lengnau, 3rd ed. 1991. Swiss Armed Forces, Fahnenreglement, Reglement 51.340 d (2007).[1]
  4. ^ Office, Federal Statistical. "Cantonal gross domestic product (GDP) per capita". Retrieved 2017-08-22.
  5. ^ a b c d Swiss Federal Statistical Office - STAT-TAB, online database – Ständige und nichtständige Wohnbevölkerung nach institutionellen Gliederungen, Geburtsort und Staatsangehörigkeit (in German) accessed 17 September 2018

See also

Coordinates: 46°12′00″N 6°09′00″E / 46.2000°N 6.1500°E / 46.2000; 6.1500
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