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Apologies & Alibis

The Nideramt (in German: Niederamt), is a small County at the eastern end of the canton of Solothurn, between Olten and Aarau. That’s where I grew up. So did my father. My mother grew up in the Emmental*, about 40 km away. As you would expect, they spoke different dialects. It didn’t much matter. In terms of language, it takes three or four times as far for an impact on understanding.


So, Switzerland, as small as it is, is still large enough for many dialects. And there are the four national languages, of course. This means that Niderämterish, like other dialects, is also speckled with French and Italian words, I have tried to ignore these imports, with a few exceptions. The English in my list is there because it is rapidly becoming a fifth national language. Might as well give the devil his due.


Schwizerdütsch is not standard­ized for writing. You write what you hear, in the hope others will hear it the same way. The alphabet itself is but a coded­ way to write sounds. In the pro­cess of mat­ching it to the spo­ken word you real­ize there are many more sounds than let­ters. Vowels can have many different values, and there are so many schwas it might as well be Schwaserdütsch. But that’s how the language comes alive.


Some Schwizerdütsch writing exists, in a variety of dialects, but High German usually serves as the written lan­guage, and some­times as the lingua franca, in parliament, in the higher schools, in the news-papers,­ to some extent on TV, and in deference to people of another mother tongue. 


The dialects are colourful languages with their own grammatica viva­. Singu­lar and plu­ral are often the same, with the meaning im­pli­cit in the phrase­. Adjec­tives and adverbs are at times identi­cal, wit­hout loss of meaning. Mysteri­ous particles are tinting the whole. To other ears, Sch­wi­zer­dütsch is a sing-song. This has some signifi­cance. The intonation con­veys mean­ing. We sing-song to get the thought across, in the hope for agreement, to elicit the desired response, to temper confrontation, to give expression beyond ordinary words. One can also note that the vernacular is often unwittingly coarse. This is in contrast to the tendency of adding the diminutive -li wherever imaginable. There is hardly a noun that cannot be lilied: Schtäckli, Schtöckli, Schtückli, Bröötli, Pfünderli, Weggli, Zedeli, Hemli, Jäggli, Ideeli, Chäschtli, Chischtli, Märli, Gschichtli, Schüfeli und Bäseli, and, of course, Wörtli, Wörtli, Wörtli.

The vo­cabulary is adequate for ordinary chatter. We also borrow freely, and make up as needed. Even in this little list there are no less than six words for the notion of shopping (chrome, gänggele, iichoufe, Kommissione mache, lädele, posc­hte), each of a different aspect. And for cookie there is Chrömli, Guetzli, Chüechli, and Schtückli, even if I stuck to the generic. I did list Chräbeli, Mailänderli, Brätzeli, Schänkeli, Schlüferli, and Schpitzbuebe, as well as Läckerli, Chnöiblätze, and Chüttene­bäschtli, but then these are ne­cessities of life.


It is obvious that regional speech tends to mutate along rules. This is especially audible in prefixes and endings, in diphthongs (and in vowels in general), in the digraph ch, the consonants b, d, g, k, l, and so on. There is abundant literature on the subject.­ I am not learned in these things. My amusement is rather in the recollection of how we said things, and what we meant. I have been selective and picky, leaving out many predictable mutations, and including others, and you may think thank heavens. For example, I have left out most of the words that end with -ung in German and with -ig in Swiss (Achtig/Änderig/ Bedingig/Begägnig/Belaschtig/Bemerkig/Bewegig/ Bewunderig/Erinnerig/Handlig/Lösig/Mahnig/ Meinig/Ornig/Quittig/Rächnig/Übertriibig/Umgäbig/Verwaltig/Würkig/Zuckig, etc. etc.)


What follows is, of course, only es gmigger­igs Müschterli. The whole Chlungele holds thou­sands of words, and nobody has ever found them all. Indeed, it is be­lieved there are myriad other such Chlungele out there. There is much mystery in language, how it began, and how it diverged. If you look at this collection, you may find it hard to believe that there is common ­ground in the mist of the past, and yet there may be.


But then, in the larger scale of things, perhaps it mat­ters not.











*which explains the smattering of Bernese found herein

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