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Swiss French (French: français de Suisse) is the variety of French spoken in the French-speaking area of Switzerland known as Romandy. French is one of the four official languages of Switzerland, the others being German, Italian, and Romansch. As of 2015, around 2 million people in the country (24.4% of the population) spoke French as their primary language, and around 29.1% of the population has working knowledge of French.
The French spoken in Switzerland is very similar to that of France or Belgium and has only minor and mostly-lexical differences. That is in contrast to the differences between Standard German and Swiss German, which are so many that mutual unintelligibility can cause both to be considered different languages.
Swiss French is characterized by some terms adopted from the Arpitan language, which was formerly spoken widely across the alpine communities of Romandy but only by a few today. Also, expressions have been borrowed from both Swiss and Standard German. Although Standard French is taught in schools and used in the government, the media and business, there is no uniform vernacular form of French among the different cantons of Switzerland. For example, some German terms in regions bordering German-speaking communities are completely unused in the area around Geneva near the border with France.
Differences from French of France
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Many differences between Swiss French and the French of France are due to the different administrative and political systems between Switzerland and France. Some of the distinctive lexical features are shared with Belgian French (and some also with Quebec French):
- The use of the word septante for seventy and nonante for ninety as opposed to soixante-dix (literally 'sixty-ten') and quatre-vingt-dix (literally 'four twenties-ten') of the "vigesimal" French counting system.
- The use of the word déjeuner for "breakfast" ("lunch" in France, which uses petit déjeuner for "breakfast"), and of the words le dîner and le souper for "lunch" and "dinner" respectively (in French of France, déjeuner and dîner respectively), much like the varying uses of dinner and supper throughout the English-speaking world.
Other examples which are not shared with other varieties of French:
- The word huitante is sometimes used for eighty instead of quatre-vingts (literally 'four twenties'), especially in the cantons of Vaud, Valais and Fribourg; the term octante (from the Latin octaginta) is now considered defunct.
- The word canton has a different meaning in each country; in Switzerland, a canton is a constituent state of the Confederation, but in France, it is a grouping of communes. In Belgium, it is a group of municipalities, but in Quebec, it is a township municipality.
- In France, a post office box is called a boite postale (BP), but in Switzerland (as in French Canada), it is called a case postale (CP).
- In colloquial Swiss French, the word natel is used for "mobile phone": "I didn't take my phone" becomes Je n'ai pas pris mon natel. France uses either portable or téléphone.
Examples of words that differ between Switzerland and France
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|Swiss French||Standard French||English||Notes|
|adieu||salut||hello/goodbye||In French, "adieu" means "farewell" and is generally never used except in cases where the people concerned will not meet again. In Switzerland it is used as an informal general form of greeting when people meet or leave each other.|
|attique||dernier étage||top floor|
|bancomat||Distributeur automatique de billets||ATM|
|biffer||rayer/barrer quelque chose d'écrit||(to) scratch/delete|
|bobet||crétin (noun) or bête/stupide (adjective)||idiot (noun) or stupid (adjective)|
|bonnard||sympa or bien||nice|
|bonne-main||pourboire||tip (gratuity)||Literally "good-hand".|
|borne hydrante||bouche d'incendie||fire hydrant|
|bourbine||suisse-allemand||Swiss-German||This word is considered pejorative.|
|carnotzet||cave à vin/cellier/fumoir||Wine cellar||This expression can sometimes be found in France, in places close to Switzerland.|
|collège (Genève, Valais, Fribourg) or gymnase (Vaud)||lycée||high school|
|cornet||sac en plastique||plastic bag||In France, "cornet" would typically designate an ice cream cone.|
|cutips||coton-tige||cotton bud/swab||Antonomasia from the brand Q-tips which phonetically becomes "cutips" when pronounced in French.|
|cycle (Genève, Fribourg, Valais)||collège||middle school|
|déjeuner||petit-déjeuner||breakfast||Meal names are shifted in Swiss French, meaning that the name for lunch is used for breakfast, the one for dinner is used for lunch and the French equivalent of the word "supper" is used for dinner.|
|dent de lion||pissenlit||dandelion|
|dîner||déjeuner||lunch||Meal names are shifted in Swiss French, meaning that the name for lunch is used for breakfast, the one for dinner is used for lunch and the French equivalent of the word "supper" is used for dinner.|
|duvet||couette||comforter / duvet||"Duvet" comes from the fact that comforters used to be filled with down feather (duvet). "Duvet" in France means sleeping bag, for similar reasons.|
|s'encoubler||se prendre les pieds dans quelque chose/trébucher||to trip over|
|s'énuquer||se briser la nuque||to break a neck|
|étude d'avocats||cabinet d'avocats||law firm|
|faire la noce||faire la fête||to party||This expression can also be found in Standard French even though it is probably less used or used predominantly by old people.|
|fœhn||sèche-cheveux||hairdryer||The name "fœhn" comes from the Foehn wind.|
|fonds||terrain or champs||field|
|fourre||dossier/housse||folder||In French, "fourrer" means "to stuff".|
|frouz||les Français||people from France - French||This word is considered pejorative.|
|galetas||grenier||attic||Also used in Alpine regions of France, down to Dauphiné.|
|giratoire||rond-point, giratoire||roundabout||Comes from "carrefour à sens giratoire" which would translate to "circular crossroads".|
|huitante||quatre-vingts||eighty||In Swiss French, as opposed to French, the words for seventy, eighty and ninety are similar in construction to the ones used for thirty up to sixty.|
|linge||serviette||towel||In French, "linge" is a generic word that refers to clothing, bed sheets and towels.|
|maman de jour||assistante maternelle||day care assistant|
|mascogner||tricher aux examens||cheat during exams|
|maturité||baccalauréat||high-school final examination|
|mutr||mère||mother||Comes from the German word for "Mother", "Mutter".|
|natel||(téléphone) portable||mobile phone|
|nom de bleu !||nom de dieu !||in the name of god!/god dammit!|
|nonante||quatre-vingts-dix||ninety||In Swiss French, as opposed to French, the words for seventy, eighty and ninety are similar in construction to the ones used for thirty up to sixty.|
|panosse||serpillière||floorcloth or mop|
|papier ménage||papier essuie-tout||paper towel|
|pive||pomme de pin||conifer cone|
|poutzer||nettoyer||to clean||Comes from the German word "putzen" which means "to clean".|
|Procès verbal d'examen (PV)||bulletin de note||report card|
|réclame||publicité||advertisement||"Réclame" is an older disused word for advertising in French.|
|régie||agence immobilière||real estate agent|
|sans autre||sans plus attendre||without delay|
|santé||à tes/vos souhaits||bless you (when someone sneezes)|
|septante||soixante-dix||seventy||In Swiss French, as opposed to French, the words for seventy, eighty and ninety are similar in construction to the ones used for thirty up to sixty.|
|service||je t'en/vous en prie||you're welcome||From "à votre service" meaning "at your service".|
|signofile/indicateur||clignotant||indicator/turn signal (motor vehicle)|
|souper||dîner||dinner||Meal names are shifted in Swiss French, meaning that the name for lunch is used for breakfast, the one for dinner is used for lunch and the French equivalent of the word "supper" is used for dinner.|
|uni (short for université)||fac (short word for faculté)||university|
|vatr||père||father||Comes from the German word for "Father", "Vater".|