An orchestra is an army. Chilly Gonzales

The Engine of Swiss Literature

There are only about 50.000 people left who speak Raeto-Romanic. But this language is more than a relict from a museum: It is still highly topical as an expression of local culture and the engine of Swiss literature. Especially in the age of globalisation it has an important anchor in the region of Grisons in Switzerland.

Since 1938, Raeto-Romanic is accredited as a Swiss national language and its advancement is funded by the state with currently three million Swiss francs annually. The subsidies enable the development of a linguistic infrastructure, amongst others also the development of a new written Koine Greek. Also the Swiss radio association „SRG-Ideé suisse“ makes an effort that all four national languages are present in the media. However, this is sufficient for the critics of a „luxury minority“ to support their thesis that an obsolete language is used as alibi for a group of profiteers in order to conserve their subsidised sinecure. More qualified is the indication that while conserving a language is rather a request of a bourgeois elite, the maintenance of a language of limited use is more of an imposition for the „rank and file“ (Peter Egoloff). But such doubts have no chance against the common praise of multiculturalism. “Tgi che sa rumantsch sa dapli” (Who is able to speak Raeto-Romanic is able to do more)
Own language, own culture Languages are not different glossaries for the identical but for specifically configured worlds of senses and with the extinction of a language, a unique historical and cultural universe vanishes. Semiotically, this is correct, but who cares? The real historical and cultural context of the Raeto-Romanic was an inner-alpine agrarian world, not exactly hermetically closed but with idiosyncrasies in its culture and experience realm that backed its linguistic idiosyncrasies. What modernism initiated, postmodernism has accomplished, the environment of romantic Grison valleys is assigned to the “Californian late antiquity“ (Sloterdijk), the historical and cultural specificity is exposed to the advertising of the ethnic usurpation of the tourism industry. With this, a language movement that was started in the name of conservation is under the pressure of reasoning.

Modernisation and “interior-exoticism”
The fear of conservation has already captured the Raeto-Romanic movement in the post-war period. Thinkers like Andri Peer (1921-1985) requested persistently to leave the zone of literary homeland-security and to deal with current European tendencies instead. Recently, the call for urbanity and opening of the Raeto-Romanic literature, also in connection with the newly created writing Koine Greek – Rumantsch Grischun- as a standard that is willing to face the requirements of a modern communication society, has become louder. The problem with this is the bilingualism: The ideological standard –Rumantsch Grischun- is competing against the actually used German. The literature stays in strikingly close connection with the idioms, it seems to need the echo of the oral as well as the written inventory. The hope to make literary texts topical by thematically actualising them seems naïve, the misbelief that changing the plot to a trendy urban scene would guarantee the brisance of a text, as well. What is delineating is a reverse trend: At the moment, especially those Raeto-Romanic texts are successful that address an archaic, wild Grisons and talk in a non –idyllic way of Alps, shepherds and hunters. But the explanation of an “interior-exoticism” is not wide enough; Leo Tuor, Arno Camenisch and others proof that the close connection with linguistic traditions and enclosed life experience is a useful precondition for literary innovations.

Read more in this debate: Ingo Niebel, Florian Weber, David Torrance.


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