Helvetisms (New Latin Helvetia "Switzerland" and -ism) are features distinctive of Swiss Standard German, that distinguish it from Standard German. The most frequent Helvetisms are in vocabulary and pronunciation, but there are also some distinctive features within syntax and orthography.

The French spoken in Switzerland has similar terms, which are also known as Helvetisms. Current French dictionaries, such as the Petit Larousse, include several hundred helvetisms.[1]


The definitive work for German orthography, the Duden, explicitly declares a number of helvetisms as correct Standard German – albeit with the [schweiz.] annotation, denoting that the usage of the word is limited to Switzerland. However, not all words may be considered part of the "Swiss standard language"/"Swiss standard German" category, because frequency of usage must be evaluated as well; if this does not apply, or if a word's use is known to span only one or more specific dialectal regions, the word must be categorized "dialectal" (German: mundartlich, often abbreviated mdal.)

In orthographical terms, the most significant difference to Standard German outside Switzerland is the absence of ß. (After having been officially abandoned in the Canton of Zürich in 1935, this character gradually fell into disuse, until it was eventually dropped by the Neue Zürcher Zeitung in 1974.)

In everyday language, Helvetisms may be used both consciously and unconsciously by a Swiss German native speaker. Classic examples of Helvetism usage throughout entire literary works are found in a large part of Swiss literature, notably Jeremias Gotthelf's novels located in the Emmental; a contemporary example would be Tim Krohn in his Quatemberkinder. Another group, the most notable of whom is Peter Bichsel, deliberately use Helvetisms to arouse a sort of emotional attachment to the readers' home country: Bichsel is notorious for using dialectal words like Beiz (instead of Kneipe [English: "pub"]), or Kasten (instead of Schrank [English: "cupboard/cabinet/closet"]) in his "San Salvador" short story. Lastly, there is yet another group of authors whose readers are known to be located all over the German-speaking territory (Germany, Austria, Switzerland as well as some smaller minorities in other European countries) and therefore traditionally refrain from using any Helvetisms in their literary works.

In addition, words which are used outside Switzerland, but which originate from Swiss German may be called "Helvetisms".

Analogously to "Helvetisms", there are also Austricisms and Germanisms (also Teutonicisms).

Examples of Helvetisms

Figures of speech

Swiss specifics

In the area's cuisine, local culture and politics, there are numerous peculiarities that are not well known outside Switzerland and which do not have an equivalent standard German expression.


Because of their characteristic pronunciation, speakers of Swiss Standard German will be instantly recognized by other German speakers in most cases.

In general, the pronunciation of Swiss Standard German is influenced by the respective Swiss German dialect of each speaker. The degree of that influence may vary according to their education.

Differing Pronunciation

In Switzerland some words are stressed on different syllables than in the rest of the German-speaking area (marked with an accent here):




A special feature of Swiss Standard German, is a somewhat "singing" cadence. That means that each word's stressed syllable isn't only marked through the higher voice volume, but also through a distinguishable modification of the voice's sound. In general, the pitch of the stressed syllable sinks.


In orthography, the most visible difference from Standard German usage outside Switzerland is the absence of ß (officially abolished in the Canton of Zürich in 1935; the sign fell gradually out of use and was dropped by the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) in 1974).

French and Italian loanwords are written in their original forms – despite the spelling reform. Majonäse stays Mayonnaise, and Spagetti stays Spaghetti. The NZZ has even chosen the word placieren, to not have to write platzieren.

Geographical names, such as streets, are mostly written together: Baslerstrasse, Genfersee, Zugerberg etc., but also Schweizergrenze, Schweizervolk (very often).

Umlauts on the first letter of Swiss proper names are written as <Ae>, <Oe> and <Ue>: Aebi, Oerlikon, Uetliberg (pronounced Üetliberg, not Ütliberg).

Finally, there are specialities like e.g.

Some of the above-mentioned characteristics are due to the general introduction of the typewriter in economics and administration. Because a Swiss typewriter must be able to write not only German texts but also French and Italian texts, the limited number of keys wasn't enough for all these languages' special characters to be included. So, the eszett and the uppercase umlauts (Ä, Ö and Ü), as well as other upper-case accented vowels (e.g. À or É), were missed out.


Swiss German differs from Standard German in, for example, the gender of nouns (das E-Mail, das Tram and das SMS instead of die) or in the preposotion that verbs require (jemanden anfragen instead of bei jemandem anfragen).

In general, more often than in Germany or Austria, the Swiss use female descriptions of professions instead of using a generic masculine (Bundesrätin Ruth Metzler, Frieda U. wurde zur Primarschullehrerin gewählt). The Binnen-I (as in ProfessorIn) is not used only by "politically correct" people.

Relative pronouns: The relative pronoun welche(r), considered clumsy and antiquated in Standard German, is used without hesitation: in Damit wurde in der Schweiz ein Kompetenzzentrum für Klimafragen geschaffen, welches verstärkt die Bedürfnisse der Bevölkerung in den Mittelpunkt ihrer Forschung stellt. (from Jahresbericht 2001, Annual report of the ETH Zürich).

Grammatical case

Rabatt is used in the dative case; in Standard German in the accusative case. Example: 20% Rabatt auf allen Artikeln.

Sentence structure

The syntax has a lot of constructions with a shortened main clause and a following subordinate clause, which is only marked by the initial position of a verb, e.g.

Grammatical gender

In his book Zündels Abgang, author Markus Werner uses Tram ("tram") – which takes the female article die in Germany's Standard German – with the typically Swiss neuter article das.

Swiss expressions loaned into Standard German

The word Putsch is one example which is widely used in political contexts, even in notable Standard German newspapers.[2][3][4] The word Müsli, however, is a special case: in Swiss Standard German (and only there), Müsli is the diminutive of Mus ("mouse") and stands for "little mouse". To describe the food, the Swiss use the spelling esli (reflecting the pronunciation [ˈmyəsli] of the dialects).

See also


  1. Michael G. Clyne (1992). Pluricentric Languages: Differing Norms in Different Nations. Walter de Gruyter. p. 164. ISBN 978-3-11-012855-0. Retrieved 7 September 2013.
  2. Etymology and definition of Putsch in German
  3. Kleine Zürcher Verfassungsgeschichte 1218–2000 (PDF) (in German). Zurich: State Archives of the Canton of Zurich. September 13, 2000. p. 51.
  4. Pfeifer, Wolfgang (January 31, 1993). Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Deutschen [Etymological Dictionary of German] (in German) (second ed.). Berlin: Akademie Verlag. ISBN 978-3050006260.

External links

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