Italian-speaking Switzerland: one official language, two cantons, multiple identities

In a country where four language regions and different cultures coexist, the Italian-speaking region often goes unnoticed even among the locals themselves. This region includes the canton of Ticino and the four valleys known as Grigionitaliano, located in Graubünden, the only trilingual canton in the country.

To reach Italian-speaking Switzerland, you can take two routes: south through Italy or north through the San Bernardino Pass or the Gotthard Base Tunnel, the longest railway tunnel in the world. The official language in this region is Italian, enriched with various dialects. It is the third official language of Switzerland, spoken by about 7.9% of the Swiss population. More than half of Italian speakers live outside the Italian-speaking region, mainly due to immigration from Italy, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, Switzerland is home to the third largest community of Italians outside of Italy. Although Italian is widely spoken throughout the country, it remains a minority language that needs to be maintained and developed.

Italian language in Switzerland

There is no single language in Switzerland, which presents both challenges and significant opportunities. If everyone spoke the same language, such as English or a hypothetical "Swiss", it would probably be easier for language regions to understand each other. But multilingualism has always been a key part of a country's identity and is one of its defining features. This was formalised in 1848 when German, French and Italian were approved in the Federal Constitution as the three equal state languages; Romance was added in 1938.

This diversity allows Switzerland to benefit from the interaction of several languages and, more importantly, cultures united by a political system based on federalism and direct democracy. This linguistic uniqueness is admired in other countries and forms the basis for Switzerland's diplomatic success through its desire to bring different cultures together. However, it was not always easy for linguistic minorities to make their voices heard.

The Federal Act on National Languages and Mutual Understanding between Language Communities (LangA), which entered into force in 2007, and its implementing regulation of 2010 provide the basis for projects aimed at promoting mutual understanding in this multilingual country.

An example of such initiatives is the association Pro Grigioni Italiano, in operation for over 100 years, which promotes local Italian culture and defends the language with the support of the canton and the federal government. The Forum for the Italian Language in Switzerland, founded recently, also supports projects and initiatives across the country.

From Helvetisms to dialects

The influence of other languages present in Switzerland has had its mark on Swiss Italian, giving it nuances and phrases not present in Italian used in Italy. For example, instead of the term "in promozione", used in Italy to refer to products on sale, Swiss Italian uses the expression "in azione", borrowed from Swiss-German. Also, when ordering coffee in Swiss Italian you will say "comandare un caffè", which is derived from the French "commander", whereas in Italy you are more likely to say "ordinare un caffè".

The richness of the dialects is also an important aspect. Swiss Italian dialects, derived from Lombard dialects, are spoken by about a third of the region's population. The diversity of the dialects of Ticino and the Italian-speaking valleys of Graubünden, including phrases such as "sa vedum" (ci vediamo, or "see you later") and "bondi" (buongiorno, or "hello"), is documented in the Vocabolario dei dialetti della Svizzera italiana.

Italian-speaking Switzerland shines beyond its borders

The Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, especially Ticino, is known among German-speaking Swiss as the "sun lounge" because of its mild climate and Mediterranean atmosphere. However, this region offers much more than just sunny days. For example, the town of Bregaglia has spawned world-famous artists such as Giovanni Segantini and Alberto Giacometti. Ticino architect, Mario Botta, is known for his work scattered all over the world, including the United States and China.

When it comes to major historical figures, Ticino is also the birthplace of Francesco Borromini, a prominent representative of Baroque architecture. The architect Domenico Trezzini, also from this region, originally designed St Petersburg on behalf of Tsar Peter the Great. We must also not forget the Moesani Magisters, a group of skilled builders who were active in Bavaria, Poland and Austria between 1500 and 1700.

Film events: Locarno Film Festival

Locarno Film Festival

Italian-speaking Switzerland is also rich in World Heritage sites. The valley of Valposchiavo is crossed by the Raetz railway, a masterpiece of engineering. The three castles of Bellinzona continue to be an important historical point between north and south in Swiss history. And fossils more than 245 million years old can be found at Monte San Giorgio.

The role of Italian-speaking Switzerland in science is also significant. Lugano is home to the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre and the University of Italian Switzerland, the only Italian-language university outside Italy. And Bellinzona is home to biomedical and cancer research centres that contribute to scientific progress internationally.

This is just a small part of the richness of the language and culture of Italian-speaking Switzerland, one of the cornerstones of the country's identity.


Q: Where is Italian-speaking Switzerland?
A: Italian-speaking Switzerland is a region comprising the canton of Ticino and four valleys (Grigionitaliano) in the canton of Graubünden.

Q: How do I get to Italian-speaking Switzerland?
A: Italian-speaking Switzerland can be reached from the south via Italy or from the north via the San Bernardino Pass or the Gotthard Base Tunnel.

Q: What is the official language in Italian-speaking Switzerland?
A: The official language in this region is Italian, enriched with various dialects.

Q: Which famous personalities come from Italian-speaking Switzerland?
A: Famous people from Italian-speaking Switzerland include the painters Giovanni Segantini and Alberto Giacometti, the architect Mario Botta, the Baroque architect Francesco Borromini, the architect Domenico Trezzini and many others.

Q: What sights can I see in Italian-speaking Switzerland?
A: Sights to see in Italian-speaking Switzerland include the Raeta railway, the castles of Bellinzona, the fossils of Monte San Giorgio, as well as the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre and the University of Italian Switzerland.


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