Evolution of patois in French-speaking Switzerland

Predictions regarding vitality, the linguistic system and language practices
Project management
01.2022 - 12.2024
Competences, History, Institutions, Policy

Research cooperation with the Glossaire des patois de la Suisse romande - GPSR

In 2018, Switzerland recognized Franco-Provençal and Franc-Comtois (spoken in French-speaking Switzerland) as minority languages within the meaning of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Their varieties are designated under the term patois, up until now they have primarily been the subject of dialectological description. A number of issues currently exist relating to the development of the language and its practices, which are preoccupying both for the public authorities and for the speakers themselves. These have to do with the future of the language (preservation vs. disappearance), its contemporary linguistic evolution and the current practices of patois speakers themselves. The project intends to study the evolution of patois in French-speaking Switzerland, taking care to distinguish between profiles of patois speakers in a non-binary way, and especially to identify the various types of speakers who do not use patois as their primary language in the social context. It will comprise:

  1. A retrospective analysis of predictions regarding its evolution: using the tools of historiography, a retrospective analysis of the language’s future will provide a better understanding as to why people seek to make predictions and the criteria they use to do so, and also how these predictions succeed or fail to capture the dynamic evolution of the language in light of the current situation.
  2. An analysis of recent linguistic developments: this section will include a linguistic analysis of the relationship between patois and French, we also intend to analyse how the situation is perceived and represented by speakers of patois and how it may evolve in the future.
  3. An analysis of the evolution of practices: using the tools of the ethnographic survey we will seek to describe and understand the evolution of the social uses and spaces of socialization of Franco-Provençal and Franc-Comtois in all French-speaking cantons in which evidence is available. This will involve identifying the various groups pursuing cultural activities linked to patois, and gaining a better understanding of their goals.
Purpose – Expected results

The project will produce knowledge enabling us to better assess current practices associated with Franco-Provençal and Jurassien, and to better understand how these are changing in the current Francophone environment. This information will be useful to those involved in drafting language, culture and education-related policies. The intention is also to situate the current public discourse within the context of the extensive national history of the defence of patois. The project’s conclusions will also be considered in the light of reports relating to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, in particular regarding the question of whether Franco-Provençal and Jurassien constitute languages in their own right or are rather dialects of French.