Now I can read more than an Italian menu

Every night after dinner at the Casa Caltgera is a lecture or some kind of entertainment event. On Monday I attended a lecture on the Ladin language, and on Tuesday was a lecture about the economy of the Surselva region, where Laax is located. The Ladin language is from the same family as Romansch and it is spoken in northern Italy by about only thirty thousand speakers. It was very interesting to hear it spoken and to learn about its different idioms.

Yesterday four friends and I went to Chur, which is the capital of the canton of Graubünden. I was the leader of this excursion, taking the gang to the Lia Rumantscha and then to Il Palantin, Switzerland’s only Romansch bookstore. Three of these students had never been to either place, the Lia Rumantscha being the holy grail for any student of Romansch. We saw all the Romansch books, music, videos and DVD’s for sale and spent a good hour and a half there. Any of these students’ reactions could have been been mine three years ago when I made my first visit. It was a combination of exhilaration and incredulity that so much material could be made available in one single place. In my own little world, where I live to study endangered languages, I did not feel alone with this reaction. All five of us dove head-first into the book displays and pulled out every book on the shelves. I bought some short-story books as well as some polyglot collections of essays, all on the topic of endangered languages.

The next stop was Il Palantin. I have been to this store twice in the past and I had a successful shopping day there as well. The store stocks not only books in Romansch and all its idioms, but also books in the minority languages of neighbouring areas. The owner, Mrs. Elisabeth Maranta, explained to us that she established the store in order to ensure that the smaller languages were represented. She therefore carried, in addition to books in Romansch, books in Ladin, Friulian (another minority language of Italy in the same family as Romansch), various dialects of Swiss German, as well as Italian.

Now why Italian? The canton of Graubünden has three official languages: German, Romansch and Italian. Italian is also an official language of Switzerland, and one canton, Ticino, which neighbours Graubünden, has Italian as its sole official language. The Italians in Graubünden, however, are in the minority. I stood dumbfounded when I saw the following two book titles: Una finestra sul Grigioni italiano and La minoranza di confine grigionitaliana. The Italian name for the canton of Graubünden is Grigioni.

When I opened these books I found out that I, much to my surprise, could read them. The Surselvan idiom of the Romansch language is similar in many ways to Italian. This is a discovery I made a couple years after I first studied Romansch, however I never took the time to find an Italian book, on any subject, and attempt to read it. I could read signs and the labels on Swiss products (which are trilingual). I will not go so far as to say I can speak Italian or to have any level of officially-recognized “competency” in the language, however the fact that I bought both of these books proved to me that I could read a lot more than I would have thought. And with an Italian-English dictionary, I should do just fine.

I collect translations of Le Petit Prince and I bought a copy in the Bernese dialect of Swiss German. In Bärndütsch the book is known as Der Chly Prinz. I lucked out in finding a collection of poems in Ladin (Gherlandes de sunëc), with an accompanying CD of them being read aloud. My final purchase was a dictionary entitled Inschi Sprààch: ds Obarsàxar Titsch. It’s a dictionary of words in the German dialect spoken in the region of Obersaxen. Obersaxen, a German-speaking island in the middle of Surselvan Romansch, is an area I visited in 2006 with my friend Ueli, who is also enrolled in this course and is in the highest level. The Swiss Germans themselves have trouble understanding the Obersaxens 🙂 All in all a very successful book run in Chur!

While in the grocery store today looking for my favourite Swiss beverage, Rivella, I saw a pack of cigarettes with the name “Convent”. What’s this? A special brand for nuns?

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