Gender and Language, Vol 7, No 1 (2013)

The government in contact with its citizens: Translations of federal information in multilingual Swiss administration

Daniel Elmiger
Issued Date: 15 Feb 2013


In Switzerland, three languages are regularly used by the Federal Administration: German, French and Italian (being a semi-official language, Rhaeto-Romanic – or Romansh – is less regularly in use). Thus many official texts are translated from one official language into the others. The new Federal Language Law (Sprachengesetz, Loi sur les langues, Legge sulle lingue, Lescha da linguas) adopted in 2007 demands that official language use must be adequate, clear and intelligible as well as non-sexist. Non-sexist language has been required in the German section of the Federal Chancellery for about 15 years, whereas the French and Italian sections have shown little interest in modifying their use of language, sticking to a more traditional language use in which masculine terms are used both specifically as well as generically.
In our article, we offer a brief overview of the legal and linguistic situation in multilingual Switzerland, where language use is being regulated not only on the federal, but also on the cantonal and municipal level. We will then focus more specifically on official texts that the Chancellery sends to Swiss citizens – information about legal issues, elections or votes, which must be made available as translations in every official language –. The following questions are dealt with: How does the legal context in Switzerland encourage non-sexist language use? To what degree do the official languages comply with non-sexist language use? In particular, do they admit or avoid generically used masculine forms? What differences can be observed in various translated versions of the same text?

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DOI: 10.1558/genl.v7i1.59


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