For Wales Week 2023, we had the pleasure of being joined by the Secretary of State for Wales David TC Davies, for an event to highlight the mutual interest between Switzerland and Wales in learning from and investing in each other. And, though it may not seem so at first, our languages create some commonalities as well and we welcomed some outstanding speakers to raise awareness of the efforts by Switzerland and Wales to preserve and promote minority languages.
A successful Wales Week event was previously held at the Embassy in 2022 on St David’s Day, followed by a UK tour with a stop at Cardiff Castle to meet local stakeholders and hold an event in cooperation with Cardiff Council and the Life Sciences Hub Wales. The Embassy showcased the shared interest in closer cooperation between Switzerland and Wales in the area of Life Sciences.
This year, we wanted to highlight the similarities in approach that Switzerland and Wales have to protecting and promoting minority languages. Like Wales, the canton of Grishun (also known as Grisons or Graubünden) is known for its beautiful landscapes and culinary richness. The languages spoken in this area of Switzerland are Swiss German, Italian and Romansh.
Romansh is, like Welsh, a minority language with only 0.5% of the Swiss population having Romansh as their main language. This is much less than the Welsh-speaking population, with the 2021 Annual Population Survey reporting 892,200 speakers.
Bun di, bund de, bien di, bùn gi, allegra! There are at least five different ways to say hello in Romansh. This language officially became a national language in Switzerland, alongside German, French and Italian, on 20 February 1938. The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs has chosen this symbolic date to launch the first Romansh Language Week (Emna Rumantscha), in addition to Plurilingualism Week and the activities organised during ‘Settimanade la lingua Italiana’ (Italian Language Week) and ‘Mois de la Francophonie’ (French Language Month). These events underline the importance of plurilingualism for national cohesion, but also for opening up to the world.
Language is our main tool for communication. Without language of any kind there is no flow of information, and without flow of information there is no progress. This was touched upon in different ways by all of our guest speakers at the event.
Chasper Pult, a teacher and cultural mediator specialising in Romansh, took the time to explain to us why Romansh, the closest language to Latin, is ‘a language of the world’ and part of Switzerland’s DNA and cultural diversity. He tried to explain to our guests how diversity enriches our identities as well as how governments can adapt to provide equal resources. Consideration for minorities is not influenced by their size but by their unique presence.
Siwan Jones, Head of Welsh in Education Planning, presented ‘Cymru 2050’, a project aiming to achieve one million Welsh speakers by 2050. She explained the efforts to contribute to that goal, such as methods of ensuring Welsh language immersion to facilitate learning across all generations and communities. Helping the Welsh language to expand will mostly rely on investment and education as well as major cultural events such as The Eisteddfod – a celebration of the culture and language of Wales attracting over 150,000 visitors and 6,000 competitors each year.
Finally, Leena Fahrat and Preben Vangberg, PhD students from Bangor University and winners of the ‘Our Voices’ competition by Mozilla to Fight Bias in Voice Technology, presented their project on a speech-to-text model for Romansh. Preserving language through education is good, but consideration needs to be given to saving a language from going extinct in the digital sphere. It is essential to offer online tools driven by AI technology to preserve access to such resources.
To continue our collaboration with Wales, the Swiss Business Hub will later this year organize an inbound trade mission of Welsh Fintechs to Switzerland together with Deloitte (Switzerland) and Fintech Wales.