Update: 24.02.2016

Legal study on new linguistic minorities in Switzerland

"The diversity of languages and linguistic capacities in Switzerland" is the title of the study presented by the Swiss National Science Foundation on 17 February 2009. Its authors, the lawyers Alberto Achermann and Jörg Künzli examined whether legal regulations governing language and immigration in Switzerland were compatible with human rights.

English as a “partially official language”

The authors recommend for the government to consider making English "partially official": this would include the systematic translation of legal documents in areas such as taxation or employment contracts for staff. They invite the state to think about in which fields it would be most important to also communicate in English. The move would also bring Switzerland an advantage in international fields where English is the dominant language, the study notes. Achermann told swissinfo that "this would make it easier not only for native English speakers but for a lot of people around the world who are here and have a good knowledge of English."

Contact with the administration

In Switzerland, everyone is entitled to communicate in the language of its choice, in private or in public. At the same time, federal and cantonal officials are not obliged to communicate with the population in another language than one of the official language. Under growing migration and bilateral agreements, more people are not at ease with the local language (according to swissinfo, nine per cent of the Swiss population say their main language is not one of the four national languages). Besides, some inequalities have been observed between citizens of EU member states, who cannot be forced to learn the local language, and extra-European immigrants, whose attendance language course or on possessing adequate language skills is by law a condition to obtain residency permits. Therefore, contact with the administration can be difficult for a high proportion of the population.

Right to translation

The Swiss legal system does not recognise the universal right to translation services. In some basic situations, especially in the area of education, social help and health, Switzerland needs to step up its translation services. This is what the study recommends. In hospitals for example, foreign patients undergoing treatment are entitled by constitutional law to access translation services if necessary.

Further information

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