Journal of Intercultural Communication, issue 7, September 2004

Ingmar Söhrman

Intercultural communication or parallel cultures? The Swiss example with special regard to the Rhaeto-Romance situation


Politically correct terminology often fails to describe actual reality. Switzerland is commonly held up as an example of accomplished multiculturalism and multilingualism. Although appealing, this image is also fairly erroneous as the German majority and French "dominant" minority seem to live separate lives. Likewise, Italian and Rhaeto-Romance are generally marginalized and rarely either spoken or understood by the French- and German-speaking Swiss - creating the so-called "2 and ½-lingualism".
This article does not pretend either to "prove" or "reject" Switzerland as a good example to follow. The domestic intricacies of each and every country demand home-grown solutions, and those solutions may or may not incorporate outside experience and practice. The intention is to discuss the difference between political will (and prejudice) and pragmatic arrangements in an attempt to identify what promotes multilingualism (and multiculturalism) in some places and what leads to coexisting languages and cultures that follow separate and parallel paths in others. The central hypothesis is that while a country may be multilingual politically, having embedded this intention in law and having organized the local community according to these laws in order to facilitate the usage and utility of the different cultures and linguistic varieties, this political arrangement may have little reflection in more complicated practice, with linguistic and cultural populations choosing to follow parallel and separate paths instead. The central issue is whether intercultural communication actually does exist, to what extent it exists, and what promotes it in a world that is turning its back on other national cultures and languages.

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