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Languages, script and national identity: struggles over linguistic heterogeneity in Switzerland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
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For centuries, Switzerland has been a multilingual country (which currently has no less than four official languages.) Furthermore, one of those languages, German, is characterised by bigraphism (i.e. the coexistence of two different type styles). This article discusses the role played by language and writing systems in the great educational scheme that was designed to create a shared national identity among Swiss people – despite the friction caused by cantonal and local idiosyncrasies, different cultural backgrounds, and deep-rooted traditions. It focuses on the timespan from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the First World War, a period during which nation-states were formed all over Europe. The findings show how language and writing systems were intertwined with local, cantonal and national identities in a state (Switzerland) that had no uniform national language. It was through the use of language and writing that ideas of ‘us’ (herein, the Swiss) and ‘others’ (herein, the non-Swiss) were constructed, disseminated and perpetuated.