Photo: Curious Expeditions

Excerpt taken from the book The Story of French (Ch. 7)

Like the issue of the Belgian accent, that of the Suisse accent is complicated. Many French people swear that there is a typical Swiss accent. In fact, what is assumed to be a typical Swiss accent is actually the accent of a German Swiss speaking French as a second language. As far as the Suisses Romands, they have roughly the same accent that one would hear in France near the Swiss border. They have a reputation for speaking slowly, but the real difference is where they put the emphasis in their words and sentences. Whereas standard French stresses the last syllable of words and sentences, Swiss French stresses the penultimate (second-last) syllable. This produces a musicality that is instantly recognizable, though it is more typically Franco-Provençal than Swiss per se. Like Belgians and Quebeckers, Swiss francophones also pronounce vowels in a way that distinguishes homonyms (Belgians and Quebeckers distinguish vowels sounds too, but different vowels). Words like peau (skin) and pot (pot) sound the same in Paris, but in Switzerland they are differentiated as po and pah.

(…) Because they use some of the same vocabulary to talk about very different political systems, political conversations between Belgians and Swiss (not to mention Quebeckers and French) are minefields for misunderstanding. Fédéralisme doesn’t have the same meaning in Switzerland as it does in France, Belgium or Canada. For the French it evokes medieval anarchy; for Belgians it describes the separation of powers between the Walloons and the Flemish. For the Swiss it refers to the integration of different parts into a whole. There are less confusing examples of Swiss institutional terminology. In Switzerland a vote is votation instead of vote, as in France and Quebec. Rescuers are called samaritains rather than secouristes. Lycées (the equivalent of grades eleven to thirteen) are called gymnases, like the German gymnasium. And the diploma given at the end of high school is not a baccalauréat but a maturité.

The Swiss have preserved a number of old French expressions, such as dent-de-lion (dandelion), long replaced in France by pissenlit. One of their most endearing regionalisms (except to Parisians) is the Swiss term for Parisian French: françouillon, a derogatory term that evokes Belgian expressions such as Franskillon and Francillon. They also count the way Belgians do; in fact, they have fully rationalized their numbers and more commonly say huitante instead of quatre-vingts for eighty.