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Swiss Effort to Save a Language Opens a Rift: Villagers Debate Whether to Stick to Dialects of Ancient Roman Tongue or a Cobbled-Together ‘Esperanto’
ZURICH—As kids return to school in Val Müstair, high in the eastern tip of the Swiss Alps, they are also entering the front lines of a bitter battle: the fight over the future of a centuries-old Latin dialect.
The municipality (population 1,600) is a stronghold of Romansh, a language imported by Roman occupiers 2,000 years ago and still spoken by most locals. Today, its villagers are up in arms over authorities’ attempt to push a sort of Romansh Esperanto on locals—one that officials defend as the only chance to save one of the last living relics of the Latin language.
The tiff originated in 1996, when Romansh became Switzerland’s fourth official language even though only roughly 60,000 people speak it.