Rhaeto-Romance, generally called Romansh, is a subfamily of the Romance languages. Romansh has officially been the fourth national language of Switzerland since 1938.

This language was created in 15 BC when the Romans conquered the region between the Rhaetian Alps and the Danube (Rhaetia). The Vulgar Latin of the Romans intermingled with the languages spoken by the inhabitants of the Alpine region. It has not been completely determined which population groups were living there at that time. However, the Indo-European Celts and the non-Indo-European Rhaetians probably belonged to the most important groups of people, which would also explain, amongst other things, the large linguistic differences found in the Romansh language. Until about 476, under the Roman Empire, the region had mainly been enjoying political self-determination and the Christianisation together with the insertion of the region in the Roman Empire were beneficial to Romansh.

There was a change in 800 when independence came to an end because of Charles the Great. From then on, a German-speaking count was in charge of the region and, through further restructuring, Rhaetia was assigned to the East-Franconian Empire under the reign of Louis the German. The Diocese of Chur was also transferred from the church province of Milan to that of Mainz and, as a result, almost solely German-speaking bishops were in charge in Chur. Therefore, the upper class in Chur was mostly germanised and this led, at least to some extent, to a situation where no cultural Romansh centre could be created in the Middle Ages although Romansh had been the everyday language commonly used in Chur until the fire of 1464.

In the 15th century Romansh was spoken in most parts of Grisons. Nonetheless, at that time Latin was replaced with German as the official and administrative language. In the first two decades of the 16th century, a penal code and a contract were written, for the first time, in Romansh. As a result of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries, Romansh literature was published first in Engadin and then in the Sutselva and Surselva regions. From the very beginning it was written in High Engadinish (Puter), Low Engadinish (Vallader), Sutselvish (Sutsilvan, spoken in the anterior Rhine area) and Surselvish (Sursilvan, spoken in the anterior and posterior Rhine areas). This can be explained, on the one hand, by the religious contrasts and, on the other hand, by the lack of a Romansh centre, which also accounts for the few Romansh writings of the Middle Ages. Although trilingualism has officially prevailed in the region since 1794, Romansh rapidly lost its importance as a written language. Until now tourism and industrialisation have been leading to its decline in the use of verbal communication. In order to remedy the situation, intellectuals and writers started to make the population aware of the risk of extinction of their language. In the 1830s the first school books were published in Romansh, and various linguistic and cultural associations were founded at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century: in 1885 the Societad Retorumantscha (Annalas, Dicziunari Rumantsch Grischun) and in 1919 the Lia Rumantscha (umbrella association of all Romansh associations).

Current situation: In the first half of the 19th century, the majority of the people living in Grisons were speaking Romansh. The population census conducted in 1860 showed, for the first time, that the majority of people were German speakers. In 2000 Romansh was acknowledged as the language of which approximately 35,000 people still had the best command and about 61,000 were speaking it most frequently. The population censuses carried out between 2010 and 2014 quoted Romansh as the main language spoken by about 41,000 people. (German version)
Historical lexicon of Switzerland, 2012, consulted on 14.04.20 (German version)
Federal Statistical Office, 2016, consulted on 14.04.20
Rumantsch Grischun
Rumantsch Grischun (RG) is the common written language of the Romansh people.
Creation: The desire for a single language was realised when the language went beyond regional use. Attempts had been made to create a standardised written language for over 200 years. The creation of a standard language finally succeeded when the Lia Rumantscha decided to tackle the problem. Alarmed by the drastic decline of the Romansh, the Lia Rumantscha decided to develop a language concept: creating a single language was part of it. In 1982 the Lia Rumantscha assigned the task to Heinrich Schmid, Professor of Romance studies at the University of Zurich. This is how the Rumantsch Grischun was born. This language is based on three (there are five) Romansh written idioms: Sursilvan, Vallader and Surmiran. The Rumantsch Grischun was created by the majority principle. On the one hand, this applies to morphology and phonology, and, on the other hand, to syntax and lexicon. In the cases where there was no majority, the two smallest written idioms as well as regional and local variants were used.
Lia Rumantscha, 2006, consulted on 14.04.20