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Switzerland is often referred to as a success story for handling its linguistic and cultural diversity. Traditionally four languages have been spoken in relatively homogeneous territories: German, French, Italian and Rhaeto- Romanic (Romansh). The first three have been national languages since the foundation of the Confederation in 1848; the fourth became a national language in 1938. In effect, The Law on Languages, in effect since 2010, has regulated the use and promotion of languages and enhanced the status of Romansh as one of the official languages since 2010.

While Swiss language policy is determined at the federal level, it is in the actual practice a matter for cantonal implementation. Article 70 of the Swiss Federal Constitution, titled “Languages”, enshrines the principle of multilingualism. A recent project to create legislation to implement multilingualism across the cantons, however, has failed. Thus Switzerland remains de jure quadrilingual, but de facto bilingual at best, with only a handful of cantons recognizing more than one official language (Newman, 2006: 2). Cantonal borders are not based on language: the French-German language border runs across cantons during most of its course from north to south, and such is also the case for Italian.

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