The unpronounceable word “Chuchichäschtli

Can you pronounce the infamous Swiss German word “Chuchichäschtli”? Surely, you have heard it before. As a matter of fact, many people who do not speak Swiss German find it quite a challenge to pronounce “Chuchichäschtli” correctly. In this blog post we will find out why, among many other things.

In the introductory blog post on Swiss German, we learned that there are so-called Helvetisms in Swiss Standard German, i.e. linguistic features that are not used, for example, in Germany or Austria. While the last blog post (“Peperoni” or “Paprika”?) dealt with a Helvetism in the area of vocabulary – “peperoni” – this time we will focus on pronunciation.

What is a “Chuchichäschtli”?

The word “Chuchichäschtli” consists of the two words “Chuchi” and “Chäschtli”. (See also our blog post about Compound Words.) “Chuchi” is the Swiss German word for kitchen (Standard German: “Küche”); “Chäschtli” here means a little cupboard (Standard German: “Kästchen” or “Kästlein”). So what is meant is a small kitchen cupboard.

Why is “Chuchichäschtli” so difficult to pronounce?

The main difficulty is the phoneme “ch”, which occurs three times in the word. A well-known isogloss (a geographic boundary of a certain linguistic feature) is the Kind/Chind isogloss: at this boundary, the “k” becomes “ch”, for example, “Kind” (child) becomes “Chind” and “Kopf” (head) becomes “Chopf”.

Is “Chuchichäschtli” a Helvetism?

No, “Chuchichäschtli” is not a Helvetism. Remember that Helvetisms are used in Swiss Standard German. However, “Chuchichäschtli” is not a word we would use in Swiss Standard German, but in Swiss German, i.e. in the various dialects spoken in German-speaking Switzerland.

Helvetisms in the area of pronunciation

Let us first look at some of the many phonetic differences:

  • The “ch” in, for example, “China” and “Chemie” (chemistry), is pronounced as in “machen” (to make).
  • The ending “-ig” – e.g. in “König” (king) – is actually pronounced “-ig” in Swiss Standard German, whereas in Standard German it would be pronounced “Könich”.
  • In Swiss Standard German, “Dachs” (badger) is pronounced with “ch” as in “machen” (to make). In Standard German, “chs” is pronounced with “x”.
  • In Swiss Standard German, the rolled tongue-tip R dominates; in Standard German, the French R dominates.
  • While the “r” at the end of a word, e.g. in “Vater” (father), is not pronounced in Standard German, it is pronounced in Swiss Standard German.
  • In Swiss Standard German, no distinction is made between a voiceless and a voiced “s”.
  • There is also no distinction between the “ich” and “ach” sounds.

Let us also look briefly at some peculiarities in the area of stress:

  • Unlike in Standard German, in Swiss Standard German, many foreign words are stressed on the first syllable, e.g. “Asphalt” (asphalt), “Apostroph” (apostrophe), “Balkon” (balcony), “Billet” (ticket), “Budget” (budget), “Büro” (office), “Garage” (garage), “Labor” (laboratory), “Papagei” (parrot), “Portmonee” (purse), etc.
  • Also, acronyms spoken as letters, such as “EU”, “WM” (world cup), “CD”, “WC” and “FDP”, are stressed on the first syllable rather than the last.

Last but not least, Swiss Standard German is characterised by its singing tone. This means that stressed syllables tend to be pronounced louder and much lower or higher.

What are your experiences with Swiss Standard German pronunciation?

I hope that this blog post has brought you a little closer to Swiss Standard German and that, at best, you can now understand it a little better.

The list of differences is by no means exhaustive. I am sure you will notice other differences in pronunciation, for example when you watch the news or listen to the radio.

So I would love to hear about your experiences with Swiss Standard German pronunciation in the comments. Input, feedback and more are also always welcome – and of course answers to the question: Can you pronounce “Chuchichäschtli”? 😉

Nelly Müller – Sprachen Akademie

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