Locate That Dialect!
How well can the Swiss recognize their different national dialects – and what do they think of them? This is what the Citizen Science project “Your Dialect” set out to discover. Participants can play an online game to test how much they know about dialects and in the process become researchers themselves.
Our daily experience of language in Switzerland is shaped by a characteristic variety of dialects. Swiss nationals speak and write in regional dialects that distinguish them from others and define their identity: a Swiss person will claim to be able to tell whether someone comes from Bern, Zurich or Chur. The same also applies to the French-speaking area where the language also exhibits a range of regional accents. How well the Swiss actually recognize their various dialects is the subject of interest for linguists at the University of Zurich. Using a recently developed online game, they want the local population to actively participate in this dialect research.
Recognizing Regional Dialects
At the heart of the project, backed by the Swiss National Fund, is the “Tour de Suisse: Your Dialect” online game, in which participants have to identify dialects by listening to audio examples from different regions. The game has two levels: At entry level, the audio example comes from a selection of four possible cantons, while at expert level, listeners have to locate the dialects as accurately as possible on a map. The more precise the result, the more points are won. “"The data collected by the game is intended to show how well the Swiss can recognize their dialects based on audio samples," says Marianne Hundt, project manager at the Zurich Center for Linguistics.
Transcribing Dialect Examples
Participants can provide direct support for this dialect research by transcribing the examples in the dialect. "Since there are currently no universally applicable rules for the written dialect, we can thus gain an overview of the range of spellings that are considered to be a written version of Swiss German," explains the UZH professor. A moderated forum was set up for users to comment on specific examples from the game, and discuss general topics such as the popularity of different dialects. Marianne Hundt and her team will also examine the extent to which age, gender and proximity/distance to other dialects are relevant to dialect recognition.
Raising Awareness of Linguistic Diversity
The results of the research project are publicized in a monthly newsletter and on social media "because our project centers on interaction between the public and the scientific community", says Marianne Hundt. It is hoped that this fun-based approach to exploring the differences between dialects and their characteristics will lead to a new awareness of linguistic diversity in Switzerland. At the same time, the work conducted by researchers and the public will provide valuable insights into how dialects are perceived.
Lisa Senn und Michael Koller